One of the lessons in the portion of Ekev is for us to come to see that the thing we give least importance to is usually our own spiritual work. As I have said before, the one thing the Negative Side does not want us to know is how powerful we can be through our spiritual work, how powerful we can be through our prayers, how powerful we can be through reading the Zohar. And most of us do not appreciate the power that our spiritual work has; as such, we have to reawaken an appreciation for that power. We want to come to find the ways in which we are demeaning ourselves, pushing ourselves down, or lacking appreciation for the spiritual work we are doing.
I want to share a teaching from the Ari and Rav Chaim Vital, who was his student, to really awaken this understanding. Rav Chaim Vital is quoting a story from the Talmud to the Ari. On Shabbat, we know we are supposed to refrain from work. But perhaps most people do not know that if you own animals, even they are not supposed to work. There is a whole discussion in the Talmud about what things your animals are not permitted to do on Shabbat. Without going into the technicalities, the story in the Talmud says the cow owned by Rav Eleazar ben Azariah was wearing some sort of belt or strap, and the sages were not happy, because on Shabbat, while animals are allowed to wear things of an ornamental nature, they are not allowed to wear things that make them work.
So, basically the bottom line of the story is that the cow of Rav Eleazar ben Azariah went out wearing a sort of belt, or strap, and the rabbis and sages were upset at him. Once Rav Eleazar ben Azariah saw that he let his cow go out like that, he was so upset that he fasted to such an extent that his teeth became black, meaning he was on such a level that he could so strongly correct such a minor thing. However, it says in the Talmud at the end of the story that it actually was not Rav Eleazar ben Azariah’s cow; it was his neighbor’s. But nevertheless he was so upset at himself for not telling his neighbor not to allow his cow to go out like that on Shabbat that he fasted and his teeth became black.
The Ari tells Rav Chaim Vital that he is an amazing soul who can bring much Light to this world. And in response, Rav Chaim Vital is quoting this story from the Talmud to the Ari, saying, essentially, “I do not believe it, it cannot be; I read this story in the Talmud which says that just for a little thing his neighbor's cow did, Rav Eleazar ben Azariah did so much fasting; there is no way that my work is important or that I can reveal great Light in this world. How can any of us think that we are of such an elevated spiritual nature as Rav Eleazar ben Azariah that our spiritual work can do something?”
Then the Ari tells Rav Chaim Vital that if a person has a real sigh from the bottom of his heart, if he sees somebody in pain and feels that pain and lets out a sigh, that one sigh is more powerful and more beloved to the Creator than all the work of fasting and all the things that the people from generations ago would do to elevate spiritually. With one sigh of feeling another person’s pain, you can elevate higher than thousands of hours of fasting and all the other spiritual work that people did in previous generations. Why? Because our generation - and it gets progressively more - but our generation is so hidden, the Light of the Creator is so hidden, it is so much more difficult to be connected, it so much more difficult to do the spiritual work, that even a tiny sigh connects you.
I think we can all hear about it, but I do not know how many of us really believe that a sigh we let out in feeling the pain of another person is as powerful as years and years of spiritual work done, let’s say, even by Rav Shimon bar Yochai. Because our generation is so distant, is so separated, the Light of the Creator is so hidden, you do not imagine how much Light you reveal or how much you elevate. However, there is nothing that you do of a spiritual nature, prayer, study, or action that does not reveal great Light.
Don’t think to yourself, "Why should I push myself? If Rav Shimon bar Yochai, or the Ari, or Rav Ashlag prayed, they could change things… but my prayer when somebody is in pain, somebody needs healing, somebody needs assistance, is going to do something? No way.” Because that is not true; we have to know that everything we do creates fruit, creates Light. Your prayer, our prayer, the prayer of every single one of us - and in our connection to the Light of the Creator, whether we want to awaken healing, assistance, blessings - is as powerful as those of Rav Shimon bar Yochai, even after he spent years and years of elevation. Your prayer today can awaken the same, or even greater, Light than that, just as the Ari told Rav Chaim Vital.
The greatest thing we do not give importance to is our own work. Therefore, if you want to bring joy and an end to pain, suffering, and death in this world, reawaken an appreciation for your spiritual work, prayers, study, and actions. As the Ari told Rav Chaim Vital, one “sigh” in this generation awakens as much Light as years and years of fasting and spiritual work of the previous generations. It is a great teaching and a tremendous Light revealed to us on this Shabbat.