Questions on Mesirus Nefesh [#18943]

September 20, 2022


(1) What are the conditions for “mesirus nefesh”, when it comes to (a) avodas Hashem, (b) recognizing our soul, (c) learning Torah, and (d) doing mitzvos? Through mesirus nefesh a person receives siyata d’shmaya (Heavenly assistance) to skip levels. What is the simple meaning of mesirus nefesh? Does it mean that I have to be mentally willing to be killed al kiddush Hashem over something? Does it mean that I have to spend a lot of energy on something?

(2) The Rav has said that the avodah of our generation is mesirus nefesh. Is this referring to mesirus nefesh in avodas Hashem, in doing mitzvos, or in learning Torah? Or in all of them?

(3) I have heard from the Rav many times that the way of mesirus nefesh is only for individuals. If so, what is the Rav’s intention that the avodah of mesirus nefesh is for this entire generation?

(4) In the seferBilvavi” (Part 6), the Rav explains that the soul’s power of “lishmah” (acting for the sake of Heaven) is the same power as mesirus nefesh, because it is the power to go above the “I” and act from a place in the soul that is higher than the “I”. However, I once asked the Rav how a person is able to reach the “Yechidah” part of the soul through Torah study, and the Rav responded to me that it is reached through learning Torah with mesirus nefesh and lishmah. Did the Rav mean that they are two separate things? Or are they one and the same?


1) Mesirus nefesh in avodas Hashem means that a person works on an area which he finds personally difficult to work on, and he perseveres in that area, through self-sacrifice to succeed, no matter what comes his way. Mesirus nefesh should not be used when one is trying to recognize the soul, because one needs calm and quiet reflection in order to slowly recognize and understand the soul [hence trying to have “mesirus nefesh” in order to understand his soul would only deter him from reaching it]. Mesirus nefesh in learning Torah is that a person learns above his natural physical capabilities, and with mental exertion, until he exhausts his mind over it. Mesirus nefesh in doing mitzvos is that a person takes one mitzvos and does it as perfectly as possible, on his own level, according to the halachah, and with love and awe of Hashem, and with the conviction that he will never give up this mitzvah under any circumstance.

2) In this generation, there is a spiritual illumination of the ability to act with “mesirus nefesh”, which is called the “light of Mashiach”, the light of Dovid HaMelech, who is called a “stillborn”, with no life support of his own, whose entire life source stems from acting on the level of mesirus nefesh.

3) In essence, the way of mesirus nefesh is applicable only to individuals. However, as mentioned above, since we are currently in a time period where the “light of Mashiach” is shining strongly, the light of mesirus nefesh is also present, and it exists in order to aid us in contending with the evil of the “50th Gate of Defilement” that is rampant today. The only way to spiritually survive the “50th Gate of Defilement” is through mesirus nefesh.

4) Lishmah and mesirus nefesh bear the same root. However, there are two ways to nullify the “I”. One way is to do it from within oneself, and this is called lishmah, which applies to the proper intention that one needs to have in Torah learning. This is experienced through the faculty of thought: learning Torah with the intention of lishmah [for the sake of Hashem]. There is also a way to nullify oneself through external means, through action, which is accessed through exerting oneself in Torah beyond one’s natural physical abilities, through losing sleep over one’s Torah learning, through physical frugality, etc.