“You can overcome your arrogance by praying for someone else”
– Rebbe Nachman of Breslov
R’ Yudel, one of the Rebbe’s close students, wondered about this teaching. It seems like the opposite should be true. Wouldn’t praying for my friend feed my ego and make me feel even more prideful? After all, aren’t my prayers answered because I’m important?
Rebbe Nachman explained his teaching with a parable:
Once there was a prince who angered his father, the king. When the king’s anger faded, the prince asked his pardon, and it was readily granted. After a while, though, the prince again acted in a way that upset his father. Yet again, the king graciously pardoned his beloved son. But when this pattern continued to repeat itself, the king lost his appetite for it. How could he stop the cycle and ensure that the prince would not appease him once his anger faded? He decided to appoint a minister to prevent his son from approaching him to ask forgiveness.
Once again, the prince tried to reconcile with the king in the usual manner. But this time he was rebuffed by the minister. He again tried to get to his father, but was again prevented. The minister conscientiously foiled every effort to see the king.
Not surprisingly, the prince was very pained by this, and so was the king.
The minister began to consider the matter. He could not allow the prince to see the king, since he was duty-bound to keep him away. But how could he be a party to such a painful estrangement? There must be a way to appease the king, he reasoned.
Finally the minister understood that it was up to him to appease the king on the prince’s behalf. He approached the king and described the great pain his son suffered by being kept at a distance. The king immediately pardoned his son.
Rebbe Nachman explained, “Our Sages say that every person must say, ‘The world was created for me.’ This means that we are responsible for what the world lacks. Our prayers help our friends only if we’re aware that our sins are what prevent them from receiving what they need. This meditation will instill a deep sense of humility, and all arrogance will vanish.”
Based on Peulat HaTzaddik 955-958