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22 Elul 5764 - September 8, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly
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Opinion & Comment
The Thoughts of our Heart

"And for the sin that we committed before You in our heart's thoughts" (behirhur haleiv).

One of the sins for which we beat our breasts on Yom Kippur is for having the wrong thoughts. If the wrong thoughts flit through our minds, we ask forgiveness from Hashem. We want our minds to be places whose contents are pure and holy all the time: 24/7.

There is plenty to think about. There is a huge Torah, longer than the earth and wider than the sea, as rich and varied as the entire human experience. There are things we could have done better and good things to plan for the future.

There is no need to think negative thoughts about others or about ourselves. Thinking about bad things, contemplating doing forbidden actions, even just observing morally ugly things -- are all wrong and damaging, sometimes leaving permanent scars.

Today it is often hard to appreciate how profoundly bad and damaging even a passing thought can be. The modern, secular world constantly offers to fill up our minds with thoughts of arayos and bloodshed. People pay to see and experience the fantastic sinful imaginings of others in these areas in films and computer games. Real events that involve excess and decadence in these areas are served up as "news" that is "fit to print" and whose intimate details everyone "should know" in order to be well-informed. It is considered normal for people to have such serious aveiros constantly on their minds, and no one thinks there is anything wrong -- as long as they do not do them.

A few months ago the world celebrated the hundredth anniversary of a day connected with a work entitled Ulysses by James Joyce, who is considered by the world to be one of the great writers of the last century. The content of the book is the chaotic and filthy "stream of consciousness" of a fictional person on one day in 1904. Few - - if any -- could write what Joyce wrote (few can even read it), but it is nonetheless ridiculous and immoral, according to the Torah's guidelines for even general morality, to hold up the imagined content of such a coarse mind as a work of great literature.

Far from filling our minds' time with thoughts of the most serious aveiros that there are, in this period we do teshuvoh for even fleeting thoughts. Although the gemora (Bovo Basro 164b) says that a person has hirhur aveiroh every day, it refers to isolated incidents, not a constant state of mind.

Nefesh HaChaim (I:4) writes, "Any sin in which a Jew brings into his heart chas vesholom an alien flame such as anger or other evil lusts Rachmono litzlan, is a literal fulfillment of the posuk (Yeshayohu 64:10): `Our holy Beis Hamikdosh . . . was consumed by fire,' may the Merciful One save us from this."

Instead of paying for what passes for entertainment but is clearly the triumph of the yetzer hora, or even just informing ourselves of the latest decadent news, we must flee from such thoughts as from fire, and cleanse ourselves as much as possible of even fleeting thoughts. Of course this excludes also other improper thoughts such as arrogance, jealousy, covetousness, heresy and hatred.

We must fill our hearts and minds with the high and holy thoughts that they are capable of holding, all the time and in every place.

Our hearts are of course not just a possible way to sin but even more an opportunity to establish holiness and purity. Each person's heart is like an inner sanctum that can be constituted in the most elevated way, despite any problems that there may be in the world around.

As we do teshuvoh for our lapses in this area, we should concentrate on elevating our thoughts especially and specifically during this holy period -- Selichos, Rosh Hashonoh, Aseres Yemei Teshuvoh, Yom Kippur -- and be inspired by the achievable goal of building a true Holy of Holies within ourselves so that the Shechinah can dwell within us.

Kesivoh vechasimoh tovoh.


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