Part 13 - Mind Control
In the place where penitents stand, the completely righteous do not stand.
Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan called meditation ‘concentrated thought’. Prayer is a form of meditation. The essence of prayer is connecting your soul to Hashem. As your ‘mental’ sense concentrates on the words, your spiritual sense connects to Hashem. Prayer becomes a supernatural experience the moment something beyond you connects to something inside you. Prayer is an amazing and uplifting experience. In simply reciting the Amidah, you can soar to great spiritual heights, and receive from heaven the spiritual energy to get you through the day. If you do not feel this, prayer is no longer a spiritual journey to Hashem. It becomes a daily chore. Someone who is pgam habrit loses the ability to pray with concentration. We all do our best to pray with as much intent and focus as possible. Yet, there are often times where we are praying, and thinking about something else. The only part of us that is involved with the prayers is our mouths. There are times when you have to use double or triple the amount of mental and physical energy just to remain as focused as you were the previous day. There are also days where you are naturally focused. You can recite prayers with all of your being. You feel something inside you getting bigger, and you feel something outside you pulling you to a greater place. Hashem tests us at all levels. He puts walls in front of us for the sole purpose of deriving Divine joy in watching His children exert themselves to climb over them. No matter how high you climb in your spiritual journey’s, there will always be days where you have to exert yourself that much more to be at the position you were at yesterday. These are some of our biggest tests in life.
If one is pgam habrit, you will rarely be a level to gain so much out of your prayers. It will be that much harder to get into them and to experience the spiritual surge you feel when you connect to Hashem. One of the greatest rewards in becoming Shmirat HaBrit is that we are re-sensitized to Kedusha. Our souls are elevated to a point where we feel the spiritual all around us, even when we are not praying. Our prayers reach to higher worlds and their impact on us are deeper. Instinctively, we want to focus our prayers even harder.
This is the opportunity that lies in this mitzvah. In keeping the mitzvah of Shmirat HaBrit, Hashem will energize us even more each day. We will “unclog” the channels which connect our soul to Him, and He will infuse us with more of His essence. As a consequence of this, we will be able to attack each day super-energized.
It is a wonder why there are no Jewish leaders talking about this issue. It is unfortunate that not enough of the Jewish leadership educate us about the unbelievable benefits of keeping this mitzvah. It is even more unfortunate that we are not told of how severe these sins are.
Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, one the greatest practitioners of Kabbala stated that for certain sins you must fast a certain number of days to make repentance.
A person who engages in impure speech should fast 37 times. A person who did not respect his parents is to fast 45 times to atone for it. A person who is haughty or arrogant should fast 55 times.
In today’s generation, fasting is not recommended because we are much weaker than previous generations. That is not to say that one should never fast, just that before we take on such a big challenge, we should perform other methods of tsuva. I am using these tsuvot as examples for the sake of showing how severe these sins are.
The tsuva for pgam Hamachshavah are 87 fasts. What is pgam Hamachshavah? It’s the sin of thinking impure thoughts. That’s it. The ARI isn’t talking about spilling seed, or having forbidden relations, or even eyeing out a woman. All he is talking about is thinking impure thoughts. 87 fasts are also required for thoughts of atheism, thoughts of disbelief in the sages, and thoughts of hatred against fellow Jews. In the time of Noach, Hashem declared that all men had nothing but evil in their hearts. As a result, He destroyed the world. When Hashem saw that all Jews had nothing but hatred in their souls against their brethren, He destroyed our Holy Temple and sent us into exile for 2,000 years. This is how bad the sin of misusing our minds can be. It’s a very easy trap we fall into when we convince ourselves that our thoughts have no tangible impact on the world.
The 10th principle of the Rambam’s 13 principles of faith states:
I believe, with perfect faith, that the Creator, Blessed be His Name, knows all the deeds and thoughts of man.
In the spiritual world, thoughts can do just as much damage as actions.
Thinking impure thoughts lowers your spiritual level. It also creates seed. Seed starts in the brain, goes down the spine, and rests in the bowels where it is then excreted. It can be excreted by masturbation, or drops coming out of the body after urination, or by a wet dream. On the surface, it is easy to claim that a nocturnal emission or dropping seed after urination is something that we can’t control. The body does what the body does and we shouldn’t be held accountable for these acts. However, these are situations where the mind brings on a physical act without the use of any limbs. We are still responsible.
The sins of impure thoughts and gazing at women are especially dangerous. To touch a woman, or at least approach her, you need her acceptance. You don’t need anybody’s permission to think about them or to look at them.
Resisting the urge to stare at pretty women is a hard task, especially in the summer. They dress to kill and they are everywhere. Even if you are able to stop with illicit relations, and become, as Jerry Seinfeld would say “master of your own domain”, Should we be blamed for women who dress to tempt us? And why should we control our thoughts? It is the one part of our existence that we have complete control over. No matter what dictator may, G-d forbid, come to power, and no matter how much a soldier, robber, or brute could subdue any of us, our freedom of thought is something they can never take away from us.
Isn’t this too much?
Nobody said being a Jew was easy.
The eyes are the windows to the soul. If you stare at a woman, you are staining your soul. You are turning parts of your brain into semen and flushing it down the toilet. Your memory is affected and you cannot think straight. If you dream about sex, you are destroying the spiritual worlds above you in a catastrophic way. In order to prevent yourself from doing these things, you need to control yourself with all of your might.
This is not only a challenge, it is a tremendous opportunity.
To resist the urge to check out a woman is a tremendous tsuva. Our sages say that if you see a women walking by and you instinctively want to check out her body, and as she approaches, you avert your eyes, you are bringing tremendous divine light into this world. This is a very powerful tikkun. If you are accustomed to checking out women and you resist the urge, the tsuva is even more powerful. According to the Talmud, in the place where penitents stand, the completely righteous do not stand. According to the Rambam, if you are a penitent, you have experienced the pleasure of succumbing to physical desire. You know how great this desire can be. The righteous, who have battled their evil inclination, and Thank G-d, won every time, don’t know about how powerful the joys of physical pleasure can be. The completely righteous do not need to exert themselves as much as the penitent to resist temptations like these. For a penitent to resist something like this is to exert himself in the most intense and powerful way. Judaism is not only about where you are holding or what you are wearing. A great, great, great emphasis is placed on how much you exert yourself to get to the next level. According to the exertion lies the reward. The reward can be physical, or spiritual. It can be a reward for you, or a reward for all of Am Yisrael, or both. It can be a reward you enjoy in this world, or a greater reward that now waits for you in the next one – or both. In performing an act as simple, yet challenging as averting one’s eyes in the street, we can bring tremendous light into the world. We will also do what the tsuva for sexual immorality does for all of us – we restore the channels of Blessing from Hashem to the Jewish people.
As long as we are pgam habrit, the flow of Divine Blessing to the Children of Israel is clogged, and very little light gets through to us. Rabbi Nachman said that a pleasure which lasts for 15 minutes can destroy a man forever. G-d loves us. This is why resisting an urge for as little as a split second can bring so much blessing. Look at how easy He makes it!
What about controlling our thoughts?
It’s very hard. We are always thinking. Sometimes we are stuck in a situation where we are totally bored and have nothing to do. What do we do? We entertain ourselves by thinking about sex. What if you have lots of down time at the office? What if you see explicit pictures of women on the internet or while walking on the street? It’s not easy to control oneself. However, this is where a great opportunity arises. The Shema tells us to love Hashem with all of our heart, and with all of our soul, and with all of our strength. I can think of nothing that embodies this more than the exertion we all must make in order to fight our own minds. Every moment you take real control over your mind you are gaining merit for yourself and for all of Israel. Every instant you fight the urge to create semen in your brain by thinking bad things, you are bringing light into the world. Even if you engage in sexual fantasies, and somewhere along your daydreams, you mentally shout to yourself, “STOP! This is wrong!” you are truly exerting yourself for G-d with all of your heart, and all of your soul, and all of your might. This is, in my opinion, the hardest thing to do.
Whether you are married or single, religious or secular, in a Shul or in a nightclub, you can think about sex and nobody will know. Only Hashem will be able to see the thoughts in your mind. This is a sin that in this world, anybody can get away with. In using our minds, we are using the freest and most hidden part of our existence. For any of us to control our thoughts in order to prevent us from sinning against our King, we are showing a deeper obedience to our Maker than to any human being on earth. We are willingly giving away the freest part of our identity to Hashem. In a world that values freedom and liberty above all else, for us to knowingly sacrifice the ultimate freedom to Hashem displays an intense love for Him. At every moment, we have a tremendous opportunity to tell Hashem how much we love Him. At any time, we can exert ourselves for Him just as much as a Torah sage.
Some people feel that if you want to help the Nation of Israel, you have to fight a war in the IDF. There are others who maintain that to serve Israel; your check to the UJA has to have at least three zeros on it. Know that any of us can serve G-d and the Nation of Israel wherever they are, at any moment. You can fight for us as diligently as anybody else AT THIS VERY MOMENT!
It’s a big task – but it is also an amazing opportunity.
Amongst Jews, we will talk about politics, and we will talk about guarding the Shabbat. We will talk about Kashrut and we will talk about which is the authentic form of Judaism: reform, conservative, or orthodox.
But we never talk about this. We never stand up and say how wrong sexual morality is. We are all afraid of being compared to the evangelical Christians on the right. It is seen as being perverted or sexually deviant to try not to have sex with anybody until we are married. We are all afraid of being ostracized for telling the truth.
Our silence is the greatest crime of this generation.
Our prophet Isaiah wasn’t afraid to tell a truth that was offensive to all the Jews. Even in his late 80s, he told the nation what they needed to hear, and not what they wanted him to say. He loved Hashem and Israel so much that he did his best to improve all of us. His words inflamed the Jews of his time so much, that they killed him. Rabbi Akiva was also someone committed to the truth. When the Romans forbid the dissemination of the spiritual truths of the Torah, Rabbi Akiva refused. He shouted in public what the Jewish people needed to hear. As the Roman’s peeled his skin off while they killed him painfully and slowly, the last words Rabbi Akiva spoke were, “And you shall love your G-d with all of your heart, and all of your soul, and all of your might.”
These great men, these fellow Jews, weren’t afraid to serve their brothers and sisters by debating concepts of spiritual improvement and strength even if it meant the worst possible death. For us to keep quiet about this for the sake of something as petty as being branded politically incorrect is an abomination to our Sages. It is an abomination to our forefathers. It is an abomination to our children. We are setting a horrible example.
What’s even worse is that the Torah says that even if nobody knows about these laws, when we violate them, we are punished for them as if we knew them and still sinned. There is no leniency for ignorance in these matters. With many other sins, Hashem showers His Mercy upon us for not knowing totally the consequences for our actions.
Is there something we can do every day to remind us of what is really important and what is really at stake? Is there a way we can constantly remind ourselves to behave?
The first and foremost is to learn a little about this every day. This is the best point to start with. Learn more about the laws of Shmirat HaBrit. Check out the websites to the right of the screen; purchase Rabbi Fishman’s Book Torah, Kaballah, and Sex or The Gates of Ephraim. There are plenty of resources available to learn more about this. Our sexual urges will challenge us for the rest of our lives. We can effectively fight them by learning a little about Shmirat HaBrit every day. We can email Rabbi’s (ask the Rabbi, online forums about this). We can promise ourselves to learn a little bit a day about sexual morality so we can garner the spiritual ability to resist the temptations that await us.
There is another benefit to this strategy.
After we die, we stand in judgment before the King. One of the questions we are asked is if we set aside time for Torah. We can spend a little bit of our day reading an article about shmirat habrit, and it counts as learning Torah. On many levels, the guarding of this mitzvah can better your existence both in this world, and in the next world.
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