Our Sages, of blessed memory, said (Avot 1:11), "Wise ones, be zehirim with your words." Simply, this relates to the word zehirut, so it means to be careful, but it also relates to the word zohar (radiance), which implies that one should "radiate light." When one expresses an idea, he should try to make it clear and bright, not like a dim coal that does not give off adequate light. Over the course of the talks given until now, many questions have arisen. These questions indicate that the material has been understood by the various people in various ways, so I must be clearer about these concepts.
In a general sense, there are two kinds of avodah (work): There is one avodah which is brought in Shulchan Aruch, ch. 231, based on the pasuk (Mishlei 3:6), "In all your ways, you must know Him." This way shows how to serve Hashem in each situation. The second way shows the person the absolute good contained in creation, for his own benefit.
In the first way, a person directs all his acts toward serving his Creator. Certainly, if one directs all his acts toward serving his Creator, they will become perfected. But there are many people who avoid this way, and perhaps they say that they are not on that level. Therefore, there is the other way, which does not initially direct all of one's deeds toward serving his Creator. It shows how to build a good, balanced, and proper person, functioning within the conditions of this world. After he develops his own self properly, the next step will be, "In all your ways, you must know Him."
The ideas shared here, understandably, have been stated according to the second way, not the first. Throughout the entire process, from the beginning until now, we have not placed the service of the Creator at the center. It can almost be said that this has not been spoken of at all. We have focused on making the person a good, whole, and proper person. Therefore, since the emphasis has not been on serving the Creator (for the time being), the ideas have primarily dealt with separating from the material world, separating from the evil that resides in a person, and revealing the Divine spiritual goodness in creation, but not specifically with regard to how to serve the Creator. We have not discussed the perspective that He is the King, I am the subject, and I must therefore serve Him. Rather, there has been the perspective that a person must care for himself and build his own world by removing the evil and exposing the good. Therefore, we have not openly dealt with serving the Creator in the stages we have covered thus far. We have only discussed how a person becomes removed from evil and exposes the good within him.
However, I understand that some of the listeners, and probably all, heard and read other ideas before coming to this workshop (and this is good), so there is some confusion between various idea. Here is an example of confusion: A person enters a grocery, and takes milk without paying. The owner asks him, "Why aren't you paying for the milk?" He responds, "I see that you are Jew with a beard and peyot (sidelocks). Don't you know that life is all about kindness? Why should I have to pay for the milk? You know that ‘the world is built on kindness' (Tehillim 89:3) and the whole purpose of life is to do acts of kindness, so I took a container of milk, which is kindness on your part." This person is confusing distinct concepts. If a store has a sign that says, "For the sake of kindness, we are dispensing free milk for the needy," then anyone needy is welcome to come and take. But when a person sees a grocery or supermarket, he must understand that although the owner or manger does acts of kindness, the store operates so that he can earn a livelihood. Besides earning a livelihood, he also does acts of kindness. But that is not the purpose of the store; it is for a livelihood. It is not a place for giving away milk, but for selling it.
Likewise, the neshamah (soul) has two modes: one is for serving the Creator, which is considered the higher mode, and the other is for ordinary, daily life. With almost everyone, daily life is not totally devoted to serving the Creator. When one speaks words of inspiration, the listener must understand the context: are the words said regarding the mode of serving the Creator, or regarding the mode of living a good, daily life with an inner content? When you present advice for a good, meaningful life, and the person immediately relates it to service of the Creator, while at times, this is very positive, at times, it is very counterproductive. This is because the advice was not given directly in relation to serving the Creator. If one is on a level that he is focused always on serving the Creator, he needs to hear other idea and guidance. It is impossible to give a single talk and focus purely on serving the Creator, while at the same time, explaining to people how to live in an optimum way without an emphasis on the yoke of servitude.
If one is already prepared to live as a servant of the Creator, I advise him, from now on, not to attend my talks. Why? Because here we are dealing with a stage much earlier than service of the Creator. We are dealing with one at a stage where he does not yet sense that life is all about serving the Creator. We work with him while he deals with life below that stage and finds the good in life even at his current stage. Therefore, if one tries to define what we said in relation to serving the Creator, some of it will be explained properly, but some of it will be completely distorted.
I will a recent example from last week's talk. We introduced the talk by saying that we will present a way of dealing with various fears that are present in the mind. If this would have been presented in the context of serving the Creator, the entire talk would have been unnecessary. Why? Because then, the way would be very simple and absolute: a person must believe that everything Hashem does is for the best, nothing will happen that is not in one's best interest, what does occur is in one's best interest, so there is no place for fear. Last week, we spent nearly an hour advising how one can avoid the fear, because the talk was addressed to one not yet on the level of truly serving the Creator, in order to present to him a way to calm himself of any fears.
The pasuk says (Mishlei 28:14), "Happy is the one who is always fearful." Anyone who reads this knows that it cannot be taken literally. Could it be a positive thing to be fearful at all times? How could a fearful person be considered happy? But our chachamim (Sages) have explained (Berachot 60a) that this is referring to Torah observance. It does not refer to fears of this world, but to a fear that one might not be properly serving the Creator. This is the true, inner fear that one should maintain. Last week, we were not dealing with the fear of which our chachamim said, "Happy is the one who is always fearful," but with a fear that does not make one happy, a negative kind of fear. Of that fear, we said that the advice is to nullify the desires.
Therefore, it should be clear that we did not mean to say that a person should nullify his spiritual desires, because we were not dealing with spiritual fears in the first place. Had we been dealing with the fear that one is not living up to his responsibility to his Creator, of this we would apply, "Happy is the one who is always fearful." But we were only dealing with the fears about the material, daily life. Thus, the way to correct it is to nullify the desire. If so, it must be stated that if one is one the level that his life is focused on serving the Creator, he must hear other thoughts, stated in a way different from the form in which they are stated here. We are addressing a person who is beginning to consider life deeply, who has not yet realized that life is all about serving the Creator. At his stage in life, he should work with the ideas we have presented.
Another point: A person, for example, purchases a disk for learning English. The disk contains ten lessons for learning English, each one lasting about an hour. The person sets aside ten hours, and listens to one after the other. He doesn't understand: "How come I still don't know English after the ten hours? After all, on the cover of the disk, it says that 98% of the users were successful in learning English with the course! Maybe I am one of the 2% who are not successful." That is not the answer. The disk contains ten hours of instruction, but it is not intended for one to listen to on one free day from morning to night, and then know English. There are ten classes with instruction, but one must practice for much longer than one day. Regrettably, I cannot give one talk one day, and then give the next one three months later, so everyone has time to apply the first talk. Everything must be said in order, and in close succession, so the listeners will see the big picture. But it is clear that it is not my intent that a person will progress from week to week at the same pace of the talks.
Having clarified this, we will return to the area we were discussing. We have spoken about divesting oneself of the evil inside, whether it is evil activity, or feelings, or thoughts. Until now, we focused on the evil in actions and feelings. We will now consider the evil existing in the area of thought. In our world, it is clear that there are good deeds and bad deeds. One can see very positive acts. We see, in fact, very wondrous acts. People devote their lives for others, and the like. But there are other people whose deeds are just the opposite (may Hashem protect us from this). A person sees all this, recognizes the facts, and thinks about them. Evil is present in a person's thought when he sees, knows, and recognizes evil acts that occur in the world, whether in the past or present, whether in the immediate environment, or in a slightly more distant area, or somewhere far away in the world.
A person is aware of good and bad deeds, and he is conscious of them. Besides merely knowing about them, he ponders and thinks about them. Sometimes, a person sees a particular act, a certain injustice in the world, and it is difficult for him to disconnect from what he saw. He thinks about it and contemplates it. Even if he doesn't contemplate, the very act became engraved deep in his mind. Seemingly, though, what is the problem?
Certainly, there is a problem if the person suffers from it. Each person with inner sensitivity who sees improper acts feels an inner repulsion, and suffers from it. This is one problem. Besides this, when a person thinks of negative acts, it can affect his own neshamah. When a person sees something negative, there can be two options. Either he will recoil from it, and mentally move himself to the opposite extreme, or chas veshalom, he will learn from what he sees. Sometimes, there can a mix of these reactions: on one hand, one will recoil, but on the other hand, he will get used to the presence of this evil and lose the sense of disgust toward it.
There is a third problem, which is deeper: Our teacher, the Ramban, said that a person exists where his thoughts are (Iggeret HaKodesh, ch. 5). Our bodies are here in Tel Aviv, but our minds can think about Jerusalem or Haifa. It would seem that no matter which of these one thinks of, he is still here in Tel Aviv. He may think of the events in Jerusalem or Haifa, but where is he? Seemingly, in Tel Aviv. The Ramban comes to teach us that the opposite is true.
The thought is referred to in the sacred works as a flying bird. It can fly from place to place. A person can be here in a bodily sense, but mentally, be somewhere else entirely. Simply, a person thinks, "When I think about another place, I'm not really there. I'm only thinking about what is happening there. But where am I? Here!"
We will explain why this is not the truth. We initially described that a person has a body and neshamah. The body is made of matter, like dirt, while the neshamah is an essence of intellect. When a person feels he is a body with a neshamah in it, he identifies his location according to the body. Therefore, he defines, "When I am in Tel Aviv and think about Jerusalem, since I identify with the body, I believe that I am in Tel Aviv. The neshamah, the thought, may think about Jerusalem. But where am I? Since the ‘I' is the body, the ‘I' is here in Tel Aviv."
On the other hand, according to the opposite perspective - that a person is really a neshamah that merely has a body as clothing over it, when I consider my location, I consider it in relation to the neshamah. Where is the neshamah? In Jerusalem. Only the body is here in Tel Aviv. The fact that a person is where his thoughts are is ultimately based on the perspective that a person is essentially a neshamah, and because of this, he really is present where his thoughts are. If a person is in Tel Aviv and thinks of Jerusalem, according to the perspective of being a neshamah with a body that is just clothing, he is present in Jerusalem. His garment is what is here in Tel Aviv. The "I," the essence of the neshamah, is in Jerusalem. Our identification as being located where the body is comes from an identification as a body containing a neshamah, so that the primary identification is with the body. Thus, we see our location according to the body. On the other hand, if a person has attained the identification of being a neshamah on which is the clothing of the body, he sees himself according to the location of his thoughts. He is also aware that his body, his garment, is here, where he is sitting on the chair. If so, it is very clear that a person's thought defines his location in the truest sense.
We will consider a physical example. A person enters a place where the odor is unpleasant, to say the least. He is repelled by the place, and will naturally try to leave it. If one goes to a place where there is a lot of garbage, he will want to leave. He doesn't need a commandment from God to leave. The unpleasant odor will impel him to leave from there.
When a person thinks of evil things - and I don't, God forbid, refer to evil acts that he wants to perpetrate, or even of evil acts that he had committed, but of a particular crime that happened in the world - what is the problem? We mentioned before two problems, and now we will explain the third problem. When a person thinks of a crime, does the crime have a good or bad "smell"? It has a bad smell. Just as when one is in a physical place that is unpleasant, he is repelled by the odor, so too, when a person thinks of negative acts, the thought itself places his very self in that negative act. Even if I didn't do the act, and do not plan to do it, because I am afraid and would never want to do it, or I feel that I would never do such a thing because it is far beneath my sense of decency and character, yet I merely think about the crime, since the crime is filth, the thought itself is tantamount to entering filth. No one needs to be taught why he must leave a filthy place. Once a person realizes that the thought is the "I" and one is where his thoughts are, if he starts thinking of some evil, such as an injustice that occurred in the world, he will naturally want to stop thinking of such a thing. He senses the foul odor.
There is a known incident in the rabbinic literature (found in Kav HaYashar, ch. 7). One of the Sages met Eliyahu HaNavi, and as they passed by a rotting carcass, the Sage found it so unpleasant that he had to hold his nose shut. Eliyahu was not bothered at all. But when they passed by a certain conceited person, Eliyahu had to hold his nose. The Sage did not understand why. Eliyahu explained, "Just as it is hard for you to smell a carcass, so is it difficult for me to smell the negative attribute of conceit." Just as it is difficult for the body to smell a foul odor from a material item, so is it difficult for the neshamah to smell a foul odor, but that odor is not that of a cat that died two days prior; rather, all evils, whether they are evil attributes, acts, or thoughts, are repugnant to the neshamah. It cannot tolerate such a foul odor. Now, we can understand well why it is so harmful to ponder over negative things. When one thinks of something negative, he takes his "I" and places it in an evil place. None of us wants to enter a stable and smell the odor and stay there. We want a world with good air and cleanliness. When one realizes the power of thought, he will naturally want to stop thinking of negative things.
Understandably, some feel this more, and some feel it less. There are people who have no problem with reading a newspaper, though from beginning to end, there is hardly a page without a report of some injustice that occurred: theft, murder, and so on, are all over the newspaper. One will say, "But I'm not like that! It doesn't bother me." But there are people that can't even open a newspaper. Why? Because the newspaper talks about another terrible event, another police investigation, and another injustice that occurred somewhere. "I can't even think about these things." It's not that he's delusional, thinking that the world is now pure, and that everything functions justly and properly. He knows there is injustice, he recognizes the conspiracies, but "why do I need to read about it each day, and place my mind in that theft, that crime? I want to live in a clean and pure world."
Understandably, as we said, this is meant for a stage beyond what was said in the previous talks. If a person does not see himself as a neshamah, it will be easier for him to think of evil things. He doesn't sense that thinking of the crime places his self there. But when one is progressing on the way we presented, and uncovers who his true self is, he develops a spiritual way of thinking. Then, he begins to realize that he is present and attached to the place of his thoughts. When he sense that, he does not need to be ordered, "Guard yourself from any evil" (Devarim 23:10) to know that "one must not think an illicit thought during the day" (Avodah Zarah 20b), because he is inwardly incapable of such a thought. The very thought of evil makes him recoil like one who smells a carcass in the street. This is the depth of why one's thoughts must be clean.
Certainly, there are many kinds of evil thoughts. There are negative thoughts that a person thinks about himself. In earlier talks, we spoke at length about how to remove a negative self-esteem. There are bad thoughts that come because a person sees something and it gets stuck in his mind. There are things a person hears. There are things that rise in one's mind that could happen. He never heard or saw that they happened, but all kinds of thoughts come to him. There are many negative thoughts, and if a person will pay attention to himself for a day or two, notice the thoughts, and analyze them, seeing if they are good or bad, and then examine those which are bad, he will be able to divide them into many different categories.
We are dealing with the central point of how to uproot the bad thoughts in a person's mind. When a person knows that he is a neshamah with a body as its garment, and he thus identifies with his neshamah, then every bad thought will disturb his very "I." This is not a parable, or a poetic expression. Evil will disturb him, as if someone would take a needle and pierce his skin. He recoils from it; he can't hear it or think about it. But if he hasn't yet reached this stage of naturally removing the bad thoughts, because he doesn't completely know who he is, he must reinforce it, by taking as much time as is appropriate for him, and letting the thoughts roam. If a good thought comes, he should acknowledge the good in it, and inwardly connect to it. For example, if he reads in the paper that people are helping this person or that one, or ill people, or others who need it, and considers what the help is that they are offering, he should reflect, "Do I identify with this, or not?" He should identify with it, and connect to the good he read about. This is a good point present now in his mind. And so it is with all examples of positive things: good deeds, good character, and good values. Anything good in the world that comes to mind should be noticed as good, and then he will connect to the truth and the good in it.
On the other hand, if he sees in himself a bad thought, the simple advice is to distract his mind from it. In the beginning of a person's avodah, before reaching this stage, this is proper. Since he hasn't yet worked on identifying thoughts and subjugating and separating bad thoughts, any bad notion in the mind should be terminated. But after one has gone through the previous stages and clarified everything (not perfectly, because there is no human perfection, but to a relatively high degree), he has clarified his deeds and separated good from evil, clarified his world of feelings and separated good from evil, and now he rises to the world of thought. When evaluating his thoughts, if he observes an evil thought, he will consider: is it good, or bad? He will identify it as bad, and then ask, "Do I want to be this way? No! But this thought puts me there. It connects me to there. I don't to join with such people or such places!" From this inner awareness, he will cut off the thought as with scissors, and will not be willing to think of such a negative thing. He clearly notes the negativity in the thing and notes that thinking about it puts one in that place and perspective, and he consciously disconnects from the negative thought.
Certainly, at first, this will be difficult for a person, because one has a habit of thinking about certain things, but since this comes after the stages of hachna'ah (subjugation) and havdalah (separation) in the practical arena and in the emotional arena, the evil in the person is already largely separate from him.
We have spoken of bad deeds, feelings, and thoughts. Once two thirds are complete (separation among the actions and the feelings), the connection with evil will certainly be to a much lower degree. If a person would try to work with the thoughts from the start, it would be very difficult, because he is still actively attached to identification with evil and he is trying to remove everything from its source, which is very tough. This is like a tree that has deep roots in the ground, and is also very high, with many branches. If we try to uproot the tree before removing the branches, it will certainly be very difficult, because there is a large growth from above. But if we cut off all that is above ground, and we only have the roots remaining, of course the removal of the roots will be harder than the cutting of the branches, but it will be much easier than trying to do it all at once. Similarly, if one tries to cleanse his thought by removing the evil therein before subjugating and separating the evil of the acts and feelings, it will be very difficult, but if done after removing (to a large degree) the negative actions and feelings, it will be much easier. Not that it will be easy, but it will be much easier than if he were initially working directly on the thoughts.
If a person is aware of his thoughts, and clarifies them slowly, one after the other, he will gradually feel that his will to think these things is getting weaker and weaker. People immersed in negative acts tend to think negative thoughts much more. But if the deeds are good, and the feelings are basically fine, one will naturally think less about evil. As he destroys the bad thoughts after a precise identification, as mentioned, he will come to feel that the desire to think in this manner is getting weaker.
We will give a practical example. Not many people steal - at least that's what I hope. But there are many people who think, "Maybe I should steal this?" Then, they say, "Forget it. It's not the way. It's not proper, it's not human, forget about it." In other words, people that actually steal are less than those who have a desire and thought to steal. One kind of person will actually steal; another will speak about it, but cannot do it. When he is about to it, he is seized by an inner fright. Another will think about it, but doesn't have the audacity to talk about it. Another has a slight will, but when it comes to mind, he is ashamed of himself that he is even thinking about it, and will immediately stop thinking of it.
We cannot know the will without the expression of thought. The will, on its known, is referred to as the subconscious. It becomes revealed through being exposed in thought. Therefore, we have arranged the avodah around improving acts, feelings, and thoughts. We did not focus on improving the will without its expression in the form of the garments of thought, speech, or action. That requires a more subtle and deep kind of work.
To summarize what was said until now, a person is a neshamah on which is the clothing of the body. The body is the root of evil, while the neshamah is the root of good. A person's work is to divest from the garment, which is the evil, and to expose the good. The divestment is on three levels: action, feelings, and thoughts. We spoke in general of divestment in action, feeling, and thought. Clearly, we did not cover (and we can't) all the bad deeds, all the bad feelings, and all the bad thoughts. These are almost infinite. But we have presented the principles of divesting from evil in action, feelings, and thoughts, and tried to uproot the evil of each of these from its source, without working with each case individually.
This is the work of subjugation and separation that we mentioned in the beginning. We said there are three kinds of avodah: hachna'ah, havdalah, and hamtakah. Until now, we have spoken of the first two: to subjugate the power of evil and to separate it from the good. The third stage is the stage of hamtakah. After a person has removed the evil - again, not perfectly, but to a large extent - the evil in acts, feelings, and thoughts, he becomes a person whose is demonstrably good. From here on, comes the next stage, which is hamtakah. We will not begin it now, because it is a long process on its own. But it must be clear that as long as one has not traversed the stages of hachna'ah and havdalah, the removal of evil from acts, feelings, and thoughts, he cannot skip to the next stage - hamtakah. The next stage - hamtakah - comes after a person's work with hachna'ah and havdalah by rectifying the acts, feelings, and thoughts. With Hashem's help, we will continue, until we will be the perfect humans, according to the goal for which we were created.
Basic points that emerged from the question and answer session:
How do we disconnect from evil acts? We must not identify with evil acts that we know of, if we didn't do them. We must not feel guilty even for all the results of our actions, because not all the results are our fault. Even if something is clearly out fault, we must know that it came from the body, and not from the true essence of the person. How do we disconnect from evil feelings? A person might have negative feelings toward another. There is hatred, jealousy, and such. One must enter the world of "alone." Since man was created alone, each person has a place in the neshamah where he can live totally alone, and disconnect from all negative feelings about others. One must also remove the low self-esteem, by seeing that even real faults are not in the self, but in the garment. As far as fears, these come from desires, and one must nullify the will to remove these concerns. One must replace the negative feelings with the world of love, exposing the inner sense of connection of neshamah to neshamah, heart to heart. There is a pure point in the person that is fit for connection, either to other good people, or to the Creator.