the tanya in sefer likutei amurim discusses this problem chapter 28 i copied a translation from chabad.org from chapters 27-29 because it is continuous. but chapter 28 is specificaly the problem of impure thoughts during davening and learning
you can go there yourself to learn the other chapters here
In the previous chapter the Alter Rebbe stated that sadness hinders one’s service of Gd in general, and his battle with the Yetzer Hara in particular. He therefore discussed means of overcoming sadness caused by material concerns, and by anxiety over one’s sins.
In this chapter and the next, he will discuss another type of melancholy, that caused by concern over one’s sinful thoughts and desires. This category itself may be further subdivided into two: () Where these thoughts occur while one is occupied with his material affairs, and () Where these thoughts disturb his service of Gd in Torah study, prayer and the like.
In this chapter the Alter Rebbe discusses the first situation. He states that not only are these thoughts no cause for sadness, but on the contrary, they ought to give rise to joy.Chapter 27
If, however, his sadness does not stem from anxiety over sins that he has committed, but from the fact that sinful thoughts and desires enter his mind, then:
If these thoughts occur to him not during his service of Gd, but while he is occupied with his own affairs and with mundane matters and the like,
he should, on the contrary, be happy in his lot; for although these sinful thoughts enter his mind, he averts his attention from them.
It is clear that here we are speaking of one who does not wilfully dwell on sinful thoughts, for if he does so he is a sinner, and the previous chapter has already dealt with sadness arising from sins.
By averting his mind from sinful thoughts he fulfills the injunction, “You shall not follow after your heart and after your eyes, by which you go astray.”
Only when sinful thoughts enter one’s mind can he fulfill this command. For the intention of the verse is not that one be at a level where such thoughts would not occur to him: this is the level of tzaddikim, who have eradicated all evil from their hearts. Surely, then this verse is not addressed to tzaddikim. The verse refers rather to one who does have such thoughts, and he is commanded to banish them — as the Alter Rebbe continues:
The above verse surely does not speak of tzaddikim, referring to them (Gd forbid) as “going astray,”
but of Beinonim like himself, in whose mind there do enter erotic thoughts, whether of an innocent nature [or otherwise],
and when he averts his mind from them, he fulfills this injunction.
Our Sages have said: “When one passively abstains from sin, he is rewarded as though he had actively performed a mitzvah.”
Consequently, he should rejoice in his compliance with the injunction just as he does when performing an actual positive precept.
Thus not only should the occurence of these thoughts not grieve him, but it ought to bring him joy, for only thereby is he able to fulfill this commandment.
On the contrary, such sadness is due to conceit.
For he does not know his place, and that is why he is distressed because he has not attained the level of a tzaddik,
to whom such foolish thoughts surely do not occur.
For were he to recognize his station, that he is very far from the rank of tzaddik,
and would that he be a Beinoni and not a rasha for even a single moment throughout his life (i.e., this is what he should be striving for at present, rather than vainly desiring to be a tzaddik),
then surely, this is the due measure of the Beinonim and their task:
To subdue the evil impulse and the thought that rises from the heart to the mind, and to completely avert his mind from it, repulsing it as it were with both hands, as explained above in ch. .
The Alter Rebbe explained there that the evil in the soul of the Beinoni remains vigorous; his task is to prevent it from expressing itself in thought, speech, and action. Thus, he has no control over the occurence of evil thoughts in his mind, but only over his acceptance or rejection of these thoughts.
With every repulsion of this thought from his mind, the sitra achra is suppressed here below in This World,
and, since “the arousal from below (in our case, the initiative of the Beinoni in suppressing the sitra achra) produces a corresponding arousal above,”
the sitra achra above in the supernal worlds (the root of the sitra achra of this world) which soars like an eagle, is also suppressed,
thus realizing the verse, “Though you soar aloft like the eagle…I will yet bring you down from there, says Gd.”
Indeed the Zohar, in Parshat Terumah (p. ), extolls the Divine satisfaction that occurs when the sitra achra is subdued here below,
for “thereby Gd’s glory rises above all, more than by any other praise, and this ascent its greater than all else, etc.”
Thus, it is the evil thoughts which enter the mind of the Beinoni that enable him to fulfill Gd’s command in averting his attention from them, thereby subduing the sitra achra.
Therefore one should not feel depressed or very troubled at heart (— he ought to be somewhat troubled by the occurence of these thoughts, otherwise he may become indifferent to them and will cease to wage war against them; but he ought not to be sorely troubled by them),
even if he be engaged all his days in this conflict with the thoughts which will always enter his mind.
Though he may never rise to the level which precludes their occurence, yet he should not be depressed.
For perhaps this is what he was created for, and this is the service demanded of him — to subdue the sitra achra constantly.
Concerning this Job said to Gd: “You have created wicked men,” as though it were preordained that one man be wicked, and another righteous.
In the first chapter, the Alter Rebbe pointed out that this is contradicted by the statement in the Gemara that before a child is born, Gd decrees whether he shall be wise or foolish, strong or weak, and so on, but does not determine whether he will be righteous or wicked — this is left to one’s own choice. The meaning of Job’s statement becomes clear, however, in light of the above discussion. True, Gd does not ordain whether man will act wickedly, but He does “create wicked men,” in the sense that their minds work like the mind of the rasha, with evil thoughts constantly occuring to them. Gd created them in this way so that they will engage in battle with these thoughts, and thereby subjugate the sitra achra — as the Alter Rebbe now goes on to say.
The implication of Job’s statement is not that they were created to actually be wicked, Gd forbid, i.e., sinful in thought, speech and action,
but that there should occur to them, in their thoughts and musings alone, that which occurs to the wicked, i.e., that evil thoughts should enter their mind, as they do in the mind of the wicked,
and they shall eternally wage war to avert their minds from them in order to subjugate the sitra achra,
yet they will never be able to annihilate the sitra achra in their souls completely, for this is accomplished by tzaddikim.
A tzaddik subjugates his animal soul to such a degree that it is unable to arouse temptation in his heart. His mind is therefore untroubled by evil thoughts. Those, however, of whom Job said that they were “created wicked,” cannot rise to this level. It is always possible for evil thoughts to enter their minds; their task is not to give them free rein.
For there are two kinds of Divine pleasure:
one, from the complete annihilation of the sitra achra, and the conversion of bitter to sweet and of darkness to light (— the former referring to the emotional faculties of the animal soul, and the latter to its mental faculties), which is accomplished by tzaddikim;
and the second: when the sitra achra is subdued while it is still at its strongest and most powerful, soaring like an eagle,
and from this height Gd topples it in response to human initiative i.e., as a result of one’s efforts at subduing the sitra achra in his soul. This is accomplished by Beinonim.
Each of the two aforementioned categories — those who were “created righteous” and who were “created wicked” — brings about one of these two kinds of Divine gratification.
This is alluded to in the verse, “And make me delicacies, such as I love,”
where the word matamim (“delicacies”) is written in the plural, indicating two kinds of pleasure.
These words are the charge of the Shechinah to its children, the community of Israel, as explained in Tikkunei Zohar — that with these words Gd asks of the Jewish people to please Him with their divine service.
Just as with material food, there are two kinds of delicacies—
one of sweet and luscious foods, and the other of sharp or sour articles which are unpleasant to eat in their natural state,
but have been well spiced and prepared so that they become delicacies which revive the soul — so too are there two kinds of spiritual delicacies.
One is provided by tzaddikim, who are occupied solely with matters that are “good” and “sweet” — holy matters. Having conquered the evil of their animal soul, they no longer need grapple with the sitra achra. Their divine service consists of increasing the light of holiness. The second kind of delicacy is provided by Beinonim, who are occupied with “bitter” matters, with battling against the sitra achra in their soul, and with the evil thoughts that it spawns.
This is indicated in the verse, “The L-rd has made everything for His sake; even the wicked for the day of evil.”
How can it be said that the rasha was created for Gd’s sake
This means, however, that he should repent of his evil, and turn his evil into “day” and light above,
when the sitra achra is subdued, and the glory of Gd is uplifted on high.
Thus, the meaning of the words “even the wicked for the day of evil” is that the purpose of the wicked is to transform the “evil” into “day”.
* * *
The central point of the above discussion was that through the occurence of evil thoughts in one’s mind, and through one’s battle against them, the sitra achra is subdued, causing great pleasure above.
The Alter Rebbe now goes on to say that this subjugation of the sitra achra and the consequent Divine pleasure are brought about not only by one’s struggle against the sitra achra when it attempts to lead one to sin (as in our case, where the lack of a struggle against evil thoughts, and the continued meditation on them would constitute a sin). Rather, one produces the same effect by struggling with one’s nature in abstaining from permitted matters. For as explained in ch. , any permitted action done without the specific intention of leading one to the serving of Gd (as, for example, eating in order to obtain strength for Torah study or performing the mitzvot) derives its vitality from the sitra achra. (This term simply means “the other side,” i.e., the absence of holiness.) Only an action so directed can draw its vitality from the realm of holiness. Therefore, whenever one refrains from doing even a permissible act (in which this intention is lacking) in order to subdue the sitra achra, he gives rise to Divine pleasure.
Furthermore, not only by fighting his evil thoughts does one subdue the sitra achra, but even in matters that are fully permissible,
every act of sacrificing one’s impulse, even if only for a short while i.e., if he delays partaking of even the permissible and essential, with the intention of subduing the sitra achra in the left part of his heart, achieves this end.
For example: when he wants to eat but delays his meal for an hour or less,
and during that time he studies Torah.
For if he occupies himself with other physical matters, he does not subdue the sitra achra by postponing his meal, since he is in any case indulging his animal soul; but if he studies Torah during that time then even when the delay of his meal does not gain him any time for Torah study, for he would have studied Torah regardless (as will soon be stated), and despite the fact that he eventually does eat, yet he subdues the sitra achra by the mere effort of postponing his meal, and thereby he brings about the Divine pleasure caused by every subjugation of the sitra achra.
As the Gemara states: “The fourth hour [of the day] is when all men eat, but the sixth hour is the mealtime for scholars,”
because they would go hungry for two hours with this intention,
although even after the meal they would study all day.
So too if one restrains his mouth from saying things which he greatly desires to say, concerning mundane matters — even where is nothing wrong with the words per se, yet he refrains from speaking them precisely because he feels a desire to do so;
and likewise regarding the thoughts of his mind he suppresses an urge to think about some mundane matter.
Even by the slightest subjugation of the sitra achra here below,
the glory of Gd and His holiness is greatly elevated on high.
From this holiness, a sublime holiness issues forth upon man below, to assist him with a great and powerful aid in his service of Gd.
This is what our Sages meant when they said: “If a man consecrates himself in a small measure here below, he is sanctified greatly from above.”
This is apart from the fact that when one sanctifies himself in permissible matters, he thereby fulfills the positive commandment of the Torah: “Sanctify yourselves, and be holy.”
Hence, apart from the consolation previously offered the Beinoni — that through “turning away from evil” by combating evil thoughts and desires, he affords Gd a pleasure that tzaddikim cannot — his battle with the sitra achra also contains a positive quality in the category of “doing good,” that is likewise not present in the divine service of tzaddikim. This positive quality is the fulfillment of the mitzvah: “Sanctify yourselves…,” which applies only to Beinonim, not to tzaddikim. For the intention of the commandment is that even one’s personal, permissible, and mundane matters should not be attended to out of the desire of one’s animal soul, but for the sake of Gd. This directive cannot apply to tzaddikim, who are unencumbered by desires of the animal soul, as the Alter Rebbe continues:
The meaning of “Sanctify yourselves” is: “You shall make yourselves holy.”
That is to say, although in truth one is not holy and separated from the sitra achra,
for the sitra achra of his animal soul is still, as at birth, at its full strength and might, in the left part of his heart — the seat of the animal soul and evil inclination,
The word kedushah (“holiness”) means “setting apart,” i.e., separation from the unholy. The verse thus means: One should sanctify himself even if he must yet make himself holy and separate from the sitra achra, for at his present level his heart still desires those things that derive from it,
yet if even while at this level he subdues and masters his evil impulse and makes himself “holy”, separate from the sitra achra, then, continues the verse:
“You will be holy.”
The words “be holy” which, in their simple sense, voice a command, can also be understood as conveying a promise,
meaning that ultimately he will be truly “holy” and removed from the sitra achra,
through his being “greatly sanctified from above,” as quoted earlier from the Gemara,
and through his being aided from above to expel [the sitra achra] from his heart, little by little, so that even in his heart he will no longer have any desire for anything originating in the realm of the sitra achra.
In the previous chapter the Alter Rebbe taught that the Beinoni should not be distressed by the occurrence of sinful thoughts in his mind. On the contrary, he ought to rejoice, for by repulsing these thoughts and promptly averting his mind from them, he fulfills the commandment of “not going astray after one’s heart,” and thereby crushes the spirit of the sitra achra, consequently causing intense Divine pleasure.
However, this reasoning can only be applied when such thoughts occur to the Beinoni while engaged in his material pursuits. If, however, they occur to him while occupied in the service of Gd (e.g., while praying or studying the Torah), they are certainly no cause for rejoicing, since they distract him from his divine service. How is he to deal with them in this case — This is the subject of ch. .Chapter 28
Even if lustful imaginings or other extraneous thoughts occur to him during his service of Gd — in Torah or in prayer with kavanah,
he should pay them no attention, but avert his mind from them immediately.
Nor should he be so foolish as to engage in “sublimation of the middot” of the extraneous thought,
as is known — that one can overcome extraneous thoughts by elevating their source.
For every such thought stems from one of the middot of the animal soul. For example, the middah of love in the animal soul gives rise to one’s lustful thoughts; the middah of fear gives rise to hatred, and to fears inappropriate to him; and so on. It is therefore written that when one is disturbed by such a thought, he should determine which middah is its source, and should then refocus that middah on the spiritual aspects of the object of his thoughts. For example, if the extraneous thought is a desire for some physical object, one should contemplate that the desirability of the object which he craves is actually a manifestation of the Divine power that made it desirable — beautiful, tasty, or whatever. Therefore, rather than applying his desire (i.e., his middah of love) to the object’s physical sheath, he should direct it to the Gdliness that underlies it. He will thereby elevate the corresponding middah of his animal soul to its Divine source, and thus destroy the evil in the thoughts caused by the middah, leaving only the good — the “sparks” of holiness embedded in them. This is what is meant by “sublimating the middot” in order to overcome extraneous thoughts.
For the Beinoni, however, such an exercise would be sheer foolishness, as the Alter Rebbe explains presently.
For such things were intended only for tzaddikim,
in whom there do not occur any evil thoughts of their own evil middot, but only from the middot of others.
Since the tzaddik has transformed the middot of his animal soul to good, no evil thoughts can arise from them. Any evil thought that may arise in his mind stems from the middot of others. For another individual, whose soul-root is connected with this tzaddik, finds himself in difficulty combating his own evil middot, and requires his assistance. This person’s evil thought is therefore planted in the mind of the tzaddik, though in the form of mere abstract “letters of thought,” without any feeling of evil attached to it. The tzaddik, recognizing the source of this thought, redirects it towards the spiritual realm (as explained above), and thereby elevates the middah whence it stems, thus enabling his fellow-Jew to overcome his own evil middot. But only the tzaddik can accomplish this, since he himself possesses no evil middot.
But as for one, i.e., a Beinoni, to whom there occurs an evil thought of his own, from the evil that is lodged in the left part of his heart i.e., the evil middot of his animal soul,
how can he raise it up to the spiritual realm when he himself is bound below by his desire for the material
It would therefore be foolish for the Beinoni to attempt to rid himself of extraneous thoughts by engaging in the sublimation of his middot.
Nevertheless, he must not be downhearted, nor feel dejected and despicable because of this occurence of extraneous thoughts during his service of Gd, when he ought to be most joyous.
On the contrary, he should draw fresh strength, and intensify his determination with all his power, to pray with concentration, with even greater joy and gladness,
in the realization that the foreign thought which occurred to him derives from the kelipah of the left part of the heart, which wages war within the Beinoni against the divine soul within him.
It is known, that it is the way of combatants who seek to destroy one another and similarly of wrestlers who aim merely to topple one another,
that when one is gaining the upper hand, the other likewise exerts himself with all the resources of his strength in order to prevail.
Therefore, in the battle between the divine soul and the animal soul, when the divine soul exerts itself and musters all its strength in prayer, thereby to weaken or even vanquish the animal soul,
the kelipah of the animal soul too gathers strength to counter it, aiming to confuse and topple the divine soul by means of a foreign thought of its own.
The animal soul, sensing danger in the divine soul’s increased efforts in prayer with devotion, contrives to jar one’s concentration by conjuring up assorted foreign thoughts in his mind. Thus, the appearance of an extraneous thought during prayer indicates that one’s devotion was of sufficient quality to give the animal soul cause for concern; and this realization itself should gladden one and encourage him to continue his efforts.
This refutes a common error. When a foreign thought occurs to some people during prayer, they mistakenly conclude that their prayer is worthless,
for if one prayed properly and correctly, so they mistakenly believe, no foreign thoughts would arise in his mind.
They would be correct if there would be but one soul within a person, the same soul that prays being also the one that thinks and ponders on the foreign thoughts.
For in this case, if the Gdly soul were truly immersed in the prayers, there would be no room within it for foreign thoughts.
but in fact there are two souls, each waging war against the other in the person’s mind.
The mind is thus not only the battleground, but also the prize, the object of the battle between the two souls, for:
Each of them wishes and desires to rule and pervade the mind exclusively.
All thoughts of Torah and the fear of Gd come from the Gdly soul, while all thoughts of worldly matters derive from the animal soul.
Similarly in our case, thoughts of prayer are from the divine soul, while foreign thoughts stem from the animal soul. Thus, the occurence of a foreign thought during prayer is no indication of a fault in the prayer. In fact the opposite may be true, as the Alter Rebbe explained earlier with the analogy of two combatants.
But if there are indeed two separate souls, why should the extraneous thoughts of one interfere with the devotions of the other — They would not interfere, answers the Alter Rebbe,
except that the Gdly soul is clothed within it — within the animal soul.
Therefore the Gdly soul cannot ignore foreign thoughts rising from the animal soul; and thus foreign thoughts disturb one’s devotion in prayer.
This is, to use an example, like a person who is praying with devotion, while facing him there stands a wicked heathen who chats and speaks to him in order to confuse him.
If the other’s intention were not to disturb him but merely, say, to ask him a question, then he could rid himself of the disturbance simply by responding to the questioner. But when the intention is to disturb his prayers, he will gain nothing by responding; if he answers one question, he will promptly be asked another.
Surely the best advice in this case would be to answer him neither good nor evil, but rather to act as though he were deaf, without hearing.
and to comply with the verse, “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you too become like him.”
Just as in the analogy of the heathen who disturbs one during prayer, so too when foreign thoughts enter one’s mind while praying he should answer nothing at all, nor should he engage in argument against the foreign thought, i.e., he should not occupy himself with mental discussions on the best strategy for countering the foreign thought,
for he who wrestles with a filthy person is bound to become soiled himself.
Similarly, in the process of fighting the foreign thought, one’s mind becomes filled and tainted by it. He should therefore not seek to grapple with it.
Instead he should pretend not to know nor hear the foreign thoughts that occurred to him, should dismiss them from his mind,
and strengthen still more the power of his concentration.
If, however, he finds it difficult to dismiss them because they distract his mind with great intensity,
then he should humble his soul before Gd, and supplicate Him in his thought to have compassion upon him in His abundant mercies,
like a father who takes pity on his children who stem from his brain — and so too should Gd be compassionate on his soul, which derives from Gd’s “mind” — the attribute of Chochmah, as explained in ch. ,
to rescue it from the “turbulent waters,” i.e., the thoughts which disturb the soul. This He should do for His own sake, since truly “His people is a part of the L-rd.”
In order that one should not incur Divine judgement as to whether he is worthy of Gd’s compassion, the Alter Rebbe advises that one should beseech Gd’s mercies for His own sake. Since the soul is “a part of Gd,” in aiding the soul he actually helps Himself, so to speak. The question of whether one is deserving of such aid thus becomes irrelevant.
Another interpretation sees the words, “This He should do for His own sake…,” not as part of the worshiper’s plea, but as a guarantee: Gd will certainly come to the aid of one who entreats Him, and certainly will “rescue his soul from the turbulent waters”; this is for His own sake, for the soul is veritably a part of Gd.
In ch. the Alter Rebbe stated that both depression and dullness of heart produce a state of sluggishness which prevents a person from overcoming the evil inclination of the animal soul. He therefore outlined in chs. - methods of overcoming depression arising from various causes. In this chapter the Alter Rebbe will discuss means of dealing with “dullness of heart” (timtum halev), after describing this state more clearly.Chapter 29
Those whose souls are of the level of Beinonim must seek means of contending with yet another difficulty.
Occasionally, and even frequently, they experience a dullness of the heart, as though it had turned to stone, and, try as they might, they cannot open their heart in prayer, which is by definition the “service of the heart.”
Chassidut explains that prayer is the “service of the heart” in a two-fold sense: (a) It takes place in the heart, for in prayer one strives to extend his intellectual apprehension of Gdliness into the realm of emotions experienced in the heart — the love and fear of Gd; (b) The object of prayer is the heart, for in prayer one tries to transform the nature of his heart — to steer it away from the mundane desires to which it naturally inclines, and to direct it instead towards a yearning for the spiritual and the Gdly. To accomplish both these objectives of prayer, the heart must of course be open and receptive, and thus timtum halev is a major hindrance.
Also, the heaviness in his heart prevents him at times from waging war against the evil impulse, in sanctifying himself in permitted matters.
As the Alter Rebbe explained in ch. , it is the task of the Beinoni to suppress the desires of his heart, e.g., by not eating as soon as he has the urge to do so. This requires a battle with one’s evil impulse, which demands that he gratify all of his desires. When his heart is dull, heavy and insensitive he cannot fight the evil impulse.
In this case, the advice given in the holy Zohar is, as the president of the academy of Gan Eden said: “A wooden beam which does not catch fire should be splintered, and similarly a body into which the light of the soul does not penetrate should be crushed,” and thereby the body becomes receptive to the soul’s light, as the Zohar concludes.
In the analogy quoted from the Zohar we see that the wood is made receptive to the flame, rather than the flame being increased or improved to the point where it overwhelms the wood. Similarly with the insensitive heart. Timtum halev must be eradicated (by removing its underlying cause, as the Alter Rebbe will soon conclude), rather than overwhelmed (by increasing the intellectual light of contemplation on the greatness of Gd).
The reference to the “light of the soul” which, in this case, does not penetrate the body means that the light of the soul and of the intellect does not illuminate to such an extent as to prevail over the coarseness of the body.
Thus, although he understands and meditates in his mind on the greatness of Gd, yet that which he understands is not apprehended and implanted in his mind to the point where it enables him to prevail over the coarseness of the heart — because of the degree of their (the mind and heart’s) coarseness and crassness.
The cause of this deficiency is the arrogance of the kelipah of the animal soul, which exalts itself above the holiness of the light of the divine soul, so that it obscures and darkens its light.
Therefore, one must crush it and cast it down to the ground, just as in the previously quoted analogy the beam is splintered so that it will catch fire.
The Alter Rebbe now proceeds to explain how this is accomplished. He points out that the personality of the Beinoni is his animal soul. (When a Beinoni says “I,” he is referring to his animal soul.) Thus, by crushing his own spirit, he crushes the sitra achra, and thereby enables the light of the soul and intellect to penetrate himself.
This means that one must crush the sitra achra and cast it to the ground by setting aside appointed times for humbling oneself and considering himself “despicable and contemptible,” as it is written.
Now “A broken heart [leads to] a broken spirit,” the “spirit” being the sitra achra which, in the case of Beinonim, is the very man himself.
For in his heart the vital soul which animates the body is in its full strength as it was at birth; hence it is indeed the very man himself.
With regard to the divine soul within him it is said: “The soul which You gave within me is pure.” The word “(within) me” cannot be understood as referring to the body alone: the body cannot speak for itself as a complete man. Thus, it must refer also to the (animating) soul. Therefore, the words “(which You gave) within me” imply that the man himself who is saying these words is not identified with the “pure soul”; i.e., the divine soul is a thing apart, which has been “placed within” this “me” — the body and animal soul — except in the case of tzaddikim.
With them the contrary is true: the man himself is the “pure soul,” i.e, the divine soul, while their body is called “the flesh of man” i.e., secondary to the man himself — the divine soul.
It was in this sense that Hillel the Elder would say to his disciples when he went to eat that he was going to do a favor to the “lowly and poor creature,” meaning his body. He regarded his body as a foreign thing, and therefore used this expression — that he was doing it a favor by giving it food. For he himself was nothing other than the divine soul. It alone animated his body and flesh, inasmuch as in tzaddikim the evil that was in the vital soul pervading their blood and flesh has been transformed into good and completely absorbed into the holiness of the divine soul, and thus, the divine soul is the man himself.
With a Beinoni, however, since the substance and essence of the vitalizing, animal soul (stemming from the sitra achra) which pervades his blood and flesh has not been transformed into good, it indeed constitutes the man himself, and therefore, by crushing his own spirit the Beinoni actually crushes the sitra achra.
The Alter Rebbe now proceeds to suggest various lines of reasoning that the Beinoni may use in order to humble and crush his spirit — and thereby the sitra achra of his animal soul. The first of these follows from the point just concluded, that the personality of the Beinoni is, in fact, an expression of the sitra achra — the animal soul.
If so, that he is actually the animal soul, he is removed from Gd with the utmost remoteness. For the lusting drive in his animal soul is capable of lusting also after forbidden things, which are contrary to Gd’s Will.
While he does not desire to do them (these forbidden things) in actual practice, Gd forbid, yet they are not truly repulsive to him, as they are to tzaddikim, as explained above (in ch. ).
There the Alter Rebbe explains that after his prayers, when the love of Gd is no longer revealed in his heart, a Beinoni can feel a craving for material pleasures, whether they be permitted or forbidden — except that in the case of forbidden matters, he does not actually wish to implement his desires in forbidden actions; they remain instead in the category of “sinful thoughts.”
In this he is inferior to and more loathsome and abominable than unclean animals and insects and reptiles, as mentioned above — for even they do not transgress against Gd’s Will (see ch. ), and since he does do so (in his mind, at least) he is worse than they;
and as it is written: “But I am a worm, and not a man...”
As a human being who chooses to lower himself to the level of a worm, I am worse than a worm, for it is a worm by creation rather than by choice.
But what of the times when the divine soul of the Beinoni dominates him, such as during prayer, when he experiences a revealed love of Gd and there is no room in his heart for any mundane desires To this the Alter Rebbe answers:
(Even when his divine soul gathers strength within him to arouse his love of Gd during prayer, this predominance of the divine soul is not altogether genuine, since it is transient and vanishes after prayer, as mentioned earlier, end of ch. .)
The Alter Rebbe explains there that only that which is permanent and unchanging can be described as “true”. Relative to the rank of Beinoni, this arousal of the divine soul during prayer may be considered “truthful”, since the Beinoni is capable of generating it always — whenever he prays. It cannot, however, be described as “absolutely truthful” (emet la‘amito) since it is not constant, occurring only during prayer.
Especially so, if he calls to mind the contamination of his soul with the sin of youth, and the blemish he has wrought thereby in the supernal worlds —the source of his soul. The fact that they were sins of “youth”, belonging to a time and to a spiritual level from which he may presently be far removed, is irrelevant in these supernal worlds — where everything is timeless, and it is as if he had caused the blemish and defiled himself this very day, Gd forbid.
True, he may already have repented sincerely and thereby removed the blemish and cleansed himself. But the essence of repentance is in the heart, and in the heart there are many distinctions and levels. Moreover, everything depends on what kind of a man he is (— the greater his stature, the higher the level of repentance required of him), and on the time and place in which he now stands, as is known to the knowing.
Whenever and wherever one is less tempted by a particular sin, a deeper and loftier level of repentance is expected of him for having committed that sin, than at a time when he is more strongly tempted, and must fight more insistently to resist that temptation. Similarly time and place create other differences with respect to repentance. Therefore, judging by one’s present situation, his earlier repentance may be inadequate in erasing his past sins. Perhaps, then, the absence of a higher form of repentance required of him now causes his sins to interpose between himself and Gd, preventing the light of his soul from penetrating his heart — as the Alter Rebbe continues:
Consequently, now, at this time, when observing himself he sees that “the light of the soul does not penetrate into him,” it is evident that either, (a) his repentance has not been accepted, and his sins still separate him from Gdliness; or (b) it is desired that he be raised to a more sublime level of repentance, coming from a point yet deeper in his heart than his earlier repentance.
Far from indicating Divine displeasure, the rejection of his repentance in this latter case points to Divine favor: a desire to raise this person to yet greater heights of repentance. Hence the difficulties in his divine service and the timtum halev — so that he will call forth greater resources from within himself, and repent more deeply.
For this reason, King David said, despite the fact that he was a tzaddik, who was also able to say of himself: “My heart is a void within me,” which means (as Rashi comments, “The evil impulse is as if dead within me,” — despite this he would still say
“My sin is constantly before me.”
Why was it necessary for a man of David’s caliber to constantly bear in mind his past sins Surely he had repented for them adequately! Obviously, then, the memory is necessary in order to spur one on to greater heights within the ranks of holiness, to deeper levels of repentance, as said earlier.
Even he who is innocent of the grievous sins of youth, but yet wants to attain a broken spirit, should set his heart to fulfill the counsel of the holy Zohar — to be “a master of accounts.”
This means that he should do the spiritual accounting described below as a “master”, a proprietor, to whom each set of figures represents either a profit or a loss that directly affects him — rather than as a “servant”, a hired accountant, who can view whatever bottom line eventuates with academic detachment.
This means that he should take stock with his soul of all his thoughts, utterances and actions that have come and gone since the day he came into being and until the present day. Were they all of the realm of holiness, or of the realm of impurity (Gd forbid) This latter realm includes also any thought, utterance or action not directed toward Gd, His Will and His service even when they are not actually sinful, since this is the meaning of the term sitra achra: not necessarily “evil”, but simply “the other side” — the “side” (realm) that is not holy; thus anything that does not contain holiness belongs to the realm of impurity, as explained earlier, in ch. .
Now, it is known that whenever a person thinks holy thoughts he becomes, during that time, a “chariot” for the “chambers” (heichalot) of holiness whence these thoughts originate, or, more precisely, whence their vitality originates.
Becoming a “chariot” means that he becomes completely subservient to these heichalot, to the same degree that a vehicle, having no will of its own, is completely subservient to its driver’s will. When he meditates on the love of Gd, for example, he becomes a “vehicle” for the supernal “chamber of love,” and so on.
Conversely, when he thinks impure thoughts he becomes an unclean “vehicle” for the heichalot of impurity, whence all impure thoughts originate. So, too, with speech and action.
Thus, even one who cannot call to mind any past sins can humble his spirit by contemplating how often he has become a vehicle for impurity through his thoughts, words and actions which, though not sinful, were still of the realm of the sitra achra — since they were not directed toward Gdliness.
Let him further consider his dreams in order to humble his spirit; for one may learn more about himself from his dreams than from his waking, conscious thoughts. For the most part, they are “vanity, and an affliction of the spirit,” for his soul does not ascend heavenward during his sleep; since it is written: “Who shall ascend the mountain of the Lord” — meaning, in our context, “Whose soul shall rise heavenward while he sleeps, to see and absorb matters of Torah and holiness, which will in turn be reflected in his dreams” And the next verse gives the answer: “He that has clean hands and a pure heart” — implying that the soul of one whose hands and heart are not pure, does not ascend, and that is why his dreams are a patchwork of vanity and foolishness.
Furthermore, “those originating from the ’evil side‘ come and attach themselves to him and inform him in his dreams of mundane affairs... and sometimes mock him and show him false things and torment him in his dreams,” and so on, as stated in the Zohar on Vayikra (p. a,b). See it there discussed at length.
We thus see from the Zohar that one may evaluate himself by studying the content of his dreams. Thereby, he can humble his spirit even if he finds himself free of sin, and in this way he may crush the sitra achra within him, as explained above.
The longer he reflects on these matters, both in his own thoughts and by delving deeply into books which speak of these matters, in order to break down his heart within him and render himself shamed and despised in his own eyes, as is written in the Scriptures, so utterly despised that he despises his very life, — the more he despises and degrades thereby the sitra achra, casting it down to the ground and humbling it from its haughtiness and pride and self-exaltation, wherewith it exalts itself over the light of the divine soul’s holiness, obscuring its radiance.
Up to now, the Alter Rebbe has proposed means of crushing the sitra achra within one’s animal soul by humbling his own spirit through intellectual contemplation. He now turns to another method, that of “raging” against one’s evil impulse, without entering into an analysis of his spiritual level.
He should also thunder against it (the sitra achra) with a strong and raging voice in order to humble it, as our Sages state, “A person should always rouse the good impulse against the evil impulse, as it is written, ‘Rage, and sin not.’”
This means that one should rage — in his mind — against the animal soul, which is his evil empulse, with a voice of stormy indignation, saying to it: “Indeed, you are truly evil and wicked, abominable, loathsome and disgraceful,” and so forth, using all the epithets by which our Sages have called it.
“How long will you obscure the light of the blessed Ein Sof, which pervades all the worlds; which was, is, and will be the same, even in the very place where I stand, just as the light of the blessed Ein Sof was alone before the world was created — utterly unchanged;
as it is written: ’I, the L-rd, have not changed,‘ i.e., the fact of creation has wrought no change in Him, for He transcends time, and so on And therefore, the fact that it is now ’after‘ creation, cannot affect Him.
But you, repulsive one (and so forth) deny the truth which is so plainly visible — that all is truly as nothing in His presence — a truth which is so apparent as to be ’visible to the eye‘!”
In this way he will help his divine soul, enlightening its eyes to perceive the truth of the unity of the infinite light of Ein Sof as though with physical sight, and not merely through the lesser perception of “hearing” and understanding.
For, as explained elsewhere, this is the core of the whole [divine] service.
Intellectual comprehension — i.e., the “hearing” — of Gdliness can lead only to a desire and longing for Gd; the level of perception described as “sight” leads far higher — to one’s self-nullification before Him.
The reason that humbling the spirit of the sitra achra is effective in crushing it is that in truth there is no substance whatever in the sitra achra. That is why it is compared to darkness, which has no substance whatsoever, and is automatically banished by the presence of light.
Similarly with the sitra achra. Indeed, it possesses abundant vitality with which to animate all the impure animals and the souls of the nations of the world, and also the animal soul of the Jew, as has been explained. Yet this vitality is not its own, Gd forbid, but stems from the realm of holiness, for the realm of holiness is the source of all life, including even the life-force of the sitra achra, as has been explained above. Therefore it is completely nullified in the presence of holiness, as darkness is nullified in the presence of physical light. Its power lies only in the fact that in regard to the holiness of man’s divine soul, Gd has given it (— the sitra achra) permission and ability to raise itself against it (— the divine soul), in order that man should be roused to overpower it and to humble it by means of the humility and submission of his spirit, and by being abhorrent and despised in his own eyes — for through this he humbles the sitra achra and abhors it.
The arousal of man below to crush the sitra achra causes an arousal above, to fulfill what is written: “From there will I bring you down, says Gd” to the sitra achra, which seeks to rise against Gdliness and to obscure it.
This means that He deprives it of its dominion and power, and withdraws from it the strength and authority which had been given it to rise up against the light of the holiness of the divine soul.
Thereupon it automatically becomes nullified and is banished, just as darkness is nullified before physical light.
Indeed, we find this explicitly stated in the Torah in connection with the Spies sent by Moses to scout out the Holy Land. At the outset they declared: “For he (the enemy) is stronger than we,” and, interpreting the word the Sages say:
“Read not ’than we,‘ but ’than He,‘” meaning that they had no faith in Gd’s ability to lead them into the Holy Land. But afterwards they reversed themselves and announced: “We will readily go up [to conquer the Land].”
Whence did their faith in Gd’s ability return to them Our teacher Moses, peace unto him, had not shown them in the interim any sign or miracle concerning this, which would restore their faith. He had merely told them that Gd was angry with them and had sworn not to allow them to enter the Land.
What value did this Divine anger and oath have to them, if in any case they did not believe in Gd’s ability to subdue the thirty-one kings who reigned in the Land at that time, for which reason they had had no desire whatever to enter the Land
Surely, then, the explanation is as follows: Israelites themselves are “believers, [being] the descendants of believers.” Even while they stated, “The enemy is stronger than He,” their divine soul still believed in Gd. They professed a lack of faith in His ability only because the sitra achra clothed in their body in the person of their animal soul had risen against the light of the holiness of the divine soul, with its characteristic impudent arrogance and haughtiness, without sense or reason.
Therefore as soon as Gd became angry with them, and thundered angrily: “How long shall I bear with this evil congregation…,Your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness…I, Gd, have spoken: I will surely do it unto all this evil congregation...,” — their heart was humbled and broken within them when they heard these stern words, as it is written, “And the people mourned greatly.” Consequently, the sitra achra toppled from its dominion, from its haughtiness and arrogance.
But the Israelites themselves i.e., as far as their divine soul was concerned had believed in Gd all along.
Therefore, as soon as they were released from the dominion of the sitra achra, they proclaimed, “We will readily go up...” There was no need of a miracle to convince them of Gd’s ability. All that was necessary was to divest the sitra achra of its arrogance, and this was accomplished by Gd’s “raging” at them.
Similarly with every Jew: When the light of his soul does not penetrate his heart, it is merely due to the arrogance of the sitra achra, which will vanish as soon as he rages at it.
Every person in whose mind there occur doubts concerning faith in Gd can deduce from this episode of the Spies that these doubts are nothing but the empty words of the sitra achra which raises itself against his divine soul. But Israelites themselves are believers...
Furthermore, the sitra achra itself entertains no doubts at all concerning faith. As explained in ch. , the kelipah in its spiritual state (i.e., when not clothed in the human body) does not deny Gd’s sovereignty. It has merely been granted permission to confuse man with false and deceitful words, in order that he may be more richly rewarded for mastering it.
In this it is similar to the harlot who attempts to seduce the king’s son through falsehood and deceit, with the king’s approval, as in the parable narrated in the holy Zohar.
The parable: A king hires a harlot to seduce his son, so that the prince will reveal his wisdom in resisting her wiles. The harlot herself, knowing the king’s intention, does not want the prince to submit to temptation. Similarly with the sitra achra: it is merely fulfilling its Gd-given task in attempting to lure man away from Gd, but actually desires that man resist it, thereby earning a greater reward.
However, this is true only of the spiritual kelipah which is the source of the animal soul. The animal soul and evil impulse as clothed within man, on the other hand, are truly evil, and their unequivocal aim is to entice man to do evil.
In the context of the parable, this may be described as follows: The harlot originally commissioned by the king subcontracts a second harlot, and the second a third, and so on. As the actual executor of the mission becomes successively further removed from the king, the original intention is lost, and finally the prince is approached by a harlot who has her own intentions in mind, not those of the king, as she attempts to seduce the prince.
In any event, we see that any doubts one may have concerning faith in Gd, are merely the empty words of the sitra achra. The soul within every Jew, however, believes in Gd with a perfect faith.