"And for the sin that we committed before You in our heart's
thoughts" (behirhur haleiv).
One of the sins for which we beat our breasts on Yom Kippur
is for having the wrong thoughts. If the wrong thoughts flit
through our minds, we ask forgiveness from Hashem. We want
our minds to be places whose contents are pure and holy all
the time: 24/7.
There is plenty to think about. There is a huge Torah, longer
than the earth and wider than the sea, as rich and varied as
the entire human experience. There are things we could have
done better and good things to plan for the future.
There is no need to think negative thoughts about others or
about ourselves. Thinking about bad things, contemplating
doing forbidden actions, even just observing morally ugly
things -- are all wrong and damaging, sometimes leaving
Today it is often hard to appreciate how profoundly bad and
damaging even a passing thought can be. The modern, secular
world constantly offers to fill up our minds with thoughts of
arayos and bloodshed. People pay to see and experience
the fantastic sinful imaginings of others in these areas in
films and computer games. Real events that involve excess and
decadence in these areas are served up as "news" that is "fit
to print" and whose intimate details everyone "should know"
in order to be well-informed. It is considered normal for
people to have such serious aveiros constantly on
their minds, and no one thinks there is anything wrong -- as
long as they do not do them.
A few months ago the world celebrated the hundredth
anniversary of a day connected with a work entitled
Ulysses by James Joyce, who is considered by the world
to be one of the great writers of the last century. The
content of the book is the chaotic and filthy "stream of
consciousness" of a fictional person on one day in 1904. Few -
- if any -- could write what Joyce wrote (few can even read
it), but it is nonetheless ridiculous and immoral, according
to the Torah's guidelines for even general morality, to hold
up the imagined content of such a coarse mind as a work of
Far from filling our minds' time with thoughts of the most
serious aveiros that there are, in this period we do
teshuvoh for even fleeting thoughts. Although the
gemora (Bovo Basro 164b) says that a person has
hirhur aveiroh every day, it refers to isolated
incidents, not a constant state of mind.
Nefesh HaChaim (I:4) writes, "Any sin in which a Jew
brings into his heart chas vesholom an alien flame
such as anger or other evil lusts Rachmono litzlan, is
a literal fulfillment of the posuk (Yeshayohu 64:10):
`Our holy Beis Hamikdosh . . . was consumed by fire,'
may the Merciful One save us from this."
Instead of paying for what passes for entertainment but is
clearly the triumph of the yetzer hora, or even just
informing ourselves of the latest decadent news, we must flee
from such thoughts as from fire, and cleanse ourselves as
much as possible of even fleeting thoughts. Of course this
excludes also other improper thoughts such as arrogance,
jealousy, covetousness, heresy and hatred.
We must fill our hearts and minds with the high and holy
thoughts that they are capable of holding, all the time and
in every place.
Our hearts are of course not just a possible way to sin but
even more an opportunity to establish holiness and purity.
Each person's heart is like an inner sanctum that can be
constituted in the most elevated way, despite any problems
that there may be in the world around.
As we do teshuvoh for our lapses in this area, we
should concentrate on elevating our thoughts especially and
specifically during this holy period -- Selichos, Rosh
Hashonoh, Aseres Yemei Teshuvoh, Yom Kippur -- and be
inspired by the achievable goal of building a true Holy of
Holies within ourselves so that the Shechinah can
dwell within us.
Kesivoh vechasimoh tovoh.