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Don’t Think

Written by Rabbi Yehoshua Alt, 15/12/2019

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Don’t Think

The יסוד ושרש העבודה teaches that the main Yetzer Hara is to get one to despair after the sin. In fact, the word עבירה is rooted in עבר, past, since after one sins the evil inclination gets one to think of his past sins causing him to despair.[1] In this light we can graspהרהורי עבירה קשו מעבירה,[2] thoughts of sin are worse than the sin itself, as thinking about one’s sin can bring him to despair.


We need to live with the dictum אל תהי רשע בפני עצמך, do not judge yourself to be a wicked person.[3] In this light we can explain Rashi[4] who says in regard to the פרה אדומה that the Satan and the nations of the world will say what is the reason for this Mitzva. So this is a חוק, statute that you shouldn’t question. A deeper meaning is that the Satan and the nations of the world want us to think about the עגל—as the פרה אדומה is an atonement for that—since we descended from the high level we were on at Har Sinai. This could then cause us to despair. So, אין רשות להרהר אחריה, we shouldn’t think about it, rather continue on and improve. For this reason, we request in Maarivוהסר שטן מלפנינו ומאחרינו, remove the Satan from before us and behind us. מלפנינו refers to not being enticed to sin. ומאחרינו refers to not having despair after we sin by thinking how low we are.


R’ Shlomo Wolbe[5] writes to one who failed to protect himself from the known sin: My dear friend! Cease your searching for what the Sefarim say about that sin. The sources that you have already found and copied for yourself, dispose of them properly. The Yetzer Hara that brings one to this particular sin is so cunning that any thoughts about the subject can stimulate one to fall again. This includes even thoughts of remorse and Teshuva. The only solution is, therefore, is to take the opposite path...To forget about the sin. That is, to give it no thought—even after stumbling. You must stop thinking about the whole subject of this sin! How? By completely investing yourself and learning, with an attempt to be Mechadesh Torah, to develop original thoughts in learning, and specifically learning with Simcha.... This matter involves a great battle. Often you will be victorious. It is possible, however, that at times you will be defeated by the Yetzer Hara. If that, unfortunately, happens, don't think about it and pay it no attention! Banish any thought about what happened and particularly beware of feelings of helplessness! This is the primary goal of the Yetzer Hara—to knock a person down and make him feel hopeless. Don't allow him that victory! Continue to learn, and with joy, as if nothing happened!...The only solution to deal with this issue is to be involved in learning and to become accustomed to thinking in learning; in the street, after you go to bed, etc., as much as possible, but also to socialize and interact with friends...In addition, forget what you've seen in Sefarim about the punishments and difficulty of doing teshuva resulting from this sin. Just look at the Siddur HaGra.[6] What you find there should direct you in this area. I am aware that these instructions are completely different than what you have seen, but this way has the approval of the Chazon Ish. However, it is difficult to become accustomed to not paying any attention and to not giving thought. Thoughts of remorse, anguish, and hopelessness constantly arise. For this reason, I request that you reread this letter occasionally. Hashem should help you ascend to the heights of Torah and Yiras Shamayim until you completely forget about this sin. And with Hashem's help you'll establish a house of Torah and father children in holiness and purity. There is no reason whatsoever to be concerned that what you have done in the past will have any effect on your ability to do this. Only strengthen yourself in learning Torah with Chidush.


We need to fulfill אזמרה לאלו-ה בעודי,[7] sing to Hashem with what we have now. That is, we need to serve Hashem the best we can even with our faults and sins. The Divrei Chaim explainedאש תמיד תוקד על המזבח לא תכבה,[8] a permanent fire shall remain aflame…it shall not be extinguished, that there should always be a fire in your heart (אש תמיד תוקד) for Avodas Hashem (על המזבח). Even if you sin, this fire shouldn’t be extinguished—לא תכבה


The Pasuk states ותתפשהו בבגדו...החוצה, the wife of Potifar grabbed the garment of Yosef…he left his garment in her hand, fled and went outside.[9] The Tiferes Uziel, a student of the Magid of Mezerich interprets בבגדו as in בגידה, betrayal, traitor meaning to say the evil inclination said to Yosef look at your past sins and how you have betrayed Hashem.[10] So you may as well give in to this temptation. This is implicit in the wording there as it says וחטאתי לאלה-ים, have sinned against Hashem—past tense,  and not ואחטא, I will sin, future tense,[11] as this is how the Yetzer Hara tried to trap Yosef.[12] What was Yosef’s reaction? ויעזב בגדו—he let go of that feeling and was therefore saved from sin.

Rabbi Alt merited to learn under the tutelage of R’ Mordechai Friedlander Ztz”l for close to five years. He received Semicha from R’ Zalman Nechemia Goldberg. Rabbi Alt has written on numerous topics for various websites and publications. He lives with his wife and family in a suburb of Yerushalayim where he studies, writes and teaches. The author is passionate about teaching Jews of all levels of observance.

[1] It has been pointed out that עבירה sounds similar to the English word over, as the Yetzer Hara gets one to think of his past sins thinking that it is all over, so give up. 

[2] Yoma 29a.

[3] Avos 2:18.

[4] Bamidbar 19:2.

[5] Igros Uksavim, 1:24.

[6] R’ Chaim Volozhin (in Keser Rosh, printed at the end of the Siddur HaGra, 133) highlights the spiritual danger of excessive guilt in this area. He criticizes those who quote from the Zohar regarding the severity of the known transgression, yet neglect to quote the end of this same Zohar, which says that Torah study corrects this transgression. In a footnote, the Shela is quoted:אלו החסידים המחמירים לומר אין תיקון לחטא הזה ר"ל... הם המרבים פושעים בישראל ומרחיקים מלבא תחת כנפי השכינה אשר בעל העון... בשמעו אלה אומר אין תשובה לחצי דבר, וכאשר אבדתי אבדתי כו', ואלו [החסידים] גורמים גלות השכינה, ואינן נקראים חסידים כי אם חסרים ועונשם גדול למאוד., Those stringent ones who are stringent and state that there is no correcting this transgression... they are the ones who induce an increase of sinning among us and cause people to distance themselves from Hashem, since the sinner, when he hears that there no repentance for this sin will abandon all attempts to improve himself. These stringent ones cause the Shechina to go into Galus and rather than be called Chasidim (stringent ones) should more properly be called “Chaseirim” (lacking ones) and their punishment will be very severe. 

[7] Tehillim 146:2.

[8] Vayikra 6:6.

[9] Breishis 39:12.

[10] One shouldn’t live in the past and as it says באשר הוא שם, in accordance with the deeds that he does at the present is he judged (Breishis 21:17 with Rashi).

[11] In this way we can comprehend עד כאן דברי יצר הרע מכאן ואילך דברי יצר טוב (Shabbos 63b): regarding thinking about the past (עד כאן), that is the snare of the Yetzer Hara—דברי יצר הרע. On the other hand, in the present and looking to the future (מכאן ואילך) is the guidance of the Yetzer Tov—דברי יצר טוב.  

[12] 39:9. The Gemara says שובו בנים שובבים חוץ מאחר, return wayward sons except for Acher (Chagiga 15a). This can also be understood that to do Teshuva, we must keep אחר out, meaning don’t let that voice inside you saying ‘how can you do Teshuva after all the sins you committed’ prevent you from doing Teshuva. 

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