Positive Vision - Day 88
Rabbi Avrohom Neuberger
Our weekly excerpt from the book "Positive Vision"
Day 88 - The Struggle - Boxers in the Theatre of Your Mind
We mentioned earlier (Day 47) that one is most likely to be aware of his failings in kedushah when he wishes to daven. He feels like a fraud trying to visualize himself speaking to Hashem when his imagination was recently occupied with tumah.
Surprisingly, however, the Baal HaTanya adds that in certain cases the sudden appearance of an improper image or thought is not cause for concern but rather cause for celebration.
He explains it this way: Picture two people engaged in a sports competition, say boxing or racing. As long as one is not going all out, his adversary will likewise pace himself and hold back. But as soon as one chooses to let loose and go full throttle, his opponent will respond in kind and fight back with every ounce of his strength.
The Baal HaTanya explains that when one is about to daven, his spiritual self (which he refers to as the “nefesh Elokis”) intensifies and concentrates on standing before Hashem in prayer. At this point his physical self (the “nefesh habehamis”) senses the “threat” to its mission and leaps into action to fight. It does so by introducing improper thoughts into the person’s mind. Many people assume that the appearance of such thoughts just as they are about to daven proves the worthlessness of their prayers. [“If I would daven properly these images would never arise!”] If that is your thought process, the yetzer hara has you right where he wants you — feeling bewildered and cheap.
In fact, this logic is flawed.
Such thinking would make sense, explains the Baal HaTanya, if a person would be comprised of one nefesh only. The sudden introduction of tumah when you’re about to daven would indeed indicate that your commitment is lacking. But a person is not composed of one nefesh only; each of us must deal with two distinct motivators, one good and one bad. There is a constant war raging within each of us as to who will take control — or to be more precise, whom we will allow to take control. When we decide to learn Torah or think about fearing Hashem we have empowered our spiritual self; when we think improper thoughts, we have ceded control to our base impulses.
When one wishes to daven, his mind thus becomes a battleground between these two opposing forces, with each vying for control. The yetzer hara realizes that its adversary is about to wrest control and is trying desperately to stop it, so it sends images and thoughts into one’s mind to interfere. The sudden and unexpected appearance of improper thoughts as one is about to daven in fact demonstrates the potential for growth. These thoughts have entered one’s mind for this very reason.
In practice, how should one deal with such thoughts?
Envision the following scenario: You are involved is some constructive task when a deranged homeless fellow walks in, ranting angrily and demanding your attention. [Anyone who regularly “enjoys” the New York City subway system need not stretch his imagination too far to visualize this.] How would you react?
You would ignore the individual and simply walk away. There is no point grappling with a madman. If you wrestle with a filthy person, you’ll end up filthy yourself.
Says the Tanya: When an improper thought enters your mind, don’t let it bother you. Don’t dwell upon it, just ignore it. Don’t allow it to get your attention at all. Distracting oneself (hesech hadaas) is a very effective tool in the battle for maintaining kedushah [as we elaborated on in Days 16 and 55].
But primarily, the Tanya is telling us not to get dejected.
The fact that you are struggling does not mean you are bad. In fact, it may indicate that because there is great opportunity for growth the yetzer hara is fighting harder.