It’s all in the mind.
“Where do our thoughts come from?” is a question I was recently asked. The short answer is that there are two “reservoirs” (as I like to call them) of thought. One reservoir contains holy thoughts: how to imitate God by being patient, forgiving and doing kindness; how to be more sincere in one’s devotions—for example, davening (prayer) and Torah study; how to raise one’s standard of behavior and thought in relation to money, food and morality. The other reservoir contains thoughts contrary to the above, as well as thoughts that encourage the pursuit and enjoyment of sacrilegious attitudes and behaviors. The reservoir from which one receives depends on how good a person one is. If you’re good in ways a tzaddik would be good, you receive from the first reservoir. Bad guys, evilniks and people indifferent to matters of the neshamah (soul) get their thoughts from Reservoir #2. (This answer is based on the second half of Rebbe Nachman’s Wisdom #5.)
Like most short answers and other incomplete pictures, this one leaves out a lot and, as a result, can be misleading. Even though it tells us that we can help determine our thoughts by our positive behaviors and desire to be good, it leaves out a critical piece of information—namely, that we can actually choose what we want to think and what we think. A person’s arm doesn’t fly around haphazardly. He chooses when to lift it, when to lower it, when to touch something gently and when violently. A person has the same ability to control his thoughts: when to let his thoughts soar, when to keep them down to earth, when to think kindly, when fiercely.
The way Rebbe Nachman puts it, you’re the rider and your thoughts are the horse (Likutey Moharan II, 50). The Rebbe’s analogy tells us that not only can we train our thinking, and regain control over it when it veers off course, but that it’s normal for it to run astray, so there’s no reason to panic! The challenge is to remember that you are the rider. You have to dominate the horse and subdue it. The challenge exists because the horse/thought seems to be as independent as you. Not so. God made it to truly look and seem that way in order that we should have free will. In fact, anyone who wants to can control and ride the horse.
All day long, and all night, too, we collect thoughts. A glanced-at headline, article or
picture, listening to the news in the car, catching a snatch of a conversation or even a few bars of a Mozart overture, all take up residence in our minds. All these and “random” pieces of Torah that others share or that we read are coming from the reservoirs. As contradictory as any two thoughts are, they accurately indicate your current state and what you are meant to be. Instead of letting the horse ride you into oblivion, remember that these are not at all random. God is arranging for you to have them. Hold His hand and scream out to Him, again and again. He will help you meet the challenge.
This is also true of the material we actively and consciously introduce into our heads, whether we are a doctor, lawyer or Native American chief. At a certain point, whether or not we should have invited them in is moot. Once they are there, they vie for supremacy. It is your job to assert your authority over the “horse” and choose which thoughts to think. You already know what to do if you need help.
The ashes of the Parah Adumah (Red Heifer) were used to transfer a Jew from a state of deep tumah (impurity) to a state of taharah (purity). The former condition impedes spiritual progress; the latter invites it. Reb Noson tells us that tumah and taharah begin in the mind. What you think and why you choose to think it determines your spiritual progress. Aharon told the Israelites to gather gold. Their motivation was false. As a result, when he threw the collected gold into the fire, the Golden Calf emerged. In contrast, Moshe told the Israelites to donate gold for the Mishkan. When he threw that gold into the fire, the Menorah, symbol of pure thinking, emerged.
The Parah Adumah, the “mother” of the Golden Calf, cleans away all the impure thinking of her “child.” When you were younger, you may have sullied your mind by wrong thinking, but now that you are more mature, you can purify it thoroughly (Rashi on Numbers 19:2). Amen.
a gutn Shabbos!
—Based on Likutey Halakhot, Shutfin 5:35