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Don’t Think!

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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 ztz”l. Rabbi Alt has written on numerous topics for various websites and publications and is the author of the books, Fascinating Insights and Incredible Insights. His writings inspire people across the spectrum of Jewish observance to live with the vibrancy and beauty of Torah. 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.

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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 grasp[2] הרהורי עבירה קשו מעבירה, thoughts of sin are worse than the sin itself, as thinking about one’s sin can bring him to despair.


Rav Yissachar Meir (1927-2011), who was a Rosh Yeshiva of Hanegev in Netivot, commented that there is a dispute as to whether or not יאוש  is קונה,[3] but everyone agrees that the yetzer hara is קונה someone with יאוש. That is to say, the yetzer hara seizes a person when he despairs on himself because of some sin he committed.


R’ Yitzchak Isaac Sher (1875-1952) would repeatedly say that one shouldn’t think about his sins. Hashem created us with a Yetzer Hara. It’s natural. Everyone has a Yetzer Hara. The only issue is how to cope with that which is something we must learn. There is a saying, “Hashem buries our sins in the depths of the sea and then puts up a sign that reads: No fishing!”

R’ Shlomo Wolbe[4] 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 insidious that any thoughts about the subject can stimulate one to fall again. This includes even thoughts of remorse, contrition and Teshuva. The only solution is, therefore, 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,[5] 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![6] This is the salient goal of the Yetzer Hara — to knock a person down and make him feel hopeless and forlorn. 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.[7] 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.[8] However, it is difficult to become acclimatized 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.[9]

[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] Baba Kamma 66a.יאוש קונה  means that if after an item is stolen, the owner despairs of ever recovering it, the item is acquired by the thief and he is no longer required to return the stolen item itself, but only its monetary value.

[4] Igros Uksavim, 1:24.

[5] In the tzavaa (Ethical Will, 20) of R’ Eliezer Hagadol, also known as R’ Eliezer Ben Hurkanus, it says that no one can be mechadesh something in Torah something that was reserved for another to be mechadesh. Each person has their portion in Torah that only they can bring down.

[6] The following describes one of the more common ways that they trap monkeys. They cut a hole in a coconut and empty it of its contents. They then make a hole that is big enough for the open hand of the monkey to enter. However, it is not big enough for the monkey when he clenches his fist. In order to entice the monkey, they put some food into the hollowed-out coconut such as fruit. Once this is complete they tie it to a tree. When the monkey sees the coconut, he puts his hand in for the food, but his clenched fist remains stuck in the coconut. When the person approaches to capture the monkey, the monkey tries even harder to remove his hand from the coconut, to no avail, because he is not willing to release the food. The monkey is then captured. All the monkey had to do in order to be free was to let go. How many times in life do we follow this pattern? We may be holding so tightly onto money, negative thoughts about someone or anything else.

[7] R’ Chaim Volozhin (in Keser Rosh, printed in the end of the Siddur HaGra, 133) accentuates 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 רל… הם המרבים פושעים בישראל ומרחיקים מלבא תחת כנפי השכינה אשר בעל העון… בשמעו אלה אומר אין תשובה לחצי דברוכאשר אבדתי אבדתי כו‘, ואלו [החסידיםגורמים גלות השכינהואינן 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 is 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.

[8] The unbelievable account of the Chazon Ish’s birth is recounted in the sefer Ma’ase Ish (volume I, chapter 1). His mother was advised not to have any children. The Chazon Ish’s mother’s father, R’ Shaul Katzenlbogen, suggested his daughter and son-in-law divorce. However, his daughter refused, asserting that her mission was to bring children into the world. Indeed, she merited mothering the nine children of the regal Karelitz family.

[9] The Chida tells us (Devash Lfi, Maareches Ches, 4) that the Achronim are able to be mechadesh that which the Rishonim were unable to because it wasn’t time for that chidush yet. In this way we can understand the Chassam Sofer’s explanation in (Tehilim 1:3) אשר פריו יתן בעתו (The simple meaning is it yields its fruit in its season.): “Its fruit” referring to Chidushei Torah which also has a designated time.


Writer of the weekly Fascinating Insights Torah sheet in Englishעברית ,אידיש and français
Author of Six Books including the recently released “Dazzling Money Insights: Illuminating Torah Essays about Money”


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