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What is the Jewish view on sinful thoughts?

by Mrs. Dinka Kumer

  

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A penny for your thoughts…or maybe not…hold that thought for a minute.

There are all kinds of thoughts out there: ones for making a shopping list, ones for concentrating in prayer, ones analyzing the neighbors' new porch, ones planning how to help the old man in the nursing home smile, etc. And then there are the thoughts that we have to censor from our brain:

Thoughts about idolatry or sexuality are forbidden. These two thought paths are the starting point on slippery slope of sin which can snowball into a deep spiritual abyss. The distance between these thoughts and application of them (even in some subtle way) is miniscule, and looking through Jewish history, we see how G-d cannot tolerate either of these iniquities. Idolatrous or sexual thoughts may 'pop into our head', through no seeming fault of our own. Nevertheless, as soon as they arrive, we must bid them out the back door, no questions asked. Willingly inviting such topics into our mental compartment is totally prohibited.

Even while we are inactive and quiet, our mind is never at rest since it is the closest to the soul (and souls do not take siestas, of course). Due to this, the thoughts we entertain, have a great spiritual affect upon us
[Abstract thoughts about committing other sins, such as fantasizing about eating a cheese-burger, are not forbidden—but not necessary the wisest expenditure of time!]

Jewish mysticism discusses the three ways the soul can express itself: thought, speech and action—thought being the most spiritual and action being the most earthly. Even while we are inactive and quiet, our mind is never at rest since it is the closest to the soul (and souls do not take siestas, of course). Due to this, the thoughts we entertain, have a great spiritual affect upon us. Forbidden thoughts are very spiritually detrimental, and we must guard our minds well. Obviously, the opposite is also true: good and holy thoughts are extremely productive for our spiritual well-being and growth.

One classic piece of Jewish advice is to constantly occupy the mind with good thoughts. This is based upon the verse about Joseph’s brothers who threw him into a pit, “the pit was empty, it had no water.” Obviously, an empty pit has no water, so why the verse’s verbiage? Rather the verse is qalifying its statement that the pit was empty. It was empty only of water; but it was filled with snakes and scorpions. So too, the mind can never be entirely vacuous of thoughts; something will take up our brain space. If we do not fill our mind with goodness and holiness—Torah is likened to water—then we open our heads to all kinds of dangerous elements. For this reason, the more we train the brain in holy waves and actively pursue positive thoughts, the better off we are. In particular studying the inner, more mystically bent, dimensions of Judaism helps us achieve this cerebral goal.

Think you very, very much.


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RELATED CATEGORIES

Mitzvot » Prohibitions

Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Joseph
Firstborn son of Rachel and Jacob. Because he was Jacob's favorite son, his brothers conspired against him and sold him into slavery He ended up in Egypt where he became viceroy of the land, and eventually brought his entire family to Egypt. Died in 1451 BCE.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.