Our parsha begins with the powerful encounter between Yehudah and Yosef. “Then Yehudah approached him and said, ‘If you please, my lord, may your servant speak a word in my lord’s ears and let not your anger flare up at your servant- for you are like Pharaoh.” (Chapter 44, Verse 18)
Based on Yehudah’s words to Yosef that he is like Pharaoh, Reb Noson reveals to us an important lesson about the power of good thoughts and the battle which is going on in our mind all the time. Reb Noson says that the evil inclination is called Pharaoh, which in Hebrew can mean the language of revelation, פרוע. This means that he shows people all of the entrances to impurity and tries to fool them into choosing one of his entrances. Reb Noson says therefore that the main battleground and our main test with the evil inclination is in our thoughts. We have a choice. A person needs to think, says Reb Noson, thoughts about the Torah and about how to serve Hashem. Thoughts of faith. However, immediately when a person tries to think in these matters the bad thoughts of the evil inclination stand in his way and want to pull him into impurity. A person who is trying to serve Hashem and come closer to Hashem will turn his back to these bad thoughts and not consider them at all. As a result, these openings to impurity will be closed to him. On the other hand, if someone is drawn after these bad thoughts and temptations, G-d forbid, then the gates of impurity are revealed to him. This is how a person falls into sin and impurity and distances himself from the path of serving Hashem. This whole matter, Reb Noson emphasizes, happens in a person’s thoughts. This is why Yehudah approached and drew near to Yosef the Tsaddik. This is the aspect of the Jewish people connecting themselves to the true Tsaddik. In contrast to the bad thoughts which the evil inclination uses in order to tempt a person into sin, the tsaddik has the power to shine the light of truth upon a person and to help them find openings to leave their personal darkness and return to Hashem. (Likutei Halachot, the Laws of Theft, 5th teaching)
The Holy Zohar says that everything will be clarified in our thoughts. What advice can help us strengthen positive thoughts? How do we fight the battle? Rebbe Nachman spoke a lot about the importance of guarding ourselves from bad thoughts and that we always have the power to choose a different thought. It is impossible for a person to think two thoughts at the same time. Rebbe Nachman teaches in the book Advice that when a person enters into his mind external thoughts, bad desires or other bad thoughts, he causes spiritual damage to his soul. Therefore it is a great rectification and the main aspect of teshuva (repentance) when someone strengthens himself to remove from his mind any kind of negative thought. We don’t need to let our thoughts control us. The main advice to be saved from negative thoughts is only through a lot of prayer, says Rebbe Nachman. We can pray: ‘Hashem please heal me from bad thoughts’, just like we pray for physical healing. In addition, he teaches that when bad thoughts attack us, we can replace them with good thoughts- thoughts of faith, Torah, prayer, or even business matters. This will push away the bad thoughts from our mind, because as we said, it is impossible to have two different thoughts at the same time. (Advice, עצות המבוארות, Thoughts, teachings 2 and 3)
I have been reading the past few months an amazing small booklet that I bought in Uman this year. It is selected letters from Reb Noson’s books of letters, Healing Leaves. The letters are filled with incredible faith, hope, determination, advice and love. Most of them are letters which he wrote to one of his sons, Yitchzak. One of the things he repeats there many times is to focus on our good thoughts. We have the power to choose to think thoughts of faith and Torah thoughts, and to leave behind our negative, disempowering thoughts. Reading a letter each day is helping me to fight the daily battle to find strength, happiness and composure, and to not focus so much on negativity and things which bother me.
We should all merit during this time of year when the winter nights are long and dark to strengthen our good thoughts, our thoughts of truth and faith. Amen!
(The image is courteous of Chabad.org)