By Rochel Holzkenner
What would you pay for a cognition detector, a mechanism that could read thoughts? What would you pay to stop your friends from having one? Socializing just wouldn't be the same if our thoughts became transparent.
Think about that time your colleague congratulated you on an impressive presentation you made. "Naw, I don't think it was any better than the job you did last week," you responded. "Finally he acknowledges that my work is superior to his..." you think. Or about the time your neighbors stops by unexpectedly. "How great of you to come by, we were just talking about you!" you say with a hug. "How rude of you to drop in without calling," you think. "And what are you thinking about my housekeeping?"
It's uncomfortable to be plagued by an ugly thought. It can erode our self-respectThere is often a significant disparity between the words we speak and the thoughts that run through our mind. Like a shiny apple with a rotten core, we often project an image of humility, graciousness and loyalty, while our inner thoughts look surprisingly ugly.
It's uncomfortable to be plagued by an ugly thought. It can erode our self-respect. What kind of person would have thoughts like these? What kind of friend am I to be so jealous? What moral integrity do I have if I scheme sinful thoughts? What kind of self-progress have I made if I'm still plagued by the same demons? Even if we choose not to act upon them, just listening to our dysfunctional thoughts can be severely demoralizing. Who am I fooling with my charade of piety when the real me is still quite crude and pleasure driven?
In the Tanya, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812, founder of Chabad chassidism) sheds some optimistic light on dark thoughts. He exposes a conspiracy played out by our yetzer hara (evil inclination). The yetzer hara drops us a thought or an urge that makes us very uncomfortable. Even if we'd never act on the impulse, just sensing its presence is embarrassing and even depressing. And that's exactly where the yetzer hara wants us to be: embarrassed and depressed. Once our spirits are down and our self-confidence is deflated, we're nice and vulnerable for the real attack.
This understanding the yetzer hara's strategy makes it clear that it's always counter-productive to inspect a shameful thought and be disappointed because of it. The key is to simply let it go.
In fact we can actually feel pleased by its arrival.
Rabbi Schneur Zalman takes us to the Zohar, and we listen to a mystical understanding of a conversation that takes place between Isaac and Esau (as recorded in Genesis 27:4). Isaac asks his favorite son to prepare him a meal before he would bless him. "And make me delicacies such as I love," he instructs Esau.
"These words," says the Zohar, "is the message of the Shechinah [Divine Presence] to her children, the Jewish people."
What is the meaning of this Zohar? Why would G‑d ask His people to prepare delicacies? And since "delicacies" is written in plural form, what are the multiple kinds of delicacies that G‑d enjoys?
Rabbi Schneur Zalman explains: There are two types of delectable foods; the first type is naturally sweet and mellow, while the second type is naturally bitter or sour. Take onions—when raw they are painfully sharp to the palate, but sauté them and they'll enhance every dish. Lemons, garlic, ginger, horseradish—they are culinary necessities and add an irreplaceable edge to an entrée.
And G‑d says: Two things give Me pleasure: holy thoughts, and also unholy thoughts—that are ignoredSo, Isaac says, "Make me delicacies"; some sweet, some edgy. And G‑d says to His people: Two things give Me pleasure: holy thoughts, and also unholy thoughts—that are ignored. In fact, when an unholy thought is ignored, says the Zohar, "G‑d's glory rises… more than by any other praise."
Just like G‑d loves perfection, He loves imperfection. He watches in delight as the humiliating thought penetrates our consciousness and we chose to reject it. Not inviting the thought in and not judging ourselves for it, but just simply dropping it and thinking about something else. Apparently this sends G‑d soaring.
Our evil inclination will attack us at our weakest point and make us feel thoroughly dysfunctional before luring us into its world. But with a little meta-cognition we can reverse attack by viewing an ugly impulse as an opportunity to serve G‑d a well-prepared delicacy.
Based on Tanya Chapters 26-27.