unidentified flying thoughts

Machshavoth Zaroth, (foreign/forebidden thoughts) are a seemingly popular topic in Hassiduth. There's a lot of discussion of how and whether to raise these thoughts from their origins in impurity back to holy origins. There was a certain synchronicity in that I happened in my learning this week to cover both of the opinions, and got a rare glimpse at the larger picture.

Basically Today's Tanya and the Noam Elimelech (parashath Vayera) duke it out:

The Tanya says, this is a challenge for the Tzaddikim, beinonim should ignore these evil thoughts. Not only that, but they should take heart in the fact that evil thoughts are falling on them as a sign that their prayers are working because otherwise the yetzer harah wouldn't have to fight so hard.

The Noam Elimelech, on the other hand says there are Tzaddikim who have these thoughts, but they push them away so quickly, they reach a level where they aren't even conscious of these thoughts anymore. This, he says, is not good. The Tzaddik needs to shine the light of their awareness on themselves so sharply as to discover the origins of these thoughts and purify themselves to the point where these thoughts no longer happen at all.

Of course, it's not a real disagreement. The Tanya, Sefer HaBeinonim, does just what it is supposed to, it tells beinonim they should ignore these thoughts. The Noam Elimelech, Sefer HaTzaddikim, (for all we know) agrees and says that Tzaddikim can't ignore these thoughts, they have to root them out.

A word about the real discussion here: The Tanya actually explains the discrepancy. (As does the Noam Elimelech but each from their own unique perpsectives.) The Baal HaTanya explains that Tzaddikim are on a level where they have purified themselves and are now set on the task of raising up their fellow Jews who are struggling to overcome their powerful evil urges. The thoughts and inclinations of these Jews are raised through their prayers to the Tzaddik who is beset upon by them and who knows how to properly vanquish them. The Baal HaTanya delineates between the Tzaddik and the Beinoni like so: If the evil thoughts that are attacking you are from your own evil urge, you can't overcome them, you need to drive them off and ignore them. Only when these thoughts come from someone else's evil urge do you have the strength and ability to rectify their contents. Driving off your own evil thoughts is the only rectification that you are able to do with them.

The Noam Elimelech adds something really cool. He says that Tzaddikim when they cleave to God they are unaware of the state of the world, and so cannot bring down the livelihood (life force/blessing) that they (as the guardians of creation) are appointed to bring down. It is only through praying with people who still have yetzer harahs (evil urges) that are intact that they are distracted and beset upon by these foreign thoughts. These foreign thoughts then awaken the Tzaddikim to the state and needs of the world, so that the Tzaddikim may pray and bring about the blessings of children, livelihood, and food, as is their responsibility.

[For some comments on foreign thoughts by the Notzer Hesed you can look at this older post]


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