In the previous chapter the Alter Rebbe taught that the Beinoni should not be distressed by the occurrence of sinful thoughts in his mind. On the contrary, he ought to rejoice, for by repulsing these thoughts and promptly averting his mind from them, he fulfills the commandment of “not going astray after one’s heart,” and thereby crushes the spirit of the sitra achra, consequently causing intense Divine pleasure.

However, this reasoning can only be applied when such thoughts occur to the Beinoni while engaged in his material pursuits. If, however, they occur to him while occupied in the service of G‑d (e.g., while praying or studying the Torah), they are certainly no cause for rejoicing, since they distract him from his divine service. How is he to deal with them in this case? — This is the subject of ch. 28.

ואפילו אם נופלים לו הרהורי תאוות ושאר מחשבות זרות בשעת העבודה בתורה או בתפלה בכוונה

Even if lustful imaginings or other extraneous thoughts occur to him during his service of G‑d — in Torah or in prayer with kavanah,

אל ישית לב אליהן, אלא יסיח דעתו מהן כרגע

he should pay them no attention, but avert his mind from them immediately.

וגם אל יהי שוטה, לעסוק בהעלאת המדות של המחשבה זרה

Nor should he be so foolish as to engage in “sublimation of the middot” of the extraneous thought,

כנודע

as is known — that one can overcome extraneous thoughts by elevating their source.

For every such thought stems from one of the middot of the animal soul. For example, the middah of love in the animal soul gives rise to one’s lustful thoughts; the middah of fear gives rise to hatred, and to fears inappropriate to him; and so on. It is therefore written1 that when one is disturbed by such a thought, he should determine which middah is its source, and should then refocus that middah on the spiritual aspects of the object of his thoughts. For example, if the extraneous thought is a desire for some physical object, one should contemplate that the desirability of the object which he craves is actually a manifestation of the Divine power that made it desirable — beautiful, tasty, or whatever. Therefore, rather than applying his desire (i.e., his middah of love) to the object’s physical sheath, he should direct it to the G‑dliness that underlies it. He will thereby elevate the corresponding middah of his animal soul to its Divine source, and thus destroy the evil in the thoughts caused by the middah, leaving only the good — the “sparks” of holiness embedded in them. This is what is meant by “sublimating the middot” in order to overcome extraneous thoughts.

For the Beinoni, however, such an exercise would be sheer foolishness, as the Alter Rebbe explains presently.

כי לא נאמרו דברים ההם אלא לצדיקים

For such things were intended only for tzaddikim,

שאין נופלים להם מחשבות זרות שלהם כי אם משל אחרים

in whom there do not occur any evil thoughts of their own evil middot, but only from the middot of others.

Since the tzaddik has transformed the middot of his animal soul to good, no evil thoughts can arise from them. Any evil thought that may arise in his mind stems from the middot of others. For another individual, whose soul-root is connected with this tzaddik, finds himself in difficulty combating his own evil middot, and requires his assistance. This person’s evil thought is therefore planted in the mind of the tzaddik, though in the form of mere abstract “letters of thought,” without any feeling of evil attached to it. The tzaddik, recognizing the source of this thought, redirects it towards the spiritual realm (as explained above), and thereby elevates the middah whence it stems, thus enabling his fellow-Jew to overcome his own evil middot. But only the tzaddik can accomplish this, since he himself possesses no evil middot.

אבל מי שנופל לו משלו מבחינת הרע שבלבו בחלל השמאלי

But as for one, i.e., a Beinoni, to whom there occurs an evil thought of his own, from the evil that is lodged in the left part of his heart i.e., the evil middot of his animal soul,

איך יעלהו למעלה והוא עצמו מקושר למטה

how can he raise it up to the spiritual realm when he himself is bound below by his desire for the material?

It would therefore be foolish for the Beinoni to attempt to rid himself of extraneous thoughts by engaging in the sublimation of his middot.

אך אף על פי כן אל יפול לבו בקרבו להיות מזה עצב נבזה בשעת העבודה, שצריך להיות בשמחה רבה

Nevertheless, he must not be downhearted, nor feel dejected and despicable because of this occurence of extraneous thoughts during his service of G‑d, when he ought to be most joyous.

אלא אדרבה, יתחזק יותר ויוסיף אומץ בכל כחו בכוונת התפלה בחדוה ושמחה יתירה

On the contrary, he should draw fresh strength, and intensify his determination with all his power, to pray with concentration, with even greater joy and gladness,

בשומו אל לבו כי נפילת המחשבה זרה היא מהקליפה שבחלל השמאלי, העושה מלחמה בבינוני עם נפש אלקית שבו

in the realization that the foreign thought which occurred to him derives from the kelipah of the left part of the heart, which wages war within the Beinoni against the divine soul within him.

ונודע דרך הנלחמים וכן הנאבקים יחד

It is known, that it is the way of combatants who seek to destroy one another and similarly of wrestlers who aim merely to topple one another,

כשהאחד מתגבר אזי השני מתאמץ להתגבר גם כן בכל מאמצי כחו

that when one is gaining the upper hand, the other likewise exerts himself with all the resources of his strength in order to prevail.

ולכן כשנפש האלקית מתאמצת ומתגברת להתפלל

Therefore, in the battle between the divine soul and the animal soul, when the divine soul exerts itself and musters all its strength in prayer, thereby to weaken or even vanquish the animal soul,

אזי גם הקליפה מתגברת כנגדה, לבלבלה ולהפילה במחשבה זרה שלה

the kelipah of the animal soul too gathers strength to counter it, aiming to confuse and topple the divine soul by means of a foreign thought of its own.

The animal soul, sensing danger in the divine soul’s increased efforts in prayer with devotion, contrives to jar one’s concentration by conjuring up assorted foreign thoughts in his mind. Thus, the appearance of an extraneous thought during prayer indicates that one’s devotion was of sufficient quality to give the animal soul cause for concern; and this realization itself should gladden one and encourage him to continue his efforts.