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 achara, 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.

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

וַאֲפִילוּ אִם נוֹפְלִים לוֹ הִרְהוּרֵי תַּאֲווֹת וּשְׁאָר מַחֲשָׁבוֹת זָרוֹת בִּשְׁעַת הָעֲבוֹדָה בַּתּוֹרָה אוֹ בִּתְפִלָּה בְּכַוָּונָה,

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

אַל יָשִׁית לֵב אֲלֵיהֶן, אֶלָּא יַסִּיחַ דַּעְתּוֹ מֵהֶן כְּרֶגַע.

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

וְגַם, אַל יְהִי שׁוֹטֶה לַעֲסוֹק בְּהַעֲלָאַת הַמִּדּוֹת שֶׁל הַמַּחֲשָׁבָה זָרָה,

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.

For such things were intended only for tzaddikim,

כִּי לֹא נֶאֶמְרוּ דְּבָרִים הָהֵם אֶלָּא לְצַדִּיקִים,

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

שֶׁאֵין נוֹפְלִים לָהֶם מַחֲשָׁבוֹת זָרוֹת שֶׁלָּהֶם כִּי אִם מִשֶּׁל אֲחֵרִים.

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 toward 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.

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,

אֲבָל מִי שֶׁנּוֹפֵל לוֹ מִשֶּׁלּוֹ, מִבְּחִינַת הָרָע שֶׁבְּלִבּוֹ בֶּחָלָל הַשְּׂמָאלִי,

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

אֵיךְ יַעֲלֵהוּ לְמַעְלָה, וְהוּא עַצְמוֹ מְקוּשָּׁר לְמַטָּה:

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

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

אַךְ אַף־עַל־פִּי־כֵן, אַל יִפּוֹל לִבּוֹ בְּקִרְבּוֹ לִהְיוֹת מִזֶּה עָצֵב נִבְזֶה בִּשְׁעַת הָעֲבוֹדָה, שֶׁצָּרִיךְ לִהְיוֹת בְּשִׂמְחָה רַבָּה,

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,

אֶלָּא אַדְּרַבָּה, יִתְחַזֵּק יוֹתֵר וְיוֹסִיף אוֹמֶץ בְּכָל כֹּחוֹ בְּכַוָּונַת הַתְּפִלָּה בְּחֶדְוָה וְשִׂמְחָה יְתֵירָה,

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.

בְּשׂוּמוֹ אֶל לִבּוֹ, כִּי נְפִילַת הַמַּחֲשָׁבָה זָרָה הִיא מֵהַקְּלִיפָּה שֶׁבֶּחָלָל הַשְּׂמָאלִי, הָעוֹשָׂה מִלְחָמָה בְּבֵינוֹנִי עִם נֶפֶשׁ אֱלֹהִית שֶׁבּוֹ.

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,

וְנוֹדָע דֶּרֶךְ הַנִּלְחָמִים וְכֵן הַנֶּאֱבָקִים יַחַד,

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

כְּשֶׁאֶחָד מִתְגַּבֵּר, אֲזַי הַשֵּׁנִי מִתְאַמֵּץ לְהִתְגַּבֵּר גַּם כֵּן בְּכָל מַאֲמַצֵּי כֹּחוֹ.

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,

וְלָכֵן, כְּשֶׁנֶּפֶשׁ הָאֱלֹהִית מִתְאַמֶּצֶת וּמִתְגַּבֶּרֶת לְהִתְפַּלֵּל,

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.

אֲזַי גַּם הַקְּלִיפָּה מִתְגַּבֶּרֶת כְּנֶגְדָּהּ, לְבַלְבְּלָהּ וּלְהַפִּילָהּ בְּמַחֲשָׁבָה זָרָה שֶׁלָּהּ.

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.