Dear Rabbi,

At times my mind wanders off and I imagine myself committing crimes. I’ve always felt that there is nothing wrong with these thoughts because I do not actually follow through and commit the crime.

What do you think?


Thought is the most difficult part of the person to control. Our thought process is constantly at work and thoughts seem to enter our minds at random. But it’s important to remember that every action is preceded by a thought. For example, one does not commit adultery without thinking about it and planning it in detail. Trying to control one’s thoughts is clearly a good start to one’s quest in becoming a better person.

According to the Talmud:

Thoughts of sin are more difficult than the sin itself.1

This means, in a certain manner a sinful thought is more damaging than the sin itself.

How so?

There are two components to a person’s wrongdoing:

  1. The negative action and its effect that that we see and feel in our physical world.
  2. The damaging spiritual effect the wrongdoing has on the one who does it.

We tend to think in terms of the first way. Living in a physical world we go by “the facts on the ground.” Thoughts are unseen and cannot be judged. No one is convicted of “thinking about stealing”. The same would be the case in a court of Jewish law.

Nonetheless, from the perspective of the soul, there is something about the sinful thought that is especially painful.

Maimonides puts it this way:

The capacity to think comes from humankind's unique spiritual standing. Therefore, to use thought for sin is to sin by means of the noblest part of oneself.2

Put simply, “action” is something we share in common with many other creatures. We can use it negatively, as can animals. But corrupting our minds, which are unique to humans, hurts that much more. We have taken something so high and brought it so low.

According to Chabad philosophy, the soul has “three garments” – three ways of expressing itself:

  1. Thought.
  2. Speech.
  3. Action.

Thought, the most spiritual of the garments, is intimately connected with the soul and shares some of the same characteristics.

  1. Thought is constant, and the soul is constantly connected to the body.
  2. Thought stays within the person. The soul remains part of a person as long as he or she is alive.

Sinful thought will blemish the soul in a more spiritual place than a sinful act. A sinful deed is an external expression of the soul, but the effects of negative thoughts are deeper and far-reaching.3

With this in mind, we can appreciate the Talmudic statement, “Thoughts of sin are more difficult than the sin itself.”

Conquering one’s thought is an integral part of Judaism. But it is certainly not easy to control all of our thoughts all the time, and it may take years, maybe even an entire lifetime, to master it.

Rabbi Schnuer Zalman of Liadi, the founder of the Chabad movement, provides tools to help overcome negative thoughts, and discusses the incredible pleasure we give G‑d when we attempt to master our psyche. For details, see Tanya in Plain English Chapters 26-28.

This article will also help you: How Do I Rid Myself of Inappropriate Thoughts?