How can man overcome ‘improper thoughts’?

Thought precede transgressions so it is important to control them.

Danny Ginsbourg

Judaism Yeshiva Torah study (file)
Yeshiva Torah study (file)

We read in our Parsha:(6:2)’זאת oתורת העולה: This is the law of the burnt-offering; It is the burnt-offering on the flame, on the altar, all night until the morning’.

Our sages say:(Vayikra Rabba 7:3)’The עולה is always only brought for הרהורי הלב: improper thoughts’- as we are ‘inactive’ at night, it is the ‘opportune’ time for improper thoughts, to enter our minds. The עולה offering, which hurns throughout the night, is an atonement for these thoughts.

Intriguingly, they add:(Yoma 29.)’Thoughts of transgression are WORSE than the transgression itself’!

The Netivot Shalom explains why: When a person transgresses, he will usually have pangs of conscience:’How could I do such a terrible thing!’. This will cause him to repent.

He has no such pangs for his ‘improper thoughts.

Indeed, notes the Beit Avraham from Slonim, lacking the ‘gift’ of conscience, he continues to pray, and perform mitzvot, unaware of the ‘spiritual disease’ within himself.

Yet inevitably, these thoughts color all that he does, and will likely lead him to inadvertently sin, and in those very matters.

Rav David Hofstedter raises, and answers, another related question: Why does the Torah teach the ‘Torah of the עולה׳, before the ‘Torah of the חטאת׳?The latter offering is, in fact, always brought before the עולה? This is seen in next week’s parsha (Parshat Shmini 9:2), when, on the inauguration of the mishkan, Ahron was commanded to ‘take a young bull for a חטאת:a sin offering, and an עולה: a burnt-offering’, which he offered, in this order.

He answers: the חטאת is brought for a transgression, whilst the עולה- as we have explained- is brought for ׳improper thoughts’.

Since the ‘thoughts’ precede, and are the ‘cause’ of the transgression, ׳its׳ offering is given ‘precedence’, in the order of the Parsha, reversing the order in which they are actually offered, on the altar.

How can man overcome his ‘improper thoughts’? Answer our sages:(Kiddushin 30:):Only by the Torah itself:’Says Hashem: I have created the יצר הרע: ‘the evil inclination’, and I have created תבלין: its antidote: the Torah. If you engage in Torah, you will not fall into its hands; however, if you do not engage in Torah, your יצר הרע will rule over you’.

The ‘improper thoughts’ are the handiwork of the יצר הרע, which inveigles man into seeing the ‘improper desires’, as being ‘sweet and appealing’- as we

read in the episode of the ‘forbidden’ fruit, which Adam Harishon, was tempted to taste. We read (Breishit 3:6)’And the woman perceived that the tree was good for eating, and that it was a delight to the eyes..and she took of the fruit, and ate; and she also gave to her husband, and he ate’.

Rav Eliyahu Lopian brings a beautiful insight into the ‘operation’ of miraculous ‘antidote’ that Hashem has created against the יצר הרע.

Noting that the primary meaning of the word used by our sages: תבלין, is not ‘antidote’, but rather ‘a spice which enhances the flavour’ of the offering’, he comments: The יצר הרע seduces man by making the forbidden matter appear to him as ‘sweet and desirable’; To combat this, Hashem has instilled into the Torah, a far sweeter ‘spice’, enabling  man who ‘avails’ himself of it, to overcome the illusory ‘spice’ of the יצר הרע.

And this is what we pray for every morning:Please Hashem, make the words of Your Torah sweet in our mouths, and the mouths of Your people, the House of Israel’!