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Purify the Mind

Michael Berg
July 14, 2021
Like 48 Comments 9 Share

The portion Devarim begins with a discussion between Moses and the Israelites. Moses gathers all the Israelites and seems to be telling them all of the negative things they have done throughout the 40 years.

Rashi, the great kabbalist and commentator, asks why Moses is gathering all the Israelites together, rather than going tribe to tribe. He gathers everybody together so that if anybody has anything to say they would say it right away, and if nobody says anything, it means that nobody has an answer. And so, they all heard Moses, and nobody had any answer; they accepted as true that over the past 40 years they had done all those negative things he listed.

But then we find what seems to be a contradictory explanation. It says that at a certain point in the portion Devarim, the Israelites say to Moses that they did not do any of the things he said they did. So, on the one hand, there seems to be the understanding that the Israelites stood there and accepted the whole list of things Moses said they did wrong over the past 40 years, while on the other, it seems to be that none of the accusations Moses was making about the Israelites were true. How can we make sense of both these things? How could it be that they accepted what Moses was saying when we know that, in reality, they did not do any of the things that Moses was listing as their fallings?

Rav Ashlag explains in the Introduction to the Ten Luminous Emanations (Published as And You Shall Choose Life) that the ultimate purpose of everything we do, even of a physical nature, is to elevate our consciousness, and to be in a state where our mind is completely unified with the Light of the Creator. But, how do we get there? We have to purify the mind.

Most of us know that when we do something negative in action, we remember it, and if somebody tries to awaken us to that negative action we have done, we can accept it. But, we fall many more times in our thoughts than we do in actions. For example, just think about your day today. Maybe, if you are lucky, you did not do something negative today; however, probably every single one of us had at least one negative thought. Imagine the accumulation of that day after day, year after year. Probably none of us remembers a negative thought we had 30 years ago; we might remember a negative action we did, but we certainly will not remember a negative thought we had even last month. And that is a problem because those negative thoughts limit our ability to connect to the Light of the Creator.

If, on the one hand, we say that the ultimate purpose of all our work is to be able to connect our mind directly to the mind of the Creator, then we have to understand that the accumulation of negative thoughts hinders that. All the time we talk about having complete certainty in the Light of the Creator… but why can we not have it? The answer is simple: because our mind is so filled with the residue of all the thousands upon thousands of negative thoughts we have had that what we call certainty in the Light of the Creator cannot really take hold. So, this begins our understanding. In order for us to be able to come to the state for which we came into this world, in order for our mind to truly be able to connect to the Light of the Creator, we have to take out and cleanse all the negative thoughts we have ever had, and that is what Moses was doing on this Shabbat.

So, now we understand. It is such a beautiful, different view; it was not that Moses was telling them about all the negative things they had done. Rather, he was awakening within them a remembrance of all the negative thoughts they had throughout their entire lives. On this Shabbat, Moses is not telling them about the negative actions they did. Had the Israelites thought that what Moses was telling them was simply about actions, they could say they did not do those things. But, he is reminding them of all the negative thoughts they had over the past 40 years, therefore awakening those thoughts for them.

This is one of the last things that Moses does while in this world. And he does this because it is tremendously important. Most of us do not realize the damage of negative thoughts, so Moses gathers all the Israelites and awakens all their negative thoughts for the purpose of the Israelites’ being able to cleanse them.

We learn from this that we can never come to the state for which our soul came into this world while we have a backlog of years upon years of negative thoughts, because, as the Zohar tells us, nothing goes away. And so, the kabbalists tell us that one of the most important purposes of studying the Writings of the Ari, and studying the Zohar, is to cleanse and purify what we do not even know needs to be cleansed and purified.

The Zohar says we have to know that the energy created not only by every word we speak and every action we do, but also every thought we have, remains forever. And unless we cleanse it, unless we are able to take it away and remove it and change it, then we are not able to truly elevate and connect.

Therefore, one of the most important purposes of studying the Writings of the Ari and the Zohar is to enable us to really cleanse our mind. Rav Ashlag says that living in this world, it is impossible not to be overwhelmed by the thoughts of this world. When there are billions of people thinking selfishly, it is impossible to detach our minds and think that we, on our own, will be able to protect our minds from the consciousness of the world. As such, we study the Writings of the Ari and we study the Zohar, not to gain more wisdom, but for a moment, to detach our mind from the consciousness of this world, and attach it to the consciousness of the Ari, or Rav Shimon Bar Yochai and the Zohar.

It is impossible, Rav Ashlag tells us, for any person, no matter how elevated they think they are, to be able to withstand the barrage of billions of people whose focus is the Desire to Receive for the Self Alone. The reason we study and read the Ari, the reason we study and read the Zohar, is so during that time of the day, our mind becomes detached from the overwhelming consciousness of this world and attaches itself to true consciousness. It is one of the great gifts of Shabbat Devarim, the Shabbat when Moses, soon before he leaves this world, gathers the Israelites for the purpose of enabling them to purify and transform their minds.

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