E-Mail Subject: Dealing with Intrusive thoughts
  Breaking Free Chizuk #1906  
In Today's Issue
Q & A: Dealing with intrusive thoughts
Attitude & Perspective: The Real You
90 Day Journey
Click below to update your 90 day chart
Still Clean Had a fall
Haven't begun the 90 day journey yet? Click here to join.
Q & A
Dealing with intrusive thoughts
By Dov

Dear GYE,

There are no words to thank you for the tremendous help and support you provide. I have worked with many of the tools, but I think I need the most help in one area: properly dealing with intrusive thoughts - fantasies and triggers that will often sneak in. I am compulsive by nature and I know that I need to learn to live with discomfort instead of trying to relieve every itch. (Just because I'm itchy, doesn't mean I have to scratch). I've been raising the penalties and it is definitely a deterrent, but being compulsive can cause me to make irrational decisions even at the risk of monetary loss. I'm familiar with the concept of ‘mindfulness’ and was wondering if there are mindfulness exercises geared specifically for dealing with clinging, lustful thoughts. I feel like I need to rehaul my thinking patterns. Do you have more literature or other ideas on how to deal with triggers and compulsive thoughts that take over me? Please help. Thanks again for everything.

- Lost in Thought

Rabbi Simcha Feuerman answers in brief:

Dear Lost,

The problem is that you are fighting. A good driver needs guardrails only in an emergency - to drive constantly bumping against the guardrails is a problem. There is truth to the idea of Milchemes Hayetzer but warfare is not a natural or healthy state to be in continuously. Something has to change where you feel and think differently. Until then, it still cannot be constant war.

Much more to say on this but time does not permit.

Dov answers:

Dear Lost in Thought,

Thank you for letting me respond to this important question. I want to first say that I'm sharing and suggesting these things even though I'm a sober addict, and your question is not about recovery from addiction per se. I also prefer to assume that you're not an addict and your description of your journey so far doesn't sound anything like addiction to me - which I think is a great thing.

A few things for you to consider that may differ from the conventional wisdom:

1. There is no natural barrier to obsession. It can appear in good habits as well as bad ones. You may discover that you are simply obsessing about having clean thoughts at all times. And obsession, regardless of the subject, is not helpful for many reasons. Thus, I will suggest to you that it may be time to accept the fact that people have these 'intrusive' thoughts you describe, and they are nevertheless great people, including Kedoshim and Tehorim among us. Obviously, our Rabbis and Gedolim cannot be completely explicit regarding the exact nature of their own inner, hidden struggles. But they are, no doubt, similar to yours. No one dies or loses their Madreigo just from having ‘intrusive' thoughts. Consider getting used to being a real, beautiful, imperfect human being sooner than later.

2. Along those lines, we all know that having thoughts alone is no sin. The only real spiritual or religious problem happens when one, a) acts on those thoughts, or b) holds onto them unnecessarily. (See this great 5 min clip from Rabbi YY Jacobson)

I would like to suggest that by trying to fight them and denying that they are part of your normal mental landscape, you are much more likely to be holding on to them. We know that the Baal Hatanya writes (Tanya, ch. 28) that wrestling with a dirty man only makes you dirtier and dirtier. Addicts in twelve-step recovery use a term called 'surrender', referring to moving on without something instead of fighting it. They come to see that the main reason they were fighting their obsessions and desires before, was because the struggle itself allowed them to hold on to them and ‘deal’ with them virtually forever. When an addict mistakenly correlates 'Kedushas Hamo'ach' with 'Tikkun Habris,' they basically condemn themselves to never letting go of it. In a strange but real way, "not letting go" is a comfort to somebody who sees that it's wrong to have these thoughts but never really wants to let them go.

3. The famous 'Tzet'l Kotton' of the Rebbe R' Meilech discusses your problem and suggests, "Go to your spiritual advisor or even just a faithful friend, and reveal to them on a regular and ongoing basis all your troubling thoughts and desires, not holding anything back due to shame. You will find that this breaks their power over you and that you will succeed, with G-d's help." Would you consider doing that? The email you sent is a very early start at doing that but lacks two essential elements that he was obviously taking for granted: a) it is best done in person, and b) the exact nature of the thoughts and desires must be clearly and unambiguously expressed. By opening up in this fashion to another very real and present person, you can attain true self-honesty. (Actually, I believe it is often the only way to attain it.)

The very fact that a person balks to some degree at this suggestion is the exact reason that what the Tzaddik says works. By opening up to another party in this way, we are setting up a new and very real behavioral pattern of self-honesty, which leads me to my final piece of advice.

4. Intrusive, clinging thoughts that just won't go away, as you described, are affected tremendously by behavior. Our behaviors can change our priorities and thought processes. But they need to be: a) actions, not just ideas, b) at least a little bit out of our comfort zones, and c) they need to be performed on a more or less regular basis.

Attitude & Perspective

CORRECTION: In the previous issue, this article was mistakenly attributed to Yosef C. The author of this piece is Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan and it was reprinted by Aish.com from Rabbi Kaplan's book "If You Were God." 

We apologize for the mistake.

The Real You
Part 2/2
What is the root of immortality and the soul?
By Aish.com


But what is immortality like? What is it like to be a disembodied soul? How does it feel to be in the World of Soul?

We know that the human brain, marvellous organ that it is, is still very inefficient as a thinking device. Henri Bergson has suggested that one of the main functions of the brain and nervous system is to eliminate activity and awareness, rather than produce it.

In "The Doors of Perception," Aldous Huxley quotes Prof. C.D. Broad's comments on this. He says that every person is capable of remembering everything that has ever happened to him. He is able to perceive everything that surrounds him. However, if all this information poured into our minds at once, it would overwhelm us. So the function of the brain and nervous system is to protect us and prevent us from being overwhelmed and confused by the vast amount of information that impinges upon our sense organs. They shut out most of what we perceive and remember. All that would confound us is eliminated and only the small, special selection that is useful is allowed to remain.

All of our mind's capabilities must be funneled through the reducing valve of the brain.

Huxley explains that our mind has powers of perception and concentration that we cannot even begin to imagine. But our main business is to survive at all costs. To make survival possible, all of our mind's capabilities must be funnelled through the reducing valve of the brain.

Some researchers are studying this effect. They believe that this reducing-valve effect may be very similar to the jamming equipment used to block out offensive radio broadcasts. The brain constantly produces a kind of static, cutting down our perception and reducing our mental activity.

This static can actually be seen. When you close your eyes, you see all sorts of random pictures flashing through your mind. It is impossible to concentrate on any one of them for more than an instant, and each image is obscured by a host of others superimposed over it.

This static can even be seen when your eyes are opened. However, one usually ignores these images since they are so faint compared to our visual perception. However, they still reduce one's perception, both of the world around him and of himself.

Much of what we know about this static is a result of research done with drugs that eliminate it. According to a number of authorities, this is precisely how the psychedelic drugs work.


Now imagine the mental activity of a disembodied soul standing naked before God. The reducing valve is gone entirely. The mind is open and transparent. Things can be perceived in a way that is impossible to a mind held back by a body and nervous system. The visions and understanding are the most delightful bliss imaginable (as per: "the righteous, sitting with their crowns on their head, delighting in the shine of the Shechina").

This is what Job meant when he said (19:26), "And when after my skin is destroyed, then without my flesh shall I see God."

But then, an individual will also see himself in a new light. Every thought and memory will be lucid, and he will see himself for the first time without the static and jamming that shuts out most thoughts.

Even in our mortal physical state, looking at oneself can sometimes be pleasing and at other times very painful. Certain acts leave us proud and pleased with ourselves. Others cause excruciating pain, especially when we are caught.

Imagine standing naked before God, with your memory wide open, completely transparent without any jamming mechanism or reducing valve to diminish its force. You will remember everything you ever did and see it in a new light. You will see it in the light of the unshaded spirit, or, if you will, in God's own light that shines from one end of creation to the other. The memory of every good deed and mitzvah will be the sublimest of pleasures, as our tradition speaks of the World to Come.

But your memory will also be open to all the things of which you are ashamed. They cannot be rationalized away or dismissed. You will be facing yourself, fully aware of the consequences of all your deeds. We all know the terrible shame and humiliation experienced when one is caught in the act of doing something wrong. Imagine being caught by one's own memory with no place to escape...

We are taught that the judgement of the wicked lasts 12 months. Even the naked soul can gradually learn to live with this shame and forget it, and the pain eventually subsides. It may be more than coincidence that 12 months is also the length of time required for something to be forgotten in Talmudic law. Thus, one mourns a parent for 12 months and says a special blessing upon seeing a close friend after this period of time.

(Of course, there is an exception to this rule. There are the nonbelievers and worst of sinners reckoned in the Talmud. These individuals have nothing else but their shame and have no escape from everlasting torment.)

But even temporary torment is beyond our imagination. Nachmanides writes that all the suffering of Job would not compare to an instant in Gehenom. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov says the same of a man who suffered for years from the most indescribable torments: It is still better than a single burn in Gehenom. Mental torture cannot be compared to the mere physical...


There is another dimension of immortality discussed in the Talmud (Brachot 18b). It asks: Do the dead know what is happening in the world of the living?

After an involved discussion, the Talmud concludes that they do have this awareness. The Kabbalistic philosophers explain that the soul achieves a degree of unity with God, the source of all knowledge, and therefore also partakes of His omniscience.

When a person dies, he enters a new world of awareness. He exists as a disembodied soul and yet is aware of what is happening in the physical world. Gradually, he learns to focus on any physical event he wishes. At first this is a frightening experience. You know that you are dead. You can see your body lying there, with your friends and relatives standing around crying over you. We are taught that immediately after death, the soul is in a great state of confusion.

What is the main source of its attention? What draws its focus more than anything else?

We are taught that it is the body. Most people identify themselves with their bodies, as we have discussed earlier. It is difficult for a soul to break this thought habit, and therefore, for the first few days, the soul is literally obsessed with its previous body. This is alluded to in the verse, "And his soul mourns for him" (Job 14:22).

This is especially true before the body is buried. The soul wonders what will happen to the body. It finds it to be both fascinating and frightening to watch its own body's funeral arrangements and preparation for burial.

Of course, this is one of the reasons why Judaism teaches us that we must have the utmost respect for human remains. We can imagine how painful it is for a soul to see its recent body cast around like an animal carcass. The Torah therefore forbids this.

This is also related to the question of autopsies. We can imagine how a soul would feel when seeing its body lying on the autopsy table, being dissected and examined.

The disembodied soul spends much of its time learning how to focus. It is now seeing without physical eyes, using some process which we do not even have the vocabulary to describe. The Kabbalists call this frightening process Kaf HaKela -- like being thrown with a sling from one end of the world to another. It is alluded to in the verse, "The soul of my master shall be bound up in the bundle of life with the Lord your God, and the souls of your enemies shall He sling out, as from the hollow of a sling" (1-Samuel 25:29). The soul perceives things flashing into focus from all over, and is in a state of total confusion and disorientation.

One of the few things that the soul has little difficulty focusing on is its own body. It is a familiar pattern and some tie seems to remain. To some extent, it is a refuge from its disorientation.


The body begins to decompose soon after it is buried. The effect of watching this must be both frightening and painful. The Talmud teaches us, "Worms are as painful to the dead as needles in the flesh of the living, as it is written, 'his flesh grieves for him' (Job 14:22)." Most commentaries write that this refers to the psychological anguish of the soul in seeing its earthly habitation in a state of decay.

The Kabbalists call this Chibut HaKever, the punishment of the grave. We are taught that what happens to the body in the grave can be an even worse experience than Gehenom.

The more one is obsessed with one's body during his lifetime, the more he will be obsessed with it after death.

This varies among individuals. The more one is obsessed with one's body and the material world in general during his lifetime, the more he will be obsessed with it after death. For the person to whom the material was everything, this deterioration of the body is most painful.

On the other extreme, the person who was immersed in the spiritual may not care very much about the fate of his body at all. He finds himself very much at home in the spiritual realm and might quickly forget about his body entirely...

Many of us think of death as a most frightening experience. Tzaddikim, on the other hand, have looked forward to it. Shortly before his death, Rabbi Nachman of Breslav said, "I very much want to divest myself of this garment that is my body."

If we truly believe and trust in a merciful God, then death has no terror for us...

Reprinted with permission, from "If You Were God" (NCSY-OU)

Do you think you may have a porn addiction?

Do you have a problem with obsessive and compulsive porn use? Have you seriously tried the tools on GYE and feel that you are not getting better? Maybe it’s time to consider joining a 12-Step program.

Porn Anonymous (PA)
If you’re compulsively acting-out with pornography and masturbation we suggest you explore joining Porn Anonymous (PA). If you need help deciding whether to join PA, call Michael at 347-699-2368, or email help@pornanonymous.org to schedule a time to talk. For more information visit pornanonymous.org (Hebrew: p-a.org.il / Yiddish: pa-yid.org).

Sexaholics Anonymous (SA)
If your compulsive acting-out has progressed beyond the screen (with other people, paid sexual services, etc.) we suggest you explore joining Sexaholics Anonymous (SA). To figure out if SA is for you, call Dov at 917-414-8205, or email Dov at dov@guardyoureyes.org to schedule a time to talk. For more information visit www.sa.org.

Please help us continue helping others!
Contribute Securely Online
(Anonymous recurring credit card donations possible)
To donate by phone, call (24 hours): 718-878-3075
Checks can be made out to: "GYE Corp." and mailed to: GYE Corp. P.O. Box 32380 Pikesville, MD 21282 U.S.A.
Quick Links