Avoiding Evil Thoughts
I had written a certain well-known Rabbi about how to deal with lustful thoughts. In several of the Rav's shiurim he had mentioned the Meor Enayim that a person's obstacle is really his path to success. How is being bogged down with lustful thoughts constantly a path to success? The Alter Rebbe seems to say in chapter 27 that a Benoni can never really get rid of these thoughts. How is one who is not a "Tzaddik" but a Benoni supposed to make sure he is not Meyaesh? A person can work hard to make sure he doesn't look at the inappropriate material, and make sure that he does not look at women in the street, office etc. But the Yetzer Hara keeps placing thoughts into his head and he fights and he davens and he fights. And sometimes the Yetzer leaves him alone for a period of time and then thoughts come back. What tools is the person supposed to utilize to make sure he is doing the correct Avodat Hashem and not get to the point that he gives up. How is a person supposed to be Mechazek himself? Being that I was unsatisfied with the answer that I received I kept searching for a better one. I then contacted a Rabbi that I knew and asked if he would guide me. This was his response:
I agree with the Rabbi that chapters 27 and 28 of Tanya are important sources dealing with this topic (as well as any other Machshavos Zaros). One of the most important points (in chapter 27, about Machshavos Zaros not during davening or learning) concerning what you said about Yeush is that the person should realize and remember that the thoughts are coming to him precisely because his role is to deal with them.
A Tzaddik wouldn't get such thoughts. By contrast, a Beinoni is the very person whose Avodas Hashem is to constantly prevail over such thoughts. A person cannot usually say or do anything without planning it, as though a bad word popped out of his mouth or he had a muscle spasm and punched someone. So a person is expected never to say or do wrong. But a thought can occur seemingly out of nowhere, and the Beinoni's task is therefore not so much never to have improper thoughts in the first place, but never to allow them to remain in his mind, and certainly not to dwell on them Chas Veshalom. Just because you think of something, doesn’t mean you have to think about it.
Essentially, what the Alter Rebbe is saying is that a person should not despair over his inability to rid himself of such thoughts, because if he has those thoughts it can only be because Hashem knows him to be a person who has the ability to withstand them, and therefore a) he is being given an opportunity to fulfill the mitzvah of Lo sasuru acharei levavchem etc., and b) Hashem actually wants him to undergo that challenge and win - that is precisely his avodah -since doing so is one of the two modes of avodah that give Hashem pleasure (see Tanya chapter 27) . He should not have Yeush; instead, he should have ongoing and increased determination to carry out his mission, as though saying, "All right, bring it on! I will keep fighting the good fight for Hashem!" That fight (and victory) is what Hashem wants from Beinonim.
Of course, it is encouraging to remember (as the Alter Rebbe points out) that the more he succeeds in withstanding the temptations, the easier it is for him to do so in the future, in accordance with the teaching that if a person makes even a small effort on his own part, he receives a disproportionate amount of Heavenly assistance to help him along.
Now, all the above is well and good, but a person may feel, "What can I do to avoid such thoughts altogether?"
I think the best answer to that is (as you very well know because it is a common teaching that we have all heard) to fill one's mind with Torah. The more one's brain circuits, one's synaptic pathways, become strong and deep in Torah thoughts and the Torah way of thinking, the less likely it is for his thoughts to break out of those grooves - to jump the tracks, as it were - and stray into alien territory. But even more particularly, the person must learn Chassidus, the more the better. Shmiras Einayim is a rampant challenge in our times, and (as the Rebbe explains in "On the Essence of Chassidus") Chassidus is the only effective antidote to the special challenges of today (which is one reason Chassidus was revealed in recent times). Chassidus, the essence of the Torah, united with the essence of Hashem, activates the essence of the Jewish soul and brings out its innate and unshakable love and fear of Hashem. In the face of that, the Yetzer Hara doesn't stand a chance.
Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler A"H, the Mechaber of Michtav MeiEliyahu, writes of the "Bechira point." Some people struggle with "to murder or not to murder"; their Bechira point - the place along the sliding scale, or continuum, of the challenge at which their struggle to properly exercise their free choice takes place, is quite low. Some people struggle with "should I have Kavanah to be Meyached this Yichud Elyon or that Yichud Elyon?" - their Bechira point is quite high. The battleground for most of us is somewhere in between. Rav Dessler says that we have the ability to move our own Bechira point farther up along the scale (or, Chas Veshalom, in the opposite direction); the better the person we develop into, the less likely we are to have to still struggle with things that once challenged us. Learning Chassidus is the most effective tool we have to raise our Bechira point as high as it can get. Hashem should help us all!