So That's What You're Thinking?
In this week’s Parasha, Shoftim, we are reminded of G-d’s warning to the Israelites after leaving Egypt: “You shall not return that way anymore." Some people fear freedom because it comes with great responsibility. Breaking the chains of a slave mentality is challenging. After their freedom from Egypt, many Israelites complained and advocated returning, with distorted recollections leading the way, “We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt free of charge, the cucumbers, the watermelons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic.”
If you desire to meet the person you're capable of becoming, you must break the chains that control your thoughts and relinquish toxic and paralyzing beliefs about yourself. We've all heard the phrase "mind over matter." Physicist Max Planck, a pioneer of quantum theory, said, “I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness." G-d's consciousness created the world, and our thoughts shape our reality.
"Change your thoughts and you change your world." - Norman Vincent Peale
Modern science and self-help gurus emphasize the power of positive thinking. But Judaism has been conveying this wisdom for millennia. It's not simply a call to be optimistic but an acknowledgment of the transformative power of thoughts.
The Tenth Commandment, “Thou shalt not covet,” speaks to a sin of the mind. It's considered perilous to violate because coveting can lead to transgressing other commandments. Such is the power of the mind. As the saying goes, "What you think, you become." Our mothers always told us to watch our steps, but monitoring our thoughts is even more vital, for they dictate our paths.
This month of Elul is a period of introspection and repentance before the Jewish High Holy Days. Yet, how can we hope for genuine change if we still cling to old, limiting beliefs? Einstein wisely noted, "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them." Many Holocaust survivors endured due to their ability to visualize a life beyond the concentration camp fences.
If you wish to transform your life, reshape your thinking. Here is an example of why it’s not good to have a memory like an elephant. Consider a baby elephant which is tied by a rope to a stake in the ground. When he’s a baby he's not strong enough to pull the stake up. Eventually he becomes strong and is amply capable of doing so, but his mind has already been conditioned so he doesn’t even try.
Chabad Chasidism teaches, “Think good and it will be good.” A positive mindset amplifies the potential within. As it's often said, "A healthy mind is the best weapon."
In this week’s Torah reading, the Israelites are instructed to uphold truth. It's intuitive to avoid deceitful individuals, but we must remember that oftentimes, we deceive ourselves the most.
"We tell ourselves stories in order to live," says Joan Didion. But we need to be very selective about the stories we tell. Like any book, you carry the story with you to bed and think about it throughout your day.
Negative self-talk can be our downfall, making us believe we're inadequate or destined to fail. However, G-d promises a land of abundance and calls upon us to rise, to grow, and to look forward. “...For the L-rd said to you, ‘You shall not return that way anymore.’” Shabbat Shalom