Question & Answer With Rabbi Lazer Brody - Dealing With Unpleasant Memories
A Simple Jew asks:
Sometimes a person's thoughts flash a memory from a person's past of something that is unpleasant. This same image may return again to the person's mind before one is able to chase it off at a later date as well.
While it appears that the Baal Shem Tov, Toldos Yaakov Yosef, and Degel Machaneh Ephraim taught that the common man could uplift these thoughts to their roots, others such as the Baal HaTanya advised that uplifting these thoughts was solely a task for tzaddikim.
In our generation should we try to get to the root these thoughts that remind of a something we might not be proud of or ashamed of that we did when we were children, or are they simply coming from yetzer hara and trying to depress us and keep us from our avodas Hashem? In others words, what is the advice we should follow, the advice of the Baal Shem Tov, Toldos Yaakov Yosef, and Degel Machaneh Ephraim, or that of the Baal HaTanya?
Rabbi Lazer Brody answers:
Rav Yisroel Lugasi shlit'a writes in his very important guide book for this generation's faith seekers, "Dor Tmuros", that a Baal Tshuva should not be downhearted and disappointed when suddenly visited with an image of the past of something that he or she is less than proud of. Indeed, their embarrassment at the strange thought in the middle of davening is a wonderful soul correction that brings Hashem great gratification. How? A few years ago, they enjoyed eating the forbidden fruit of a transgression. Now, they are ashamed and embarrassed - this is a superb form of Tshuva.
Rebbe Nosson of Breslev writes that thoughts are like a unruly horse; a good wagoneer has to grab the horse firmly by the reins, and lead him in the right direction. Not only thought, but the brain can only hold one thought at a time. Yet, it's senseless to fight the Yetzer straight on. Rav Shalom Arush shlit'a teaches not to struggle with the nasty thought, just simply focus on a good thought, such as Hashem's name, and the bad thought withers.
The Melitzer Rebbe shlit'a, great grandson of the Degel - teaches that this generation can sweeten a thought at its source by simple faith and intent in prayer. When a person tries to daven with "kavannos" above his or her madrega, they are inviting trouble and stiff resistance. Therefore, the best way to pray is with simple faith, trying the best we can to understand what we say, for in this generation simple faith accomplishes what the lofty deeds of the tzaddikim accomplished in former generations. If the wild horse of negative thoughts gets out of line, just pull the reins back to kedusha with a good thought.
In closing, let me add that all our thoughts come from Hashem, so don't lose heart because of a silly bad thought. Refocus on kedusha, and continue whatever you're doing with joy.