| Parshah |

Think Pink

Our struggle to prevent these thoughts from entering our mind must be all-encompassing


“Command Aharon and his sons, saying: This is the law of the Olah [burnt offering]…” (Vayikra 6:2)

Rashi says the word “command” is a language of hastening, with urgency. He quotes Rabi Shimon in saying that the Torah always urges people to hasten when there is a loss to one’s pocket [i.e., a financial loss] involved.
How does the subject of Aharon and his sons hastening to perform the Korban Olah connect with any possible financial loss? (Rabbi Moshe Greebel).

“Close your eyes and think of a pink elephant.”

This was a classic exercise I’d do with my students when we’d discuss the concept of controlling our thoughts. My elephant always appeared as a fuzzy stuffed animal with red button eyes and a goofy grin.

“Okay, now close your eyes again and don’t think of a pink elephant.”

Invariably, this part of the experiment was doomed to failure. My pink pachyderm stayed stubbornly in my consciousness, as was the case with most of my students.

A most thought-provoking explanation is offered by the Admor Rav Avraham Yehoshua Heschel of Apt (Sichos Tzaddikim). The word “pocket” in Hebrew is kis. Many parts of the human body have a kis, a pocket in which they can be temporarily stored and not function. The mouth, for example, has lips which can close, so it’s incapable of speaking evil. The ear has a lobe, which can be bent to seal it, so evil will not be heard. The eye has an eyelid to deter it from seeing evil.
Yet when it comes to the human thought process, there’s no kis, no pocket. The mind is free as a bird to roam when and where it wills. There’s no automatic “shut-off valve” when it comes to evil thoughts entering one’s consciousness and awareness. And with the mind’s irrationality, evil thoughts have a great influence over a person. Therefore, our struggle to prevent these thoughts from entering our mind must be all-encompassing.

It’s easy to think of something. It’s much harder not to. Don’t think about the war. Don’t think about Pesach cleaning. Don’t think about Yitzi’s braces and the run to the dry cleaners and the tailor and….

It’s the worst at night. Don’t think about how tired you are and how you need to fall asleep this minute because you’re waking up at the crack of dawn and have a zillion things to do tomorrow…. Such thoughts are a surefire way to ensure insomnia.

But what’s the battle plan? Pink elephants have a nasty habit of digging in and staying prominently in my brain, especially when banished.

It’s a well-known concept that the Korban Olah atones for evil thoughts. This is why, teaches the Apter, the Torah utilizes the expression “command,” a language of eagerness and hastening, when discussing the Korban Olah. For, when it comes to human thought, which is an unbridled thing without a kis (pocket), much more urgency and hastening is required to keep it under control. It’s one thing to veer away from forbidden culinary displays in a restaurant window, or to refrain from desecrating the Shabbos, chas v’shalom. However, curtailing the involuntary and erratic mind from unworthy thoughts is quite a different matter.
Yet how is one actually able to have control over the unpredictable and capricious human thought process? The way to empty the mind of unworthy and evil thoughts is to fill it instead with concepts and perceptions of Torah. As it says in Pirkei Avos (2:2), “Rabban Gamliel the son of Rabi Yehudah Hanasi states: ‘How beautiful is the study of Torah together with a worldly occupation. For the energy [taken up] by both of them keeps sin out of one’s mind….’ ”

Here’s what my students and I discovered. You can’t think of two things at the same time. Try it. (For the uninitiated, this is why those determined to succeed at multitasking consistently meet with failure. Neurological studies have concluded that the human brain is incapable of focusing on two things at once.) Therefore, if you don’t want to think about pink elephants, you’ve got to banish the thought with a stronger one.

So I tell my brain: Think about Shloime’s adorable dimples. Think about the brachah you’ll make on your flowering fruit tree. Think about Leil HaSeder when the cleaning is finished already.

Think about anything, except for pink elephants. Oh no, now I’ve done it again. The pink elephant is back in the room.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 887)

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