Parshas Va’eschanan -Thinking His Thoughts



פרשת ואתחנן


Among all of the great miracles during our forty year sojourn in the Wilderness, the day of the giving of the Torah towers above all. The exhilarating experience of hearing the Voice of Hashem speaking to us, and experiencing an Awareness of Him is something that has never been surpassed in history. And it is that which we constantly yearn for: והוא ישמיעינו ברחמיו שנית, Oh, how we wish we could hear that Voice again, and impress that Awareness of Hashem into our bones like that again.

Now, when describing Matan Torah the Rambam says גדליהו על כל גדולה, “You should exalt this event, this picture, higher than all other great things in history. You hear that. ”Exalt it; make it greater than anything else!” But this won’t happen by itself; you have to think about Matan Torah all the time! And when is it done? Never! Even on Shavuos, the frum Jews are at best learning Hilchos Shavuos. And not at best they’re discussing how to make the blintzes and the cheesecake. Whatever it is, they’re busy with Shavuos. But the ideas of Shavuos?! A picture of Matan Torah?! Never! And how could you? You never think about it! You’ve never created pictures of it in your mind – a mental picture! גדליהו על כל גדולה, make it greater in your mind than anything else that you might think is great!


Now, you know that here we like to speak on a practical level. We like to speak words and ideas that we can immediately translate into service of Hashem. So, let us ask, what is the purpose of remembering that great day of מעמד הר סיני? It’s not a secret; the possuk tells us: אתה הראת לדעת כי השם הוא האלוקים…וידעת היום והשבת אל לבבך כי הוא האלוקים. “You have been made to see (the ma’amad Har Sinai) in order to know that Hashem is G-d…And you should know today, and you should continue to take into your heart [i.e. mind] that Hashem is G-d” (ibid. 4: 35-39)

Before we begin – I’ve told you this many times already – that the word לב in lashon kodesh actually refers not to the heart but to the mind, to a person’s thoughts. So why is that? Why do we say “heart” if we mean thoughts? And the answer is this. The language of the Torah is not a bluff language. When a person thinks with his mind, but he’s not really interested in it; when his heart, his emotions, are not participating, that’s not the machshava that Hashem desires. Hashem wants you to be excited about your thoughts. That’s when it turns into a machshava. It’s through the heartbeat, the emotions, that you can find out if someone is really interested in the subject. And that’s why a man is judged by what he’s excited about. Because if your heart is into it, if it excites you and gets your heart beating, then that’s who you really are. That’s where your mind really is.


So for example when a whole mob of people get together in a stadium. All dumbbells, sitting there in the grandstand. And they’re excited because here goes their star champion pitcher onto the field. And they want him to pitch out the batter right away; he should knock him out right away! And the pitcher throws; “Strike one,” says the umpire. Everybody goes wild with excitement! Whooo-aahh! Very important information from the umpire! And then this fancy pitcher twirls his hand and he throws it again, in a fancy way on order to trick the man. “Strike two,” says the umpire. They go wild. They’re excited. All the animals are jumping up and down. And now he throws it again, and surprise, Whack!, he hits the ball and it goes flying way out in the bleachers! And everybody is standing up shouting like mad! What are they excited about? They’re excited about nothing at all. That’s a madhouse; in a madhouse people are excited about nothing.

Now let’s change the scene. After all these are the lower elements of society, the poorer fellows. How much does a baseball ticket cost already, twenty dollars, thirty dollars? But what about the higher class people? They must be excited about higher things. So we go to the grand opera or the theater on Broadway where it costs five hundred dollars a seat. And everybody well dressed, or well undressed, whatever it is. They’re sitting there grinning, wearing their jewels. And the photographers are taking pictures. It will be in the papers tomorrow: Who was present at this event of high culture? Who’s sitting in which seat? Who’s sitting in the most expensive seat? That’s why they came after all. And some of them come with their lorinetts, special glasses, to look at the actors on the stage.


And so, we can turn back to our possuk of והשבות אל לבבך כי השם הוא האלוקים. Hashem is commanding us to impress deeply into our minds, אל לבבך, to actually live with the thoughts and emotions that there is no one else but Hashem. To be so attached to Him in our minds and our hearts, that He is the only One we are ever be thinking about. והשבות אל לבבך, you have to lay it onto your heart. And it has to be done not once, and not twice, and not three times, but continually, all the time, as implied by the word והשבות, which not only means you shall take but also you shall return. The fact that you heard it already, you know it already, doesn’t mean anything. You don’t know anything! The vague knowledge that you’ve already acquired, what your rebbi taught you in cheder, is not enough – it needs constant reminding and constant repetition.

And what that means is that you’re going to have to begin devoting time to the subject of Hashem Hu Ha’Elokim. You are going to have to think about Hakodosh Boruch Hu and devote your mind to this subject until it is the focus of all your thoughts. והשבות אל לבבך כי השם הוא האלוקים – your mind through and through must become a mind of Hashem; filled with knowledge that Hashem is One; that He is everything in our lives, and nothing else matters. Nothing except for Hakodosh Boruch Hu.


And so, while a person is still in this world, he is going to have to learn how to plant thoughts of Hashem in his mind. Not only when you’re davening; of course, even that is a very big achievement. Most people don’t even have Hashem in their minds then. I’m sorry to say that Hashem is not even thought about during davening. It’s impossible! At the rate of the davening, you can’t think about anything, not even the meaning of the words. But what we’re saying here now, is much more than davening. You have to have Hashem in your mind as much as possible! והשבות.

There are so many mental pictures that you have to formulate in your mind. And you have to develop them and cherish them. You have to live with thought. Of course you have to know what to think about Him. If you don’t have models; if you didn’t hear from a good rebbi, if you didn’t learn the right seforim, so you don’t even have the seeds in your mind with which to work with. Your mind is an empty field. Nothing there to plow, nothing to water and grow. You’ll need models along which lines to think.


What do you think it means to have in your mind that “Hashem is the Elokim up in the heavens and below on this earth”? Just to think about Hashem in a vague superficial way?! Just to think about “His name”?! One man told me that he had the name of Hashem in his mind all the time. He keeps in front of his eyes the letters of Hashem’s name. No, it doesn’t mean that! Thinking yud-kei-vuv-kei is nothing! You have to be thinking about Hakodosh Boruch Hu – all the time.

So you’ll ask me, “Is it possible for a person to always be thinking about Hashem? After all, we are normal; and any normal person has many thoughts in his mind. How could we be saying that a person must devote all of his thinking to just one thought?

And the answer is that once a person gets busy using his mind and fulfilling והשבות אל לבבך by spending as much time as possible thinking about Hashem, he accustoms himself to a new way of thinking about this world. He begins to view the world through the eyes of Hashem’s thoughts. And he automatically keeps these thoughts in his mind, even without conscious effort.


I’ll give you a mashal. Suppose a person knows how good it is to have financial security. Maybe in the past he didn’t understand; but now he matured, he read a few books on the subject, he learned about life. So now he understands. He values having money in the bank, having insurance, participating in a pension plan. And once he gets it in his mind that to be financially secure is a good thing, once he’s meishiv el l’vavo the importance of financial security, he will never lose sight of that truth. It’s always there in his mind. No matter what he may be doing; looking for a job, planning a vacation, buying a washing machine, even just walking down the street, the thoughts of security are always on his mind. Financial security will be a factor that motivates him in any action he takes.

And that’s our job in this world- to make Hashem, and all of the Torah attitudes, so impressed into our psyche, that it becomes who we are and every step we take, is with Hashem in mind.


I’ll give you an example. It’s the first thought that Hashem tells us about. בראשית ברא אלוקים – Hashem made the world – everything – in the beginning. Before that, there was nothing at all. No elements, no chemicals, no energy, no space. It was ayin – nothing at all! And then, ויאמר אלוקים יהי, from the word yehi, let it be, the world came into being.

And if you would accustom yourself to the very first teaching of the Torah – if you would devote your mind to that teaching – then your life will be transformed completely. Because wherever you look, you see nothing but Hashem. מלא כל הארץ כבודו – “The whole world is full of his glory.”It’s not some mysterious glory, a special aura that we don’t see. It’s Hashem wherever you look because בדבר השם שמים נעשו וברוח פיו כל צבאם – everything, the sky, the sun, the stars, the earth, and everything in it is nothing but the word of Hashem.

And when you plant these Torah ideas in your mind, and when you water them with constant repetition of thought, your mind begins to fill with a perspective of the world that echoes loudly in your head – even more than the financial security we spoke about in the mashal.


I’m not telling you a middas chassidus now. I’m talking to you now about the most basic principle of yahadus. It’s the first of the aseres hadibros. When you’re thinking Hashem’s thoughts, you’re fulfilling אנכי השם אלוקיך. You didn’t know that. What do you think it means “I am Hashem your G-d”? It’s the first of the Aseres Hadibros – it’s first on the list, and it’s a very important list, so what does it mean? הוי דומה לו, Be like Me. “Think like Me! Think like I think.”

What is He thinking about? It’s not hidden away somewhere in the sifrei kaballah. Of course, כי לא מחשבותי מחשבותיכם – our thoughts are not like Hashem’s thoughts; no matter how much we think. And yet Hakodosh Boruch Hu has revealed to us what He does think as far as concerns us, and that’s the Torah. He told us exactly what He’s thinking. The whole torah is filled with Hashem’s thoughts. And every time we think Torah ideals that the Torah teaches us, we’re being m’kayeim the mitzvah in this week’s parsha of Anochi Hashem Elokecha – think like Me.


I’ll give you another example. The mann! The Torah wants us to remember forever, to never forget the mann. The mann is supposed to be an object lesson for all generations that it is Hakodosh Boruch Hu Who feeds Mankind. Hashem commanded the Am Yisroel to take a jar of the mann and set it aside למשמרת לדורותיכם, so that we should always see it (Shemos 16:32-33). It says it in the possuk, למען יראו את הלחם אשר האכלתי אתכם במדבר, so that we should always remember Who is the real food giver. Hashem wants us to never forget the mann. It’s a constant reminder that it’s not the bread that’s feeding us; it’s His word. It’s למען הודיעך כי לא על הלחם לבדו יחיה האדם, כי על כל מוצא פי השם יחיה האדם – To let us know that we live by the word of Hashem, and not on the bread alone (D’varim 8:3).

So you’re telling me that you sit down at the table to eat and you don’t think about how it is really Hashem who is feeding you?! You mean to tell me that day after day can go by and you don’t spend at least one minute thinking about this idea of the mann?! You’re missing the whole point of food! The whole business of eating is one big neis.


And once you make the mann a part of your mind, your entire life is transformed! After all, it’s not Tisha B’av everyday. You’re eating all the time! And even when you’re not eating, you see food all around you. And if you are השב אל הלב, if through constant repetition of thought you engrave on your mind the lessons of the mann, then the whole world becomes a world filled with Awareness of Hashem. You see a world, a big world, that is being fed only by Hashem.

It takes work, it takes practice, but there’s no option. If you want to be a success in this world, like many people do, then you’re going to have to make it your business to create a Torah mind. And the one who is thinking about Hashem always, he is the one who is truly attached to Hashem. ואתם הדביקים בהשם אלוקיכם חיים כולכם היום.


Even now, as I’m telling it to you, for a lot of people sitting here, it doesn’t register with them at all. They didn’t come to hear this foolishness. They want to hear something solid, something substantial. If I told them a segulah, let’s say, that if your wife is pregnant and you want her to have an easy childbirth, so you should go to the aron kodesh and open it up. That’s a segula that she should give birth easily. People run to do that! That they’ll run to do! It’s something  practical! But what did you accomplish by opening the aron kodesh if your mind is closed?! You opened the aron kodesh but your mind is closed.

But I’m telling you something maybe it doesn’t seem as practical, but it’s the most important thing you can do, a thousand times more important than opening the aron kodesh. You’ll start opening your mind! One permanent thought, one attitude that you impress on your mind is infinitely more valuable than opening the Aron Kodesh.


And that’s exactly what Hashem wants! It’s a statement everybody knows, but nobody understands. The Gemara says רחמנא ליבא בעי – “Hashem wants the heart” (Sanhedrin 106b). So people think He wants “a good heart.” Of course, He also wants you to have a good heart, but that’s not the secret of this ma’amar. I explained before that in lashon kodesh “heart” means “mind.” Hashem wants your mind more than anything else! Like it says, תנה בני לבך לי – “My son, give Me your mind” (Mishlei 23:26). Fill your head with My thoughts. He wants not only the technicalities of the Torah but the ideas and ideals of the Torah.

The Chovos Halevavos has a sha’ar called Cheshbon Hanefesh – a sha’ar just about thinking. And he gives us thirty exercises what to think about. Now pay attention to exercise number one. Pay attention because you’ll be surprised. Number one: To think, “How grateful I am to You Hashem that I am not a piece of metal or piece of wood; You have made me a living person. You brought me ex-nihilo, out of nothing, into existence.” That’s the first thing to think about. I’m looking at you now and you’re all looking at me with blank faces. Do I hear any echo back there? Is there anything at all echoing in your brain? No reaction! That’s because you never practiced thinking at all. Practice up on it; practice makes perfect.


Practice thinking: Once upon a time I was nothing but minerals. That’s what you were. You were water in the cloud; you were snow on the ground. You’re a little bit of soil – not much – a little bit of soil, mostly air and water – you’re about eighty percent water – and some sunshine too. So think: “I’m so grateful to You Hashem. There’s so much sunshine in the world, but most of it is not people. You took some of that sunshine and some water, air and some soil, and You made me out of it! I’m grateful to You Hashem for that.” Next time there’s snow on the ground, look at the snow and know that there are future generations that will come from that snow. No question about it. You can’t believe it?! That’s because you never think about these important subjects. It takes work to השב.

Now, put that idea into your head. Nobody else is thinking about it. You have a monopoly on that; you’re unique if you start thinking that way. That’s the first of the thirty mind exercises of the Chovos Halevavos. He was a great man, a great teacher. Try it. Of course you’re thinking it’s silly. “I should be grateful for that?! If Hashem would send me, let’s say, a big sum of money, maybe. But for this I should be grateful?” So Hashem says, “Would you want to be transformed back again into the air and water and sunshine? No, you would like to remain the way you are right now!


You’re hearing now that Hashem made you out of sunshine that came from 83 million miles away. It traveled at the rate of 186,000 miles a second. In eight minutes it came from the sun to this earth. And it was transformed. We are sunshine. The sunshine hits the green plant, the chlorophyll, and it manufactures starch. And that starch becomes bread. And it becomes meat if animals eat it. And that becomes you. That’s what you are.

You walk in the street and you’re thinking “I thank You Hashem that I’m not chlorophyll, that I’m not starch, I’m not sunshine. You made me out of nothing and I can’t forget it. I’m thinking constantly about it.” If you do that, you’re one out of ten thousand, one out of a hundred thousand. You’re a great man already!

Another thing: You must think about Olam Habah! How can a Jew have an existence, a thinking existence, in which the Next World doesn’t occupy a big place?! You must think about Moshiach. צפית לישועה. Were you waiting for Moshiach? That’s one of the big questions they’re going to ask you (Shabbos 31a).


You also need to spend time thinking about Gehenim. That’s one of the big influences on a person’s life. You have to picture Gehenim in your mind. As much as possible think about it. It should be in your mind always. Gehenim! How many times do people think about Gehenim? It’s a tragedy; you must think about it frequently because when you make your way through this world with Gehenim engraved in your mind, your entire life is a different life. The picture of Gehenim in your mind is an achievement. And the more you think about it here, the less you’ll experience it there.

Yetzias Mitzrayim! Every day you have to be reminding yourself that Hashem took us out of Mitzrayim so that we should serve Him. אני השם אלוקיכם אשר הוצאתי אתכם מארץ מצרים להיות לכם לאלוקים – I took you out in order to be your Elokim. We’re not talking now about what you say during kriyas shema. That’s not thinking! That’s not והשבות אל לבבך כי השם הוא האלוקים – And you should impress into your mind, and impress it again and again and again. That’s what והשבות means. Again and again, you keep laying down more and more layers of thought in your mind.


Now, everything we’re speaking about here takes time. And that’s always the great excuse, the great snare of this world. Here’s a man who works all day long. At night he goes out to the beis medrash and learns a little gemara. And he’s happy; he’s a good Jew. He has no time for anything more, for והשב אל לבבך. You have to know that עד כאן דברי יצר הרע.

What does he really mean? He means that he has no time for Hashem. For the radio he has time! For his garden he has all the time in the world. For the newspapers he has time. They’re frum papers, frum magazines, frum novels. “It’s glatt glatt.” But he has to know, it’s treif, because the more interests you have, the more you’re preoccupied with everything else, the less room you have in your mind for Hashem. When a man is so busy with all of his things; with his business, and with his every pleasures, and with his family. If he has to every motzaei Shabbos go out to visit his relatives. And every Sunday he has to get behind the wheel of his car, and take the family out. And then every evening he has something else to do, then this man is committing the worst kind of suicide, because his mind is always occupied. Because all of these things, besides for the waste of precious time, create interests and attitudes in the mind keep the mind fettered to the things in this world that matter least. It’s impossible to think about Hakodosh Boruch Hu unless you make time for Him. Man’s most precious possession, his mind, is tied in bonds and imprisoned, and unless he cuts loose, he will never be able to succeed in making something from his mind – and your mind is your only key to success.


That’s what the gemara (Nedarim 81a) says: שלחו מתם, they sent a message from Eretz Yisroel, הזהרו בבני עניים, be careful with the children of the poor. When poor boys come to the Yeshiva, welcome them. Their fathers might not contribute much, but welcome them with open arms,  שמהם תצא תורה, Torah comes from poor boys. Why from the poor boys? So the Ran says:  שאין להם עסק אחר, they have nothing else to do but learn. The wealthy boys are busy with their cars, their fancy bikes, their new watches, – but the poor boy has none of this “baggage” on his mind. He has nothing to waste time with. So he sits in the yeshiva all day long. When I was a boy, my friends had bikes. But I didn’t; I didn’t have a bike. And so while my friends rode the streets, I stayed in the beis knesses and learned. And I’m none the worse for it! The one who has nothing else on his head, that’s the only one who will succeed at filling his mind with the thoughts of Hakodosh Boruch Hu.

Now, as much as we can, we have to follow the model of the בני עניים, the poor boys. As much as possible, even if you’re a wealthy man, the בני עניים are to be our model. It doesn’t mean you must be poor. Hakodosh Boruch may bless you with a great amount of money in your life. But nevertheless, in your house, and more importantly, in your mind, you should attempt to live like a poor man, with with the least amount of superfluities. You should get along with the minimum amount of baggage of the mind as you can.


Let’s say you have a man, a frum man, who has a special room, or even a shelf or a drawer with a coin collection. And when a visitor comes in, he’ll take it down and show it to him. This is a coin from England and here’s one from Guatemala. That’s extra cargo. You don’t need an extra thing like that on your head. There are plenty of things to worry about, plenty of ideas that you should be collecting in your head, besides for coins from Guatemala.

Some people have stamp collections. Some people love nature. Now, there’s nothing wrong with nature – on the contrary, we speak in this place about how nature can be used as a great form of perfecting the mind. But nature for nature’s sake, as a hobby, it’s a certain superfluous addition to your thoughts that you can well do without.


And therefore, when Hashem tells us בכל לבבך, that you must love Him with all of your thoughts, you must be dedicated to Him with all of your mind, it means that you’re going to have to leave as much space as possible in your mind for the important ideas. You can’t fill your time and your mind with foolishness. Otherwise, you’re creating an unwelcome competition. When you want to fulfill והשבות אל לבבך, when you begin the great career of moving the great concepts of the Torah into your mind, so these Torah ideals come in and they see that the place is already full. No room here! The mind is cluttered up with all kinds of thoughts about small things; unimportant issues like the Yankees, and the stamp collection, and your garden, and the news – what’s happening in the shul, what’s happening in Eretz Yisroel, so a competition begins, what’s going to fill your mind. And you’ll never be able to השב as long as your mind is filled with useless ideas and ideals.

And therefore, my friends, I have to tell you that the way to success is והשבות אל לבבך, you have to impress onto your mind all of these great ideals that are included in כי השם הוא האלוקים – that Hashem is everything in our lives. When Rabeinu Yonah (Sha’arei Teshuva 3:17) discusses this mitzvah of והשבות אל לבבך he refers to it as “the high merit of thinking about the greatness of Hashem,” and he quotes from Tehillim (14:2): “Hashem looks down from the heavens upon the sons of men to see if there is some wise one that inquires concerning G-d.” Hashem is looking down at us right now – right now! – to see if we are thinking thoughts of  השם הוא האלוקים.


Now, of course you must raise a family! And you must study Torah; you must study gemara; you must study halachah – there’s no question that all of those are from the biggest things in life and it takes up most of your time. But this field of greatness in the mind is open to everybody – to mothers and fathers, to girls and boys, to bnei Torah and to the bal habus. There’s no difference if you’re a mother working in the kitchen, a father in the office, or a kollel man.

You don’t even have to find a quiet and secluded place to meditate on these important thoughts. Although that would be wonderful – you can reach the heights of greatness by being in seclusion with nobody but Hashem. But you could fulfill והשבות אל לבבך without changing your daily routine at all. A person’s thoughts are wandering all day long. While we eat, while we walk down the avenue, while we work and while we speak with others, we often forget about Hashem completely. So when you’re sitting and eating you can think of one thought. When you’re traveling in the subway you’ll be thinking another thought. A person can begin training himself to think thoughts of Hashem all day long, if he would be willing to put in some effort. And there are an endless amount of things to think about. The opportunities are endless.

You can train yourself systematically to a program of thinking thoughts of Hashem. While walking down this block, I’m going to take deep breaths, and appreciate the cocktail of gases that is keeping me alive. And from this telephone pole until the next corner I’m thinking about Gehenim. And as I pass by the big supermarket, I’m thinking about how all this food came down from the sky in the rain, the same way the mann came down. And that would be a fulfillment of והשבות אל לבבך. Every block, a new thought. Every block a new level of perfection in והשבת אל לבבך.


And if you want to succeed at this, it will take some preparation. Those of you who listen to the tapes – if you have nothing better – so that’s my humble contribution. Listen to them again, and again and again. Let them permeate your mind. They’ll sink in little by little and they’ll become part of your way of thinking. And you’ll see that your own thoughts will begin to develop, they’ll grow on their own, in accordance with how much thought you put into the models that are given to you here.

If you have access to better sources; if you’re able to read seforim, if you hear from greater teachers than I am, even better. You’ll train yourself to think thoughts of Hashem even more and more. Whatever it is, that’s the business of life – והשבות אל לבבך, developing our minds. It’s a great tragedy that so many people are not utilizing their lives because they don’t have the understanding of what life is for.

And so Hashem says, ”Don’t miss out on your purpose in life. I want your head!” רחמנא ליבא בעי – Hashem wants your mind more than anything else. תנה בני לבך – My son give Me your mind. That’s the fundamental requirement of Hashem. Make something out of your mind. Fill your head with the treasures of the Torah ideals and then you’ll belong to Me forever and ever.