In every generation, a person is obligated to see himself as if he went out of Egypt. As we get ready for Pesach, it is time to ask ourselves, “Am I ready to leave my personal Egypt? The Hebrew word for Egypt – Mitzrayim, means limitations. (1) The voice of Pharoh is still alive today, telling us to believe that we can’t overcome our limitations and succeed. If we listen to these negative thoughts, we are trapped like our ancestors who were slaves in Egypt. Our evaluation of ourselves is dependent on the quality of our thoughts. If left unchecked, negative thinking can control our emotions, hold us back from achieving our goals and even result in poor mental and physical health (C”V).
Are the thoughts that enter your mind a natural result of what is happening to you? Are negative thoughts limiting your success and overshadowing all the good in your life? If yes, then it’s time to discover your power to choose positive thoughts. One may ask, “Is it really possible to master control over my thoughts?” The answer is YES! The teachings of Chassidus guide us with helpful tools to transform the negative into positive and perceive the soul’s unlimited potential. Instead of being enslaved by our negative thinking, we will have the strength to move towards a life of true freedom and joy.
We know that we have the incredible power to choose positive thoughts because the mind controls every organ, including the heart. Yet, the voice of Pharoh causes a blockage between the heart and mind. The Hebrew letters of Pharoh are “Hay, Ayin, Raish, Fay” and have the same letters as the Hebrew word “Oref” – back of the neck. Our inner Pharoh blocks the voice of our thinking soul and so we may lose control of our emotions. The Jews left Egypt when they prayed for the exodus. We can turn to G-d and ask Him to help us overcome our limitations with the power of positive thinking. Chassidic teachings emphasize that thoughts are real, powerful and eternal. Our positive thoughts are so powerful that they even create spiritual angels. (2)
In Chassidic teachings, thoughts are compared to water because our thoughts are always flowing and in a state of motion (3). Negative thoughts can “drown” us. On the journey to freedom, our ancestors were surrounded by the Egyptians from behind, the sea looming ahead and many Jews with lots of opinions.
Thanks to one wise man, they were saved. His name was Nachshon Ben Aminodov and he did not allow negative thoughts to control his emotions and actions. The Midrash tells us that Nachshon focused on G-d’s command to reach Mount Sinai and so he visualized where he needed to be. He had the courage to keep moving forward, even when the waters reached his neck and he proceeded until the waters split. When we face challenges, we can follow Nachshon’s noble example and stay focused on our direction and purpose. By moving forward with positivity, that indomitable sea splits and we are open to experiencing G-d’s miracles in our lives.
How do we practically push away the negative voices and gain control over our thoughts? How do we stay positive when challenges arise?
Here are some practical steps to use each day to create a flow of positive energy and break the pattern of negative thinking and self doubt, which if not expelled, may lead to sadness and lack of productivity:
1. FIGHT NEGATIVITY WITH SELF-TALK: Ask yourself every day, “Am I fighting my negative thinking which is my personal Egypt? Am I putting forth effort to take charge of my thoughts and choose to think positively?
Tell yourself: I am the boss to decide which thoughts I allow to enter my mind
2. THINK HEALTHY THOUGHTS: Build up a library of positive thoughts such as: “Everything happens by Divine Providence. Life for me is perfect. What G-D sends me is exactly what I need. I can succeed.” Change the negative sound track and play positive thoughts. Cling to positive thoughts like life itself and soon the negative thoughts will diminish.
3. FILL THE MIND WITH TORAH THOUGHTS: Chassidic teachings remind us that our minds can hold only one thought at a time. What a simple yet profound truth! Therefore, it is crucial to have a mental storehouse of Torah passages. Phrases and chapters of Torah, Mishna and Tanya, should be engraved in our minds so they are available to replace negative thoughts (4). These engraved thoughts are so powerful that even when we’re not consciously thinking them, they help keep away negative thoughts.
How can this be? This is because negative thoughts are attracted to an empty mind, not one armed with holiness. Engraved Torah thoughts connect us to G-D at all times, and that connection pushes away negativity. .
4. START YOUR DAY OFF RIGHT: The first thoughts and words of the day influence the entire day (5). Recite and feel the one line prayer of Modeh Ani:
“I thank you, living and enduring king, for You have graciously returned my soul within me. Great is your faithfulness.”
Thank G-D for the power of your soul to overcome negative thinking.
5. MENTAL RELAXATION & VISUALIZATION: Another positive thinking tool is visualization. Find the time to relax and relive positive uplifting moments in your life. It is beneficial to relive experiences, such as a wedding, the birth or adoption of a child, or a holiday memory. With practice, visualization creates a sensory experience bringing us to the sights, sounds, tastes, and feelings of that joyous time. In this way, we can relive the inspiration and joy we felt at the time so that it inspires and moves us now (6).
Visualization enables healing energy to flow through the body and to develop thoughts that are calming. Mental relaxation reprograms how we think, like rebooting the computer.
Here are the steps:
a. Sit comfortably and close your eyes, but remain awake.
b. Deeply inhale and exhale 10 times.
c. Envision relaxing images such as a sunrise or sunset over a lake.
d. Think and recreate a positive memory.
e. Feel the positive energy and inspiration of the memory.
f. Envision the positive results you wish to happen.
My father, Rabbi Azriel Yitzchok Wasserman o’bm, was a true example of being a master of one’s thoughts. He once told his students that even if he developed a potentially fatal illness, it wouldn’t change him. It would motivate him to work harder to overcome any negative thoughts. He would recognize his even greater need for a positive mindset (7). Although his students didn’t know, he was suffering from a life threatening illness at the time, he didn’t become depressed and instead, chose to focus on his purpose in life, teaching Torah and spending time with his family. As a result, it was hard to tell that he was living with an illness because he expressed positivity and joy until his last day on earth.
Currently, my husband and I are working towards the goal of purchasing a property to become the permanent home for the Jewish Girls Retreat. We have faced numerous setbacks and challenges in striving for this goal. While I can’t control outside circumstances, I do have control over my thoughts. I can fight pessimism, negativity, and self doubt by applying these Chassidic teachings to my life. I must stay focused on fulfilling my mission and purpose. I have the power to strengthen my positive thoughts and trust in G-d, when I visualize our dream becoming a reality.
“I close my eyes and envision a beautiful campground with happy campers. I drive up the long road to the campground and smile and thank G-d for allowing us to co-create this beautiful reality. I picture every detail of the campus– the swing set, the flowers, the community garden and swimming pool. I see the inside of the building with an art room, a dance studio, bunks, kitchen and dining hall. I visualize my father of blessed memory smiling from above because he is proud of his beautiful legacy. He is happy to see Jewish girls learning and growing together, who are going to become our future Jewish mothers. I feel ease, joy and calm as I walk the path of the new JGR home.”
These coping methods take effort but with dedicated practice they can be learned and used to weed out negative thoughts that are not coming from our true reality. We have the power and the tools to overcome challenges and stay positive in every life situation. When we utilize our G-D given gift of thought in the right way and follow the practical steps taught to us by our Chassidic masters, we will achieve our personal exodus from slavery to a free and joyful existence.
P.S. Thank G-d, we are renting a stunning home for JGR summer 2015 on the grounds of a beautiful boarding school Campus in Hoosick, NY. We are looking forward to an incredible summer program on the 350-acre campus, which includes a dining hall, dormitories, library, indoor pool, playing fields, and basketball and tennis courts. The beautiful mountain views, garden, and pond give a peaceful summer experience!