Kli Yakar Deuteronomy: Nitzavim
There is a concept in Judaism that one is only punishable for what one does. You can plan a heist, but are only found guilty for the act of attempting to rob a bank, not for the thought of robbing a bank.
There is however a caveat to this rule. There are some evil thoughts that are punishable. Just the firing of the neurons in your brain focused on some particular evil idea is liable to divine retribution. The horrible, punishable thought is ‘idol worship’, or more properly translated, ‘strange worship’.
The Kli Yakar (Deuteronomy 29:18) draws this conclusion from an interesting verse:
“And it comes to pass, when he hears the words of this curse, that he blesses himself in his heart, saying: ‘I shall have peace, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.’”
The evil thinker may believe that as no one besides himself is aware of the thoughts of his heart, then he is both guiltless and beyond punishment. Well – he’d be wrong. God knows.
God knows what is in the heart and mind of man. If man’s mind is preoccupied with ‘strange worship’, with devotion to things, and concepts and pleasures that are beyond those prescribed by tradition – that is punishable. Just the thinking of it is highly problematic. The Talmud states that in some cases the thought of sin can be worse than the sin itself.
Thankfully, however, the converse is also true. In repentance, just the thought itself can count. If someone decides to change his ways, if he truly, earnestly, from the bottom of his heart has committed himself to improve his actions, just that thought is counted as repentance – even if he did nothing yet. Not only that, but the Kli Yakar adds that based on such a powerful thought, based on the commitment, God Himself will help the penitent with the act of repentance. When the sinful opportunity comes again, God, based on the person’s soulful repentance will assist in helping the sinner overcome the temptation.
May we start thinking good thoughts, abandon strange worship and get on the bandwagon of the people God is promoting.
To our friend, Ruth Lieberman of Alon Shvut, on her instrumental assistance in getting Bob Turner elected to the 9th Congressional District in New York (my home district of Forest Hills). Though politics is filled with strange worship, there is clearly some divine promotion going on. Click here to read about her amazing accomplishment.