You are what you think

It is the habit among Hasidim to gather with their rebbe (Hasidic Master) on the afternoon of Shabbos (The Sabbath) and share food, schnapps, niggunim, and some words of Torah. One Shabbos at the tish of Reb Moshe of Kobrin, so many Hasidim arrived that scores of them could not find room at the table. They crowded around the feast, eager to taste a bit of food, catch a glimpse of their rebbe, and hear a word of Torah.

Despite the crowd, Reb Moshe noticed a fellow standing in a corner. Reb Moshe called to his attendant. “Who is that young man standing over there?” he asked. When he heard the Hasid’s name, he said, “I don’t know him.”

“But Rebbe, you must recognize him,” his attendant said. “He is a pious fellow, who comes often to your table. You have spoken to him on many occasions.” The attendant proceeded to remind the rebbe of the young man, his parents, and several incidents that the attendant thought might rekindle the rebbe’s memory.

Finally, Reb Moshe called the man to his side. “I have been trying to remember who you are and have had a very hard time doing so. Just now I realized what the problem is.

“You see, the essence of a person is found in his thoughts. Wherever you focus your mind, that is who you are. All this time I have been watching you, and your mind has been wandering from one desire to another. First you hungered for this; then you hungered for that. There was no end to your cravings. All I could see was this incessant hunger. As long as I did so, I could not tell whether you were a man who happened to have a mouth, or a mouth masquerading as a man.”

The young Hasid was embarrassed to have had his thoughts read by his rebbe. From that day forth he did his best to focus his thinking on holy things.


You are what you think; so what are you thinking about right now? There are two basic thoughts reflecting our twofold nature. You are born with two inclinations: the yetzer hatov and the yetzer harah. The first leads you toward love, moving you beyond yourself to the world. The second leads you toward fear, moving you away from the world into yourself. These two inclinations give rise to two fundamental categories of thought: love and fear. When your thoughts come from love, you think about caring for self and other. When your thoughts come from fear, you think about only yourself. When you think about only yourself, you are consumed by hunger: hunger for safety, for surety, for security. And because there is no safety, surety, or security in the isolated ego, your hungers are never satisfied. You eat and eat and eat and never become full.

The Rabbis teach that heaven and hell each consists of identical banquets of the finest foods. People sit around the table with forks and spoons six feet in length, far too long to be useful for feeding oneself. In hell, each guest starves. In, heaven, each learns to feed the person across the table, and all are full.

The challenge is not to get rid of your hunger but to satisfy the hunger of another and in this way to be fed yourself.


Niggunim: Wordless melodies. The Hasidic masters taught that song and dance could uplift the soul, and that every melody, no matter how secular, contained a spark of divinity that could be released if sung with the right intention. The Hasidic masters created their own niggunim as direct gateways to God.

Tish: A special meal hosted by the rebbe in which Hasidim gather to eat, drink, sing, and study.

Published in: on August 2, 2009 at 12:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

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