How to Quit Smoking:
A lesson from the Parsha
Oxford University once conducted a wide-ranging study on which types of advertisements influence people and which do not. They interviewed 2,000 people in five different countries to determine what effect advertising has. One of the important discoveries made by the research was related to smoking. Many ads try to convince people to not smoke—but the researchers discovered that the ads actually triggered the urge to smoke in people. As soon as the people in the study would see the image of a cigarette, it would awaken the inner desire to smoke.
On every cigarette pack today, there is a huge warning covering half the box stating that “smoking is harmful to your health”—but researchers concluded that this warning is one of the leading causes of smoking. The will to smoke is stronger than the warning that it’s unhealthy to smoke.
In other words, when someone gives you a whole speech on how eating chocolate is bad for your health, what do you want to do at that very moment? Eat chocolate!
This great discovery, which cost seven million dollars and two years of scientific research, was discovered hundreds of years ago by Chasidic philosophy.
This is one of the big debates against the Chassidic movement.
Other movements believe that there has to be an active talk against things you are not allowed to do. Everyone knows that you’re not allowed to speak Lashon Hora – gossip, slander and generally speaking negatively about others. As humans, gossip is only natural. Therefore, continuously telling others not to gossip, will just lead to more gossip.
As the Rebbe himself wrote with regards to Mussar’s philosophy: “Repeated emphasis on a philosophy of avoiding the negative, lends a foothold, in some measure, to the negative.”
The philosophy of Chassidism, on the other hand, is that we shouldn’t focus on avoiding the negative because that only stimulates and causes more negative. On the contrary: We need to deal with positive things. Instead of speaking about stopping the gossip, speak about loving a fellow Jew instead. Even if your listener is not about to suddenly turn into the most loving person in town, what will be left in his head is the subject of loving your fellow Jew. That’s why the Rebbe almost never mentioned negative things and only spoke about the positive.
Chasidic philosophy keeps the mind busy with positive and spiritual things, leaving no place for negative things. The more you elevate the person to spiritual things, the less he will be busy with negative things.
According to a teaching of the Baal Shem Tov, the normal order of things is that one first avoids the negative and then focuses on the positive. This means that a person first must stop doing bad things, and only then does it make sense to start speaking about positive things with him.
However, the Baal Shem Tov adds, in our day, the order is reversed. Don’t wait for someone to avoid the negative before working with him. On the contrary. Begin with positive things immediately. In other words, tell the other what he or she should do, not what is forbidden to do. In this way, the person will automatically be avoiding the negative.
The source of this philosophy is the Ten Commandments: First, G-d spoke about the positive, and only then did He touch upon the negative.
Don’t focus on the negative. Spread light, and the bad will melt away on its own.