Did you ever wonder why at the worst times, the yetzer hara - evil inclination (EI) - is right there on the scene to remind us of our problems, the mortgage payment that's due in two days, or the bad experience that we had eight years ago? The answer is pretty much a no-brainer: as soon as we're doing something that carries both lofty spiritual value and brings us close to Hashem, the EI interferes. He doesn't want us praying with intent or connecting with Hashem.
Why does Hashem give the EI free reign in bothering us?
Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai provides the answer in a most provocative parable:
The king summoned his son, heir to the thrown. He told his son that he would surely be king as long as he preserved his personal holiness. The king then summoned a prostitute, paying her a handsome sum to tempt his son, and promising her a big bonus if she succeeds...
Let's ask ourselves, does the king want the prostitute to succeed? Certainly not! But to show the world that his son is worthy of being king, he must test him. And, the more difficult the test, the more we see the worthiness of the king's son when he passes the test.
In like manner, Hashem tests each of us. Prayer and Torah are so valuable that they never come easy. The EI has free reign to tempt us with troubling thoughts that destroy our focus.
But Hashem gave us a gift to protect ourselves from the EI: it's called selective amnesia. Here's how it works:
Rebbe Nachman of Breslev says that the world disdains forgetfulness. We surely must protect our memory to retain our Torah learning and to properly serve Hashem. But if we remember the wrong things - past setbacks and bitter experiences - they bog us down from moving forward. That's why it's good to forget them, for they'll surely confuse a person and interfere with his or her progress and joy in life. Once the unpleasant experience is over, put it aside, advises Rebbe Nachman (see Sichot HaRan, 26).
Rebbe Natan elaborates (see Likutei Etzot, Zikaron, 9): Particularly at prayer times, unpleasant thoughts from the past surface to confuse a person and misdirect his focus. Don't think about them! Forget about your worries, your past sins, and your blemishes...
Easier said than done? How can we possibly enjoy such selective amnesia, and simply press the "delete" button on our brain anytime that it's unpleasant or inconvenient to remember something?
Rebbe Natan provides the solution: take one hour a day, and talk to Hashem about all of your worries. Conjure up all the things you did wrong in the past that you haven't asked forgiveness for. Be completely honest, even though it might well be painful and embarrassing. But you're talking to Hashem, and He's a most-loving Father! The trick is, when we enable ourselves to conjure up the unpleasant memories for an hour a day, we can selectively for get about them for the remaining 23 hours, enabling us to function and perform at our peak progress with no dead-weight anchors to hold and drag us down.
It's a pleasure to forget those worrisome thoughts and unpleasant memories, which like flies, buzz around our ears always at the wrong times. Once we activate our powers of selective amnesia - which are a gift and a blessing - we're free to serve Hashem the way we want to, and to be model parents and spouses, with smiles on our faces no matter what. And when you smile, you shine. And when you shine, everyone wants to befriend you. So, for the price of one hour a day, at no extra expense, we can really move forward with our lives and escape the muck and mire of unpleasant recollections of the past. Try it - you'll love it!