“And they took him, and cast him into a pit; and the pit was empty; there was no water in it”—Genesis 37:24.

This verse describes the abduction of Joseph by his brothers. The sages expound upon this verse, asking: If the verse has already declared that the pit was “empty,” is it not redundant to state that “there was no water in it”?

The sages concluded: The verse hints that the pit was only devoid of water, there were, however, snakes and scorpions in it.

The sages’ interpretation of the verse is meant both literally and metaphorically. The empty pit may be understood to be the mind. If the mind is devoid of life-giving ‘water,’ that is, nourishing and constructive thoughts, then it is undoubtedly full of ‘snakes and scorpions’ instead.

If one wants to expel an undesirable thought, he cannot just stop thinking. He must actively choose to think about something elseMystical tradition explains that thought – as opposed to speech and action – is the mode of human expression that never ceases. If one wishes to avoid a certain way of speaking or acting, he can merely choose not to speak or not to act. If one, however, wants to expel an undesirable thought from the mind, he cannot just stop thinking. He must actively choose to think about something else, for the mind is never truly empty.

In the absence of productive thoughts, the mind plays host to self-made demons of destructive thinking. Just like the kind of flour a mill produces depends on the grist placed within it, the mind turns out feelings and behaviors according to the ideas it actively entertains.

The alcoholic or addict in recovery knows all too well the troubles of an overactive mind. Our mental mills are fast and frenetic. We, therefore, endeavor to maintain constant vigilance over our thoughts, actively choosing such thinking that we would like to dwell upon and quickly replacing thoughts that tend to do us in. This requires alertness. But if we are lax about what kind of thoughts we allow ourselves to entertain, we find later that our sloppiness in this area costs us dearly. While thinking is free, its effects can levy a steep toll; it affects our serenity, our usefulness and our conscious contact with G‑d.

We mustn’t forget that our disease is not only a physical allergy to alcohol or drugs, but a mental disorder as well. Thus, even in sobriety, when alcohol and drugs don’t enter our system, we still must fend with the psychological aspect of our illness. If we are not sufficiently watchful, our own minds quickly unleash their arsenal of self-destruction—unleashing devastating mental weapons of resentment, fear and self-obsession.

So we watch ourselves closely, quickly identifying the beginning of a negative thought pattern before it spirals so far out of control that we are actually convinced of its worthiness or urgency. In our daily Tenth Step we may ask ourselves whether we have endeavored to have holy, pure and selfless thoughts. Conversely, we ask ourselves whether we have been sufficiently watchful about quickly displacing negative thinking. When we closely monitor our thoughts and judge ourselves swiftly and relentlessly in this matter, we find that the effort expended is well worth the reward. Our energetic minds are just as capable of creating heaven on earth—as they have already been proven capable of the alternative.