Can a mere thought break a commandment? If so, and given that we can't help our thoughts, the Sages would have given us advice on how to fight them. I could not find any such advice. Here is what I found:

  • The Talmud says: Sinful thoughts are harder than sin (Hirhurei ‘averah kashu me’averah). [Yoma 29a] Rashi explains: Ridding yourself of bad thoughts is more difficult than stopping yourself from committing bad actions. But Rambam sees it differently: We sin because of our animal side; but we think with what makes us greater than animals: Our mind. So a sinful thought is a worse offense than the sin itself. [Guide for the Perplexed 3:8]

  • The Talmud adds: When bad intention is followed by action, God combines it with the action and punishes both. When bad intention is not followed by action, God does not combine it with the action and there is therefore no punishment. [Kiddushin 40a]

  • The Talmud also says: Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi said that a man should not have intercourse with one woman while thinking about another woman. Ravina said: This statement is necessary only if both women are his wives. [Nedarim 20b]

On Yom Kippur, we say we are sorry we had bad thoughts: "Al chet shechatanu lefanecha b'harhor ha-lev -- [We ask God’s forgiveness] for the sin that we have committed by sinful thoughts."

But none of this says clearly that bad thoughts break commandments. Any other insights in the Sources?

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    Lots of negative Mitzvos like לא תתורו אחרי לבבכם are broken by thoughts. – Al Berko Oct 28 '18 at 22:10
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    @Maurice Mizrahi this is a great question with a lot of potential and something I've wondered about myself extensively, I really encourage you to retool it so we can get some answers – Josh K Oct 29 '18 at 6:02
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    He is asking a very basic question - If I think xyz and xyz happens to be sinful i.e. a forbidden act, have I broken commandment abc which depends on my thoughts? Or is it that only after I do an action itself, did I break abc which was predicated by thought xyz. – user18155 Oct 29 '18 at 7:57
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    The answer is that it depends on the Mitzvah the issur of me'ilah comes purely from the wrong intention - you intended for this korban to be an Olah when it is a Shlomim for example. In such a scenario, the thought does make a difference. In other scenarios such as murder, your intent to kill is only justifiable if you actually murder. It's not healthy to walk around wanting to kill people, but until you actually carry it out, your thoughts are not punishable. In Shomayim, this is a different story, and this needs to be worked out by G-d exactly how this plays out. – user18155 Oct 29 '18 at 8:00
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    The distinction is also made between something "rising in one's thought" (but immediately rejected), vs someone accepting and continuing to dwell on a forbidden thought. – Benyomin Walters Oct 29 '18 at 20:59

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