THE TROUBLEMAKERS ARE BACK
When we read in this week’s parsha about Korach opening a rebellion against Moshe Rabeinu, we are not surprised to hear the names of Dasan and Aviram. And why would we?! As far as we know, Dasan and Aviram had been the long time nemeses of Moshe Rabeinu – and if there was trouble brewing, you could be sure that Dasan and Aviram were not too far behind. You remember when they challenged the authority of Moshe back in Mitzrayim? מי שמך לאיש שר ושופט עלינו – “Who said you can boss us around?!” (Shemos 2:13), they said. And they didn’t suffice with words. They sought to have Moshe killed by informing on him and thereby forcing him to flee to Midyan (Rashi, Shemos 2:13-15). And it was Dasan and Aviram who defiantly blamed Moshe when Pharaoh refused to supply the Bnei Yisroel with straw for their workload of bricks (Rashi, Shemos 5:20-51).
And they continued their brazen challenges even after Moshe Rabeinu led the Bnei Yisroel to freedom into the wilderness. They angered Hashem at the Yam Suf by complaining to Moshe: “Were there no graves in Mitzrayim that you took us out to die in the desert?” (Yalkut Shimoni 231). When Moshe gave his clear command to not leave over any mann for the next day, they ignored him, and they then disobeyed him again by going out to look for the mann on Shabbos (Tanchuma, Shemos 10). And just last week, Dasan and Aviram were the ones whom the Bnei Yisroel wanted to appoint as their new leaders, in order to return to Mitzrayim after the debacle of the spies (Yalkut Shimoni 743, 14).
And so if someone would ask us: Why did Dasan and Aviram join Korach’s rebellion, we would say, why not? They were chomping at the bit to be hostile to Moshe, to degrade him and to upend his leadership of the Am Yisroel.
LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION
But when we turn to Chazal we find something that surprises us. We are told that Dasan and Aviram were drawn into the rebellion because of a completely different reason, one we wouldn’t expect. And they tell us as follows: On the possuk that opens our parsha, ויקח קרח…ודתן ואבירם, it is asked: “Korach, we understand had his reasons. But Dasan and Aviram, why did they join? What was in it for them? And the answer is given מכאן אמרו חז”ל אוי לרשע אוי לשכינו – “Woe to to a wicked man, woe to his neighbor” (Tanchuma 4). Dasan and Aviram lost the their lives – in this world and the next – because they lived next door to Korach.
In Parshas Bamidbar we learned that in the wilderness, Hakodosh Boruch Hu commanded each tribe to encamp in a certain location surrounding the Mishkan. The levi’im were stationed close to the Mishkan on all four sides and each sheivet had its own prescribed location surrounding the levi’im.
Korach’s tent was in the section of Kehas, in the area set aside for the levi’im on the southernedge of the Mishkan. And Dasan and Aviram, from the tribe of Reuven, also dwelled on the southern side. And it is evident here that their tents were very close to Korach’s. Despite the segregation of each tribe into separate sections, Dasan and Aviram had pitched their tents on the outskirts of the encampment of Reuven, and thus they were near Korach who had pitched his tent on the outskirts of the section of Kehas.
WHAT CAME FIRST – THE CHICKEN OR THE EGG?
Now, it is probable that these men had chosen to be near each other because they shared certain opinions in common and they therefore gravitated to one another’s company. But there is no doubt that the dwelling in close proximity to one another subjected them to negative influence and made them much worse. It was their choosing of the wrong neighbors, and the resulting wrong influences, that was their ruination and destruction. Because they were neighbors of Korach, that’s what led to their destruction along with him. Don’t think it was their disappointment, or their hatred of Moshe, or even their arrogance. They were destroyed because they had a bad neighbor! And that’s because everything seeps in and has an effect. Oy l’Korach, oy l’Dasan v’Aviram!
Because whatever mistakes Dasan and Aviram had made, they were still part of the Am Yisroel. And they were going to remain forever part of our people, in this world and the next. They called out na’aseh v’nishma along with the rest of Klal Yisroel at Har Sinai and their descendants would have entered Eretz Yisroel and settled there along with the rest of the nation. But it was their shachein, the influence of their environment, that ruined them and their descendants forever.
IS THAT MOLD ON THE WALL?!
I’ll tell you another story from the chumash about bad neighbors. כי תבואו אל ארץ כנען אשר אני נותן לכם לאחוזה (Vayikra 14:34). “When you come to the land that I promised you,” Hashem says, “You’re going to settle into nice stone houses, good solid houses that you’ll find there.” And now you’ve lived there for some years already, and you’re sitting back in your plush chair, admiring your house, when you notice a queer color on the wall. And your heart sinks within you – because you know what that means: ונתתי נגע צרעת בבית ארץ אחוזתכם – “I will place a tzaraas affliction, a plague, on your home in the land of your inheritance” (Vayikra 14:33). And you cry out, “A nega tzaraas! Ah yah yay! A nega tzaraas in my home!”
And so, what can you do already – you go to the Kohen and you tell him כנגע נראה לי בבית – “It looks like I might have a nega in my house” (ibid. 14:35) And the Kohen takes a look at it. “It’s a pity; oy a pity,” he says. And so, after a certain waiting period, the Kohen tells you that the tamei stones are going to have to be removed and disposed of outside the city. וחלצו האבנים אשר בהן הנגע – “They must remove the stones in the wall that contain the affliction” (ibid. 14:40).
Now, you happen to share an outside wall with your neighbor. Right next door, in a home attached to yours, there’s another man, another Jew. And some of these stones that you are supposed to be pulling out are big stones that make up the wall between you and him. And you don’t know what to do now. The tzaraas is not on his side; it’s your problem, not his. But it’s one big stone. And on the other side of this stone is his living room.
But the possuk says: וחלצו את האבנים – “And they have to pull out the stones”. And Chazal are bothered by this word וחלצו, “And they shall remove the stones.” Who’s they?! What they?! Let him remove his own stones! And so Chazal uncover a hidden meaning in this word, in this extra vuv. And it’s a meaning that is a life principle. וחלצו: מלמד ששניהם חולצים – “And they bothmust remove the stones”(Sifra). Even the stone that is shared with the neighbor must be removed. V’chaltzu – they both will be removing stones from the wall. Even the innocent man, on the side that has no nega tzaraas.
So you start pulling out the stones and now you can look through the hole and see your neighbor lying on his couch. And as you’re digging out the stones, he puts up a howl: “What do you think you’re doing?! You’re making a hole in my living room wall! What are you looking into my house for?!” “Well, the Kohen told me to pull out the stones here; there’s tzaraas on this side.” So he’s hollering at you through the hole, “But the tzaraas is not on my side. The negais not on my side, it’s on your side of the wall. What’s it got to do with me? Why are you getting me involved in your problems?!” But the Torah says it can’t be helped! V’chaltzu – and they both must remove the stones. It can’t be helped. He’ll have to suffer along with his wicked neighbor.
HASHEM KNOWS WHAT HE’S DOING
Now, why is that? Hakodosh Boruch Hu knows what He’s doing. So why did He add a vuv, an extra letter, to tell us that the innocent neighbor must be punished as well? There’s something here! And we should understand it.
We know that tzaraas doesn’t come onto someone’s walls for nothing. Why does a nega come on a man’s house? There’s a reason why the nega came on his wall. It’s a punishment. It’s sent for certain reasons – for exactly what it doesn’t matter right now – but there’s no question that the nega tzaraas is sent as a punishment for sins. Now, he’s not so wicked as we imagine him to be. But still, something wrong there is, and he’s being punished for his sins. And now the stones of his house are being pulled out. Oy l’rasha, alas for the wicked man who has to be punished. That we could understand.
GOOD FENCES MAKE GOOD NEIGHBORS
But what about the neighbor? What did he do wrong? And on this the Sages comment: אוי לרשע – “Alas for the wicked man” אוי לשכינו – And alas for his neighbor as well! The neighbor is being punished just because he’s a neighbor. Oy l’shcheino! It’s not an accident! Because he’s living next door to him, that’s why he’s being punished. Oy l’rasha, oy l’shcheino.
Why did you live next door to him?! “I didn’t know who he was. He’s a decent Jew. He keeps all the mitzvos.” This neighbor was no Korach. You’d have a difficult time even figuring out what he did wrong. He davens with you in shul every day. His children are in good chadorim, his girls in the Beis Yankiv.
AM I MY NEIGHBOR’S KEEPER?
It’s true, there are certain things he didn’t do. Maybe he failed to appreciate the great happiness that a home offers, the manifold forms of kindness provided by a roof and walls. So Hakodosh Boruch Hu had to send him a reminder. Maybe he wasn’t always willing to lend out his hammer or his drill to his neighbors. Or maybe he would speak lashon harah. There was something there, no question about it. But what does his poor neighbor have to do with it? ”I didn’t know that,” he tells the Kohen. ”I thought he was a kind-hearted man, a good fellow. You expect me to be peeking into his windows; I have to know everything about my neighbor?!”
So the Kohen says, “Look; what could I do? It’s a law of the Torah, וחלצו האבנים. We have to pull out the stones. And even though it leaves a hole in your living room. I’m sorry. You should have had the foresight to choose where you live. Oy l’rasha, oy l’shcheino.”
THE RAMBAM’S ADVICE
And so we see that Hashem is punishing not only the man on this side who didn’t appreciate the gift of a home. Not only the man who spoke lashon harah or was too stingy to lend out his things. Hashem is punishing the man on the other side too, the shachein who lives next door. Because you shouldn’t live near such a man. It’s a remarkable lesson that the Torah is teaching us here: to what extent a person must guard himself from any negative influence that might seep in, even of the most subtle kind.
Environment is a most powerful influence. Wickedness, even the most faint forms, is contagious. Even good people, if they live among resha’im, after a while they adopt their ways. Now that’s a very big responsibility. Today I don’t know what to say. Where can you find a house? You’ll have to go out into the wilderness someplace like the Rambam says: יצא למערות ולחוחים ולמדברות – “You’ll have to go out to the caves, the thorn bushes and into the wilderness”(Hilchos Dei’os 6:1). Anything, anywhere, to escape the wicked environment! But whatever it is you’ll have to do, we see here the principle of avoiding wrong company as much as possible. Because you’re going to get it. One way or another you’re going to be punished for living near the wrong man.
THE BOY SCOUTS AND BEAR CUBS
And it’s not with whom we live. It’s any type of contact with a bad influence, even the most superficial. In Mishlei we read: פגוש דוב שכול באיש ואל כסיל באולתו – “It’s better to meet an enraged bear, a bear that lost her cubs, rather than a fool with his foolishness” (Mishlei 17:12). Now, I’ll explain this mashal. Someone once brought me a boy scout manual; people bring me books of all kinds. So I opened it up and saw an interesting piece of advice. It says that when you’re in the forest and you see a wild animal, don’t run away. It’s a good opportunity to study wildlife. Remain where you are and study it up close. However, it says there that there’s one exception to this. When you see a she-bear with her cubs, then watch out; don’t hang around. She’ll do whatever she feels is needed to protect her cubs. And she’s as mean and vicious as could be.
Now that’s a she-bear with her cubs. But Mishlei is talking about a she-bear whose cubs have just been taken away from her. That’s even worse. That’s the worst kind of animal to meet. She’s looking for somebody on whom to wreak havoc. In her anger, she’s looking to lash out at anyone.
CLIMBING TELEPHONE POLES
So let’s say you’re walking down Ocean Parkway on a lonely summer evening, and all a sudden this enraged she-bear turns the corner, looking for her missing cubs. You’re in a bind now. So what should you do? You climb the telegraph pole! You never did it before?! You don’t know how?! Start climbing and learn. You better teach yourself very quickly.
But now Shlomo Hamelech tells us a big chiddush. It’s an open possuk but people ignore it. פגוש דוב שכול באיש ואל כסיל באולתו – “Better for a man to meet that bereaved she bear, than meet up with the man with foolish ideas” (ibid.) So let’s say, this bear is gaining ground on you, and you’re struggling to make your way up the telegraph pole. And then, all of a sudden, a yeshua! Your cousin Joe drives by in his car and offers you a ride. No! says Mishlei. It’s no yeshua at all! So you tell cousin Joe “No, thank you,” and you keep climbing.
Shlomo is saying that it’s better to take your chances with that she-bear and the telegraph pole than to spend time with your cousin. You’re better off with the bear! Now, that’s a chiddush. I don’t think we would have said it ourselves.
THE BRINKS TRUCK
We have to understand that possuk because it’s not only a mashal. It’s a way of life. And that’s what Shlomo Hamelech teaches us in a different possuk in Mishlei: מכל משמר, More than anything else that you guard” – more than your property, more than your health, more than your children – נצור לבך, “You must guard your mind” (Mishlei 4:23). I was once looking out of the window of the Yeshiva and across the street was a bank. An armored truck drove up, and two men leaped out. One was holding a revolver, and looking in all directions, and the other was carrying bags, bags full of money. And I took notice with what care people guard what’s important to them.
And I thought about that. These pieces of metal, or maybe they were sheets of green paper, were being guarded with such care. The man in a uniform was standing with his revolver, looking on all sides – danger lurked everywhere, and his eyes were wide open to prevent any sort of mishap, to make sure nothing would happen to the money. It was a sight to see.
YOUR MONEY OR YOUR MIND
Now, comes along Shlomo Hamelech, and he says, more than you guard money, more than you guard your health, even more than you guard your life, more than you guard anything, you must guard your mind. Suppose you were carrying up here in your head, not a pound of brains, but you were carrying a pound of diamonds. A pound of diamonds is very valuable. And so, anybody who would catch you in a dark alley, could chas v’shalom split open your head and get rich. Now, you wouldn’t walk alone! There would be too much to lose. Even in the daytime you’d walk with armed guards. If you knew that your head was full of diamonds, you’d make sure to protect it. But it’s your tough luck. All you have up there is a mind.
And now along comes Mishlei and tells you that your mind is more valuable than diamonds! Not a pound of diamonds. It’s more valuable than a truckload of diamonds! And you must protect it like that. At your ears you have to put an armed policeman. Every ear has to have an armed policeman to watch that nothing pernicious should sneak into your mind. And in front of your eyes another armed guard. Because you have to guard your thoughts more than the guards who protect the delivery of money.
And Mishlei explains why the mind needs such care and protection: כי ממנו תוצאות חיים – “Because from your mind, the kind of mind you have, that’s the kind of life you’re going to have” (ibid.). Chayim means life in this world and the Next World. All the happiness and success that you will achieve in both worlds is only ממנו, from the mind. Your mind is your accomplishment!
WHEN TESHUVA IS IMPOSSIBLE
Now besides for the value of what you have up here, there is another just as important reason why you must always be on guard. מכל משמר – more than anything else in the world. And that is because there is nothing in the whole universe as sensitive as a person’s mind. Your mind is subject to influence from the outside more than the most delicate and sensitive mechanism. Every word, every sight, every attitude, sticks to your mind like glue.
Now, let’s see what an authority, a great authority, says about this. Everybody knows that Rabbi Yehuda Halevi in the Kuzari is a very careful writer. He doesn’t say any mishalim or any guzma’os. Every word is measured. In fact, he says too few words. In a few words of the Kuzari there is a great deal of thought. And this is what he tells you. He says: The things that you heard in your youth, the songs of your youth – he’s talking about the romantic songs that you heard when you were young – and here are his words: לא תתכן עליהם התשובה – “It’s not possible to do teshuva, to repent for them.” Even though you’ll repent, even though you’ll fast and you’ll shed tears, you’ll never be able to take it out of your mind.
Now, it doesn’t mean that you’ll think about it all the time. It doesn’t mean it will be in your conscious mind; it might go down into the subconscious. But it will remain forever. As long as you live, it will be a part of you, a part of your personality.
When somebody opens his mouth next to you – it doesn’t matter if he’s speaking to you or to someone else – once those words enter into your ears they are actually being engraved forever on your heart. And you’ll never be able to get rid of what you heard. You may forget, you may not be aware, but it sinks down into your subconscious, and it remains there forever. And it doesn’t merely remain there like a pile of acorns. No, they carry on an activity of affecting all of your thoughts and all of your emotions.
WHY YOU SHOULD NEVER WATCH A MOVIE
And I heard from my Rebbi zichrono l’vracha that you’ll take it with you to the Next World too. He said that even if you’re a tzadik, a talmid chochom, it’s going to come to come along with you to the Next World. Because that’s what you bring with you to the Next World. Your mind, your personality is the only thing that comes with you. The mental attitudes that a man acquires in this world is what you take with you forever. כי ממנו תוצאות חיים – From the mind will come all the results of life, in this world and the next.
Now, it doesn’t mean that you can’t do teshuva for the sin. If you did something wrong, you listened to something you shouldn’t have – let’s say chas v’shalom you walked into a movie theater. Nobody should ever dream of such a thing, especially nowadays (the Rav zatzal said these word in 1974!). If somebody walks into a theater nowadays he has a very small chance of ever coming to the Next World. I guarantee you that. No question about it. And by the way, spread the good word to your friends who don’t come to these lectures. It would be a shame if they didn’t know this.
And suppose someone here is now going to take my advice and stop watching. I don’t think it’s going to happen, but let’s say, let’s imagine, that someone would want to do teshuva from this sin of opening his mind to all the garbage available in the world. So he could repent. For the sin he can repent. How exactly to do it, you’ll have to go to an authentic talmid chochom and ask him to teach you how to repent. And you’ll do teshuva. But no matter what, even the best repentance is not going to remove that influence from your mind. You can repent from now till Yom Kippur, the repentance will only remove the sin; but once you have corrupted your mind it will never regain its complete purity.
YOU CAN RUN, BUT YOU CAN’T HIDE
It’s already been indelibly impressed into your head forever. Of course, there’s an eitzah for that too. It’s possible to superimpose on top of that dirty layer, a new layer of kedusha, of idealism, of noble thoughts. And then another layer. And then another. So it depends on how thick the layers are and how many layers you’ll add. Sometimes you can put so much on top that it will bury the bottom layer.
However, whatever enters your mind is there forever. You should keep on adding good thoughts, good attitudes, good ideals. Pour into your head Torah and more Torah. And you’ll cover it up with Torah attitudes; you’ll bury it deeper and deeper. As much as possible you must superimpose on top of the foolish ideas, new ideals in order to keep it buried. But it’s there however. It’s not out! And that’s why you have to guard the mind more than anything else.
POISONED AT THE PARK
I’ll give you an example. I was once sitting on a park bench and behind me there was a man speaking to someone else. I heard such filthy things and he poisoned my mind. I got up immediately and walked away, but it was too late. I couldn’t forget it. And that dirt is still in my mind.
And therefore, what a fool will say in a minute or two, is so damaging that it will damage your mind beyond repair forever and ever. And that’s why the she-bear is a better option than cousin Joe. Because Joe will buttonhole you. “Oh, Chaim, how are you? You know what I heard today?” And he’ll fill your ears, your mind, with his narishkeit. And you’ll never be able to get out of your head what he poured in.
So you’ll tell me, “How could it be?! In a second he’ll say something and ruin me?! Rabbi Miller, you’re exaggerating.” No, this is no exaggeration – it’s not even half the story. Because that’s what a mind is. The mind is so sensitive that if that k’sil is going to say something to you, you should know that it’s going to harm you forever. And so you’re better off taking a chance with the telegraph pole, and don’t talk to cousin Joe.
PROTECT WHAT IS PRECIOUS!
Of course, you have to save your life; I’m not saying you shouldn’t. And so, make sure to keep a strong grip and keep climbing. But whatever you do, you don’t want that fool opening his mouth and pouring his foolishness into your head. Whatever he says will have an effect on you forever and ever. Whatever he puts into your head is going to remain there. Forever! And that’s why there is nothing more important than protecting your mind; your thoughts, emotions and attitudes. And every foolishness that you encounter in this world, even the most subtle, is ruining the most precious possession you own. And your most precious possession is your mind.
And that’s why you must guard it more than anything else. Mikol mishmar, more than anything else, nitzor l’becha, guard your mind. Your mind you cannot protect unless you take the most extreme steps, and it must be done with unwavering consistency; without let up. Because from all sides there are going to enter influences that are going to mold your thoughts and your personality. And therefore, m’kol mishmar nitzor l’becha. Guard it more than anything else in the world.
THE STRANGE INTRO TO TEHILLIM
The opening words of the book of Tehillim are extremely significant. Because if Dovid Hamelech chose the following words as his introduction to his magnum opus, then it shows you how important they are. Tehillim has many subjects and it speaks a great deal about our relationship with Hakodosh Boruch Hu, the great ideals of the ahavas Hashem and awareness of Him. But he begins with words that seem out of place in such a sefer. He begins with the following words: אשרי האיש אשר לא הלך בעצת רשעים – “How fortunate is the man who did not walk in the counsel of the wicked” (1:1). What’s this doing here? We want to hear about great ideals, about kirvas Elokim, emunah, ahavas Hashem. And it’s there; it’s all there in Tehillim. But Dovid is teaching us here that it all starts with maintaining a clean mind. You can never really say Tehillim, you can never love Hashem and sing to Him, if your walking with the resha’im and filling your mind with their ideas.
Now, it’s not praising the man who just doesn’t follow the advice of the wicked. It means he didn’t walk, he didn’t even pace the streets together with them. Because if you walk their streets, if you are in their company, then to a certain extent, you are in “the counsel of the wicked.” Whatever they are thinking, whatever attitudes and feelings they have, is shared by you to some extent. Even a walk down the block with them causes you to be a partner in their thoughts, their attitudes, and their emotions.
And the possuk continues: אשרי האיש…ובמושב ליצים לא ישב – “How fortunate is that man who never sat down in the place where the scoffers sit” (ibid.). Leitzim means jesters. To sit down let’s say in a kosher restaurant, but it’s a place where there are other customers; leitzim, jokers, kibitzers, scoffers. Even though they’re not laughing – they just came to buy kosher food – still it’s a moshav leitzim. How fortunate you are if you change your mind and decide to go home and take something from the refrigerator!
THE FRUM MESHUGANEH
But I’m going to tell you something now that I learned from my Rebbeim. If you want to come close to Hashem, if you want to utilize your time in this world to achieve perfection, then you will have to understand that, to some degree, everyone around you is a leitz. Because when a person doesn’t appreciate the greatness of somebody superior to him – he thinks it’s too much, too extreme – then he’s a leitz, a jester.
Your desire for kirvas Elokim, will always be perceived by the friend who stands one rung below you, as extremism. משוגע איש הרוח – “The man who wants to be a man of spirit is always meshugah to other people” (Hosheah 9:7). And therefore, as far as your avodas Hashem is concerned, that friend is a leitz. Of course, he’s not a leitz according to his madreigah, but he’s a leitz for you. And really all of Mankind are leitzim. Because they are not living up to the standards of perfection in avodas Hashem that they are capable of and expected of them.
I’ll give you an example. Mankind – even the good ones – fail to appreciate what they see with their eyes every day. They might say, “Isn’t it wonderful. Nice weather we had today. Blue sky, gardens blossoming on all sides, trees growing, fresh air.” But these people are willing only to go up to a certain extent in their appreciation of Hakodosh Boruch Hu. And anybody who goes beyond that, they would already consider that person an extremist.
If you look at an orange and point out that the peel is colored only on one side, and you say that it teaches us about Hashem, that’s meshugah, they’ll say. You’re going to sit and look at an apple seed or a dandelion and fall in love with Hashem?! What’s with you?! Why are you wasting your time?! It’s meshugah ish ha’ruach. If you’re all about Hashem, then they’ll say your meshugah. And therefore, anyone who wants to step forward and be great in the eyes of Hashem, must realize that those people around him, and I’m speaking of the good ones, are leitzim.
And therefore, if you want to succeed in this world, to make something of yourself, then to a large extent, as much as possible, you’ll stay away not only from what we call leitzim, but to stay away from people. And now we’ll read the possuk like this – and it’s a true pshat: אשרי האיש… אשר לא ישב במושב לצים – “Fortunate is the man who doesn’t sit among people!” You won’t mingle with people if it’s not necessary. Because you refuse to be hampered by the attitudes of the society around you.
Now, of course it depends on who is the “man” and who are the “people”. Sometimes the man must sit among people. You have to come to the yeshiva, to the kollel, to the beis knesses, because otherwise you’d be a nothing. You come because the s’vivah elevates you. Most people benefit by being in a good environment.
YESHIVAS MOSHAV LEITZIM
But even in the good places, you must know, that you should not allow yourself to be held down by the general attitudes. Because there is very much more to accomplish, above the level of most of those around you. So whatever you need to associate with them for; to discuss sugyas, to learn b’chavrusa, certainly utilize that. Absolutely; because that’s not a moshav leitzim. It’s a moshav chachomim. And even what you need for parnasa, speaking with your coworkers and your boss. Whatever is required of you for normal living. Dealing with your spouse, and your children and your neighbors. Whatever is needed, must be done.
But above and beyond that, when you want to grow further in your avodas Hashem, and you need more things than they can understand and provide, then you must live your own life. It’s told about the Gra, the Vilna Gaon, that when he was still a boy, before bar-mitzvah, he already began doing things on his own. Now, don’t follow that example. It’s not for you to do. But the lesson we take from him is that he broke with the hergel, the habit of the environment. And that’s how he became great.
How does one become great? By not listening to the environment. To some extent you have to live independently from everyone around you. You have to be willing to oppose whatever the environment is forcing into your delicate brain. You’ll have to always be using your judgement to see the empty and false ideals of the environment, and to reject them from entering your mind.
BEING A LEITZ THE TORAH WAY
It says (Megillah 25b) כל ליצנותא אסירא בר מליצנותא דעבודה זרה – Every kind of mockery is forbidden. But one form of mockery is permitted; not only permitted but it’s a mitzvah. And that is to ridicule wrong ideas. Let’s say a yeshiva man ridicules romance. He ridicules movies, and love stories. Songs and poems? He ridicules them! He’s not wrong. He’s right; he’s a hundred percent right. That’s not the leitzanus that’s ossur. That’s leitzanusa d’avodah zarah.
And that’s one of the most important ways of avoiding the insidious influence of the outside world. Through ridicule, by deflating the worth of all of these empty ideals, you protect your own mind from them seeping in.
There’s so much to ridicule in this world. And it deserves ridicule! Sports! There’s no meshugas like watching grown men trying to hit a ball with a stick! Whooo! Homerun! It’s mamish gurnisht mit gurnisht, and yet, because you’re an American, so you fell in with the meshuganehs. Here’s a boy walking down the street with a baseball cap. Not just a cap, a cap with the name of a team on it. He wants to identify with a baseball team! Is there anything stupider than that?! A Yanks cap on his head. He’s advertising that his head is a gentile head. Ay, a rachmanus on these fools.
Restaurants! It’s a sickness. The desire to eat out is a taste that you develop because you live among the gentiles. It’s like developing a taste for cow dung. It’s nothing. It’s stupid. But you live among your neighbors and therefore you think that eating cow dung means that you’re cultured.
YOU’RE LUCKY TO HAVE A HOME IN THE CATSKILLS
And if you say it the way it is, outside of this door if you say it like it is, then you’re the meshuganeh! But מוטב לי להקרא שוטה כל ימי ולא ליעשות רשע שעה אחת לפני המקום – “It’s preferable for me to be called a meshuganeh all the days of my life, and not become a wicked person for even one moment in the eyes of Hashem” (Eduyos 5:6).
And that’s what it means “Praiseworthy and fortunate is the one who doesn’t sit with the leitzim”. And it’s serious. Dovid Hamelech means it seriously. אשרי – How lucky you are that you didn’t go there. How fortunate you are that you kept far away from all of the leitzim. But the problem is that you don’t appreciate what Ashrei means. You think it’s “praiseworthy” maybe. “Fortunate” or “lucky”. Like you were fortunate enough to pay your rent this month. Or maybe fortunate enough to have a summer house in the Catskills. No, no, no. That’s not what Dovid Hamelech means. This is the first word in the whole sefer Tehillim, the introduction to all of the great ideals and attitudes of that remarkable sefer. It is the Ashrei!It’s saying: “The most fortunate thing in the world” is to keep far away from bad influence. Because without this first step of separating from the world, it will be impossible to achieve all of the great attitudes and ideals in the rest of his sefer.
GAINING A REBBI AND A PAPA
Here you have a man who built a beautiful home. And then into his dining room he opened a sewer main. And now anytime his neighbors on the block urinate or defecate, it goes right into his dining room and pours onto his expensive rugs. That’s preferable, it’s much better, than having a sewer main pour directly into your head. But that’s what the TV is. And that’s what the radio is. And the magazines. These low characters are spewing out day and night the worst kind of filth. You’re putting feces into your head, and your poor innocent children are growing up in the midst of a sewer.
When you tune into a channel and this leitz, this noi’ef, is talking and you’re listening for five minutes, then this filthy fellow has become your Rebbi. He’s now your father. You have gained a papa! And it’s as serious as could be because he has entered into your mind forever.
But television and radio and magazines are not the whole picture. The truth is that it’s much more than that. There’s a whole world, a whole outside world that’s pouring into us all of the sewage of the wickedness of the gentile world. And therefore we have to stand guard day and night over our minds.
WHAT ARE YOU INGESTING AT THE KIDDUSH?
So when you sit down at a kiddush or at a simcha, and the people around you are talking. What are they talking about already? Even if it’s not lashon harah and other d’varim assurim, but it’s almost always words of foolishness, d’varim b’teilim. So while you’re sitting there munching away and putting garbage into your intestinal tract, you don’t even realize that you’re also putting feces into your brains. You know, your stomach, alright, maybe a little Exlax will help. Eventually it will be expelled from the system. But the garbage in your soul will remain there forever. You’ll never get rid of it. That’s the Kuzari’s statement, that what goes into your neshama from the foolishness you hear, remains there forever.
You have to watch out what kind of magazines come into your home. It’s very important because your wife and your children also have minds that are just as valuable and just as sensitive as yours. You think that reading the Orthodox newspapers and magazines is not bringing the shachein rah into your home. Of course, it’s a thousand times better than gentile newspapers and television – more than a thousand times! But that’s because bringing a New York Times and the New York Post into your home is not just a shachein rah – it’s bringing in adultery, and avodah zarah, and shfichas damim into your home. You’re bringing in a whole troupe of leitzim and apikorsim into your head and into the heads of your wife and children.
But even the Jewish newspapers are full of garbage. Page after page of this and that and this and that. What about Hakodosh Boruch Hu? Oh, Him? Oh, He’s put away in a different section; don’t bother me about Him now. So all of those newspapers are a shachein rah – except that instead of living next door, you invited him into your living room.
KEEP YOUR HAND ON YOUR WALLET
But tonight I wanted to give you an eitzah. It’s a way of living in isolation, of not allowing your mind to be influenced by your environment, even when you’re living among others. I’ll tell you what the Chovos Halevovos says about this. You know, isolation would mean that when you go to the country in the summer you would have to take a walk out into the woods and never come back. You’d have to be a hermit. But suppose you can’t do that. You don’t know how to live in the woods. You wouldn’t survive the winter. And you have a family to care for. So you have to come back to the city. And you have to go to work on the subway. How can you be a hermit on the subway?! You’re hanging on the strap and all around you people are pressing on you. Let’s say there are two hundred people in that car – so you’re not a hermit if you’re traveling on the subway.
So there’s only one way of doing it. You close your eyes – of course keep one hand on your purse, your wallet – close your eyes and forget about your environment. Think that you’re hanging on a the branch of a tree somewhere in the wilderness. All by yourself. And commune with Hakodosh Boruch Hu! Isn’t that a wonderful idea?! To walk with Hashem in secret. והצנע לכת עם השם אלוקיך – “Walk secretly with Hashem” (Michah 6:8). So now you’re hanging onto a branch in the forest somewhere, not a subway strap on train, and you’re talking to Hashem in your thoughts. “Hashem, please guide me. Hashem, give me success. I love You, Hashem. My life is devoted to You, Hashem.”
YOU’RE BY YOURSELF IN THE CROWD
Isn’t that a beautiful thing to say in the subway? Nobody is around you. You’re shutting yourself away from all of the sh’cheinim ra’im, all of the bad neighbors crowding around you. Forget about all the ethnics around you. Forget about all the browns. And all the whites and all the yellows. Forget about them. Of course, as I said, your hand must be in the right place because they aren’t forgetting about you.
And let’s say you have to sit with your parents, with your brothers and sisters, with your in-laws, and even with your own children. Sometimes you have to sit with your children and your in-laws for hours. And you must do it. Of course, you must spend a few minutes with your grandchildren or with your nieces and nephews. You have to say a few kind words. Certainly; you have to recognize your family. ומבשרך לא תתעלם- “Don’t hide yourself from your family” (Yeshaya 58:7). However, you must always be aware of what is happening. Sometimes you’re sitting for hours in small talk and your mind is being chewed up with their foolish conversations. And you’re deteriorating as you sit with them. Your mind is stultifying. So no matter what, men and women – if you want to be somebody, you must cut loose from those around you. And when you’re among people, you must always be on guard. What is it that I’m hearing? What is it that’s entering into my mind, my most precious of all possessions? Because whatever goes in will never come out.
THE PLEASANT BROOKLYN AIR
I was on Kings Highway a few weeks ago, and I was passing by two old ladies, and just as I passed by I heard one of them saying, “This city air is nasty. Nasty Brooklyn air.” And it was terrible to hear. It went into my ears like an arrow.
Now, I know that Brooklyn air is not nasty at all. I’ve said here many times the Medrash on the possuk of כל הנשמה תהלל י-ה that my Rebbi always repeated. It says there על כל נשימה ונשימה תהלל י-ה, that on every breath you take, you should say Hallel. And my Rebbi said it means whole Hallel, not half. A full Hallel for every breath! And I’ve thought about my Rebbi’s words for many years, and I know that I’m very behind. I haven’t even paid up for the first day of my life.
And yet, here comes along this old grouchy hag who’s breathing just fine – most of her friends aren’t breathing anymore, and if they are, it’s with the help of machines – and she’s complaining about the Brooklyn air. So you would think that if my Rebbi says one thing, and this old grouch says something else, so her words are batel u’mivutal, they mean nothing at all.
But it’s not so. Because everything you hear, everything you see, is engraving itself on your mind. At that moment, standing on Kings Highway, this grouch was my shachein, my neighbor, and אוי לרשע אוי לשכינו – Woe is to the rasha who complains about Hashem’s air, and woe is to this poor old man who had to hear her words while walking down Kings Highway.
And so you have to fight against all these destructive influences with all the chochma possible. I’ll tell you what I did. I didn’t waste a minute. When I got home, I put a stopper into the sink, and I filled it up with water. Up to the top. And I dunked my head in. And I counted to thirty. And then I came up and took a long, deep breath of the Brooklyn air. It was delicious!
I once told you about this simple experiment that proves that breathing is fun, didn’t I? Dip your head in a bucket of water three times and take it out twice. So now your head is in a bucket of water. And finally when you feel ready to explode, you’ll take it out, and take that breath. Ahh, is it delicious! And the truth is that it’s always delicious. Only that all day long, none of your neighbors say anything about it. And when they do, it’s to complain. That’s a shachein rah! You think that a neighbor, a friend, an acquaintance, who is not speaking about Hashem all the time is any better than that man who found tzaraas on his wall. No, he’s not any better. And he’s your shachein!
Now, I know that what I’m saying here – I know that it’s a waste of time telling people these things. It’s only being said for exceptional people. But if you came here, you’re already from the exceptional. What I say here is a waste of time for most people. But there always are some people who want to stand out in the eyes of Hakodosh Boruch Hu, and they are the fertile ground upon which some of these seeds will take root and sprout.
AVOIDING THE FATE OF DASAN AND AVIRAM
And therefore, the person who wants these great ideals of avodas Hashem, of perfection in ahavas Hashem, da’as Hashem, and emunah, to grow tall in his mind, will need to always be on guard against even the most subtle of outside influences. Because every time you let your guard down, you are making the same error that Dasan and Aviram made, not recognizing the danger of a shachein rah. And once you allow wrong ideas, and wrong attitudes and ideals to be poured into your mind, it will never be the same again. No matter how much good you try to pour in alongside them, it will never be the same. And while you won’t suffer the fate of Dasan and Aviram who were cut off from the Am Yisroel because of a shachein rah, your opportunities for perfection in this world and the next, will forever be hampered. Because your mind is your future. מכל משמר נצור לבך כי ממנו תוצאות חיים – “More than anything else that your guard in this world, make sure to guard your mind; because from your mind will come all of the results of life, life in Olam Hazeh and Olam Habah” (Mishlei 4:23).