First, Rav Miller takes us through verse 30 in chapter 24 of Mishlei/Proverbs.
It tells the story of a field of thorns & thistles—a field clearly under the ownership of a lazy man.
He sought to rest & relax more than he sought to tend his field—with obvious results.
And so, notes Shlomo Hamelech, your poverty will come upon you like a mithalech—a vagabond.
Rav Miller discusses the ominous mithalech, both the actual vagabond & its metaphor for poverty (page 4):
You know, when you meet a vagabond on the road, it's not such a happy experience. You're afraid of him; he might do something to you.
And so, a man who doesn't attend to his business, he doesn't manage his affairs, he'll encounter unhappy surprises in life.
“You’ll encounter poverty,” Shlomo said, “like you encounter a bum on the street.”
That’s the first peirush; the possuk is telling you that if you have a field or a shoe store or even if you’re a rebbi in the yeshiva, whatever it is you’re doing you have to be a hustler.
But Rav Miller peels off another layer to reveal its metaphor for our mind.
The Perils of Environmentalist Extremism (AKA Nature-Worshipping)
(For more about that, please see here: the-torah-view-of-our-planet-earth-use-it-or-lose-it.html.)
The earth actually NEEDS us to cultivate it.
Not strip it dry of all its resources.
But to utilize it, to cultivate it.
Hashem created it for the purpose of human habitation & cultivation.
To leave nature to its own devices is actually unnatural.
However, arriving at the right conclusion of what's truly natural is only possible with the acknowledgement of One Creator.
Those who view the Universe as a captain-less ship (or as a ship with many random, vying captains—like a mutinous crew of gods), and therefore see nature as random or as with a mind of its own, cannot properly appreciate how much nature needs human input.
So their entire concept of natural vs. unnatural is completely upside-down.
Perhaps this is why even the most advanced & educated minds today are so confused & tangled?
Their ways of thinking often reflect the nature-worshipping attitudes that lead to choking jungles & fiery destruction.
As Rav Miller explains (page 5):
Now you have to know something right away.
If you'll just wait, if you’ll just let your mind remain, don’t think it will lay dormant, an empty field waiting for you to begin planting. Oh no!
It will produce the things that grow naturally.
And naturally means you'll have thorns and weeds.
Even on a city street if you leave things alone, if traffic would stop for ten years, the whole street would begin to change.
The weeds and grass would begin to sprout and trees would drop seeds into the cracks and new trees would begin to grow. It would lift up the sidewalk.
In fifty years, it would be a jungle.
Here's Rav Miller again (page 5):
But you must know that if a man is poor in his mind, that's the worst of all tragedies.
To not have parnasah, that’s terrible; it’s a big sin to be lazy and not fulfill your obligations in the kesubah.
But after all there’s always welfare; maybe you have a rich uncle who will bail you out – something you’ll find.
But if you have a poor mind, nobody is going to save you.
No one can save the person with a poor mind.
As far as our minds go, it's every man (or woman!) for himself (or herself!).
"If I am not for myself, who will be for me?"
Cultivating a Nice Variety of Orchards
- a Gemara orchard
- a Chumash orchard
- an emunah orchard
- a bitachon orchard
- a chessed orchard
- an ahavat Hashem orchard
- a yirat Hashem orchard
And that's not all!
There are many different Torah orchards to choose from—some like to cultivate an orchard of Chassidus, or even an orchard of a specific Chassidus—and all truly Torah-based orchards purify & clean out the mind, making the mind beautiful & well-developed.
According to Rav Miller, one of the most important orchards to cultivate is looking favorably at your fellow Jew.
Rav Miller warns that without cultivating this orchard, weeds will sprout amok, spreading poisonous seeds.
As he describes (page 6):
And once your mind is filled with weeds, uva mishalech, a vagabond might come along and grab you unexpectedly.
You'd be surprised – the wrong seeds that grow wild in your mind might someday confront you with a nisayon; suddenly a test will come up and you’re vulnerable – who knows what can happen chas veshalom because you’re not prepared.
Sometimes a person is ruined entirely in his ruchniyus – his entire life is ruined because of the poisonous seeds that slowly grew in his head.
He wore a nice black velour hat but you can't rely on that — what matters most is what’s under the hat.
Unless you put something here in your garden and you cultivate it all the time you won’t be ready for a yom tzarah, for the tests of life, and who knows what could happen?
And this brings us to Korach.
How It All Started
Only the best of Am Yisrael left Mitzrayim. The Pesach Haggadah clearly states a rasha would not have been redeemed.
Korach passed through the Yam Suf (Reed Sea) and sang Az Yashir in his beautiful Levite voice along with the rest of the Nation.
He stood at the foot of Har Sinai as one with the rest of the Am & accepted the Torah.
So what on earth happened? And how?
Rav Miller declares that Korach "allowed brambles to grow in his mind."
How did it start?
One of the most joyful days in history occurred when Am Yisrael erected the Mishkan in the Midbar.
Imagine millions of Jews shouting "in great ecstasy" at the sight of the Holy Shechinah.
And then a fire burst forth to consume the 2 sons of Aharon Hakohen.
Realizing Hashem had a reason for this shocking tragedy, Korach began to suspect the worthiness of the Aharon's sons—Moshe Rabbeinu's nephews.
Perhaps, he mused, it's not a coincidence that Moshe appointed his own brother as a Kohen? After all, Korach was also a Levite. Maybe he & his sons should've won the Priesthood.
According to Rav Miller, he thought something along the lines of: "Hakodosh Boruch Hu showed his displeasure – they weren’t really fit for it. It was Moshe Rabeinu who gave the kehuna to his brother’s family, not Hashem."
In other words, maybe the sons of Aharon died of nepotism.
And that was the beginning of the end for Korach.
The Truth about Korach
And so were his sons, who merited to compose Tehillim exquisite enough to be included in Sefer Tehillim.
Korach was a knowledgeable, studious Yid. Rav Miller describes him as a tzaddik.
Yet Korach suspected Moshe Rabbeinu of requesting from Hashem the Priesthood for his older brother (along the lines of tzaddik gozer v'Hashem mekayem—Hashem upholds the decrees of a tzaddik).
Yet that's not what happened. Not even close.
It was all Hashem's idea.
Rav Miller notes that truly great Torah leaders possess the ability to nullify their personality to prevent the influence of personal interests.
In the Kelm yeshivah, the elderly Rosh Yeshivah gave his lecture from the back seat.
He sat behind everyone so no one was looking at him. He did not stand out at all, even as he lectured.
In this way, the Rosh Yeshivah also could not see anyone—no approval, no smiles, no lit-up faces—none of the things on which speakers & performers rely, whether they mean to or not.
Yet Korach could not conceive of such impartiality.
He thought Moshe Rabbeinu was stuck in the same state of denial common to many people: catering to one's own personal interests while claiming a supposedly objective reason for this.
It all happened because Korach allowed these brambles to grow in his head.
He missed cultivating that particular orchard.
And so the Torah warns us not to be like Korach, which means (page 11):
- You shouldn't make machloket (controversy).
- You need to avoid the basic seeds of machloket: judging unfavorably.
Proper Cultivation Starts at Home
Like most everything else, good middot start at home.
How many people feel impatient with their spouse, yet behave with such graciousness & forbearance with strangers?
One of the primary behavioral contradictions today occurs when frum people bend over backwards to judge favorably & even defend Sabbath-transgressors & atheists & same-gender relationships while nitpicking at other perfectly frum groups.
Such people (with the intention of displaying their honesty & objectivity) indulge in derisive scoffing of people who may be flawed, but are at least trying—and at the very least, are bumbling down the right path.
Not to mention, that some of the people scoffed at are exceptionally fine people—maybe even much better than the derisive scoffer!
Rav Miller states (page 12):
That’s an extremely important function among Jews.
We have to be misgaber on this Yetzer Hara of trying to find faults in our neighbors and in our mechutanim, in our daughters-in-law and sons-in-law, and everyone else we come in contact with.
Rav Miller on page 13:
We're not talking about ma’asim now – we're talking about correcting the mental attitudes, to learn how to think good thoughts about your fellow man.
It’s a big job and I’m far away from that myself.
I'm saying this not for you; I’m listening to it myself as I’m saying it.
But let’s listen and maybe a little bit of it will stick to us.
The Ultimate 2 Ways to Cultivate the Anti-Korach Orchard
There are 2 ways of judging favorably, and Rav Miller mentions both of them throughout this dvar Torah:
- Find a compassionate reason why someone exhibits unwanted behavior.
- Look for a good middah among the person's bad middot.
You can definitely combine the two.
Giving the benefit of the doubt does not mean labelling a forbidden behavior or bad middah as "permitted" or "good."
Labelling the forbidden as permissible falls under the category of chanifah—a very serious Torah prohibition.
It basically means assuming, for example, an impatient person may be in pain, received terrible news that morning, or suffered a tongue-lashing from a boss or family member before they answered your phone call.
Sometimes, a pregnant woman on a bus is trying not to throw up.
And for the first few months, a woman often doesn't even look pregnant. So if a female passenger seems unfriendly or immobile, it could be that she is simply trying not to barf.
I've literally seen this as the problem, including when a woman did not even look pregnant—but she was.
Sometimes, the person rudely hurrying past you is desperate to reach the facilities or is shlepping a not-fully-potty-trained child in need of the facilities.
Or maybe the unfriendly bus passenger or the rude shoulder-bumping passerby really IS a rude, inconsiderate person—but maybe they do good things too, like giving tzedakah, honoring their parents, and much more.
The big yetzer hara against this is nitpicking at the person's motivations—as if all the rest of us are doing all our mitzvot totally l'Shem Shamayim—I WISH!
Sure, we needn't pour our adoration on actors.
(Some of the starry-eyed gushing that goes on over people who, though impressive, are not the real deal—is weird.)
But at the same time, we should give credit where credit is due.
If the person gave a lot of money to feed frum families for Shabbat—then they did.
Even if they make sure everyone knows about it (which is certainly not the right way to do it)...
The recipients enjoyed an abundance of good food for Shabbos. Jewish children ate & enjoyed Shabbos.
Yes, he did it for his own kavod. But a certain good still came out of it.
Let's end with Rav Miller's words from Gemara Shabbos 127b:
Ifּ you make the effort to judge somebody in a positive light; you overcome the natural laziness of the mind and you look for the good...then middah k'neged middah, HaKadosh Baruch Hu will always judge you favorably too.
And when He does that, you can be certain He does it with a full Hand, a heaping Hand of reward in this world and also in the world to come.