For example, one of the difficult aspects of working on middot and making genuine progress is the way it looks in the eyes of others.
Even if they are good & decent people, if you are only a couple of levels above them, you'll look strange.
I've been on both sides of this, having been the person who looked at a person a couple of levels higher than myself and thought they were strange or even that they "just don't understand" (HA!) and then when I got there myself, I realized they weren't strange at all and furthermore, not only did they understand very well, they were absolutely right.
And I've also been the person viewed as strange.
Many of us have had both experiences, whether it's when you really decided to dedicate yourself to avoiding lashon hara, keeping Shabbat, suffering insults in silence, improving your tsnius, giving the benefit of the doubt, or anything else...at least one person thinks you've become odder.
And I don't mean just the phase when you're acting a bit wonky because you're still trying to figure out how to incorporate the new improved behavior into your old self.
No matter how balanced & polished you get, someone somewhere (or a lot of someones) will find you very odd, even eccentric.
Some people even feel offended or threatened by the new you. ("How dare you think I spoke lashon hara!" "Why are you suddenly covering your hair like that? I always wear a waist-length swoopy wavy vampy shaitel that doesn't even look like I'm covering my hair, and I find that perfectly tsnius!" "Yes, but when you don't answer back, do you have any idea what a doormat you're making yourself out to be?")
And maybe you also remember times you found someone strange or offensive...until you matured spiritually and discovered otherwise.
(Just to emphasize: We aren't talking about people who really are strange & offensive, but people who only SEEM strange or offensive by people on a lower level than them.)
As Rav Miller says on page 4:
Great people are sometimes so great that others can’t appreciate them.
[Meshugah ish haruach] – The man of spirit – the man who is dedicated fully to Hashem – is a madman (Hoshea 9:7). It means that he appears to be a madman, a meshuganeh, in the eyes of others.
The navi said that – it means it’s an old story already that the avodas Hashem of great men is considered extreme by men of lesser stature.
Avraham Avinu: a man who so loved to do chessed, he sat at the doorway of his tent on the hottest of days recovering from a brit milah, and still yearned for guests in order to perform hospitality.
How did he get to that level?
Seeing the World Means Seeing Hashem
A nice breeze, a peach tree, onions growing from the ground – Avraham Avinu took note.
And because Avraham Avinu saw all that Hashem provided the world, so Avraham Avinu yearned to emulate Hashem and also provide.
So Avraham Avinu also planted trees.
And because Avraham Avinu saw that chessed was very important to Hashem, that Hashem was the Ultimate Chessed, so Avraham Avinu became obsessed with being the personification of loving-kindness.
Obsessions are usually bad. They derive from ego.
But in this case, Avraham Avinu's chessed obsession derived from his pure adoration of Hashem Yitbarach.
The 2 Most Important Questions to Contemplate in order to Realize Your Spiritual Potential & become Great in Hashem's Eyes
[The Ramchal] says there that man must find time every day to sit in solitude and contemplate some of the most important questions of life.
And one of the most valuable, he says, is the following: “What was it that made Avraham Avinu so beloved by Hashem? How did he become so great that he was chosen to be the father of the most holy nation?"
Here are the 2 important questions are again:
- What was it that made Avraham Avinu so beloved by Hashem?
- How did he become so great that he was chosen to be the father of the most holy nation?
Rav Miller says that according to the Ramchal, engaging in the above will cause you to want to be like Avraham Avinu.
But no normal person honestly thinks he or she could ever be like Avraham Avinu, no matter how hard they try.
So won't this exercise lead to despair?
Desire is the Key to Everything
Baruch Hashem, Rav Avigdor Miller constantly pounds into our heads the importance of our inner world.
Hashem wants your HEART.
- Do you ever feel joy when you daven?
- Do you ever feel deveikus when you daven?
- Are you snorting around in a filthy, disgusting, stench-filled pig sty...yet you DESIRE to get up and wash yourself off, and communicate in refined language rather than snorts?
THAT'S an achievement.
I think we've all seen this so many times, and even experienced it ourselves:
GOOD DESIRE helps us get better.
People who don't even have the DESIRE to be good ultimately do not make it.
There is a world of difference between sinning & saying, "Oh, well. That's just how it is today; everyone else is doing it too and even worse stuff" and sinning & saying, "Aack! I HATE it when I do this! Yuck!"
Rav Miller reassures us (pages 11-12) that just the mere thought of choosing what Hashem desires makes Hashem say, "If that's the case, then you're My man already."
Re-Tweets & Likes aren't What Counts in Life
In a world where brushing your teeth is tweeted or posted, and then people actually respond with "likes," AND the tweeter/poster's feelings of self-worth actually depend on this – what a crazy challenge for us nowadays!
Self-promotion & public recognition are NOT what Hashem judges us by.
However, Rav Miller reminds us that good intentions still aren't everything.
Desire isn't the Whole Shebang. At Some Point, You Need to Take Action
Standing up to your knees in water while shouting for water?
If you truly desire water, then you should bend down and scoop up some of the water you're drenched in, says Rav Miller.
If you accidentally break or damage something, even while trying to do something good with it, you can't just say, "Well, it was an accident. Because I didn't mean to do damage & because I meant to do good, so I don't need to pay."
You DO need to pay.
You're attending a Torah shiur?
But that doesn't mean you can stick your legs out and risk someone tripping over them. It doesn't mean you can spread out to much on the bench or hog the armrest.
Speaking in Torah is very, very important. All of Chazal emphasizes this. But if you speak divrei Torah loudly in a place where others are sleeping, that's very wrong.
(For more on that topic, please see: Rav Avigdor Miller on Conforming To Others.)
Speaking in a way that doesn't hurt others feelings is also part 'n' parcel of Judaism.
Rav Miller quotes Gemara Bava Metzia 58b:
Hurting people’s feelings is worse than stealing their money.
That's a very strong statement considering that the prohibition against stealing is part of the 10 Commandments and also one of the 7 Mitzvot of Bnei Noach, which incurs severe penalties.
Consideration of others is part of Avraham Avinu's chessed (pages 13-14).
Rav Miller's Final Thoughts on the Parsha
Hashem created a world of chesed not only because He wants us to be happy, but because He wants us to learn to make others happy!
And more importantly, by means of the avodah of walking in the footsteps of Avraham, you’re fulfilling the mitzvah of , וְ הָ לַ כְ ת ּ ָ ב ִ דְ רָ כָ יו walking in the ways of Hu Boruch Hakodosh Hu, the original Chafeitz Chesed who created this world to be an Olam Chesed, a world of good times.
For good guidance in these times of come-and-go war, please also see Rav Miller on Missile Attacks in Eretz Yisrael (1991)