Why did Hashem destroy certain enemy neighbors, while others remained?
For example, the powerful kings & kingdoms of Emor & King Og of the Bashan & Canaan disappeared.
But Moav, Ammon, and Edom remained. (Edom remains until this day as the Anglo & European countries.)
The Exact Definition of an Evil Neighbor
"Anyone who has a synagogue in his town, but he doesn't go there to daven—he is called an evil neighbor."
It's worth reading it inside to get the full idea.
Then Rav Miller sums it up with this (page 6):
An evil neighbor means someone who lives nearby, he lives in proximity to someone good whom he can learn from, and he doesn’t change for the better!
It’s a neighbor who doesn’t take advantage of being a neighbor!
One of the problems with becoming frum on the younger side (like the teen years) is that you still haven't learned to make good decisions—meaning, despite making the wonderful decision of turning toward Torah & mitzvot, you still may not be aware of how to make good decisions.
A lot of young female BTs & converts need more supervision because their sense of self lacks fortitude.
That, combined with the pull of society & the intensive anti-Torah propaganda (plus being completely on your own)...they need a firm foundation on which to stand, rather than floating around in the middle of universe.
In other words, they should go to a good baal teshuvah school as soon as possible.
During my early years of teshuvah (around ages 18-19), I encountered good FFB girls in my mostly modern Orthodox community—girls who were more than willing to befriend me.
I liked them a lot too.
However, I still felt pulled after the assimilating modern Orthodox girls because it was so familiar and also they did interesting things, like go out to the scene downtown on Saturday nights.
So I felt pulled after 2 different groups.
I remember thinking I should really spend time only with the more committed frum girls, and I did indeed spend a lot of time with one very solid FFB girl because of the great chemistry between us (and I adored her family).
But I still allowed myself to be pulled after the drifting girls and their families.
Another undiagnosed problem: Because I came from a very secular & corrupt environment, I could not see how bad everything was. To me, all the corrupt values & wanton behaviors were normal.
Later, I very much regretted not having followed the seichel of my yetzer tov; I should've associated only with the committed girls.
Had someone sat me down for a heart-to-heart talk, I think I might have listened.
Actually, the mother of one of the committed girls told me in a casual & good-hearted way, "You should be close friends with my daughter; she would be a good friend for you."
I realized she meant, "She would be a good influence on you," and I wasn't offended, but warmed to know that someone cared.
However, I was (and still am) the kind of person who needs things explained to me before I can wholeheartedly throw myself into them.
So while the mother's statement was true, I needed more convincing to fully commit myself to friendship with only the committed girls.
One rabbi hinted to me that I should avoid the drifting girls, but I felt a bit offended on their behalf at his implied put-down.
Much later, one of the committed FFB girls told me in confidence that she wanted to warn me away from the drifting girls and have me with her group—a group of solidly frum girls who were nice enough & idealistic enough to be willing to embrace me & give me the spiritual & social support I desperately needed, but that same rabbi convinced her not to.
He told her that she and the committed girls should just continue being nice & friendly to me, but other than that, let me find my own way.
Probably he was afraid her doing so would push me away completely (likely because when he just hinted at it, I responded a bit defensively, as described above).
However, she was a very idealistic person who spoke from the heart.
She wasn't afraid to get into deep, thorny conversations. Furthermore, she was a particularly intelligent & articulate young woman who would have understood what I was going through and not been put off if I got a tad defensive on behalf of my going-off-the-derech friends.
On the contrary, she would've seen that as an opening to explain things more.
Having someone reach out to me from the heart & willing to hash it all out with me would've meant so much to me.
So I think that rabbi made a big mistake.
The idealistic, heartfelt teenage girl was right.
(In addition to being an idealist, she also possessed a strong streak of Tzedek, tzedek tirdof, which also fueled her on my behalf. She knew that hanging out with those other girls was not the right way for me to go.)
At the same time, I don't blame the rabbi for not reading my mind.
He always made himself available to me and to all the other young people if we needed to talk.
Based on what he could perceive of me, he thought that leaving me to my own devices was the best way to handle me.
So he was wrong, but it's not really his fault.
Most of the rabbis in that community were nice, decent guys. Whether they taught at the school or headed a shul, they probably felt overwhelmed by their responsibilities.
They always made themselves available when someone needed them, but did not actively guide people.
They acted more as consultants rather than leaders, though I still give them a lot of credit for just being there and keeping the frum community alive in a bastion of liberal secularism.
(Later, when more idealistic & activist rabbis & rebbetzins joined the community, they made a world of difference by injecting much-needed vitality into the community, which strengthen the frum community & positively affected the kiruv of the secular Jewish community.)
I wasn't the only floater.
(Most of us floaters ended up in New York, Lakewood, or Eretz Yisrael. So that was a good thing. But some people just drifted off & got lost again.)
The point is that I had access to good "neighbors": the solidly committed, friendly, FFB girls.
But by associating with the "neighbors" going in the wrong direction, I went in the wrong direction too.
Unwittingly, I retarded my spiritual progress for a few years!
I could've been frumer, gotten married earlier, and avoided some really bad decisions simply by associating exclusively with the committed girls.
As a side point, I knew the not-so-frum girls would look down their nose had I joined the committed girls (even if I still related to the not-so-frum girls in a friendly manner).
It's interesting that the committed frum girls displayed more patience, understanding, and acceptance than the not-so-frum drifting girls.
You see this a lot in life, that the people who consider themselves very liberal & open-minded & accepting often reveal themselves as being the most apathetic, narrow-minded, and controlling.
While I don't think of myself at that time as "an evil neighbor," an honest self-accounting tells me that I was far from being as good as I could've—if only I'd allowed myself to be influenced by the wonderful "neighbors" Hashem made available.
I lived in proximity to "good neighbors," yet did not change for the better nearly as much as I could have.
I was, in Rav Miller's words, a neighbor who didn't take advantage of being a neighbor.
And that really does impinge on your own goodness.
Beneficial Envy & Why Hashem Puts Bad Neighbors by Good Neighbors
When Hakodosh Boruch Hu puts enemies around His people, it’s for the purpose that the enemy should learn from us and become good.
Yet they think the opposite.
Sometimes, even we think the opposite.
Rav Miller emphasizes (page 6):
You hear that?
It’s a big chiddush the gemara is teaching us:
Amon and Moav and Edom were placed near Eretz Yisroel in the hope that they would choose to be good neighbors, that something would come of them.
Yet if you think about it, it makes SO much sense.
And to an extent, the plan worked.
Rav Miller notes the important converts who came from these nations.
Then, on pages 7-11, Rav Miller discusses the importance of names, and how all this relates to constructive jealousy and destructive jealousy.
Envy can be a terrible feeling. But used positively, it can take you to places you would never otherwise reach.
But not only did Amon, Moav, and Edom refuse to learn from Am Yisrael...
...they also harassed & persecuted Am Yisrael.
Emulation Prevents Apathy
People in their blindness typically ignore everybody else; they think that nobody has anything that's worth emulating and therefore each person continues on his beaten path.
Either you seek to emulate the good people in your society...
...or you go around with the bland mindset of "You're okay, I'm okay"—and never move from your daze of comfortableness.
We are here to learn from everybody.
We need to seek out the good qualities of others & seek to emulate those good qualities.
Sometimes, we emulate the negative qualities.
Sometimes, as Rav Miller notes, a person sees a shul where they daven super-fast or they daven late, so the person takes on all that (without the good aspects of those shuls).
I once lived in a frum community where the women wore modest clothes & make-up.
Sometimes, a girl went away to attend a frum seminary or she got married & went to live with her husband in another community—a community which possessed many fine qualities but also struggled with materialism.
They returned & showed up to shul Shabbat night with garish fuchsia gashes of blush across the sides of their face.
The logic behind that was by applying heavy make-up on Erev Shabbat, it remained until the end of Shabbat.
They meant this in honor of Shabbat.
However, the laws of tsniyus never allow heavy or garish makeup in public.
That's adopting the not-so-good aspects of a community.
Really, they should've ignored the garish Erev Shabbos blush application and only learned from the bountiful chessed & bikur cholim also prominent in those same communities.
Rav Miller offers other examples (pages 13-14):
Another neighbor has good character and derech eretz.
Somebody else guards his tongue; he doesn't talk much and even when he does open his mouth he counts his words and he's careful not to speak about people.
Ooh, that's what I’d like to be!
Try to acquire that from him.
So it's a lesson for others to emulate, how to be loyal to your family, to think of others all day long.
These housewives deserve to be riding on a marble horse, there should be statues built in their honor for their lifetime of self-sacrifice.
Some women are thinking about the Shabbos lessons we discuss here while they’re cooking. She’s standing at the stove like the kohen gadol in the kodesh kodoshim.
Here is a man who is a ba’al tzedakah.
When you see that, you shouldn't look at it stolidly, phlegmatically.
“I want to acquire that too!”
There’s a woman over here, not too far from here, who is busy helping the poor.
I know her, and she’s always sending parcels to the needy. She’s gathering clothing and helping families. She’s helping poor girls get married. A lot of good things that she is doing.
How can we live right here, only a short distance away, and not make use of that model?
Sometimes you see a kollel couple staying for years in the kollel denying themselves everything, living in a tiny flat in one of the worst tenements.
And she is working every day in addition to the fact that every once in a while there's additions to the family too.
These idealists are living a life of Torah! Now how is it that people don't envy them?
Instead of looking down on them, start looking up; you have to look up very high.
You should envy the amount of children they have. That's a great thing to emulate.
Children! A family with a lot of children!
Everybody should feel, “I wish I could do that!”
Who can leap from 1 to 7 in one go?
But you start off with your baby steps in the right direction.
And that's really, really good.
I suppose the nations that disappeared never had the potential to emulate Am Yisrael.
But Moav, Ammon, and Edom possessed that potential—yet for the most part, it lay dormant.
Just by seeking what to emulate, we avoid becoming like Moav, Ammon, or Edom.
And that's a wonderful thing.
Don't forget to check out the Practical Tip on page 14!