First, we learn about prishut (pree-shoot; or, if you're Ashkenazi: preeshus) – separating.
And in the interest of full disclosure, I always feels like a big hypocrite when discussing prishut (especially with what Rav Miller states on the last page of the PDF) because while I have B'CHASDEI HASHEM made some very big progress in this area, I still really struggle with separating myself from certain aspects of This World, like eating, which has been a major taavah for me since I was two (as far as I can remember). But because I had a high metabolism, engaged in physical activity, and grew up in a home which firmly regimented our nutrition, I was very slender until my mid-20s. Other girls even used to tell me, "Omigosh, your stomach is soooo flat." But no one would even dream of saying that now...
Just being honest.
Anyway...back to Rav Miller's dvar Torah:
Just because we can do something doesn't mean we should.
Just because we can access something doesn't mean we should.
I remember speaking with a young chassidish woman from Williamsburg who told me that her father made enough money to buy a larger home, but didn't.
"What we have is enough," he always said.
The young woman related this with pride in her father. She emphasized that their home was definitely comfortable.
It was large enough for the needs of this fruitful family. It was nice & pleasant.
But it wasn't competing with others in her father's income bracket and it wasn't more than they needed.
And she felt proud of her father for this; she didn't feel deprived at all.
Contrast this with the people you know who grew up in homes that had spare rooms no one used – not even for guests – because they were such a small family living in such an expansive home.
I remember attending a secular bat mitzvah party hosted in the family's luxury home. After seeing pairs of girl enter through a side door, then come up later oohing and ahhing, I asked them if it was really okay (they said they hadn't asked, but the set-up impressed them as wanting to be seen), then I took the admittedly unmannerly step of entering the doorway to explore on my own.
I went down the stairs and found myself in a refurbished basement with flat wall-to-wall charcoal carpeting, a sofa and some easy chairs, and a corridor stretching out before me.
As I walked down the corridor, I peeked into the rooms via the partly open doors and saw bedroom after bedroom with bedframes and mattresses still in their plastic covering.
Most fascinating of all were the bathrooms interspersed between the bedrooms: They were totally dark except for the fake lily pads hosting thick lit candles floating in the bubbling jacuzzis.
I realized we were meant to see this because someone had gone to all the trouble of setting up the lily pads, lighting the candles, and running the jacuzzis.
The thing is, this was just the basement; the family hung out in the upper floors (which were also more than they needed).
These rooms were clearly never used.
And how many people lived in this home?
Four: 2 parents and 2 kids.
Even if you can afford such space and indulgence, Judaism is clear that you shouldn't necessarily go for it – unless you need it.
(It's also a problem to flaunt it, even such subtle accidentally-on-purpose flaunting as with the lily pads in the jacuzzis, even though I remember it fondly.)
Positive Examples of Prishut by Regular People
But as very frum people, they restrained themselves from planning family simchos as extravagantly as they could afford.
I don't mean they avoided debt. They could afford to make an eye-popping extravaganza...but didn't.
They were concerned about the people who couldn't afford to make such extravagant bar mitzvahs & upsherins.
Why not tone things down instead of always upping the ante? they concluded.
And Hashem definitely rewards them for that. They're being holy.
They are separating themselves, restraining themselves? That's HOLY.
Prishut: Start Small
If you've just eaten a meal and you're no longer hungry, don't treat yourself to dessert just because it's there and you like chocolate cake.
Resist. Go do something else.
If someone offers you a l'chaim, say a bracha and take one sip, then spill the rest on the floor. (Rav Miller says not to do this if it's a carpet and, of course, he does not mean to do it where people will slip in it or if it's going to make extra work for the hostess; only if the janitor is going to go over the floor with a mop later anyway.)
As Rav Miller says on page 7:
"The best place for whiskey is on the floor."
Presumably, he did not say to put it on a table because my others would sip it. Sometimes, children enjoy sipping the leftover l'chaims.
And maybe you can't get to a sink or else you can get to a sink, but pouring it would be conspicuous.
I think the big lesson here is to get rid of the whiskey in the most harmless way possible.
Don't Take Prishut to an Extreme
For example, we should speak less than we want to. (Starting out with this differs according to each person and how much they are used to speaking.)
Some people even do a ta'anit dibbur – a speech fast. They refrain from speaking at all or only when absolutely necessary.
However, you can't be rude about it.
For example, I know a man who used to make a regular taanit dibbur and also wore his hat in a way so it acted as blinders.
Once, he passed his wife in the street and she greeted him, but he did not greet her back.
Though she was a person of excellent middot & positivity, this crossed the line and she felt both embarrassed and offended. And when he told her later, he didn't see her, she didn't believe him because he was on a taanit dibbur, not a taanit shmiyah (hearing).
"How could he not know it was me?" she said. "He can't recognize my voice? Anyway, what other woman would be addressing him by name in the street?"
He refrained from such "fasts" in the future.
How to Avoid Straying Thoughts
We're told in the last paragraph of Kriat Shema not stray after our eyes, but this generation is custom-made to lead eyes astray. Nearly every manmade thing you see nowadays is carefully crafted (based on detailed research) to catch your eyes & hit your brain in just the "right" way.
That's why ANYTHING you do for prishut, even a baby step, is a VERY BIG HOLY DEAL.
If you want to control your thoughts, it's good to decide on something else to think about before you have that problem.
Rav Miller reminds us that we're here to think about Hashem.
That's a big part of our purpose in life.
So you can think about Hashem. Or stuff for which you're grateful. Or decide to contemplate an apple seed and everything it does.
(People who listened to Rav Miller's shiurim, in which he often discusses the wonders of apple seeds, used to ask him to send them his apple seeds. And he would actually do it! Yes, he'd go to the post office himself with the envelopes and the seeds, and mail them.)
Rav Miller compares non-prishut to filling up your stomach with bad things, like sugary cereal in the morning rather than nourishing foods; you won't have room in your stomach for the stuff your body really needs.
Sure, it's not an exact comparison; your mind isn't as limited as your stomach.
But the truth is that the comparison is true enough.
You see that when your mind is full of non-frum stuff, that's what you think & talk about.
When your mind is full of truly Jewish stuff, that also fills your thoughts and comes out your mouth.
For example, many men remember their intense post-high school yeshivah years with fondness.
A lot of women, especially if they spent a year in Eretz Yisrael, also remember their seminary phase as a special time.
Because they were in a Torah atmosphere surrounded by Torah ideals & like-minded people. It was a taste of Gan Eden.
Once, I saw a child who looked at a small chunky wedge of watermelon, and exclaimed, "Hey, this is a mizbe'ach!" (the Altar from the Holy Temple)
Is that what your first reaction would be?
Most people just see a watermelon chunk. Or a 3-dimensional triangle. Or a slide.
By the way, it's not about freezing your mind.
It is the nature of thought to move. (I believe this is from Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.)
You just want it all to move in the right direction, that's all.
It's Okay about the Private Helicopter. Really.
People think prishut means deprivation & suffering, but the opposite is actually true.
All beginnings are difficult.
But once you separate from something, you often stop wanting it.
Not always, but often. It depends.
And what great freedom it is to NOT want something! To NOT feel deprived!
Now, Rav Miller reminds us that we all have different personalities and different situations. For example, a person often needs to work or else he'll get depressed or something.
But even the This World stuff in which we need to engage shouldn't lead to being obsessed with it.
For example, we can appreciate our things, but shouldn't LOVE them. We can love Hashem for giving us our things, but to LOVE the thing itself?
For example, do you ever see guys who refer to their car as "she" and care for "her" as if the car is a living being?
That's going overboard.
Someone who worked in Hollywood told me that the stars can micromanage their lives to the extent that when they order a meal (at home from their cook), they order it cut into the exact measurements (millimeters or centimeters) they find most palatable.
If the pieces are cut a little bit off these designated measurements, these stars get their noses seriously out of joint about it. It infuriates them.
That's part of the reason why you see that celebrities are often not happy people and why you see them sometimes experiencing a major meltdown or acting out violently: They invest way, way too much in This World.
And it all makes them terribly unhappy & frustrated.
I knew a young couple in which the wife wished to order a private helicopter to fly the family to another residence that Shabbat as they were accustomed once a month. But because of a family event, the husband wished to postpone the helicopter trip to their other residence until next Shabbat, and so they remained at home (in their mansion with all their luxuries and staff).
The wife sat petulantly at the shul kiddush, much to the embarrassment & discomfort of the husband.
And yes, many people were chuckling to themselves about the incident as the couple sat there. (The shul was a frum shul with a mechitzah, etc, but many of the congregants weren't fully shomer Shabbat or fully shomer other mitzvot either.)
The thing is, what was so awful? That she had to stay in her own mansion with her staff of servants for that Shabbat? If they didn't take the private helicopter that Shabbat, they would take it the next! After all, they did so every month.
Also, the wife hadn't even grown up with all this luxury. She was a middle-class girl who'd married into it. Can't she say to herself, "Sure, I can't take a private helicopter to the luxury residence in that other city this Shabbat, but at least I enjoy this really cool mansion!"?
Is that too much to ask of a person?
So she's unhappy and fighting with her husband and embarrassing him by acting all huffy in public – all because she is way too attached to This World.
And the attachment is not even making her happy.
The 3 Steps of Prishut
He notes that Rebbe Akiva of the Talmud used to cry tears of joy during Shemoneh Esrei because he knew he was speaking to his Best Friend: Hashem.
Then on page 21, Rav Miller sums up the 3 steps of prishut:
- Self-control – Abstain from what you don't really need so you don't become a slave to your desires: "A man who doesn’t have any control over himself yields more readily to forbidden things."
- Keep your mind open to beautiful Torah thoughts & closed to everything else: "Building a Torah mind, that’s the great achievement of life but it cannot happen in a mind which is occupied by substitutes."
- "LEARN HOW TO REALLY ENJOY THIS WORLD! Get out of your head any thoughts that prishus means to be unhappy!"