With Rav Avigdor Miller ztz”l
Your Mind is Forever
Part I. Torment of the Mind
Earth Opens Its Big Mouth
Everyone knows the story of how the earth opened its mouth wide and Korach and his fellow agitators in the rebellion against Moshe Rabeinu were swallowed alive and went lost forever from the Am Yisroel. וַתִּפְתַּח הָאָרֶץ אֶת פִּיהָ – The earth opened its mouth, וַתִּבְלַע אֹתָם – and swallowed them, וַיֹּאבְדוּ מִתּוֹךְ הַקָּהָל – and they went lost from among the congregation” (Bamidbar 16:32-33).
And as Korach and his chaveirim fell into the deep hole, the pit leading them into Gehenom, they were crying out in terror. And the cries were so loud, so terrifying, that all in the vicinity fled at the sound of the screams: וְכָל יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר סְבִיבֹתֵיהֶם – “And all of Yisroel who were around, נָסוּ לְקֹלָם – took flight, they beat a hasty retreat when they heard the loud wails” (ibid. 34). And for those who read Parshas Korach, that’s the last we ever heard of Korach.
Ruach Hakodesh Replaces Nevuah
But was that really our last glimpse of Korach? Is it true that the last we ever heard from Korach is his cries of terror as he tumbled into the bowels of the earth? No, it’s far from the truth. The Gemara (Bava Basra 74a) tells us that there was a Torah sage, Rabbah bar bar Chana, who was once traveling through a desolate place in the midbar and he saw a vision – a vision of Gehenom.
Now, we must know that the kadmonim in the days of the chachmei hashas were not nevi’im. Prophecy had come to an end, and already in the days of the Bayis Sheini there was no nevuah anymore. But there was still enough greatness, there was still enough kedusha, that one could merit ruach hakodesh. Now what that is? It’s a certain influence from Above on the minds of great men – men who have purified their minds enough to deserve it.
And so at this time, Rabbah bar bar Chana was granted an insight, a glimpse into something that looked liked the pischo shel Gehenom, the entrance of Gehenom.
Actually nobody ever saw Gehenom – the Next World is an entirely different form of existence, too ethereal, too otherworldly for the physical eyes to see while still alive. But what Rabbah bar bar Chana saw in that vision was a drama, a performance of sorts, that was put on for the purpose of teaching a lesson. And so, we’ll spend some time studying the gemara and gleaning the lessons intended from Rabbah bar bar Chana’s peek into the Next Word.
Meat, Potatoes and Korach
When Rabbah bar bar Chana looked into the pit that had appeared in the desert, he saw that it was full of boiling water and there was smoke billowing forth from the water. And as he stood at the edge of the hole looking in, he saw that in the boiling water there were human bodies floating around. כְּבָשָׂר בְּקַלַּחַת, Like meat in a pot, is how the gemara describes it. And like any pot in which potatoes and meat are boiling – sometimes the food sinks to the bottom and sometimes it rises to the top, depending on the movement of the waters. It was bubbling and the water was in flux; everything was moving. And as the bodies eventually rose to the top, he heard a tormented outcry from the mouth of the people who were being cooked in the pit.
Screaming from Gehenom! That’s not something you hear every day. And so Rabbah bar bar Chana leaned in to hear what they were shouting. And he heard Korach and his chaveirim crying out in despair: מֹשֶׁה אֱמֶת וְתוֹרָתוֹ אֱמֶת וַאֲנַחְנוּ בַּדָּאִין – “Moshe is true, his Torah is true, and we are falsifiers.” It was only when they rose to the top of the boiling caldron that you could hear the shouting. But even when they sunk to the bottom, they were still shouting with tortured cries – he heard the voice of Korach “I was wrong! Moshe was right and I was the liar!”
Unkelos and the Spirits
In Mesichta Gittin (56b-57a), the gemara tells about a gentile named Unkelos who was contemplating the important step of becoming a proselyte, a ger tzedek. Now, you’ve all heard of this great man because he subsequently became one of the greatest among the Jews. If you open the chumash, you see his writings side by side with the Torah; it’s even higher up on the page than Rashi.
But how did he get there? So the gemara there says that he didn’t make this decision to join the Am Yisroel on a whim – he sought advice; and he decided to take counsel from someone who knew the Am Yisroel very well, someone who had seen them in all their glory. And so he went to inquire of necromancers, baalei ov, to see if they could help him make contact with the soul of Bilam Ha’rasha.
Now, ordinarily nothing would have happened; to try to find something out by means of necromancy is a waste of time and a waste of money too. But this was a very great soul in the making and so Hakodosh Boruch Hu wanted to aid him in his quest and therefore He granted Unkelos a vision. How exactly it happened is not important for us now, but he was given an apperception in order to guide his path.
Bilam’s Version of Climate Change
Now, Bilam was in Gehenom for a very long time. We can easily calculate that it was almost 1400 years already that Bilam was in Gehenom. It was a long time since he was shipped off to the warmer climates, and the fires were still going strong.
And he told Unkelos that it was no good at all where he was. “It’s terrible,” said Bilam. “I’m suffering terribly!” You know that in the warmer climates it can get very hot, and Bilam described what they did to him every day. Take a look there and you’ll see the details of how Bilam described it.
And then he asked Bilam, מַאן חֲשִׁיב בְּהַהוּא עַלְמָא – “Who is important in the Next World?” In the olam ha’emes – not in this false world in which we live here – but in the world of truth, who is really important? So Bilam said the only thing he could say: “Here, it’s Yisroel that is chashuv.” He couldn’t deny that. In the Next World, everything is clear.
And now Unkelos asked his most important question – this was the reason he had brought up the spirit of Bilam: מַהוּ לְאִידְבּוּקֵי בְּהוּ – “What would you say to me if I tell you I’m considering joining the Am Yisroel? Should I become one of them?” So what advice did Bilam give him? Listen to what Bilam said, and he said it emphatically: לֹא תִדְרֹשׁ שְׁלֹמָם וְטֹבָתָם כָּל יָמֶיךָ לְעוֹלָם – “You should never seek the welfare of the Jewish people in any way.” “Don’t join them, said Bilam, “Have nothing to do with them!”
Now this is a big puzzle. Because here’s a man who admitted that he was suffering terribly. He realized now the truth, that he had lived a life of error, and it’s the Am Yisroel who are most important. So when he was asked the question, “What should I do? Should I join them or not?” he should have said, “What’s the question?! Certainly you should become a Jew!” He was now in the world of Truth and he was suffering for his hostility to the Am Yisroel, so he should have said, “Look at what I’m suffering here! Don’t imitate me – don’t make the same mistake I did. Become a Jew!”
But he didn’t say that – in fact he said the exact opposite. “Don’t join them in any way – keep fighting the ‘good fight’ against the nation of Hashem.” And that’s very queer because we’re seeing here that when it comes to giving advice, Bilam is exactly the same today as he was in this life – he’s not speaking any other language except hostility to the nation of Hashem. And that’s something that’s difficult to understand; it’s a puzzle that needs to be resolved.
Is Gehenom a Physical Fire?
And the answer to our puzzle is that he couldn’t say it. You know why he couldn’t say it? Because when a person gains certain mental attitudes in this world, that’s what he takes with him into the Next World. The attitudes, the ideals, the dei’os that you acquire in this world are what you take with you forever – you’ll never be able to shake loose of them! And it’s those attitudes that are going to be your punishment or your reward forever.
Bilam isn’t suffering in Gehenom from fires; he’s suffering from his mental attitudes. In his mind there is a fire that is burning without end – a fire of wrong ideas that he can’t get rid of. It’s a fire he lit while still in this world, a fire that will forever be impossible to put out.
Too Late For Korach
And that brings us back to the vision of Korach boiling in the cauldron. He’s shouting at the top of his lungs: מֹשֶׁה אֱמֶת וְתוֹרָתוֹ אֱמֶת וַאֲנַחְנוּ בַּדָּאִין because he is now in Gehenom trying to recoup his loss, to make amends. What he should have said when he was alive, מֹשֶׁה אֱמֶת וְתוֹרָתוֹ אֱמֶת, he’s trying to say it now. But it’s too late and that’s his suffering. He’s being tortured by recognizing the truth and not being able to make that truth a part of him. That’s his torture. Not having the truth in the world of truth, is a tremendous suffering, a suffering with no relief.
There’s no suffering that you can imagine that’s more torture than the regret you’ll feel in the Next World for having missed the truth. You’ll never be able to put it out that fire – and that’s the worst punishment. The wickedness that a man brings into his mind in this world doesn’t die with him. It’s not buried in the grave; instead it follows him forever and ever.
If Korach could have rid himself of his jealousy of Moshe Rabeinu, if he could have achieved the perfection of mind that includes knowing that מֹשֶׁה אֱמֶת וְתוֹרָתוֹ אֱמֶת, he could have climbed out of Gehenom. All he needed was to change his ways, change his attitudes and he would have been redeemed. But he couldn’t because the thought that a person acquires in this world become part of him forever and ever. A man is his mind and the attitudes we entertain in this life, they become identical with us. And so Korach is forever being consumed by this fire of wrong dei’os that he had kindled!
Part II. Guard Your Mind
The Song You Can’t Get Out Of Your Head
Now all these things are new to most people and they therefore think that they’re exaggerations, but we’ll 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 meshalim or guzma’os – every word is measured. In fact he says too few words. In a few words, he puts a great deal of thought.
And here’s what he tells us (3:4) – a very interesting statement. He’s talking there about songs that you heard in your youth, gentile poets singing about gentile ideals, and here are his words: לֹא תִּתָּכֵן עֲלֵיהֶם תְּשׁוּבָה – “It’s not possible to repent for it.” Even though you’ll fast and you’ll shed tears, you will never be able to take it out of your mind.
Whatever goes into the mind, he says, remains with you forever. If you heard certain songs, if you heard immoral things, if you saw wrong things, you should know that there’s no way of erasing them from your mind. Ad ka’an, that’s the end of the quote from the Kuzari. It means that even if you subsequently become a great tzaddik, you become a great Rosh Yeshiva, and you have a big white beard all the way down to the ground, you cannot erase what has been put into your mind.
Levels of the Mind
Now, it doesn’t mean 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’ll remain forever. As long as you live it’ll be there. Now we know today that this holds true exactly as the Kuzari said it. The mind stores every impression forever. As long as you live, you can never rid yourself of what was put into your head. You may forget that the picture is in your mind, but it’s filed away someplace. It may be sixty years later, and suddenly you might find yourself thinking about something that has been submerged all these years.
Everyone is familiar with the idea of the subconscious mind but the truth is that we have levels beneath levels. There’s one level just beneath our conscious mind. And there’s a level beneath that, way down at the bottom. Sometimes something from the middle level pops up into the top level but there are many things that are pushed way down in the basement – but they’re in the files. And even though we may never recall them, they are still there and they are exerting an effect. They’re having an influence on you and they will always be a part of you. And the Kuzari says: לֹא תִּתָּכֵן עֲלֵיהֶם תְּשׁוּבָה – there’s no making up for what you heard.
All Is Not Lost!
We must know that a mind that read newspapers and watched television has already been indelibly impressed forever. Still, all is not lost, it is possible to superimpose on top of that dirty layer, a new layer of kedusha, idealism, and noble thoughts. And then another layer. And then another. It depends on how thick and how hard the layers are going to be. Sometimes you can put so much on top that it will bury the bottom layer.
However, we have learned that whatever enters your mind is there forever. Now, that’s a tremendous lesson that the Kuzari is teaching us and it should make all of us thing good and well about what we’re listening to in this world, as well as the words we read and the pictures we see. But I’m going to tell you now an added chidush that my rebbe, zichrono l’vracha, told me.
From this vision of Korach screaming in the pit of Gehenom, we learn an additional step, something more frightening than what we learned in the Kuzari. Not only do we retain all of our lives the impressions that we put into our heads in this world, but we take them with us into the next world as well. And they remain with us in eternity – only that in the Next World they don’t remain hidden away in the basement of our neshamos, covered up like they often are in this world. Instead they are eternally exposed for our everlasting shame or pride.
Mashal of the Clay Factory
And so to help us understand this great chidush we’ll turn to the words of the Rambam in Mesichta Avos (4:17). Listen to this because it’s a very important statement. The Rambam says that when a man dies, the way he is in the last moment, כַּך יִשָּׁאֵר לְעוֹלָם – that’s how he’ll remain forever and ever. What you are when you die, that’s how you’ll be forever.
Now, I’ll explain this with a parable, an analogy. Imagine we are all working in a big factory – a tremendous factory with long tables. And each one of us goes over to the foreman to get a lump of fine clay and we go over to our place on the table. And now we have to fashion the clay and make it into the best kind of vessel we can. That’s our job.
And the foreman tells us, “Shake a leg! Don’t talk; don’t waste time because sooner or later a bell is going to ring and then you’re going to have to race with whatever you have made out of the clay towards the kiln.” There’s a big kiln all along the wall with a lot of little doors – and when the bell rings you have to stick your clay into your little compartment and slam the door shut and in one second it’s baked hard! After it’s baked you can’t change it – you can’t do a thing.
So now all the workers are standing at their places with the clay. The smart ones are busy shaping and working on the clay, making it into a vessel, smoothing it, making exquisite designs and so on. And the foolish ones are taking their time – they’re laughing and jesting – there’s still time after all. So instead of shaping the clay, they’re shooting the breeze, talking about what’s going on in the world, and making jokes. And then suddenly the bell rings and now everyone has to race now towards the kiln with their finished product.
Running To the Ovens
So, some people at least made a punch in the clay, they made it a receptacle, a beis kibul. Others did much more than that – they’re industrious and now they’re holding beautiful vessels all ready for the oven. And then there are those who are still holding a lump of clay. But whatever you have, you have to rush to the oven now and stick it in and lock the door. And it’s baked hard in a second. Whatever it is in that second, that’s how it’ll be forever. The way it goes into the kiln that’s how it is forever.
So along comes one worker and he pleads – “I didn’t realize you were serious. Let me take it out please – I was negligent; I didn’t do a good job.” So the boss says, “Sorry, it’s baked already; it’s baked hard forever.” And that’s what death is. Death bakes a man’s character and attitudes forever and ever. What a man is in his last moment, when he dies, that’s what he’ll always be – he enters the kiln and in one second he’s baked permanent forever and ever.
No Second Chances
And that’s what we’re learning tonight – that what you make of your mind in this world, that’s what you’ll be taking with you into the Next World. And once we know that, it becomes of the utmost importance to shape our minds while it’s still in our hands to do so. Like it states in Koheles (9:10), כֹּל אֲשֶׁר תִּמְצָא יָדְךָ לַעֲשׂוֹת בְּכֹחֲךָ עֲשֵׂה – “Whatever you have power to do, make sure to do it now, כִּי אֵין מַעֲשֶׂה וְחֶשְׁבּוֹן וְדַעַת וְחָכְמָה בִּשְׁאוֹל אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה הֹלֵךְ שָׁמָּה – because there are no deeds where you’re going and there’s no gaining understanding that you’ll be able to do there.”
There is understanding there? Oh yes, is there understanding there! But it’s too late to put that understanding into your neshama. It’s too late to shape your mind by means of the truth that you’ll see in that world. You’ll recognize the truth, that Moshe emes v’soraso emes; you’ll see very clearly that it’s Yisroel that is chashuv b’hai alma, Yisroel are the important ones. But you won’t be able to do anything about it – except to suffer the agony of the wrong thoughts that are going to percolate around in your neshama forever and ever.
More Pertinent Stories Please!
Now, I know that when I tell you stories about Korach and Bilam, so it’s interesting maybe, but it’s very far removed from our minds. Because we think that it’s not talking to us. We already know that it’s Yisroel that’s chashuv. And we already know that Moshe emes v’soraso emes too.
But we must be careful even about the more subtle attitudes of the mind. We’re not talking here only about Bilam and Korach – we’re talking to ourselves because we are all shaping our minds in this world, preparing our neshamos for the kiln of the grave, and we might be very surprised at what we are creating.
Sleeping Among the Tombstones
The gemara (Brachos 18b) tells a story that took place one erev Rosh Hashana during a time of famine. There was a chossid echad, a certain pious man, and when a poor man came knocking at his door so this chossid gave him some charity, some money that was left over in the home. Now, most likely this chossid wasn’t very rich himself. And so when his wife came home, she said, “What is this?! We have nothing to eat, nothing for the children, and you’re giving away to other people?!” The gemara says that she scolded him and made him angry.
So what did this chossid do? He left the house and he went to a cemetery to spend the night there. Why he would do such a thing, we think we know – sometimes even we feel like running away from the house and sleeping in the cemetery at night. But that wasn’t the reason; it wasn’t because he wanted to storm out and imagine he was getting even with his wife.
Teshuva in the Beis Ha’chaim
Rav Yisrael Salanter, zichrono livracha asked this question: What’s a pious man doing in the cemetery? Is that such a holy place? So Rav Yisroel explained as follows: It was erev Rosh Hashana – tomorrow was the Day of Judgement – and he had become angry. Most likely, she lashed him and he became vexed. It doesn’t mean he let loose and hit her; but he became vexed; he became a little angry. Angry?! How could he go to the Yom Hadin like this?! He had prepared himself for this great day, he had purified his character, and all of a sudden he was thrown a curveball out of nowhere and he got angry.
So he was ruined. He couldn’t go before the throne of judgement like this. So he went to a place where he would get emergency treatment. The gemara (Berachos 5a) says that when a person feels that the yetzer hara is bothering him, he should do various things – he should try this and try that. But if nothing works, if nothing else helps, then יַזְכִּיר לוֹ יוֹם הַמִּיתָה – he should think about the day he will die.
The Real Emergency Room
That’s emergency treatment – you shouldn’t do it as a first resort. To think of death too much is a very strong medicine and it can have undesirable side effects. But if nothing will help – and it’s erev Rosh Hashana already – so the physician might say, “Take this. It’s an antibiotic that may have side effects but it will save your life.”
And so he went to a place of death, and he spent a night in the cemetery in order that these few hours of thinking of the day of death should purify him from any impression that the anger had made on his soul. And the next day he would get up purified of everything and ready to go to Yom Hadin.
Now while he was in the cemetery that night thinking, the strong medicine began to take effect and soon he was in an exalted mood. He was finished with this world – maybe he lived for another hundred years after that, but as far as he was concerned, he was finished with this world. He was lying in the cemetery and he was divorced from all physical things.
Nightmares in the Cemetery
As he was lying there, Hakadosh Baruch Hu gave him a great gift and allowed him to see a vision. The vision he saw, that’s really why the story is here. The preface I just told you from Rav Yisroel is worthwhile, but it wouldn’t be in the Talmud just because of that. It’s the vision he saw that night that is the lesson for us.
Lying in the cemetery, he was granted a vision of two girls who were buried in the cemetery. And in the vision, he heard them speaking to each other. Now, dead usually don’t talk, but for this man, for this chossid, it was staged. The whole thing was staged. And one of the dead girls said to the other, “Let’s get up and let us float around in the world and hear what’s going to happen to the world during the ensuing year. It’s Rosh Hashana, so let’s wander about together to see if we could discover from behind the curtain what’s going to be the verdict for the ensuing year.”
So the other one said, “I can’t come – I’m not dressed for it. I wasn’t buried in funeral shrouds, in tachrichim. I was buried only in a basket of reeds and I don’t want to be seen like this.” Whatever happened to this poor girl, it was a rachamanus, and the ones who buried her couldn’t even afford the customary burial shrouds and they had to make do with what was available at that moment; they buried her wrapped up in a reed basket.
The Well-dressed Neshama
Now, this story is to us a puzzle. We understand that clothing means something to the living, but she was dead now and her spirit was now in the land of eternal life. So, even in a vision, how could she be pictured as refusing to go out because she wasn’t properly dressed? It’s incongruous for a spirit to speak with such words! A spirit should refuse to go out because she wasn’t properly dressed?! We laugh at such a notion! She didn’t have a body on which to put a dress and any clothing she was buried with would have anyhow decayed long ago. And yet, however unrealistic it may be for a spirit to want clothing, we see that the spirit of the girl refused to go out without the proper attire.
Now although this was only a vision, every word is fraught with wisdom here. We have to learn that in the Talmud, everything is important. And what this story is doing is emphasizing the lesson that we’re speaking about tonight – that we are all shaping our minds as we make our way through this world – and the way we shape it is how it will remain forever.
Styles in Clothing Are False
When people are still children they have no interest in styles of clothing. If a child would grow up without being influenced, she would just as well walk in the street dressed in reeds as any other kind of garment. But this girl had walked among the living and therefore she had acquired a taste for clothing. And even if we grant that taste in clothing it is an instinctive interest, nevertheless if the style would have been to wear a dress of reeds, then her taste would have been shaped to appreciate reed clothing – it would have been just as acceptable as silk.
You can see today that when the style has deteriorated so that the dresses have become very short, it became acceptable too. More than acceptable! Women today have already impressed into their neshamos that that is the way to dress. Things that thirty years ago (1940) would have been out of the question even for the lowest of people, today are accepted. To go out in the streets almost unclothed is what became the norm! That’s not instinctive – it’s an acquired taste.
Finding the Right Coat
Now this girl, when still among the living, had acquired a taste for clothing – a specialized taste that included a disdain for wearing a basket of reeds. Among the living it’s difficult to avoid acquiring the tastes and styles of those around you and so this girl didn’t just wear clothing – she lived her clothing; that’s what became important in her mind. And what this chossid was taught that night in the cemetery was one of the most important lessons a person could ever learn – that whatever attitudes you acquire in this world, whatever tastes, ideals, interests and values you leave this world with, will be in your mind forever.
The attitudes that you acquire in your lifetime, that’s how you’ll always be. If you become so enamored of a dress in this world – you can listen sometimes on the telephone, someone is talking about a coat – “You know, I have to buy a coat. I was running all over the city today and I couldn’t find the right coat. I’m so worn out.” Around the corner is a place to get a coat! But she couldn’t find the “right” coat.
And she’s talking coats and coats and coats for a whole hour to her friend. I’m not saying you can’t wear a nice coat, but when it gets into the neshama, so people like that, when they go into the next world, they’re still looking for coats. Only that there they’ll run around and never find it. They’ll be craving the “right coat,” but they’ll never find it. Here they’ll run around for days and days and finally they’ll find something. But in the Next World they’ll run and run looking forever. It’s a remarkable sadness; it’s a great fire burning eternally in your soul.
Olam Haba Becomes a Prison
And it’s not only coats. People whose lives, whose minds, are spent on money and entertainment, on nice cars, on good times, and on the news and sports – other things too – so that’s what they’ll be looking for in the Next World too. If the sweetness of money is always in your mouth, if the fun of entertainment and travel is what you look forward to, so when you get to the Next World you’ll feel like you’re in prison.
In this world, when Shabbos comes, so at least people have a consolation – it’ll come to an end soon and they’ll be back to business again. On motzoei Shabbos they can get into their cars and drive up and down Ocean Parkway looking for fun. They can put on their radios and get the score of the game. They can buy the newspaper to quench their curiosity.
But in Olam Haba it’s a Yom Shekulo Shabbos! It’s Shabbos forever and ever and there won’t be any radio to put on or newspapers to read. There won’t be any eating there either – you can’t take your false teeth along with you. There won’t be any hope of earning a dollar again; there’ll be no motzoei Shabbos to fulfill your desires. And the Next World becomes torture.
Part III. Remaking the Mind
What Should Your Fun Be?
And that’s why the most important acquisition that you acquire in this world is correct opinions. To gain emunah, to understand the truth of this world, to gain right attitudes in this world, to see the light and recognize the truth, that’s the best preparation for Olam Haba. And it’s not easy – you can’t just say, “I believe that the Borei made the world, I believe in the next world, I believe in the Torah,” and finished.
Finished?! It’s not even a beginning! It’s a job; it’s a job and a half to acquire the attitudes you’ll want to have with you in the Next World. It’s a lifetime of effort! And it’s the effort which deserves most of our attention because that becomes our eternal identity. According to what our minds are that is what our existence in the World to Come is going to be.
And so rabosai, practice up while you’re still around. It has to get into your blood and into your bones. Make sure that your fun in this world, your desires, is in emunah, and mitzvos and Torah and chesed. Get fun out of thinking about Hakodosh Boruch Hu, get fun out of talking to Him, and fill your head with all the Torah attitudes, because what you mold from your mind in this world is how it will be baked forever in the kiln of the grave.
Measuring Our Encounters
And that’s why Shlomo HaMelech comes along and says (Mishlei 4:23) מִכָּל מִשְׁמָר – “More than anything that you have to guard, נְצֹר לִבֶּךָ – guard your mind.” Your mind is your most important possession, כִּי מִמֶּנּוּ תּוֹצְאוֹת חַיִּים – because all the results of life come from what you have in your head. All the totze’os chayim, all the results of life in the Next World, come from the impressions in your mind. They’re there and they’ll be there forever.
And therefore, all of our encounters have to be measured for their permanent results. Sights, sounds, and smells are registered forever in your mind and therefore this precious repository of our mind that you have between your ears must be guarded more carefully than any other possession.
What is Heroic?
If a man is brought up on comics and movies so he has ingrained in his mind that it is a heroic and a noble thing to deliver a punch in the jaw. You can’t help it. All the American comics and movies end up that way. The hero is administering a punch to the villain’s jaw. I don’t know what’s today – I can’t tell you nowadays about movies. I’m talking about movies fifty years ago but I suppose it’s the same today, only today you have other things in there too. And therefore, if that’s the glamour, if that’s heroism, then such are the patterns that are planted in the mind of society.
But I’m not talking about someone who goes to the movies like the one on King’s Highway. Anybody who goes to such a place should know he has no chelek l’Olam Haba. And tell it to your friends too. Tell to whomever you can that anyone who goes to these movies on King’s Highway should know that unless they get busy making teshuva there’s no use even thinking about the next world, because they’re going into Gehenom and that’s where they’re going to stay.
American Boys with American Heads
How happy is the man who never saw a movie, who never read a comic strip, whose only mind patterns are those that were gathered from the holy seforim. However, we’re talking to our people who were brought up in this country and therefore can’t help but be affected by the atmosphere. They’re not going to movies – they’re not that blatantly stupid – but they’re reading things, watching things and listening to things, and that’s what their minds become. And they have to know that they are ruining their minds forever. They’ll never remove, even with repentance, what they put into their heads.
There’s a whole outside world of gentiles and secular Jews, and every second, their sewage is pouring into our world. And therefore we have to stand guard day and night over our minds. Think about how unequal of a contest this is. Because how much yiras shomayim are we really pouring into our minds day and night? How many exhortations to tzniyus are your wives hearing from the novels they read? How many Torah ideals are you hearing on the radio? How much do English teachers in the yeshiva high schools urge the boy to become great talmidei chachomim and to spend their free time studying Torah? How many billboards do you see warning you to be careful with lashon hora, and urging you to do chesed and mitzvos? All you see is the opposite!
The Spoiled Wine
So what kind of contest is this? The outside world is pouring in all types of filth and we’re not pouring kedusha into ourselves, it’s a very unfair contest. But even if we would be pouring into ourselves Torah and yiras shomayim day and night – let’s say you are pouring into yourself Mesillas Yesharim day and night; you never let go of the Mesillas Yesharim. All day long you’re cramming your head with Chovos Halevavos. It’s a good thing by the way – even one drop is a good medicine. But if at the same time the sewage is pouring in too, then what good is it? You have the best wine, the most expensive wine, and you pour it into a cup that’s filthy with mud, a cup that’s crawling with bacteria and worms, so what kind of taste will it have?
And therefore we must overlay all of these initial impressions with a very thick layer of Torah impressions. To create a mind, that’s our job in life. And that’s the most important business we can do in this world. It’s the mind that counts most. Of course, actions are important. Of course, character is important. Of course, good deeds are important. Of course, mitzvos are essential. Everything is important. But מִכָּל מִשְׁמָר, more than anything you have to guard – more than you guard your money and even more than you guard your health , נְצֹר לִבֶּךָ – guard your mind. The mind is paramount, כִּי מִמֶּנּוּ תּוֹצְאוֹת חַיִּים – because from the mind will come your chayei olam haba.
And that’s why the vision of Korach in Gehenom, the sight of him in the boiling cauldron struggling to shout the words “Moshe emes v’soraso emes” is so important. Because it’s teaching us this most important principle – we know that Korach is wishing he could have said those words while still in this world; and now he’s shouting as loud as he could. But he’s shouting in vain. Ay, nebach. Poor Korach! Ay yah yay – if only he had done teshuva just a second before and shouted, “Moshe emes v’soraso emes, and I’m a shakran, I’m the wrong one,” he would have been saved. But no; יָצְאוּ נִצָּבִים – they went out with chutzpah (16:27) until the last minute!
He was stubborn and now it’s too late – it’s forever too late. And now he’s in gehenom trying to get back that last minute. That’s why he’s shouting unceasingly with great tza’ar, a terrible pain and distress: “Now I see that it’s true – that Moshe emes v’soraso emes – and I’m willing to shout it now and forever.” He knows all about it, but he’ll never be able to make it a part of himself because his mind is already baked. Nothing will help a person once the neshama has been baked in the kiln.
You Have to Chap Arein!
And therefore, Korach is our model – our model of what we shouldn’t become. Hashem warns us: וְלֹא יִהְיֶה כְקֹרַח וְכַעֲדָתוֹ – “Don’t be like Korach” (17:5). It’s written in the Torah that way, “You should not be like him,” because we have to be warned about the urgency and importance of acquiring all of the good attitudes, all of the right thoughts, all of the emunos v’dei’os, as long as we still have the power of free will.
While you’re in this world you’re in a state of fluidity; you have free will to shape your thoughts. If while still in this world you learn to love Yisroel, to love Torah and the chachmei hatorah so you’re succeeding. One who learns to love Hashem and to loves avodas Hashem and mitzvos, then in the Next World that’s going to make him happy. That itself is going to be his joy; it’s going to be his constant pleasure. The Torah mind that a person creates in this world, that will be the source of his Gan Eden.
And so that’s our job right now, to exert ourselves in molding the clay of our minds into a Torah mind that we’ll be happy to take along with us to the next world. And that’s the function of being a Jew. Among all the other functions expected of us, we can never stop learning and reviewing the true Torah ideals. And it’s something you must spend time on – you can come here or you can find better places, but somewhere you have to be. And the more you close off the outside ideals and immerse your mind in the Torah attitudes – you soak them in – that’s the way to build up a Torah mind. And that’s what it says, צַדִּיקִים מִתְעַדְּנִין בּוֹ – the tzadikim will love it in the World to Come, because they’ve already learned to appreciate the right things in this world. They molded the clay into an exquisite piece of art and now their minds are prepared for the World to Come. And that’s why in the Next World they’ll be rewarded – they practiced up in this world learning what’s really important – and they’ll find eternal happiness in the mind that they shaped while still in Olam Hazeh.