Rav Avigdor Miller on Surviving in a Bad Environment

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Q: 
How can a person, who because of his parnasa must deal with people who are a bad influence, survive spiritually in this bad environment?

A:
This is a very serious question. And my answer is not a complete answer. But you must fight back against this environment in two ways. Number one is that when you’re in their company you should be mivatel them. They don’t have to know it – you can treat them with respect and make your parnasa but in your head you should be thinking, “They smell bad, they really smell bad. They are like neveilos, like dead carcasses”. All of these people, you should realize, really are like dead people, like מתים.  They’re putrefying. They’re carcasses. They have no sense. They’re lunatics.

I once had an experience – I had to visit a yeshiva bochur who was suffering from a mental illness. I went to an insane asylum and it was an experience. I was the only sane person in a huge room, surrounded by 300 idiots. In those days people didn’t wear beards like they do today. I was the only one in the room with a beard and they were all laughing at me because of my beard. For a moment I was taken aback. Then, I thought, “Wait. They’re all meshuga’im! I’m the sane one here!” Now, the outside world is full of meshugoyim as well. People in your office, in your business, on the street – all meshuga’im. Actually, they are worse than meshuga’im.

To call them meshuga’im is a limud zchus on them. They’re much worse than that. So that’s number one: be mivatel the world – have no respect. Now, don’t show it to them, but in your heart you should think that they’re afrah de’arah. Be mevatel them k’afra d’arah. That’s one thing you must do. They’re well-dressed, they’re polite and they’re educated and so on. But they’re nobodies. They’re like – I don’t want to say like what, but they’re the lowest of creatures. They’re dirty and they’re filthy disgusting. That’s number one.

The second thing is to counter their influence by filling your head as much as possible with Torah ideas. Not only learning Gemara – you have to learn seforim that enlighten your mind.  It’s of utmost importance to learn seforim like Mesillas Yeshorim. You must learn the Rambam Hilchos Dei’os and Hilchos Teshuva, Sha’arei Teshuva d’Rabbeinu Yonah and Chovos Ha’levovos. Seforim like that put so much into your mind and the truth is, like the Rambam says, once your mind is full of these valid and important ideas,  then the wrong ideas won’t have place to come in.  But when there’s a vacuum in your head, your mind is empty, then the foolishness of the world comes into your head. The Rambam also says this with regards to immorality – ideas and thoughts of immorality can easily enter the mind when the mind is empty. But when your head is full of Torah ideas, it’s not so easy for wrong thoughts to enter your mind.

TAPE #770 (January 1990)