Baruch Dayan Emet.
Rav Miller emphasizes how the entire purpose of the world for Torah.
Only one nation came and accepted the Torah: Am Yisrael.
Individuals from other nations (with a Yisrael spark in their soul) can also join Am Yisrael to fully accept the Torah, but no other nation as a whole can be the Am Segulah — the Chosen Nation (unless they all individually convert to Judaism — in which case they'll became a Yisrael and not whatever they were before).
As Rav Miller states (page 4):
...the world wasn’t created so that trillions of bacteria should crawl over the surface of the soil.
And neither was it made so that billions of human beings should live like bacteria and crawl around on the surface of the earth.
Anyway, Rav Miller elaborates on how Hashem turned the mountain over Am Yisrael and they said "Na'aseh v'nishmah! — We'll do it and we'll obey!"
By thrusting them into such a threatening scenario, Hashem symbolized the sacrifice He expected His Nation to make on His Behalf.
Am Yisrael understood this, yet took Hashem's commandments upon themselves anyway.
And, as the rav describes, Am Yisrael needed to do this many, many heart-breaking times.
In fact, I read a book about the Jews in the times of the Crusades and was shocked to read of the Jewish women trapped in a burning tower because they refused to convert.
So as the tower went up in flames, these Jewish women lobbed stones down onto the heads of the "holy" Crusaders and shouted, "WE WILL NOT BOW DOWN TO A ROTTING CORPSE!"
Now that's dedication.
That's na'aseh v'nishmah.
These women knew exactly what they were dying for.
You know how every so often someone comes up with a list of "Eight Really Cool Charedi Women who Break the Stereotype!"? And it always includes women with melodramatic shaitels & trendy clothes who immerse themselves in demanding public careers that most people (of either gender) don't even have the talent, skill, stamina or possibility to fulfill? (And then they always insist their homes and children are doing perfectly fine, despite their passionate dedication to their extremely time-consuming career.)
Anyway, I think that being burned to death al kiddush Hashem WHILE lobbing stones and shooting out the plain truth of the matter ("a rotting corpse!") is really cool.
And it certainly broke a stereotype for me!
It takes a very special person to respond in that way to demands for forced conversion.
(May we never be tested in that way.)
How did they do that?
Totally fearless & whole-heartedly committed to Hashem.
I think they are great female religious role models (may we never be tested).
The Mind of a Yisrael
When you start following Hashem, that's when you wake up & really start thinking!
On page 6, Rav Miller offers a very witty summary of other nations historically decide on their belief system.
Until Matan Torah, the Jews used their finely honed minds to make decisions. They had an exalted system of ethics they followed from Avraham Avinu and on down the line.
They were independent thinkers.
And now, they were being offered a system to submit their minds to — an unimaginably brilliant system used as the blueprint for the entire universe.
As Rav Miller explain, the minds of Bnei Yisrael were wonderful.
But now they were being offered something more than wonderful: an infinite mind.
And Moshe Rabbeinu wanted them to take it.
The Terrific Truth about Teshuvah
And the moral of the story is WONDERFUL encouragement & reassurance for true teshuvah (like when your cheshbon hanefesh reveals that you really are totally messed up in one area):
You get to accept the Torah all over again.
As Rav Miller describes:
The giving up, the sacrificing of your own opinion, is such a tremendous achievement that it deserves a reward equivalent to all the years that you put in efforts building up the system.
“Just like I received reward all those years for my drashos when I investigated and explained those esin, I'm going to get reward now for backing down.”
Toxic shame holds many people back from seeing & fixing their flaws.
But really, teshuvah should be seen as an opportunity — a joy!
I'm getting rewarded! Yay!
An Independent Mind often Means a Mind Dependent on Fluff
Either you hold a Torah opinion or you hold the opinion of Eew Yuck Times editor (or whoever).
It's a sacrifice.
To whom are you sacrificing your mind?
If you follow da'at Torah, so you sacrifice your mind (your own opinions & ideas of how things should be) to HASHEM.
If you don't follow da'at Torah, then you sacrifice your mind to media op-eds and college professors.
Then Rav Miller spouts off this gem:
And therefore anybody who will say, “How can I give up my own independent mind and accept the Torah way of thinking?” is really saying, “I prefer to hold on to what the New York Post is telling me, what the street is saying, what the professors are teaching, what a stupid goy in Hollywood is saying.”
And from what I see, the Jews in Hollywood are stupid too.
Everything put out by the entertainment industry is incredibly damaging, ruining society, and all the people involved are shooting themselves in the foot (even as they're laughing all the way to the bank...for now).
Why You Should Need to Check Out Even the Most Appealing & Popular Ideas under the Light of Torah
I really admire this about him.
It shows he's a truly thinking man.
Even if you were raised in a fine frum family, you must have at least one thing in your mind that is a product of your surrounding society or your ego.
That's just part of being human.
So when you change a deeply held false belief, that's admirable.
We start off small & emotionally immature...and then we grow.
And hopefully, even long after our physical growth stops, our minds continue to grow, blossom, and thrive.
And on that same page, Rav Miller discusses a very familiar dynamic — the rabbis who support current & superficially appealing ideologies by distorting ideas from the Torah — or "twisting the Torah so that it should fit into their already twisted heads," as Rav Miller phrases it.
It's a massive problem today.
That dynamic is actually what drove me to start studying the ancient sources, like Chovot Halevavot, Kli Yakar, Pele Yoetz, and more.
I felt like they were the only ones I could trust to give me the real Torah.
(Needless to say, there are pristine thinkers in our time, but we usually hear them quoted by less pristine thinkers, which muddles up their original meaning, or we sometimes hear Torah through muddled minds & it confuses us as to what the real truth is.)
Rav Miller also discusses several popular ideas today and offers witty food for thought on why those ideas are problematic the way they're carried out today.
When we hear da'at Torah and really try to understand WHAT THEY think & WHY they think that way, that's what truly expands our mind.
This is what helped me so much when I started learning Kli Yakar or Rashi on the parsha or reading the Pele Yoetz. Once you establish that the person speaking is a real tzaddik and a Sage, then you know that if something you think opposes something they think, then you know that YOU are in the wrong.
So then you try thinking about how that could be. How are they right & how are you wrong?
You keep mulling that over, which leads you to:
What is the flaw in your thinking that needs to be polished and stretched?
And: How can I start thinking like (the Kli Yakar, the Pele Yoetz, etc.) on this issue?
And doing this helped me SO MUCH.
I am still very far from where I want to be in my personal development, but reading Chazal and really trying to understand them, especially the aspects that seemed "wrong" or unappealing, is exactly what helped me smarten up a bit and be able to work on certain flaws in a way that I couldn't before (especially the ones I originally couldn't see, and therefore could not address).
And this Torah mind is why Rav Miller thinks that a frazzled-looking frum woman with a bunch of kids hanging off her skirt and squirming in the stroller is more beautiful than a pageant queen.
The Torah mind is why Rav Miller thinks that the frum Jew waddling down the street to Mincha is more beautiful than any movie star hero.
It's because that's how HASHEM sees them.
Falling in Love All Over Again
This is popping up everywhere for me lately. Just as 2 examples: Rav Itamar Schwartz discussed this and Rebbetzin Heller mentioned this in the Bamidbar message sent out by Naaleh.
Authentically, Shavuot is a time to re-accept the Torah and to re-embrace it.
It's a renewal of our commitment to thinking like Hashem & being truly grateful that we were chosen.
Rav Miller says that Shavuot in the European yeshivot of his time contained more joyous celebrating than Simchat Torah anywhere now.
It's hard to imagine, but that's really the ideal to follow.