In fact, Rav Miller explains that even as Bnei Yisrael felt profound gratification at seeing their persecutors receiving their just desserts, Bnei Yisrael also felt tremendous apprehension at the same time.
If we picture ourselves witnessing what Bnei Yisrael witnessed at that time, we can imagine how unnerving the Plague of Blood must have seemed.
The Plagues of Frogs & Lice must have been incredibly disturbing & distressing to behold.
And the Plague of Wild Animals? Terrifying.
And so on.
They knew that Hashem, Who can do anything, could easily turn these punishments on Bnei Yisrael if Hashem decided it necessary.
As Rav Miller sums it up (page 5):
Hakodosh Boruch Hu reminds us by showing what comes on other people and we are expected to look and become afraid; it’s one of the fundamental ways of learning yiras Hashem.
Today, archeologists & tourists marvel over the well-preserved city, which displays advanced living relative to its time.
However, the real lesson of Pompeii is its decadence & debauchery.
Signs in the pubs and many other facets of Pompeii point to Pompeii as having been a center of immorality.
Yet due to the low moral standards of our own times, researchers & journalists present this role of Pompeii with humor & admiration.
History shows us that this same volcano erupted several times with disastrous effects.
The area attracted human settlement due to its natural assets. But those same assets facilitated an ease of life that ultimately proved detrimental to the moral character of those who exploited its goodness.
Learning Spiritual Lessons from Events
He also recalls the era leading up to the Holocaust, when Hitler yemach shemo invaded Czechoslovakia and slaughtered many non-Jews there.
In the yeshivah of Slabodka, Rav Miller remembers how they took that lesson to heart and recited copious heartfelt Tehillim.
But the rest of Slabodka either ignored it or felt only a fear of the Nazis and not Hashem.
As Rav Miller laments (page 9):
In Slabodka, there were not even one hundred young men under the age of twenty that put on tefillin.
When they saw what’s happening, did they say, “Maybe we have to stop our headlong dive into Marxism, into atheism. Maybe the rabbonim are right and it’s time to come back to Hashem, to begin putting on tefillin again.”
Did they think such thoughts?
It's impossible to ignore his heartfelt desire for the Jewish people to live up to our potential, an accomplishment that only brings tremendous benefit to the entire world.
And his words back then (the early 1980s?) ring chillingly true to what's happening right now, decades later (page 10; boldface mine):
Don’t think it can’t happen again.
Who said America is forever?! You have to be afraid!
We’re here, enjoying all luxuries, with plenty to eat.
We have liberty, we have safety, we have equality, everything we have.
But someday I’m afraid we’ll look back on America and say the same thing because we’re not afraid of Hashem; we’re not learning the lesson from Mitzrayim, from Kush and Seva.
Oh no! Instead of learning the lesson, the Jews are trying their best to break down America.
Jewish congressmen like Solarz are helping Communist regimes all over; Cuba, Nicaragua. And Jews are voting for Solarz and Koch. Jews are keeping them in power. Of course Koch gives them in return some benefits.
And for that benefit, the askanim, the shtadlanim, sell away our votes – whole kehillos of frum Jews, whole congregations vote for these people who are breaking down everything we have!
Look what’s happening to America! The whole youth is being demoralized!
The public schools are hammering away in the minds of the children, telling them how bad America is, how wicked the establishment is!
Finally the gentiles in the Midwest will get so disgusted and they’ll make a revolution!
They’ll try to fight to save America but I’m worried it’ll be a little late.
America will already be shorn of its greatness – it’ll be surrounded by Communist
Chas v’shalom it’ll turn into a fascist country and who knows what kind of gas chambers can be here?
They can make better ones in America than the Germans did.
You Don't Need to be an Exalted Tzaddik (though that never hurts if you can manage it!)
...the best teshuva is the teshuva you do over a piece of watermelon; when you recognize that all happiness and enjoyment is from Hakodosh Boruch Hu.
Even in the extreme example of Slabodka, what did Rav Miller say to do, all in all?
Consider NOT being an atheist.
Consider NOT being a Marxist.
Consider the opinions of the real rabbis.
Put on tefillin!
None of these require a person to achieve the holiness of the Baba Sali.
Other examples Rav Miller gives:
- When seeing a blind person, think of how you use your own eyes & how it would be if Hashem would take away one's sight.
- When seeing a person who lost his arm in a machine accident after a life of thieving, think of how you use your own arms & hands.
- When you see men who get the police called on them, then served with a restraining order so they can't enter their own home, think of how you speak to your own wife; whether you use your tongue kindly in your own home.
Here's Rav Miller again on page 14:
A man says something to his poor wife and hurts her heart by saying a mean word, it’s a terrible sin.
The poor woman is working all day long with children, she’s worn out to the bone, and he comes home and says something mean; it’s like a knife in the heart!
That’s what you have to think about when you hear about this man who was taken out of his house by the police.
Gradually, he lost the power of his lips and tongue.
The decaying flesh also made him smell pretty bad.
You'd think he'd take the Heavenly hint, but you know how Gemara Eruvin 19a states that a wicked person standing at the gate of Gehinnom still won't do teshuvah?
So instead of his former tongue-lashings, he started growling & snarling his displeasure. (His throat still worked.) In this way, he continued to abuse & berate his family.
What's sad is that the connection was so obvious (I mean, come on, how often do you hear of cancer of the jaw?), it's entirely possible that had he done teshuvah and started speaking nicely (plus expressing gratitude to Hashem), that he would've experienced a complete cure.
But as the Gemara says about wicked people...
Learning Practical Lessons from Unpleasant Events
For example, he relates the story of a friendly man conversing in the kitchen who stood with his back against the gas stove and his clothing caught on fire, causing him terrible burns. Since then, Rav Miller said he himself never leaned against a gas stove, even when it wasn't in use.
I've heard directly from young men who started out with petty law-breaking, then saw the consequences of friends who committed more serious crimes: jail time, difficulty in finding a job, police raids on the home, ill health, no true friends, societal rejection, bad reputation, etc.
They turned themselves around, broke off with criminal friends, or even the law-abiding siblings & friends of criminal friends—all because they wanted to avoid such an unsavory outcome.
I noticed that many youngest children in families tend to show a lot of common sense, savvy, and decisiveness about what they want in life & how to achieve that (whether it's a comfortable slow-moving life or a high-intensity ambitious life). It seems to me they learn from the mistakes of their older siblings!
Fulfilling Your Fabulous Fear of God in a Few Minutes
The Practical Tip on page 15 helps us start that journey.
And also the advice from truly great people as summarized in the following posts:
- A 60-Second Exercise to Fulfill Your Main Purpose in Life
- Why Does Hashem Want Us to Talk to Him So Much? Rav Avigdor Miller Provides the Answer in Parshat Lech-Lecha
- More Guidance to Connect with Hashem (including baby-steps that start with 30 seconds a day!)
- How to Save the World One Step at a Time
- How the Baby Steps in This World Create Your Future World of Beautiful Pulsating Light
- Judaism's Secret: Achieve the Glorious Maximum by Doing the Bare Minimum