The happiest phase for Am Yisrael was our time spent in the Midbar.
But how can that be?
Right in the main text of the Torah, we read about how Am Yisrael complained about the lack of certain vegetables, Nile perch fish, and quail.
Am Yisrael didn't even have proper homes; they lived in tents because of constantly being on the move.
Also, Hashem even states that he led Am Yisrael in the Midbar for 40 years l'ma'an anotcha — to afflict you.
Yet Hashem also states: "lo chasarta davar — you didn't lack a thing."
How can that be?
With everything that happened, how can it be that Am Yisrael didn't lack a thing and from this, Rav Miller derives this as the happiest time for Am Yisrael?
Hashem Fulfilled Every NEED
“You lacked nothing” means that you lacked nothing that the Torah mind should desire!
They learned to be happy in the midbar with all the happiness of life without needing more, without needing extras and luxuries.
As far as actual NEED went, Am Yisrael truly lacked nothing.
Lifestyles of the Rich: Organic Garlic Issues & Drug Abuse
I also noticed that when I was a young adult, I learned so much about true generosity from people with less money. The less people had, the more generous they were with what they did have.
Wealthier people tended to be the stingiest and most likely to feel that they didn't have enough. (Not everyone, but it's pretty common.)
I knew someone who had a million dollars CASH in the bank (not just assets, but actual cash), and she always talked as if she were on the brink of financial disaster.
Via an acquaintance of my husband, we ended up spending a couple of Shabbos meals with upper-class people in an expensive neighbor in Israel.
They mostly weren't awful people, but I said to myself that I simply could not tolerate another Shabbos meal full of conversations like, "Organic garlic is soooooo expensive" and, of course, the sporadic charedi-bashing spurred on by what they proudly read in the popular English-language newspapers in Israel (even though my husband & I are obviously charedi & sitting right in front of their faces).
It's rare for working-class people to harp on how much things cost, especially things they can't afford anyway, like organic garlic. It also makes for really boring conversation.
Like: "Organic garlic is soooo expensive."
"Oh, I know! Really."
"I mean, I looked at the price of the organic garlic and I could not believe it."
"Yeah, I know what you mean."
"And the organic parsley..."
Of course you're going to be unhappy if the price of organic garlic upsets you so much.
Also, people who don't NEED to work really do get themselves into more trouble.
And it's not just work either.
Rabbi Avraham Twerski told of a young alcoholic man who recalled that his only period of sobriety occurred when he needed to move in with an elderly aunt and take care of her.
He ran errands and did her shopping and a whole lot more, and because she depended on him, he couldn't allow himself to drink during those months.
Needless to say, some addicts will still allow themselves to use (and abuse) in such a situation.
But for many people, having responsibility influences them positively.
A high school classmate quit smoking when he discovered that smoking damages one's singing ability (both the quality of voice & the ability to power the voice). He learned that the body's physical craving for tobacco only lasted for 3 days, and any craving after that was purely psychological. So he decided he just needed to pull through the initial 3 days, and from then on, he'd be fine.
And he never smoked again.
People involved in sports also tend to avoid major life mistakes, like addictions and so forth.
I noticed that anyone with goals (a form of responsibility to oneself, at least) tended to behave better.
It's a generalization, of course, so it's not ALWAYS true. But it's OFTEN true.
But the more you have materialistically, the less you have in a sense.
For example, my husband & I worked for an American community comprising extremely wealthy Jews (mostly secular or traditional at most) and around 10 years later, we discovered that around half the couples had divorced in the meantime.
Going even more extreme: If you've ever known secular/non-Jewish people who grew up with real wealth, it's shocking to see how they degrade themselves.
First of all, they're incredibly promiscuous. They tend not to advertise it, but it's like they have no boundaries or morality in that area.
Secondly, they get so into hard drugs — because they can afford and their wealth softens the consequences for them.
For example, one girl told me about how she and other super-wealthy friends rented a penthouse, which they basically converted into an upper-class heroin den.
They sat around shooting themselves up, then passing out, then doing it all over again.
An expensive pet meandered about, soiling & relieving itself all over the lovely carpet, yet they were all too wasted to care.
So you had these young uppercrust elites passed out on the carpet, their faces not far from animal droppings.
How glamorous! (Not.)
Even stranger & more disturbing, she felt no shame about this. She thought it was funny.
Yet if I'd ever participated in something so disgusting, I'd be embarrassed to tell people.
Why would I want people to know that I'm perfectly fine with injecting illegal hard drugs into my veins and then lying passed out in what amounts to an animal's bathroom?
But these people are so out-of-touch & entrenched in their own elitism, they think that if they do it, then that alone confers legitimacy onto the behavior — for THEM, anyway. Like, the mere fact that THEY do it makes it okay.
Also, in Great Britain, you have young people with actual titles (Lord So-and-So or Lady So-and-So), and quite a few of them indulge in such crass drug-fueled behavior. But it's hidden more because of their spiffy connections.
The "Poor" Entitled
AND if they're the "right" color or ethnicity, universities lower their academic standards for them. (Meaning, they need not achieve the same scores as white or Far East Asian applicants), plus they get more generous scholarships allowing them to pay less or even nothing for their higher education.
Yet theft & violence run rampant in these same communities, while only a minority of them take advantage of the advancement-assistance offered them.
They've also mostly thrown marriage out the window, with hardly any babies being born to married couples and children hardly knowing their fathers, which keeps these mothers & children in the low-income bracket.
I honestly don't know if it's possible to achieve a better outcome by withdrawing benefits because the work ethic simply no longer exists and we see that many feel entitled to resort to violence & looting to get what they desire when feeling deprived.
But the situation was originally created by rewarding people who aren't working or who aren't living responsibly (like having children out of wedlock with no financial support).
A friend who grew up on welfare (in a community where welfare was the norm) remembers the dirty looks she got from cashiers when she paid for her Twinkies with a welfare check.
Because she was in her early teens & didn't understand how the welfare system was funded, she was just like, "What? What's your problem?"
Only later did she realize that struggling people working hard for their own income really resent their taxes paying for Twinkies.
I'm saying that many Americans classified as "poor" davka live with a lot of material comfort & aren't motivated to better themselves or their lifestyle.
Accustomed to Less: Satisfaction Guaranteed!
Shabbos night meal considered of ONE piece of gefilte fish, ONE piece of chicken, ONE piece of kugel, some tomato-cucumber salad...and maybe that was it.
But even if you had more, it wasn't much more.
And they tell you they were satisfied!
My husband (who was born in Morocco and raised in Eretz Yisrael) remembers taking a tomato-margarine sandwich on white bread to school every day.
Everyone did that.
The white spreadable cheese so popular in Eretz Yisrael today was too expensive.
So was butter.
My husband can't remember why mayonnaise, hummus, or techina weren't options, but they weren't.
He remembers gazing longingly as his teacher snacked on a large red apple — something sold only in "the stores of the rich."
(Yes, a large red apple was a luxury in Eretz Yisrael in the Seventies.)
He was only able to get hold of one himself when he was in his teens.
(It was a big disappointment; he said it didn't taste as amazing as it looked.)
And after all those margarine-tomato sandwiches, you should see how much he enjoys breakfast with white cheese and a cucumber-tomato salad.
When we first got married, I did not understand why he ate what I considered a somewhat pathetic Israeli breakfast while glowing with such pleasure.
Little did I know...
If you'd grown up with only margarine, you too would enjoy gevinah levanah to the hilt (rather than viewing it as a limp, disappointing version of the luscious, rich American cream cheese — which is how I view Israeli white cheese because I grew up differently).
In his early childhood, my husband's family lacked a washing machine and a stove; they cooked on 2 primus stoves instead.
(But they did bring their TV with them from Morocco because they thought TVs weren't available here.)
Primus (AKA paraffin) stoves were all the rage in Eretz Yisrael for a time, but I'd never heard of such a thing before.
Here's a photo:
But my husband remembers those times as the best (except for the large-red-apple deprivation).
Be Grateful for Everything – including Boredom
buttons, pockets, homes, clothing, police with warrants (in Slabodka, Lithuanian, police didn't need warrants to barge into your home), no war, and much more.
On page 12, Rav Miller puts vacation trips and "going out" into perspective:
So he sits in the car all day long, holding the steering wheel. He's tense.
He can't rest and he's smelling the gasoline fumes of a thousand cars ahead of him.
Does it enter his mind that maybe he would have been better off sitting on the porch in front of his house? Or inside his dining room?
And just to be perfectly upfront, I used to take my children out every Sunday in America to a Jewish indoor play area, only a 15-minute drive from our apartment.
Being cooped up an entire day with 2 young active children in my third trimester of my third pregnancy was way too aggravating.
In the indoor play area, I could sit in comfortable air-conditioning without worrying my kids would run off or get lost (like outside in a park). We weren't far from decent restrooms. And it was fun for me to be involved in their play because I could participate or rest as needed.
And they have really good memories of it until today.
But what I think Rav Miller means here is the whole culture of "going out" and engaging in all sorts of activities on a regular basis, which builds up the need to continue doing so.
For example: bowling...
You know, there's nothing natural about wanting to go bowling.
I'm much older than you and still I've never desired to go bowling.
Only that when a person is too lazy to find happiness in his own life, the way that Hashem intended, so he fans the flames of lust:
“Give us meat!” [Referring to the demands in the Midbar.]
“Give us a bowling alley!”
What is the Talmudic Obligation of a Wife regarding Cooking?
On page 15, he describes the enjoyment of eating an egg.
Rav Miller's son reported that he never heard his father ask Rebbetzin Miller for a certain food or meal.
Whatever she gave him, he ate with appreciation.
On the other hand, I knew a secular man who worked hard in a very prestigious job, and when he came home for dinner, his nose went seriously out of joint if dinner wasn't SUPER hot when served to him.
Meaning, if it was hot, that wasn't good enough. It had to be SUPER hot...
(Fortunately, he did teshuvah and became a fairly nice & supportive husband later. See? Sometimes, there's a happy ending.)
But it just goes to show you how entitled some people become.
Yet Torah Judaism opposes any such an attitude of entitlement.
In the Mishkan Shilo magazine for Parshat Mattot-Masei, Rav Reuven Elbaz writes that the tzaddik Rav Ben-Tzion Abba-Shaul taught that when Gemara Ketubot 54b obligates a woman to cook for her husband, it only means:
...to take a potato and cook it in water.
Beyond that, the wife is not obligated.
Our sages did not obligate her to season the dish or to add any taste, to cut it into nice slices, or serve it in an attractive manner...all this is not the wife's obligation.
Needless to say, a wife should strive to do more for her husband than feed him boiled potatoes, but the point of Rav Ben-Tzion Abba-Shaul was to encourage profound appreciation & gratitude for any meal a wife serves that consists of anything more than an unsalted potato.
And if you combine the Sephardi talmid chacham's Talmudic interpretation with the Ashkenazi talmid chacham's exquisite descriptions of how good the simplest foods taste, then you have a recipe for enjoying any meal and enhancing shalom bayit.
Don't Forget to Take Your Vitamins!
He calls this attitude "vitamins of happiness."
It's not easy in our times because we have so many temptations right before our eyes all the time, but the more we work on this, the happier we really are.