- What did I accomplish this past month?
- Did I make any mistakes?
- Was I disloyal to the Torah in any way?
- Did I live in the most successful manner available to me?
- What happened with my tefillah?
- What about my learning?
- How did I behave when it came to my obligation to give tzedakah?
- What about Hakodosh Boruch Hu? Did I think about Him enough?
Bein Adam LaMakom (interpersonal interactions):
- Did I make progress in bein adam lamokom this past month?
- Did I wrong my fellow man?
- Did I make mistakes in dealing with my neighbors?
- Also, how did I behave to people on the street?
- How was my behavior between me and the members of my family?
- How did I speak to spouse month?
- Did I say something I shouldn’t have on the first day of the month that just passed?
- What about the second day?
- And the third day?
- Think about the wrong things you said, the wrong way you reacted.
- How did I use my Shabbosim this month?
- Did I spend at least a few minutes at each seudah thinking about what Shabbos is trying to teach me?
Rav Miller reassures us we can become great in these 5 minutes.
Actually, he also says that even 1 minute of teshuvah is a tremendous thing.
These minutes produce wonderful things for us in the World to Come.
Rosh Chodesh: The Month of Self-Renewal
And that’s part of the Rosh Chodesh lessons, to take note of its reappearance as a symbol that our nation which is now dispersed among the nations without a country of our own will someday come back together.
Even though we are all in golus someday we will all come back together and we will shine again like the moon when it reappears in the beginning of the month.
It’s an os [sign] that we will also reappear in history and we will illuminate the world.
It's a renewal of us—WE are renewed!
In an admittedly massive oversimplification of why this is, we'll just say that Hashem created the darkness to create a world in which we need to actively search for & strain to see Him—and in the process, find ourselves & see who we really are too.
On pages 7-10, Rav Miller indulges one of my favorite parts of his persona as he describes the different aspects of this darkness. He includes other religions, evolution, communism, American universities, and the creating-heroes-out-of-criminals fanaticism.
I love this because in reading & enjoying it so much, I feel like I'm atoning for my entire youth.
But if you're easily offended, are a politically correct militant, or devoted to indiscriminate egalitarianism (AKA the unrelenting dogma of "I'm okay; you're okay"—no matter what!), you should probably skip it.
He concludes with this (page 10):
But the world just sits like dumb oxen by the radio with their mouths open and listen as the propaganda pours into their heads.
They accept all the lies and all the darkness and all the falsehood that paid performers are pouring in on the airways and their minds are becoming corrupted and stultified and stuffed with garbage more and more.
How many years ago did he call the broadcasters "paid performers"?
He understood before a lot of other people did.
That's the most difficult of all – the greatest of all dangers is the danger of being
deceived about oneself, of not recognizing who we really are.
There are good people who are doing wicked things all the time and don’t realize it!
And that’s because when it comes to oneself, not only is it dark but you’re totally blind.
Even when you kick yourself, when you bang your head against the wall and you
say, “I was wrong! Why did I do it?!”, so while you’re banging your head against the wall, you’re thinking, “What a nice fellow I am that I'm doing this.”
But this time, he's talking about a different aspect.
He makes valuable points here.
People do the worst things and insist they held altruistic or innocent motives all along.
One of the most extreme examples of this was Nazism, which started off proclaiming equality & compassion, and ended up torturing and slaughtering millions & millions of people.
Some people know what they're doing and mean to speak compassionately to deflect suspicion about what they're really up to. (Sociopaths/psychopaths do that.)
But a lot of people really believe in what they say.
That's why you see self-proclaimed Highly Sensitive People, who talk about how sensitive they are, then behave very insensitively toward other people (and not just as a one-off, but on a regular basis).
Or people who view themselves as terrifically upbeat, yet easily lose their tempers, with their family members viewing them as easily angered & manic, not cheerful & upbeat.
I knew a person who responded with impatience over even minor issues toward employees & agents in her business, quarreled so aggressively with suppliers that they refused to work with her, disobeyed police with verbal impudence, had gotten divorced several times...
...yet when her only child and his family refused to spend more than a very limited amount of time with her due to her quarrelsome behavior, she told others: "I don't understand why this is happening. I'm only for peace. That's who I am. I'm always the peacemaker."
But no one else saw her as a peacemaker.
Even people who liked her (and, despite the unflattering description here, she definitely possessed very likeable qualities too) never thought of her as someone who strove for peace.
Even when she was in a good mood, everyone knew she could always turn in a second.
But she honestly thought of herself as a person who always strove for peace and to get along with others.
Yet she was actually more quarrelsome & confrontational than most people.
Yes, of course there are people who see themselves as highly sensitive or terrifically upbeat or peaceable—and they really are!
But some people see themselves one way while almost everyone else sees them differently—or even the opposite of how they see themselves!
Rav Millers sums this up with (page 14):
Hakodosh Boruch Hu says,
“You’re running a legal business in your conscious mind but you’re deceiving yourself. Because if you would take the trouble to descend one level below your consciousness, you’ll be amazed to see what I see in you – you’re living a life of falsehood. And you are knowingly deceiving yourself because if you really wanted to know the truth, you would discover what your real attitudes are.”
From Darkness to Light
Of course you should also see your good points!
You have a beautiful pristine neshamah & Hashem loves you more than you can imagine!
So why does Rav Miller invest so much this time in looking at the not-such-great stuff inside ourselves?
Because by going through the darkness, we reach the light.
On page 14, Rav Miller says:
Now, don’t be upset when you hear such things.
Don’t become dejected and give up hope.
Because to live in a world of darkness, that itself is the greatest gift! Absolutely!
Because that’s our success in this world – to see through the darkness of this world and to prepare ourselves for our permanent station in the world to come.
We need to go through the darkness to get to the light.
We need to go through Olam Hazeh (This World) to get to Olam Haba (The World to Come).
And if you ever wondered how the act of Pinchas showed love for Am Yisrael, please check out the Q&A on page 16.
Credit for all quotes & material goes to Toras Avigdor.