First of all, he notes that despite the former denial of "experts," Sodom indeed existed.
In fact, I read a book called The Stones Cry Out by a real archeologist (not Jewish) who came to Eretz Yisrael & personally examined the ruins of Sodom. He discovered that everything matched up to the Torah's narrative, including how the buildings burned from the rooftops down because of the shower of fire 'n' brimstone—he clearly saw the evidence in the ruins.
Anyway, we all know how Lot's wife turned around to look back & ended up fossilized in a way the Torah describes as "a pillar of salt."
During my first trip to Eretz Yisrael at age 16, they took us to that area and we saw several bumpy, crooked pillars of salt. They told us that one of them was Lot's wife. Because these were non-religious people, they said this in a joking way as if referring to mythology, but the impression stuck with me nonetheless:
The Torah is tangible & long-lasting.
Why Lot's Wife Fossilized
But Lot's wife did. Why?
Despite the evil of Sodom, Lot & his wife enjoyed living there.
It was ancient Near East living at its finest. Lot enjoyed a respected position.
Yes, the Sodomites were cruel & heartless (in a light-hearted way, of course). They were completely immoral.
But everything else—all the material aspects—were fantastic.
Yet Lot understood the deeper implications of Hashem's particularly violent destruction of the entire city.
At the point he & his family fled, Lot realized exactly how dysfunctional the culture was. So when the angels warned him not to look back, he understood why & refrained from doing so.
But Lot's wife missed her old Sodomite life. Did she grow up there? Probably, but I'm not 100% sure.
She looked back in longing. She missed Sodom.
What do we learn from this?
When Push Comes to Shove, Where is Your Mind?
Maybe you're living an impressively frum life—but maybe you secretly long for the looser & more frivolous ways of the outside world?
Rav Miller recalls the true story of a German-Jewish family who escaped from the Nazis into Lithuania.
And on the eve of December 25th, that sat listening to the Berlin radio station.
They listened to carols.
And they wept tears of nostalgia & sentiment for their old German life.
This story reminds me of a scene from Holocaust memoir, Shattered Crystals, in which some assimilated Jewish women in the concentration camp spent all day saying things like, “Germany, ah, Germany…In Frankfurt, I had a seven-room house. You see this wool coat? It was my everyday coat. For the theater, I had a gray Persian jacket and a hat to match.”
And: “Do you know the Opera House in Berlin?...My husband and I attended regularly. We had a subscription. We had such beautiful times.”
Also, in the midst of starvation & cold & discomfort, of course a person longs for warm clothes, food, and a comfortable home.
But "Germany, ah, Germany..."? In the middle of a mass genocide? A mass genocide carried out by that same Germany?
In Lea Fuchs-Chayen's Holocaust memoir, Out of the Depths, she recalls a friend from her hometown of Budapest who did not want to leave the life-threatening horrors of Auschwitz (while the stench of burning Jews was driving Lea mad) for another camp because that would necessitate getting a number tattooed into her forearm and "imagine what a tattooed arm would look like in an elegant evening dress."
Meaning, she preferred the atrocities of Auschwitz, the constant stench of the burning flesh of her people, the constant threat of imminent & torturous death—all for the hope of returning to the lifestyle of the sleeveless evening gown.
In both memoirs, the very assimilated Jews expressed longing for the cultural aspects of their assimilated European lifestyles, not just a normal longing for some kind of escape to hot soup & a clean bed.
Look, as I've stated before, I cannot judge them.
Who knows how I would be in such an atrocious situation, chas v'shalom? Maybe even worse!
The point is that they didn't even long for their families, people, or safety & physical comfort.
They longed for the culture—the same culture that was slaughtering them by the millions in all sorts of horrific ways.
Due to the influences of their surrounding culture, their rich soul had dwindled down to sleeveless evening gowns & opera houses.
They saw fellow Jews wasting away next to them & they smelled the burning flesh of the crematoria, yet could only think about Persian wool coats & evening gowns.
Tragically & heartbreakingly, that was all that was left inside them.
They didn't speak of missing their husbands or parents or friends or siblings. They didn't mention a longing for a hot, filling meal or a safe shelter.
They spoke of their longing for the same culture that was now slaughtering them.
As Rav Miller describes it (page 8):
They identified with the land of their destroyers, with the land of their tormentors and persecutors and it broke their heart that they had to leave.
Instead of saying, “What a wicked nation! What a filthy nation! A nation of murderers!”
The Germans are worse than the cannibals in Africa – the cannibals at least only kill people when they’re hungry!
Instead of saying, “We are happy to be rid of them and we turn our faces away to a new future; we’ll face forward now with the Am Yisroel; we’ll turn our backs on these wicked gentiles who are murderers of our people and never look back;” instead of that, they couldn't tear out of their hearts the allegiance to their Fatherland.
They looked back!
I don't think we can do that.
Who knows how any of us would respond in the same situation (may Hashem protect us from such evils)?
The point is the lesson for us to improve ourselves, and not condemn those in the past.
For example, the author of Shattered Crystals constantly missed her husband & daughters. She never stopped thinking about them & yearning to reunite with them.
Lea Fuchs-Chayen sorely missed her parents & sisters & Shabbat.
Yes, they missed their lovely, comfortable homes—of course!
But when stripped of everything except their minds, to what were they most connected?
Spiritual aspects & people—what really mattered in life.
And so, we need to ask ourselves: Where are we in our minds?
In our heart of hearts, to what (or to whom) do we feel most connected?
A Whole Lot about Newspapers
By the way, this isn't to make people feel bad & worthless because they miss non-Torah aspects of their old life or feel drawn to the outside culture.
This longing for the outside world plays a huge part in American Jewry.
Since Jews began immigrating to America, America always exerted a special pull on the Jewish heart.
Born & raised in America, Rav Miller understood this well.
And he wished to help his fellow Jews liberate themselves from this outside pull.
He describes it as a man who grasped onto thorns, but screams for medicine only, rather than releasing his grip on the thorns.
As Rav Miller explains (page 10-11):
So we say to him: “What are you crying about medicine?!”
It means what are you worried about seforim and daas Torah?
The first thing is to let go! Let go of the thorns!
He wants to be better, but he sits and reads, let’s say, newspapers. So the newspapers are a constant source of replenishment of all of the false ideas that he claims to want to run away from.
He’s still grabbing onto the thorns! He’s still looking back at the place he ran away from.
Whether it’s the Algemeiner Journal or the Jewish Press or the New York Times. Each on a different level, but...you're not going to get better from them!
Also, the Jewish Press hosts many articles in praise of Rav Avigdor Miller.
And for intermarried couples or non-frum Jews, Rav Miller advised making a subscription to the Jewish Press, so it would arrive to their home regularly and influence them positively.
As Rav Miller says here:
Because I think that the Jewish Press is a good newspaper for people who are intermarried. It could have a good effect on them. Yes, it definitely could.
And I want to tell you something else. The Jewish Press does good things too.
Some years ago I got some scientists and some professors together to make an official declaration that Hashem created the world. It was a declaration by scientists that all the available evidence proves that Hashem created the world. I still have copies of that.
And the Jewish Press gave us free of charge a half-page ad to publish it...
...So don’t criticize them too much. Don’t think that they’re nothing. Rav Shalom Klass, a’lav ha’shalom, did good work.
When the Jewish Press first came out I took money out of my own pocket – I didn’t have any extra money in my pocket – and I made a deal with the editor, who at that time was Rav Simcha Weissman.
I made a deal with him and he gave me a reduced price and I ordered twenty-three subscriptions. I paid half the bill out of my own pocket and the other half I got from the Synagogue and we had twenty-three people in the shul who were subscribed to The Jewish Press.
In the beginning it was all idealism. And even though today it has changed a great deal and it has already earned this title – it has arrived at the point where it can be called a rag – I still say that I don’t wish it to close down.
And that’s because there is nothing else right now.
Let’s say some anti- Semitic senator or some ASPCA woman, like we had recently with that Mrs. Schmidt, cooks up a plot to attack shechita in Congress or in the State Legislature.
Who’s going to speak up for shechita?! What?! Do you think the American Jewish Congress Weekly is going to speak up to help you?
Ah nechtiga tug!
Who will speak up for us?! The Jewish Press has a heart – they’ll speak up, they’ll shout. They’ll organize public opinion. And many other things. There’s no question about it...
...But it’s like seeing a city bus going down the street.
Now, you need the bus. You use the bus to get places. It’s helpful.
But the bus has on its side pictures that are objectionable. So we do wish that someone would come along and tear off the pictures from the side of the bus. That’s what we wish for.
So therefore I’m doing the tearing – in my own little way. And maybe someone will hear about it and there’ll be some results. But I never said it should close down.
If someone will ever establish another newspaper that is as effective as The Jewish Press and that has a circulation that is better than The Jewish Press, then we can wish The Jewish Press that they also join the dustbin of history.
But for the time being, like the world says, “oib mir darfen a ganav, nemt em arup fun teliyah” – if you need a ganav, then take him off the gallows.
Anyway, Rav Miller loved some aspects of it and criticized other aspects.
And like I said, much to the credit of the Jewish Press, despite Rav Miller's criticism, they only ever publish articles in praise of him.
We might not always agree, but we certainly love each other!
Anyway, there is also valid criticism to offer regarding charedi publications.
No charedi publication truly reflects daas Torah, although they feature daas Torah in some of the articles.
(I wrote more about the issues of Jewish publications from all streams here: Why You Can't Rely on Journalists for the Truth.)
Anyway, to get back to the dvar Torah...
An Overview of Gems from Rav Miller
And it's true, as he states, that even a girl who dresses with the bare minimum of halachic modesty (a skirt the covers just her knees—at least while she's standing up) still suffers castigation for dressing in a way considered "old-fashioned" or "oppressive."
I must admit I enjoyed Rav Miller's criticism of Dior the designer, calling him "wicked" and "an enemy of Mankind" and "meshugeneh."
On pages 13-15, he wittily discusses the problems of secular books, movies, and TV.
On pages 16-17, Rav Miller discusses the great accomplishment & contribution of chassidim & chassidus. (Rav Miller wasn't a chassid.)
On pages 17-18, he offers tips on how to enhance Jewish joy in your own life.
On pages 18-20, Rav Miller explains the attack of Amalek on the Jews after they left Mitzrayim; it attacked the "weakened ones"—the ones looking back over their shoulders.
By the way, if you (like me) even wondered why the Jews (not just the Erev Rav) missed Mitzrayim, Rav Edelstein explains that there was a phase between enslavement & exodus in which they enjoyed the high life of Egypt.
(Click Through the Eyes of a Gadol, then scroll halfway down.)
That's what they missed. For around 80%, release from slavery into the high life was enough. They didn't want more.
Let's finish with some final words from Rav Miller:
And yet the day will come when Moshiach will come; the time will arrive when we’ll have to leave America.
Imagine; Moshiach is here now and all of us are getting ready to board super airliners.
We’ll fly to Eretz Yisroel al kanfei nesharim, on the wings of eagles, all together now.
And what will be the most important thing to remind ourselves of then?
The same thing that makes us successful even today: Don’t look back! Maybe you can see the skyscrapers of New York from your home in Williamsburg?
Forget about it.
Look only forward to your great future.