"It's not far away from you; actually it's something very close to you."
But, says Rav Miller, how can that be?
Any authentic Torah literature we read emphasizes the high ideals & expectations Hashem holds of us.
Most of us who read the classic mussar masters feel that, no matter how lovingly presented, the goals stand far beyond our reach.
How is it not only close, but VERY close?
The Torah's 3-Step Process of Self-Improvement
Rav Miller divides this up into 3 stages:
- b'ficha – with your mouth: You need to talk.
- bilvavecha – with your heart: Your thoughts based on your most authentic feelings.
- la'asot — You must do it; you need to actualize your talk & your thoughts.
At a glance, the process is:
- your mouth
- your thoughts
- to accomplish
Rav Miller discusses with your mouth.
Your Mouth is the Key to Everything
That's the first step.
Verbalize your goals & aspirations.
Rav Miller notes that today they call such an idea "autosuggestion," but the foundation of the idea is found in Torah.
(Disclaimer: I know that since the advent of modern psychology, frum practitioners make a point of saying that whatever theory is popular at any given time, it's rooted in Torah. But when Rav Miller says it, it's actually true.)
Over time, the way you talk is the way you start to think.
Many converts & baalei teshuvah experience this when they transition from the coarser, foul-mouthed, increasingly hate-filled & condemning secular society to a frum community.
The laws of derech eretz, greeting others with a pleasant face, refraining from lashon hara while giving the benefit of the doubt, saying "baruch Hashem," blessing people & wishing them good things, expressing gratitude — all this spoken goodness influences the personality over time.
Speech is unique to human beings.
It's part of the Divinely given human soul.
Rav Miller notes a fascinating function of the body: Even without speaking, the very act of thinking activates the larynx, palate, and tongue.
This is why, he says, eating makes thinking more difficult—not impossible, but more difficult.
That's because the speech mechanisms are involved with chewing & swallowing.
Using speech for self-improvement has gone on for ages in Judaism.
In fact, David Hamelech did this via Tehillim.
If you read the Tehillim, it's clear than many verses are him speaking privately: to himself with Hashem as his Exalted Audience.
Many times, I feel discomfited reciting the verses in which David Hamelech affirms his innocence & inner goodness. Being far beneath his level, I hold no such delusions about myself.
But maybe by repeating his words, we can become the sincerely good & innocent person he became.
Likewise, David Hamelech constantly repeated "Hashem is my refuge, You are my Shelter, I am YOUR servant Hashem, etc."
Saying it reinforces one's emunah.
On page 7, Rav Miller offers advice on how to say Tehillim.
The greatest Chassidic Rebbes repeated verses & holy thoughts in melody, singing these repeatedly.
Many Sages have advised meditating over a verse or piece of mussar.
In Slabodka yeshivah, they used to repeat until shouting a line from Mesillat Yesharim for a long time.
Rebbe Nachman's advice to speak to Hashem in your own words for an hour is part of this.
We should say, "I love You, Hashem."
Even if we don't feel it, saying it is VERY good.
Saying it can open one's heart to such beautiful & powerful emotions.
Rav Miller advises doing this with a mezuzah too. Look at or touch the mezuzah and say or think, "I love You, Hashem."
As far as teaching your children this concept (a vital part of chinuch, though it's rarely addressed in chinuch classes), Rav Miller says (page 11):
Teach it to your children too.
Say, “Children, altogether let’s say, ‘We love You Hashem.”
They’re embarrassed. They don’t know if their friends’ fathers do such things at the Shabbos table.
But say it anyhow!
All the children in a chorus; boys and girls all chime in and say, “We love you, Hashem.” Oh, you’re planting a seed in their minds forever.
Someday they’ll remember, “We once said that we love Hashem.”
Utilizing the Gift (or Curse) of Gab for Holy Purposes
A lot of people display a tendency to monologue.
Others can't refrain from emphasizing insignificant details as they speak.
For example, I knew someone who had great middot & was very likable, but I found her conversational style challenging.
For example, she recalled a childhood memory like this:
"I sat in the right-hand window seat of the car and it was 81 degrees outside—no, wait. It was eighty-THREE degrees outside. I remember the exact temperature because..."
And the entire monologue went on like that.
And while she was extremely pleasant to speak with in a give-and-take conversation or small talk, she related events in the above manner.
This is difficult to listen to...for another person.
However, Hashem is very different.
This desire to verbalize even the smallest details of events & thoughts?
These are great assets when speaking to Hashem!
If such a person can use their innate tendency to monologue, talk a lot, and over-focus on all sorts of particulars to speak to Hashem & to discuss holy verses & statements, or express feelings to Hashem, then THIS is a wonderful asset.
I imagine that's why Hashem gave so many people this tendency; they have the tremendous zechut to elevate themselves (and sweeten din over the world) in this way.