Each person had their own tent in a specific place, with all the Tribes organized in the proscribed way.
Rav Miller then delves into the oft-observed feature of Judaism: It governs your life down to minute details from the time you wake up in the morning.
Now, many people complain about this, many people express fear over becoming religious because of this, and some people say this is why they left and are afraid to return.
But Rav Miller describes it in an appealing manner as a life full of commitment and meaning.
The truth is, when I first started keeping Shabbat seriously (around age 18-19), I decided to put off painting my nails so that I could light Shabbat candles on time.
I felt very pleased with what I considered my spiritually prioritized decision.
I sat with my friend in the room and twisted the cap of the bottle and started applying the nail polish (I think it was even red, to make things worse) in careful strokes.
My friend (who was modern Orthodox from birth) watched me for a moment with a look of consternation.
Of course, I wondered why and wondered what nitpicky law was I transgressing NOW?
But despite my irritation, I actually did want to know. So I asked, "What's wrong?"
"Well," she said hesitantly, "I don't think you're supposed to be doing that on Shabbos."
"Doing what?" I said.
"That," she said, pointing at my nails.
Unbecomingly, I exploded. "WHAT?!" I said. "Also THAT'S forbidden?!!"
She immediately retreated. "Oh," she said, waving a hand and looking away. "What do I know? I don't know anything."
She didn't say this sarcastically, but as a way to defuse the situation.
I glumly looked at the rest of my nails with their chipped polish. And I felt bad for apparently having been so ferocious, this friend (who was normally an open & assertive person) felt like she needed to lie in order to appease me.
I also knew that if she said it was forbidden, it was. And I knew that she certainly DID know what she was talking about.
So much more calmly, I asked her why it was wrong and not surprisingly, she didn't want to get into again, but she mumbled something about coloring, which I didn't know so much about, but it made sense within the little I did know.
I never painted my nails on Shabbos again, and mostly stopped wearing nail polish altogether over time.
Now I don't understand my old self. What is so difficult about not painting nails on Shabbos? Why did I feel so overwhelmed with rules?
Now all the prohibitions and obligations of Shabbos feel like part of the holy rhythm of Shabbos and Shabbos just wouldn't be the same with them.
Hashem Wants YOU, Not a Frum Robot
Our mitzvot need our hearts & minds to really reach their full potential.
On page 6, Rav Miller describes a very funny scenario to explain how, if Hashem just needed people to go through the motions of davening, He could just command all the Jews to pool money together to buy robots with timers set to daven in the morning.
The robots could shuckle too.
No latecomers, no early-leavers, no talking, no skipping...the perfect minyan!
Only it's no good because they're robots, so all the beautiful timely davening is meaningless.
Then Rav Miller notes that if your mind is absent while davening, you're like flesh-and-blood robot, which is messier than a steel robot because human robots make noisy, skip parts, and come late, check their watches (when not necessary), and so on.
Rav Miller states:
The answer is that the service of Hakodosh Boruch Hu is entirely dependent on the mind.
Our minds! That’s what Hashem wants from us.
He says, “I don’t want robots. I don’t want steel robots and I don’t want flesh and blood robots either. I want you!”
How to be Truly Happy: The High Road
If our rider doesn't control the horse, the horse goes wild.
When the thoughts go wild, a person can no longer serve Hashem with his thoughts.
On page 8, Rav Miller claims that Rabbeinu Bachya of Chovot Halevavot/Duties of the Heart wouldn't be so happy with this dvar Torah.
Ideally, a person should feel that not only is Hashem running EVERYTHING, but He is also running everything RIGHT.
People who live in true reality experience tremendous tranquility.
They tend to be happy people.
For example, when Rav Yisroel Salant was old and ailing, someone asked him how he was doing.
He answered, "Baruch Hashem, a bit worse."
He didn't say that as a joke or as a dutiful nod toward emuna.
He MEANT it. Blessed is Hashem — Everything is under control of the One Who knows best.
When the situation in Poland was avalanching downward in 1933, the Chafetz Chaim said, "It's heading in the right direction."
Things were heading in a painful and horrific direction.
But one who fully trusts in Hashem knows that any direction Hashem decides is the right one.
This is a severely difficult paradox for most people to embrace.
But anyone who manages to do so is correct and lives with a serenity that most people never achieve their entire life.
How to be Truly Happy: Rav Miller's Shortcut
So Rav Miller emphasizes:
- Keep to a seder. Stick to your schedule.
Get up on time. Go to daven in your shul. (Or however you do it if you're a woman.) Daven according to the seder of your siddur. Go back home. Eat breakfast. Go to work. And so on.
As long as a person keeps to a seder more or less the flame of menuchas hanefesh does not waver.
- Make a list of things that upset your inner peace/menuchat hanefesh.
- What might cause me to be disturbed in the home?
- What happens happens in my place of business to upset me from time to time?
Stuff like that.
- Remember that HASHEM did it — and somehow it is for my very best.
Somehow, my files getting lost, my spouse keeping me waiting, someone takes my personal item without my permission...
Hashem did it.
And anyway, Rav Miller reminds us that nothing in This World really matters anyway.
(Except the Next World stuff, like our mitzvot & good deeds.)
So, he says, there is nothing to loose your composure about anyway.
(I'm really aiming for this. Maybe one day...)
Rav Miller advises on page 10:
...the best thing is to prepare for these eventualities; to pinpoint your weaknesses and plan to detour around them.
A wise man takes out his list once in a while and reviews what he wrote there, and he reminds himself...his menuchas hanefesh won’t flicker in the least.
He was prepared ahead of time for these eventualities and therefore it’s like water off a duck’s back.
This man, by means of looking ahead has maintained his menuchas hanefesh and he is therefore able to continue to make strides forward and to accomplish what he came to this world for.
No News Really IS Good News!
So says Rav Miller on page 10-11.
Or, in today's terms: The news is mostly bluster to get you clicking on their webpage and watching their video channel and constantly checking their blog.
As Rav Miller sums it all up:
And you’re continuing to help that newspaper make money at the cost of your nerves.
The same is, don’t listen to the radio. The radio is creating sensations and giving you what to think about, what to brood about, and it’s worthless.
And the TV is a thousand times worse.
They make their bread and butter out of your anxiety. People don’t realize that.
So now you know all about what this person said, or what the President did – so what?! What do you need it for?!
It’s just more ideas whirling through your mind; more clutter that encroaches on your menuchas hanefesh for absolutely no purpose at all.
But whatever parlance we use, it's all the same.
No Venting? Aack!
Don't talk about your worries & your problems.
Yet for most of my life, I would have found this advice appalling.
I would've cried, "Rav Miller just doesn't understand!"
But in truth, he understands very well.
The truth is that sometimes talking about something is very helpful. The Pele Yoetz makes this point, taking from an earlier source (like the Gemara, maybe).
But hard experience taught me that talking about your issues can make them worse.
It really depends on so many factors, like who and how and how much, etc.
Rav Miller recalls a man he knew who had worries, sometimes very serious ones, and enemies, yet he never spoke of it with his family.
Even when they found out, he still refused to let anyone speak of it.
Interestingly, the worries and crises all passed, mostly without his family knowing about them. They weren't affected by all his problems.
Yes, Rav Miller says that sometimes worries call for deliberation and thought.
But sometimes talking about them can make them bigger.
When you don't talk about them, they get minimized to a certain extent, even in your own mind.
In fact, Rav Miller is very strong about this advice.
He says talking about things makes them set; it makes them permanent.
I think there is also a spiritual idea that connects to this: Al tiftach peh l'satan.
Meaning, don't open your mouth to the prosecuting angel. Don't give him any ideas.
The Breslover tzaddik, Rav Bender, held a similar opinion with some variation.
By the way, when chachamim from different groups of Jews (Rav Miller was a committed Slabodka Litvak & Rav Bender was a Breslover Chassid) say the same thing, I stand up and take notice because that means it's a core Jewish idea.
If you wish to read Rav Bender's take on it, please see here:
Friendship & Encouraging Words
More Excellent Advice & Perspective
I feel like a hypocrite writing about this because I struggle with this, even though I've heard Rav Miller's views on this since I was a single girl in my early 20s.
I've had some success with getting to sleep on time over the years. And when this whole lockdown started up, I was determined to go to bed early and get up early, but for a variety of reasons, it rarely worked. (But sometimes, I succeeded.)
But even though I feel like a hypocrite, I'm mentioning it anyway because Rav Miller always placed so much emphasis on going to sleep on time and it's excellent advice, and why should you miss out on it just because I'm flawed?
On page 14, Rav Miller offers excellent advice about work that I really wished I'd read when I was employed. "You're not Galahad" — exactly!
Then Rav Miller reminds us that we're all going to die anyway, so why get so upset?
As my youngest sister-in-law always says, "Everything passes. Whether it's good or bad, it all passes!"
I love that saying of hers.
Anyway, Rav Miller also counsels that it helps to remember that things could be worse and offers an example true to our times: a man who discovered he had leprosy (page 15).
Also, remember that Gehinnom is worse. Seriously. By the way, you don't have to be a big person to utilize this consolation. I used it when I got drenched in a major rainstorm on the way to catch a bus to a bar mitzvah and my boots filled with water. Then I sat on a stuffy bus for a ride that should have taken 20 minutes, but took over an hour instead.
And I still needed to catch a connecting bus to get to the hall, which meant waiting at a bus stop in the rain for another 20 minutes. (Yes, it had a roof, but not a wide one.)
I went through this all knowing that I would need to spend the entire bar mitzvah is water-logged boots and soaking wet clothes (my coat simply failed on the job).
But I had a good time anyway and remember the experience with amusement because I used it to focus on if I was in Gehinnom and was offered the chance to be soaking wet on a stuffy bus that barely moved while feeling a tad nauseous and knowing that I still needed to catch another bus and then sit in a simcha hall with no way to dry out, I would jump at the chance.
And if I'd just exited Gehinnom straight to that bus and my soaking clothes with no relief in sight, how happy I would be because Gehinnom is 60 times worse than anything in This World.
And so I would think my soaking self on the stuffy slow bus was paradise.
So you definitely don't need to be a special or great person to utilize that advice. Not even close.
And there you go.