Should one regret not being brought up in a Torah atmosphere?
In very many cases it's a stroke of good fortune that they weren't. Had they been brought up in an Orthodox atmosphere, they would have gone all their lives as many do, in the rote of habit. They never would appreciate anything above the common routine to which they became accustomed.
But when somebody comes in mature from the outside, he appreciates Torah with a taste, with a glamour that he never would have experienced otherwise; it's very important. And I know it from experience over and over again; some of our very best people are those who battled their way back at maturity! I'll give you an example.
Here's a fellow brought up all his life in a shul. He was a little child and ran around, he misbehaved in the shul. As a boy he was still talking all the time, he had no respect for the shul. And then he grew up and he was married in the shul, he has no respect, he has no glamour in the shul, he doesn't see anything heroic in it. As a child when the Rabbi was speaking he ran outside and played, as a boy he ran outside and played, as a young man he was sitting and daydreaming and not listening, and he never had any interest. Now he's an old man, an old lump of meat sitting in the synagogue; the Rabbi is still talking to him and he's still not listening.
Here is next to him a man sitting in the shul who wasn't brought up in a shul, and now he's in a shul as an adult and he understands the difference between this and the outside world. He comes in under his own power, he wasn't pushed in by circumstances, he's traveling with idealism! Sometimes these people have become the biggest assets to us. We know it - every day in the yeshiva they are some of the best boys.
I was once invited to an installation of a Rabbi; the Rabbi's one of the best. An American boy with a beard down here, very big payos; a very frum Rabbi, a big idealist, and it was an exceptionally good congregation. The women were all sitting on this side, men on that side, every woman had a sheitel - it was a long time ago, now it's the style to wear sheitlach, in those days it wasn't and still they all were wearing sheitlach. All of the women were decently dressed except one that had sleeves up to here, hair uncovered etc... and she was the Rabbi's mother. And I said to myself, that's why we have such a good Rabbi here - he battled his way in from the outside, and he is an idealist, there is a fire in him that you won't find in other Rabbis like that, who are the same age in the same status in life.
Therefore we have to understand that. These people are a big capital, that's why we're looking for them, we try to rope them in; some of them are our very best. Avraham Avinu was catalyzed because he was in the house where idolatry was a business! He saw his father polishing up the idols for sale, and it was only because he grew up in such a house that Avraham began to think about it. That's why he rebelled against it, and he began to theorize, and he became Avraham.
Why did Moshe become so great? He was in the house of Pharoh the oppressor, he was oppressing the Jews, and Moshe was thinking, "What's this? Why oppress them? Why are they downtrodden for nothing?" And he began to compare the Jews to the Gentiles, and he came to the realization that a great travesty of history is taking place! That the wicked are oppressing the righteous, and he began to understand, and that made him great.
Good Shabbos To All
This is transcribed from questions that were posed to Harav Miller by the audience at the Thursday night lectures. To listen to the audio of this Q & A please dial: 201-676-3210