Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

22 Sivan 5761 - June 13, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly
NEWS

OPINION
& COMMENT

HOME
& FAMILY

IN-DEPTH
FEATURES

VAAD HORABBONIM HAOLAMI LEINYONEI GIYUR

TOPICS IN THE NEWS

HOMEPAGE

IN-DEPTH FEATURES
The Rov Who Turned Baalebatim Into Bnei Yeshiva

by M. Samsonowitz

Part III

How the Thursday Night Shiur Began

Although Rav Miller's accomplishments between his wide variety of shiurim, shul life and writings were almost in the realm of the supernatural, his fame spread through the world in the wake of his famous Thursday night shiur.

Rav Miller had introduced Shabbos morning droshos, which those who heard them said were "a spectacular, unbelievable experience."

Mordechai, who had been searching for a mentor and found it in Rav Miller, described listening to his droshos as, "an emotional and intellectual experience. It was a masterpiece delivery which combined idealism with avodas Hashem. You felt he was speaking to Hashem."

Mordechai had always yearned to capture Rav Miller on tape but since he only addressed the congregation on Shabbos, he was unable to do so.

However, Rav Miller did give a short shiur on the late summer nights between mincha and ma'ariv on Chovos Halevovos which lasted only 20 minutes. Mordechai implored Rav Miller to allow him to tape that shiur.

It was no simple feat. Compact tape recorders were unknown and the tape recorders in those days used large reels of tape. They were heavy and large, and a strong man was needed to transport them. Mordechai asked his father's friend if he could borrow his machine, and he brought it to shul. Finally, he had recorded Rav Miller for the first time.

His disappointment was huge when Rav Miller approached him afterwards and insisted that he erase the tape. Rav Miller felt he had spoken too sharply against a certain group, and would not agree that it remain on record.

It was a tremendous disappointment for Mordechai, who reluctantly gave him the reel. As a consolation prize, Rav Miller arranged a special shiur during the week for a few close students in the shul who were attending yeshivos. That shiur became the first Rav Miller tape in existence.

Rav Miller then told Mordechai, "Don't worry. Some day there will be miles and miles of tapes of me." This was before cassettes had been created, and before people even thought of listening to tapes. At the time it sounded fanciful and didn't make sense. But his words proved prophetic.

Then another development occurred in 1967, which turned out to be a major milestone in Rav Miller's life.

It all began with a young Sephardic man in his 20s who was trying to imbue his life with more Judaism. Pinchos used to daven with the Sephardim in the nearby Shaarei Tziyon shul. During the 60s, there was a major influx of Sephardim from Syria and Egypt to New York since Nasser had been making life uncomfortable for the Jews in the Middle East. They had established their own community in Flatbush around the Shaarei Tziyon synagogue.

Pinchos didn't know how to read well, and he had a friend who he used to daven next to, and who would help him out. If the friend wasn't there, Pinchos felt too uncomfortable to daven alone. Since the prayers in Shaarei Tziyon went at a fast pace, he decided to switch to a minyan where the praying was slower and he could keep up with the prayers.

Someone suggested he daven in the nearby Mirrer Yeshiva because they davened slower.

But after five months of davening in the Ashkenazic yeshiva, Pinchos was feeling frustrated. Although he was able to more or less keep up with the minyan, he wanted to feel closeness to Hashem. He felt he wasn't making progress in becoming a better Jew. His tefillos still took much effort, and he didn't know what else to do.

That day, he was finishing his lengthy prayers after everyone else had left the beis hamedrash and only a few people remained. Suddenly, he got an idea. Pinchos prayed silently to Hashem, "Give me a sign that You're listening to me! Could you do something small, like lifting this chair? No, I take that back. I realize I can't ask for such a thing. But wait! I have an idea. There's a school yard of boys playing ball outside. You know what. Lifting the chair is too much of a miracle to ask, but what about if a ball breaks a window of the beis hamedrash? I'll know it's a sign and the others will think its an accident. What about that, Hashem?"

Pinchos waited several long minutes, but no ball came through the window. He felt disappointment and discouragement.

But suddenly there was a tap on the arm. It was a little boy who was telling Pinchos something in Yiddish. Pinchos told the little kid that he doesn't know Yiddish and he should say it in English. So the boy told him that Rav Shraga Moshe Kalmanowitz wants him to come over. Pinchos saw an old man with a white beard sitting in a chair near the aron hakodesh. He had no idea who he was. But he went over to him.

"I saw you praying here for five months," Rav Kalmanowitz told him. "The window you're davening next to is the only window without a dedication. I would like you to dedicate it in honor of your grandparents. What do you think?"

Pinchos was taken aback. Although he was working and had a business, the amount that Rav Kalmanowitz had mentioned was way out of his league.

But the two began to speak and Rav Kalmanowitz discovered that Pinchos was a member of the Sephardic community nearby. He asked Pinchos if he would like to start a shiur for himself and his friends.

It sounded good. "Yes, why not?" Rav Kalmanowitz told him that he had an eloquent speaker, who is well versed in science and the contemporary world. Pinchos was agreeable. He imagined it would be a diplomaed Orthodox professor or scientist.

He received Rav Miller's telephone number from Rav Kalmanowitz, phoned Rav Miller and arranged for him to speak that Thursday night in the large Shaarei Tziyon shul. He specifically asked permission from his rabbi in Shaarei Tzion, at Rav Miller's request. Pinchos assured Rav Miller that he would take him after the shiur to his home in East Flatbush which was 25 minutes away.

At the appointed day, Pinchos saw a rabbi with a big black coat, big hat and beard walking up. The first feeling that flooded him was "What did I do to my friends? Here comes a typical vuzvuz (Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazi Jew)!"

Pinchos and his friends were all young wise-guys in their 20s, who had no great respect for rabbis, whom they considered ancient relics of less progressive times -- despite the fact they were all shomer Shabbos. The twenty boys had grown up together since first grade and were best friends. They had only agreed to come because of their respect for Pinchos.

Their disappointment was huge when Rav Miller came in. One of the boys let loose a wisecrack, "My name is Chita [not his real name] and it means `wheat.' "

Rav Miller answered him sharply: "My name is Miller and a miller crushes wheat."

Rav Miller's sharp comment silenced the boys, but he knew that not for long.

He asked the boys, "Do you want to talk about Rambam or the Knicks?" The Knicks were a basketball team in New York.

The youths preferred to hear about the Knicks instead of the boring talk they imagined the rabbi would give.

Rav Miller stunned them when he delivered a five-minute speech on the Knicks' latest moves and scores. None of the young men in the room was as up-to-date on the Knicks team as was this ancient-looking rabbi! Pinchos didn't know how to digest this strange phenomenon.

After five minutes, the rav moved on to the Rambam anyway. The Sephardic youths sat with their mouths open throughout the speech. They were surprised to see how articulate the rav was. They had not at all been expecting what they heard from him. Finally, after an hour of speaking, the rav finished the shiur.

Pinchos drove Rav Miller home.

On the way, he asked him, "Rabbi, tell me truth! How did you know about the Knicks?"

Rav Miller mentioned casually that he had taken the garbage out for his wife and noticed a corner of the newspaper that had stuck out of the bin. When he pushed the scrap of newspaper back in, he saw it was a piece on the Knicks. That's how he got his expertise on the Knicks.

Pinchos soon discovered that Rav Miller was an expert on any topic that was brought up. Rav Miller was an avid reader and could speed read. He possessed encyclopedic knowledge because he retained everything he saw. Whatever you asked him to speak about, he could hold forth his own with ease.

The Uniqueness of the Thursday Night Shiur

The Sephardic youths returned for the following ten weeks, and then the class was moved to a classroom in the Mirrer Yeshiva. Word got out and then several Ashkenazic boys joined the shiur from the yeshiva itself. The shiur grew. Soon there were 40-50 boys crowding into the classroom and not enough room for all. It was clear that another solution would have to be found.

Everyone found it incomprehensible how Rav Miller could talk to Ashkenazic youths learning in yeshiva and young modern Sephardi adults in the work force, and each felt he was addressing their most important questions and doubts.

Thirty-four years later, after Rav Miller's levaya, Pinchos mentioned to Rav Miller's grandson. "I had asked Hashem to lift a chair or make a ball go through the window to show me He was listening and that He really was there. But Hashem decided to answer me differently. He told me, `I'll send you one man in my universe who can show you Who I am.' That man was Rav Miller. Over the past 30 years, Rav Miller not only taught me to know that there is a Hashem, but I feel it as clearly as my own existence."

What was so special about Rav Miller's shiurim? For one, he fearlessly spoke out on every topic you could think of. Although his recurrent themes were about seeing Hashem in nature and how every creation testifies to its creator, he talked about everything under the sun. Bringing up a Jewish child. Obtaining fear of Hashem. Recognizing when the yetzer hora is moving things. Shemiras Haloshon. Utilizing one's free will. A man's greatness. What is chesed. It's difficult to be a disbeliever. Benefits of misfortune. The Afterlife. Everything happens because of the Jews. Reply to missionaries. Teshuva is a Gift.

Rav Miller spoke about the wonderful world which Hashem had created. He brought the puff-ball of the dandelion to class and explained all the wisdom inherent in this lowly weed. His students sat there agog, and realized for the first time that only G-d could have made this creation. He did the same with apples, oranges, weeds, flowers and even humble creations that most people hadn't given a thought to.

He talked about loving Hashem. "Who is the one you have to love like yourself? he asked his audience. It is Hashem. He became excited when describing how Hashem feeds all his creations. He explained how the entire process from egg to adult chicken was just a six week process. This quick process enabled the world's population to be fed. He would enthuse when describing a sign he saw on a supermarket announcing a sale on Polish ham for half price. "Look how Hashem is feeding all these non-Jews, and at half-price no less!"

A thousand people sometimes attended his shiur. He would artlessly command them, "I want you all to say, `I love you Hashem!' " They would get up and say it too. He not only made you say how you loved Hashem, but he made you feel it too. He taught the Jewish world to love Hashem.

One close disciple who listened to hundreds of his Thursday night shiurim explained the impact they had on him: "There is no question that due to him, my emunah in Hashem is clear. As sure as I see myself, I see Hashem."

He emanated love for all Jews and even non-Jews to a certain degree. He was a universal Jewish solvent. There was no difference in his love and reverence for different Jewish communities. He frequently praised the Sephardic community for their reverence to their Torah sages and saw virtue in all of them.

Another theme he spoke about frequently in his Thursday night shiur was concern and respect for one's fellow man. If you blow your horn late at night to call someone to come out, he said you were a robber, because you were depriving the neighbors of sleep. If you're going to selichos early and talking with your friends and making noise, better you shouldn't go.

He bid his listeners that if they pass a vegetable store and a piece of fruit fell onto the floor -- they have to pick it up no less than if it was a million dollars. The fruit was equivalent to the man's money, and since a Jew has to be concerned with his fellow man's welfare, he has to make sure his possessions were safe from injury.

If you pass a home, Rav Miller averred, you can see from the outside whether someone lives there or not. If the windows are broken and the house is dirty and unkempt, no one is home. But if the house is in good shape and there's a clean, orderly garden, you know someone is living there. In the same way, the orderly and meaningful arrangement of the world testified to Hashem's creation and management of it. He spoke about one after the other phenomenon in the world, and kept showing you how they were just imprints of G-d's genius touch.

He also spoke extensively on themes from Tanach, like the purpose of exile, the Avos, the downfall of Korach, the lessons to be derived from Scriptural personalities, and Jewish holidays. The shiur was usually an hour long, but no less interesting was the half hour at the end when Rav Miller took questions from the audience on anything they wanted to ask.

Pinchos was mesmerized. He felt the rabbi had opened his eyes. Instead of satisfying him, though, it made him feel even more thirsty. He asked Rav Miller if he could meet him privately. He thought he was being pushed off when the rabbi invited him to join him for his 7:15 walk in the morning. But Pinchos went and was rewarded with riveting discussions about life and a person's role in the world. The two would walk along the sidewalk and Rav Miller would point out wonders Hashem had created just for their pleasure. Pinchos gazed at these commonplace miracles as if seeing them for the first time.

"You cannot see electricity," Rav Miller told him, "but you know that it's there because if you stick your finger into the socket, you'll get a shock. That's how we have to understand Hashem's presence. Whatever we look at shows us that He's there."

When his own congregants heard about the riveting Thursday night shiur, they also wanted to attend. But Rav Miller insisted that they keep to their gemora study at night.

Rav Miller on Tape

When the Thursday night shiur numbered 50 boys, two brothers who were regular attendees made plans to continue their yeshiva studies in Israel. They asked Pinchos to tape the class and their parents would pick up the tape every Friday and send it to them in Israel. Pinchos was glad to do it.

Then a short time later, someone else asked Pinchos for a copy. After that, the requests came in fast and thick. Finally there was no way out but to buy a special reel machine that recorded the rabbi and copied the speech onto cassettes.

Rav Miller tapes began to reach the wide public in 1972. As soon as an advertisement was put in the paper, the demand for his tapes grew.

The shiur continued to grow and finally was moved to the Sephardic Institute at 511 Avenue R. At that point, 100- 150 people were coming a week.

One strange phenomenon that many of those who attended his shiur reported was that each felt Rav Miller was specifically speaking to him. Many times listeners told their friends, "How did the Rav know what was happening to me? How did he know I was having problems with my boss?"

Despite Rav Miller stressing that a person should never put himself in danger, one week one of his regular listeners challenged four street toughs who had been starting up with him. Of course, that Thursday night Rav Miller warned his audience never to put themselves in danger again!

The shiur moved to Achiezer shul when the Sephardic Institute burnt down. The number of attendees continued to grow. They reached 300 and at one point zoomed up to 1000.

At the same time, Pinchos's tape production was burgeoning. At first, he needed two copying machines, then he bought another one. He had to draft his children to help produce and send out all the tapes every week throughout New York and the U.S. He sent a tape to a French lady who translated the contents to another 300 women. Tapes were sent to rabbis in South Africa who lectured their own congregations on the themes which Rav Miller expounded and started tape libraries for the benefit of their congregants.

Amazing stories began to arrive of the impact which the tapes had on people. One rosh kollel in South Africa told one of Rav Miller's students that six families in his kehilla became religious merely from hearing the tapes.

The tape production of Rav Miller's lectures was finally streamlined and done professionally. Over the years, it was handed over to Rav Miller's son, who today handles the production and dissemination.

From 1967 to 2001, over 2,500 tapes were produced of Rav Miller's Thursday night shiurim -- in addition to numerous other shiurim he gave on gemora and mussar. Hundreds of thousands of tapes were sold whose impact on people's lives was immeasurable.

It should be noted that, although today listening to cassette recordings of famous speakers is common in the Torah community, Rav Miller was the first whose shiurim were publicly disseminated.

Many of the impressed listeners of his shiurim came to join his shul and his gemora shiurim.

Even today, 30 years later, the tapes are as popular as ever and orders still come in from all around the world.

The Shul Moves

The neighborhood in East Flatbush had been deteriorating for several years. Things came to a head in 1975, when Rav Miller together with the congregation decided to move the congregation to Ocean Parkway near the Mirrer Yeshiva. It was an unavoidable step for the congregation, but fortunately, it also gave Rav Miller a wider purview in his efforts to disseminate Torah.

A house was bought at 1821 Ocean Parkway, a mere half block from Mirrer Yeshiva. The building was renovated into a shul with 190 seats for the men and 100 seats for the ladies. Forty families of Rav Miller's most dedicated congregants made the move together with him, since it was unthinkable to give up their rav. It was decided to change the name of the shul from Young Israel of Rugby Park to Beis Yisroel Torah Center, although here too, there was no sign on the outside, advertising the new house of worship.

During that year there was a mass exodus of Syrian Jews to Deal, a sprawling suburban town in New Jersey. Real estate plummeted its lowest level in many years. Rav Miller encouraged his congregants to buy homes as close to the Mirrer Yeshiva as possible.

The following year, there was another exodus of Syrian Jews back from Deal to Ocean Parkway, after many realized the disadvantage of living out of New York. Prices of houses rocketed, but by then, Rav Miller's congregants were all living in the neighborhood. Divine providence had lowered prices just that year so Rav Miller could bring his congregation to a new neighborhood where their Torah study and spiritual growth was given a new impetus.

Now the Thursday night shiur was held in Rav Miller's own shul. His own congregants could enjoy hearing the shiur, since Rav Miller decided to repeat it again Shabbos afternoon.

Now that Rav Miller's own congregation was within reach, many of the Sephardim who had faithfully attended his shiurim decided to join the shul. With the time, between 15-20 percent of the shul's membership was Sephardic, with the rest comprising Ashkenazim. The shul had an interesting mix of second and third- generation Americans formed from young new families and old- timers who had been with Rav Miller for 25 years. Despite the differences in minhagim and background, the shul was united under Rav Miller's leadership and a commitment to Torah study.

Changes were also taking place in the Thursday night shiur. From having an exclusive Sephardic and Litvish audience, slowly chassidim from Williamsburg, Monroe and Boro Park began to attend. At various times, up to half the audience was chassidic. A packed van would travel in from Mt. Kisco too. Modern Orthodox listeners and baalei teshuva dotted the audience. The whole spectrum of Torah Jewry was present, because everyone felt he was talking to them.

The fame which the Thursday night shiur brought Rav Miller, had an impact on his shul. It became a matter of pride to be a member of Rav Miller's shul. Eventually, his shul prided itself on being a unique congregation composed of Sephardim, Litvaks and Chassidim. What bound them all was their reverence for Rav Miller and their dedication to Torah study.

Later Years

In 1983, Rav Miller's son Rav Shmuel opened his yeshiva and Rav Miller began to give discourses and vaadim to the students. The yeshiva's name was a takeoff of the shul "Beis Yisroel."

In retrospect, the rav's multifold activities were incredible, especially when one considered his age. He was 57 when he wrote his first book. He was almost 60 years old when he began to teach his congregants gemora in 1967. He was 65 when his first tapes began to spread throughout the Jewish world. His public works began to soar at a time when most people are beginning to wind down and close shop. His massive accomplishments in the Torah world over the past 30 years took place when he was in his 60s, 70s and 80s -- and remained unabated until his death at the age of 93.

He was very vigilant about ushmartem es nafshoseichem. He carefully watched his health and made it an unassailable practice to eat healthy food and walk every day for an hour and a half. When he reached old age he slowed this down to an hour, but still faithfully maintained this exercise period. Indeed, throughout his life, he was hardly ever sick. His good state of health was also due to the exceptional care which his wife Ethel lavished on him and her efforts to ensure that the rav was not inundated with community work.

When he was in his late 80s, Rav Miller had to have a valve replacement on his heart. He asked the surgical team if they weren't afraid to operate on a person close to 90. The doctors told him they weren't afraid to operate on him since he was a healthy person. "Age is not a determining factor as far as you're concerned," they assured him. He had the surgery done and within a few weeks was back to his regular activities.

He conveyed the importance of taking care of their health to his congregants too. When a congregant brought his daughter for a blessing before she went to study in Gateshead, Rav Miller told her pointedly, "Eat three good meals a day, get plenty of sleep, and watch out for English germs."

Rav Miller's mental and physical capacities remained strong and lucid until the end. He mentioned shortly before his passing that his earliest memories go back to when he was two. His exceptional memory never failed him.

Final Illness

Rav Miller reached his 93rd birthday brimming with plans to publish more books. In March he finally published the final book to his commentary on Chumash. He was preparing three volumes on the Aggados of the Shas for print. He was working on three volumes on the Holocaust. He had prepared outlines to finish his history series. He had taped shiurim on Shaarei Tshuva, Mesillas Yeshorim, Chovos Halevovos, and Pirkei Ovos which he was thinking of putting into written form, including 83 one-and- a-half hour tapes of shiurim he had given on Mesillas Yeshorim. He had 49 tapes on Perek Cheilek of Sanhedrin. He prayed often asking for Hashem to give him more years so he could continue to disseminate Torah study and inspiration for Torah living to the public.

A few weeks before Pesach, he was diagnosed with a benign form of leukemia. The shul began to recite Tehillim throughout the day, although his congregants were relieved to see that Rav Miller, although weakened, could still carry his daily load. The congregants kept away except for emergencies, since they knew that the Rav needed to rest.

Pesach passed in high spirits. Rav Miller felt well enough to give a shiur on the seventh day of Pesach.

After praying mincha intensely at his shul on Wednesday, April 18 (25 Nisan), a great weakness overcame him and he was hospitalized. His family attended him around the clock.

The doctors optimistically thought that they could discharge him by the following Sunday, and his congregation eagerly anticipated his return. But the following day he grew progressively weaker. Despite his precarious state, he was calm and reposed. The Next World had been such a concrete concept to him throughout his life that he faced death with the same calmness that one faces stepping through a door.

On that day, his wife and children came to receive his final blessing. His oldest son R' Eliezer spent two hours talking with him privately that day.

Rav Miller told him not to cry when he goes, because he had a good life. He instructed him where to find the deed to the grave which he purchased in Har Hazeisim, and where he could find a letter he had written to the family.

And then Rav Miller began to review all the kindnesses which Hashem had done for him throughout his life. He recalled his good fortune to have left Baltimore to attend yeshiva in New York, his arrival in Slobodke in 1932, studying under Rav Eizik Sher and Rav Avrohom Grodzensky, and the fact that he was able to leave Chelsea for New York to be the mashgiach in Yeshivas Chaim Berlin.

He mentioned the Chovos Halevovos, which had been his guidebook through life. He told his son, "If you want to be happy, learn Chovos Halevovos. And if you want to be really happy, learn on top of that Mesillas Yeshorim."

The hospital ward filled with followers and family as word spread that the rav's situation was serious. Hatzala members who were present called the Chevra Kadisha. The waiting room was also full of people reciting Tehillim, many of them Satmar chassidim who had been among his most fervent followers. More than a minyan of men were present in the room with him, including his children and a nephew.

Darkness had descended and several hours slowly ticked by. Rav Miller mentioned that an overwhelming weakness had overcome him. He then recited Krias Shema slowly, word by word, thinking deeply of each word's meaning. Then he counted Sefira. He asked for a drink of water and recited a blessing over it.

Then he recited Borei Nefoshos with great concentration. "Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the Universe, Creator of numerous living things and what they lack. Everything He has created is in order to sustain the life of every being. Blessed is the Life of the Universe." This common prayer summed up in a few short words what had been the focus of Rav Miller's life.

Around midnight, he suffered a spasm and became unconscious. A short time later, his soul departed. The date was 27 Nisan, 5761 (April 20, 2001).

The Chevra Kadisha men prepared his body and transported it to the funeral home. Ten of his closest congregants and followers were called at 4 in the morning and told that Rav Miller had passed away. They organized a minyan to go to the funeral home and recite Tehillim around the aron.

Funeral and Eulogies

The entire congregation was plunged into deep mourning. Rabbi S., a congregant, relates, "We felt we had lost a parent."

Another shift of congregants came at 7:30 to say Tehillim so the first group could daven.

The funeral was delayed until Sunday because the aron could not be transported to Israel before Shabbos. For two days around the clock, the congregants in the shul organized watches of people saying Tehillim next to the aron at the funeral home.

The funeral started from his shul, the Beis Yisroel Torah Center, at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday morning, 29 Nisan (April 22). Rav Miller had rarely left the close environment of his shul and shiurim. But now, at his funeral, the whole Torah world came to him.

His shul still didn't have a sign announcing to visitors whose house of worship it was. But within a few hours, 30,000 people were standing outside the shul to pay their final respects to Rav Miller. Admirers of Rav Miller flew in from Detroit and St. Louis. Some who wanted to fly in from England were told not to, since they would not make the funeral in time.

The shul was packed with admirers and congregants who had come to hear the eulogies, while outside loudspeakers conveyed the speeches to the masses for whom there was no room. Hookups were made to the Mirrer Yeshiva and the Achiezer Sephardic shul a block down on Ocean Parkway.

Eulogies were delivered by HaRav Shmuel Birnbaum, the rosh yeshiva of the Mirrer Yeshiva in the United States; HaRav Chaim Pinchos Scheinberg, rosh yeshiva of Torah Or; the Novominsker Rebbe; HaRav Y. Rosenblum, the rosh yeshiva of Shaarei Yosher; two of HaRav Miller's sons-in-law, HaRav Elchonon Brog, a maggid shiur in the Chaim Berlin yeshiva and HaRav Yerucham Lishinsky, a maggid shiur in the Mirrer yeshiva; HaRav Miller's son, HaRav Shmuel Miller, rosh yeshiva of Beis Yisroel yeshiva; and HaRav E. Raful of the New York Syrian community.

Rav Miller's aron was then accompanied by his two sons, a son-in-law and two grandsons to Eretz Yisroel.

In Eretz Yisroel

An enormous levaya with an estimated 25,000 in attendance was held the following day in Jerusalem, starting out from Mirrer Yeshiva.

The first eulogy was delivered by the Mirrer rosh yeshiva, HaRav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, who lamented the great loss the Torah community is suffering by the passing of such a great man and educator. He asked the deceased to go up before the Heavenly Throne and beg for divine assistance to prevent the Torah community from being affected by the decadent atmosphere widespread in the world.

Rav Miller's third son-in-law, HaRav Herschel Kanerek, mentioned the great merit he had in being close to his father-in-law for the past thirty ears. "There was nothing he did without thinking through carefully." He spoke about Rav Miller's extreme joy of living and his gratitude to Hashem for life.

HaRav Moshe Sternbuch, called out: "A great Torah prince has fallen in Israel. People returned to Judaism because of his tapes. He merited to have true Torah views. . . When Moshe Rabbenu passed away, Hashem lamented: 'Who can take the place of this one who feared G-d?' The same may be said about the deceased. It is a good sign when one dies on Shabbos eve, for it indicates that throughout his life he prepared himself for his departure to the World to Come."

HaRav Boruch Rosenberg, the rosh yeshiva of Slobodke in Bnei Brak said: "We are standing before the aron of a great man. Can we assess his greatness? He was a great servant of Hashem. He did not waste even one moment of his life. When one wanted to meet him, it was impossible to find time, even for urgent issues. For decades, he has brought the multitudes to merit in a remarkable manner. I don't know if anyone was as great as he in how he influenced the public to virtue. He influenced hundreds and perhaps thousands of Jews to draw closer to their Father in heaven. His success was unprecedented. A person will return to Judaism only if he is told the absolute truth: that there is a Master to the universe. And that is precisely what he did his entire life."

His son, HaRav Shmuel, the rosh yeshiva of Beis Yisroel, eulogized him: "He taught many and influenced many to study Torah. His strength stemmed from the strength of Chovos Halevovos, which was his guidebook. He was a man of truth."

HaRav Shmuel Yaakov Bornstein, rosh yeshiva of the Chevron Geula yeshiva, defined the deceased as a "giant among giants." He said, "Today is a difficult day for Yisroel. He spread Torah with all of his might throughout his life. He was `exclusively for Hashem' and utilized every moment of his life for Torah."

The last eulogy was delivered by HaRav Matisyahu Solomon, the mashgiach of the Lakewood yeshiva of the United States: "All of his life, he was like Avrohom Ovinu -- promulgating truth, belief in G-d and love of one's fellow. He proclaimed to the entire world that there is a Creator of the universe, and thousands and tens of thousands gathered around him to hear his teachings."

The gedolim and tzadikim of our generation and the earlier one held Rav Miller in high esteem. Gedolim testified that he mirrored the greatness of Jewish sages of former generations. The Satmar Rav had once said about him, "He was not of this generation." While he was firmly implanted in the previous generation, he cast his glory on this one.

At the end of the eulogies, a massive throng accompanied him to his final resting place on Har Hazeisim.

Successor and Farewell

Rav Miller had refused to suggest a successor to himself. He told his son that it would be up to the baalebatim in his shul to choose whoever they thought would be a fitting successor.

After the funeral, the presidium mournfully met and decided to appoint Rav Miller's grandson HaRav Eliyahu Brog as the new rav. Rav Brog, 42, had studied his entire life in the Mirrer yeshiva. He had spent many years davening in his grandfather's shul and listening to his shiurim and lectures. He was a faithful follower of his grandfather's world view and goals.

With the appointment of rabbonus, Rav Brog also undertook the heavy load of his grandfather's shiurim.

After Rav Miller's passing, his family found a letter he had left behind for them. Like all of his writings, it was a masterpiece which movingly expressed his loving farewell to his family and congregation.

He told his children how he loved them all and how much nachas they had given him.

He reiterated how he thanked Hashem for all the blessings He had given him. "I cannot say the end of His praises for all He has given me from the beginning to the end of my life."

He exhorted his family to continue going in the Torah's way, and to thank Hashem for all the good He does to them, including prior kindnesses done to the family.

He thanked many people in his congregation who had dealt with him kindly, mentioning a few by name. He thanked select people who were not his congregants but who had helped him through the years.

He bid his family to go in the ways of mussar, observe the ways of piety, and keep away from the ways of the goyim.

He ended his letter asking that Hashem bless them together with faithful Jews everywhere -- and that they forever be successful in their spiritual and earthly affairs.

Confronted by a Hoodlum

Thirty-eight years ago, Rav Miller attended a large demonstration in Manhattan together with students from yeshivos all over New York protesting that the Brisker Rav had been insulted.

On the way home, he invited a student to walk with him through Manhattan towards Brooklyn.

As they walked through a deserted side street, a tall street tough quickly approached the two and stuck his hand out ominously asking for money. The man wasn't a downhearted panhandler and he looked like he might grab Rav Miller's wallet if the rav took it out to give him money. However, Rav Miller and his student realized that if they wouldn't give the man a donation, he might become violent and hurt them. Nor could they run away and turn to someone for safety because they were in a deserted side street.

The frightened student looked towards Rav Miller for guidance. Suddenly he heard Rav Miller talk to the man with words of gibberish. The street tough looked at him, and again demanded that he give him money. Rav Miller calmly repeated his earlier mumble-jumble. The man asked him for money more threateningly. R. Miller again calmly said the same incomprehensible words.

The street tough became irked. A few more times he demanded money and each time he was responded to with the strange, incomprehensible words. He finally became so frustrated that he shrugged his shoulders and walked away.

Rav Miller and the student quickly left the scene. When they were a safe distance away, his student asked him what he had said. He knew it wasn't Hebrew or Yiddish.

Rav Miller explained that when he studied in Lithuania, he used to take long walks around the nearby countryside. Over the time, he had picked up an odd dialect of Lithuanian. Rav Miller was afraid that the man who was accosting them might recognize French or Spanish, so he chose to speak in a strange dialect that he knew the man wouldn't be able to understand. He had hoped that the man would become frustrated at not being able to communicate until he walked away -- which is exactly what happened. The brilliance of Rav Miller was that he thought of this response within mere seconds, and when he spoke the words in Lithuanian, he was totally calm and in control.

He reminded his student of one of his frequent sayings -- that a person has to thank Hashem even for his thoughts.

Teaching Passages About Mazikim

In the beginning, when Rav Miller's gemora study group would encounter sections dealing with mazikim or supernatural phenomenon in the gemora, he would say, "We'll skip the next ten lines because we need more yiras Shomayim for this."

Utilize the Opportunity to Influence Others

One day Rav Miller was walking in the Slobodke yeshiva in Lithuania when he came across a young man he had known in Yeshiva University. This young man had been a lightheaded fellow and a joker, who lacked even minimal yiras Shomayim. But here he was, in the Slobodke yeshiva of all places! Not only had he come, but he even wore his tzitzis out, a sign of unusual piety which at the time was highly unusual even in a yeshiva.

Rav Miller went over to the young man, gave him a "Sholom Aleichem" and asked what he was doing there. The bochur told him, "Do you remember that day that we met in the corridor in Yeshiva University? You looked at me and said, `When will you make something of yourself and take life seriously?' Your words penetrated deeply, and shook me up. That was my turning point."

Rav Miller would tell this story to his students and then add that if they had an opportunity to influence another for the good, or even an opportunity to just say something thought-provoking, they should do it even if they're not sure the other person will accept it.

"Once it goes down the hatch, it's there," Rav Miller would say. "It might take a week, a month or a day, but it never leaves the person's brain. One never knows when it will bear fruits."

 

All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.