On Thursday night, the eve of 27 Nisan, 5761 (April 19,
2001), HaRav Avigdor Miller zt'l, of Brooklyn, New
York, a leading Torah educator, ba'al mussar, and rav
of the Bais Yisroel Torah Center, was niftar at the
age of ninety-two.
This American godol born in Baltimore, Maryland, on
Rosh Chodesh Elul 5668 (Aug. 28, 1908), who later innovated
methods for teaching Torah to baalei batim, so that
they would not only know a little Torah knowledge, not only
understand what is true daas Torah, not only send
their sons to yeshivos kedoshos and daughters to Beis
Yaakov schools, not only support their children studying in
kollelim in Eretz Yisroel and America, but they would
also be inspired to become talmidei chachomim
themselves--and many, boruch Hashem, were successful
in doing so.
His thirst for learning was evident at an early age. He
later told over that he learned Tanach with his
grandfather Rav Dov, zt"l, to the extent that he knew
most of it by heart.
He grew up in material poverty but acquired spiritual
riches. He used to study for long hours next to the stove in
his parents' home or in shul. He said that his
clothes were worn and torn from rubbing against the
shtender while learning, and especially maseches
At the age of 14 he went to study in Yeshivas Rabbenu
Yitzchok Elchonon that was then on the Lower East Side.
Among his contemporaries were HaRav Nosson Wachtfogel,
zt"l, and HaRav Yehudah Davis zt"l. He studied
sifrei mussar and hashkofoh intensely in order
to find the correct way of avodas Hashem and he was
known for his hasmodoh, his memory and his vast
When he was twenty-four, HaRav Aizik Sher zt'l, the
rosh yeshiva of Slobodke, came to American to raise money
for his yeshiva. When HaRav Sher came to Yeshivas Rabbenu
Yitzchok Elchonon HaRav Miller became attached to him and
followed him to Yeshivas Slobodke, arriving on erev Shavuos.
Greeting him at the yeshiva was HaRav Avrohom Grodzensky
zt'l, the mashgiach, who kissed him on the
forehead and said, "You have come for kabolas
haTorah." Later, recalling his trip, HaRav Sher said
that he did not collect much silver (kesef) on that
trip to America, but that he did bring back gold, in the
form of HaRav Miller and others who came to Slobodke as a
result of that trip.
HaRav Miller studied there for six years and absorbed the
Slobodke shittah of Torah and mussar
emphasizing gadlus ho'odom and tikkun
hamiddos. He was particularly influenced by HaRav Aizik
Sher zt'l, the rosh yeshiva of Slobodke and HaRav
Avrohom Grodzensky zt'l, the mashgiach. HaRav
Moshe Tikochinsky zt'l, the mashgiach ruchani
of Yeshivas Slobodke in Bnei Brak, was a dear friend of his
during their years in Slobodke and afterwards.
HaRav Miller used to tell of the poverty that prevailed
then. He would be the first to come in every morning and the
last to leave at night, because he was ashamed of his
clothes that had so many patches.
In 1935 he married his life partner for sixty-six years,
Ethel Lessin, the daughter of HaRav Yaakov Moshe Lessin,
then rov of Neishtat and later the mashgiach ruchani
of Yeshivas Rabbenu Yitzchok Elchonon in New York.
Right before the outbreak of World War II the couple
returned to America. In parting, HaRav Sher asked him what
his ruchniyus goals were. He answered by referring to
an avreich who knew all of the seforim of the
Ketzos by heart. In reply, HaRav Sher asked him if he had
done anything to reach this goal. From then on, began to
learn the seforim Ketzos HaChoshen and the Shev
Shma'ateso by heart, reviewing them constantly. He gave
public shiurim in them and even in his last days in
the hospital he asked to review these seforim by
In America, HaRav Miller took his first position as rav in
Chelsea, Massachusetts, where he served until 1945. Even in
this area he had a great impact, and said public lectures on
many subjects. Even in those days bochurim who came
totally ignorant of Torah grew slowly in learning until they
became true bnei Torah.
In the year 1945, when his children were getting older and
he needed proper chinuch for them, HaRav Yitzchok
Hutner zt'l requested that he become the
mashgiach in Yeshivas Chaim Berlin, a position that
he held for nineteen years. Later HaRav Miller became the
Rav of the Young Israel of Rugby in the East Flatbush
section of Brooklyn, and began his program of educating
laymen to become great in Torah.
He was fearless when it came to standing up for Torah
ideals. Once at a large gathering, a distinguished public
figure was speaking and he began to criticize the
harbotzas Torah of HaRav Aharon Kotler, zt"l.
The speaker said that his efforts must be stopped. HaRav
Miller stood up and made a vigorous public protest against
this attack on Torah. His dramatic action stunned the entire
After the East Flatbush neighborhood started changing, the
Rov decided to reestablish the kehilla and in 1975 he
moved to Flatbush, not far from the Mirrer Yeshiva. Some
forty families of the baalei batim of his
shul, who were thoroughly devoted to the Rov, moved
together with him, something entirely unheard of, and not at
all easy for them to do. In that way the Bais Yisroel Torah
Center with its intensive program of shiurim
throughout the day was established.
People who previously couldn't read a word of Hebrew, those
for whom the Rov had to put the vowels in the words of the
gemora, later became proficient in Shas. Rav
Miller once said, "In all the shiurim in the world
the rav learns and everybody listens, here everyone has to
learn." He would regularly stop the shiur in the
middle and everyone would say over the gemora. The
Rov stressed that you are not a success until you are able
to say it over yourself. He told the baalei batim to
constantly review, and only in that way they would become
talmidei chachomim. Every Shabbos before the Rov's
droshoh a gabbai would announce the names of
the numerous chavrusos that would be learning during
the Shabbos and the week.
Now Torah tapes are common but the credit must be given to
Rav Miller who innovated this idea and taped the numerous
shmuessen that he delivered in the shul and
elsewhere. The Torah Telephone Program in which
chavrusos were formed even with people on the west
coast was the first of its sort, and some chavrusos
have already lasted twenty years.
People from all over, including many prominent members of
the Flatbush Sephardic communities, would come to the Rov's
Shabbos afternoon Agaddeta shiur and his Thursday
night droshoh with its question and answer session,
that magnetized the audience.
During the past half century, HaRav Miller spread emunah,
yiras Shomayim and correct hashkofo throughout
the United States. With his unique gift of speech, pleasant
delivery and pure message he merited to inspire and
enlighten tens of thousands with his speeches and writings.
At the request of Mr. Pinchas Shelby, he founded a
shiur in hashkofo for Jews of Oriental
descent, slowly broadening the circle of the shiur
until hundreds attended it. At these lectures he clarified
the pure hashkofo on many topics, among them:
emunah, happiness, gratitude, ahavas Yisroel,
improvement of one's middos and interpersonal
relationships and the manner of grappling with the
materialism of the United States. He also delivered lectures
on the Holocaust and on the vision of the End of Days.
Chovos Halevovos, which he knew by heart, served as
the basis of all of his fascinating shiurim and
Over the past fifty years, he produced thousands of tapes on
many subjects in hashkofo, halocho gemora, medrash
and mussar. These tapes served the teshuva
movement, which developed in the United States, and the
general community which, by listening to them, fulfilled the
mitzvah of uvelechtecho baderech, in many instances
His students relate that during his life he delivered more
than 6000 lectures on various topics, in addition to his
steady shiurim in gemora and halocho, which he
gave in his beis medrash.
People from all over New York attended his shiurim.
Those on the parsha and hashkofo were widely
discussed. In these tastefully delivered shiurim he
simplified many complex issues, while probing the depths of
topics which seemed simple. Everyone who heard his lectures
derived much spiritual guidance, commensurate with his
level, from them.
One of his guiding principles was: "Lo soguru mipnei
ish -- fear no man." His stated his pure viewpoints
dauntlessly, even though at times they were not amenable to
some American Jews of those times, especially when he
criticized the spreading materialism of the United States.
At many gatherings, he spoke about the tzurah of the
Jewish person, encouraging bnei Torah to grow beards
and payos. "Distinguished demeanor is a gift from
Hashem, and one does not shave Hashem's gift," he would
He was a man of deep emotion, and at seuda shlishis
time, which is called ra'avo dera'avin, those who
davened with him saw him shed tears of longing and
yearning for the Borei Yisborach and heard him speak
with Hashem, as a son supplicating before his Father, out of
tremendous love for Him.
In addition to his numerous tapes, he also merited to
publish many seforim which gained fame throughout the
United States and Europe. These books were mainly in English
and were geared for the American public, their purpose being
to instill American Jews with emunah and clear and
correct Torah outlook. Among his books are: Oz Nidberu,
Sing You Righteous, Awake My Glory, Praise My Soul on
Prayer and Rejoice O' Youth, as well as works on
the entire Chumash, and Behold a Nation on the
history of Am Yisroel from Creation until the destruction of
the Beis Hamikdash. A number of books still haven't
been published, among them three volumes on the Holocaust
and three volumes on the Aggados of the Shas
which are ready for print.
The Rov's first sefer, Rejoice O' Youth, unmasked the
falsity of spurious theories that were accepted blindly by
the public at large, and guided the reader to seek the truth
in Yiddishkeit and not be misled on the way. The
series of history seforim (recently translated into
Hebrew) was the work of an odom godol who showed how
Chazal looked at the occurrences throughout time and refuted
the theories of the "enlightened" historians. His
seforim on Chumash show the treasures of
Chazal, what they teach us from the Torah, and how the Torah
should be correctly understood.
Until Shevi'i shel Pesach, he delivered
shiurim on a regular basis. After Pesach, he felt
weak, and on Wednesday (25 Nisan) after mincha, which
he recited with great kavonoh, he felt ill and was
hospitalized. On erev Shabbos (27 Nisan), he returned his
pure soul to its Maker.
Levaya in America
The levaya in America began from his shul Beis
Yisroel on Sunday, 29 Nisan, April 22, with hookups to
Mirrer Yeshiva and the Achiezer Sephardic beis
knesses a block away down Ocean Parkway. It was attended
by the many Jews whom he turned into lomdim, those
who because of him became yirei Shomayim, now
respectable baalei batim whose lives he changed,
thousands who although they never met him personally honored
and revered him, and eminent roshei yeshivos and rabbonim
who recognized the Rov's gadlus.
Before the levaya set out, hespedim were
delivered by HaRav Shmuel Birnbaum, the rosh yeshiva of the
Mir in the United States; HaRav Chaim Pinchos Scheinberg,
rosh yeshiva of Torah Or; the Admor of Novominsk; HaRav Y.
Rosenblum,, the rosh yeshiva of Shaarei Yosher; HaRav
Miller's son-in-law, HaRav Elchonon Brog, a ram in
the Chaim Berlin yeshiva; HaRav Yerucham Lishinsky, a
ram in the Mirrer yeshiva;, HaRav Miller's son, HaRav
Shmuel Miller, rosh yeshiva of Beis Yisroel yeshiva and
HaRav E. Raful.
In Eretz Yisroel
The enormous levaya in Eretz Yisroel, estimated at
about 25,000, started out from Mirrer Yeshiva in
His levaya in Jerusalem left from the Mirrer yeshiva.
The first hesped was delivered by the rosh hayeshiva,
HaRav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, who lamented the great loss we
have suffered by the petirah of an odom godol,
moreh derech and mechanech. "How much
chinuch is lacking in our times," HaRav Finkel cried
out. "I am certain that he wanted us to strengthen ourselves
in our chinuch to Torah, yiras Shomayim, good
middos and mussar. Today, the street has
entered the beis medrash. It is terrible. The
cellular phones and similar things. If that menuval
(the yetzer hora) has accosted you, pull him into the
beis medrash. These things have seeped into the
beis hamedrash, kodesh kodoshim..
"Mechanchim must educate children so that they will
not be adversely affected by such things, and so that they
will be kedoshim and tehorim. We must be more
immersed in our Torah study, day and night. We must
strengthen ourselves in Torah and yiras Shomayim, and
not undermine, chas vesholom, the kodesh
hakodoshim of the beis medrash, which must remain
pure and holy. May the niftar zt"l go up to the
Kisei Hakovod and shout gevald over the woes
which assail us, so that kodesh hakodoshim will not
In his hesped, HaRav Miller's son-in-law, HaRav
Herschel Kenerek mentioned the great zechus he had in
being close to his father-in-law for the past thirty years.
"The fire of Torah is a live coal, and the more one fans it,
the hotter it becomes. HaKodosh Boruch Hu plants
wisdom in the heart of every person. All one must do is to
draw it out with the power of his intelligence, by
reflection and by knowing the truth. `Umachshevosov el
levovecho.' There was nothing he did without thought and
more thought. His joy of living led him to tell his children
that he was so happy to be alive that he could see that
HaKodosh Boruch Hu had given us life. Happiness in
life caused this thought."
HaRav Moshe Sternbuch, called out: " `Sar vegodol nofal
beYisroel. Hatzvi Yisroel al bomoshecho cholol.' I never
saw him, but people did teshuva as a result of
listening to his tapes. He merited siyata deShmaya.
He merited to have daas Torah. . . . When Moshe
Rabbenu was niftar, HaKodosh Boruch Hu cried out:
"Mi yokum li im merei'im." The same may be said about
the niftar. It is a good sign when one dies on
erev Shabbos, for it indicates that throughout his
life he prepared to be ready for his departure to the World
to Come. He also asked that we pray on behalf of Am Yisroel,
[for today] the curses of each day are worse than those of
the previous ones."
HaRav Boruch Rosenberg, the rosh yeshiva of Slobodke said:
"We are standing before the aron of a great man. But
do we really know how to assess his greatness. He was a
great oved 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. He was burdened with
work. For decades, he was mezakeh es horabim in a
remarkable manner. I don't know if anyone is as great as he
in zikui horabim. The niftar influenced
hundreds and perhaps thousands of Jews to draw closer to
Ovinu shebaShomayim, and caused them to do
teshuva. His success was unprecedented. A person will
do teshuva 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, Rav Shmuel, the rosh yeshiva of Beis Yisroel cried
out: "Sar vegodol nofal beYisroel. He had much
influence in the United States. In his home, his family
spoke only Yiddish. He influenced hundreds and thousands,
and strengthened thousands in Torah by means of his many
tapes which reached everywhere. He taught many and
influenced many to study Torah. The unlearned began to study
Torah on his merit. He merited to be mezakeh horabim.
His strength stemmed from the strength of Chovos
Halevovos. It was his mentor. He was a man of truth."
HaRav Shmuel Yaakov Bornstein, one of the roshei
yeshiva of the Chevron Geula yeshiva defined the
niftar as a "giant among giants." In his
hesped, he said: "It is a difficult day for Yisroel.
It is like a day on which the sun sets in the afternoon. He
spread Torah with all of his might, and during all of his
time. `The sun sets and the sun rises' refers to the passing
of a giant among giants. He was `exclusively for Hashem' and
one who fulfilled `shivisi Hashem lenegdi tomid..' He
utilized every moment of his life for Torah. All of the
concepts of the Torah were firmly established in him, and he
bequeathed them to others."
HaRav Meir Tzvi Bergman, the rosh yeshiva of the Rashbi
Yeshiva, explained that the verse "all Beis Yisroel will
weep over the conflagration" was said in reference to Nodov
and Avihu. Because they were unique in the Jewish Nation,
they were shluchi tzibbur, therefore all Beis Yisroel
was bidden to weep over their deaths. HaRav Miller was
active on behalf of the Torah. He brought back hundreds and
thousands. As a result, all klal Yisroel must weep
over him -- each and every individual. He was a shliach
tzibbur who represented Klal Yisroel before the
Creator of the universe."
The last hesped was delivered by HaRav Matisyohu
Solomon, the mashgiach of the Lakewood yeshiva of the
United States who, calling him a "man of truth," said: "All
of his life, he was a man of truth. Avrohom Ovinu was the
father of truth, emunah and love of one's fellow. He
proclaimed to the entire world that there is a Creator of
the universe, and thousand and tens of thousands gathered
around him to hear his teachings. Avrohom was "seva
yomim." All that he had wanted in his life, he had seen
already. Whoever saw the niftar on the street, knew
that he was a contented Jew -- one whose life was tranquil.
Jews were strengthened just by seeing him in the morning on
the way to shul."
At the end of the hespeidim, a massive throng
accompanied him to his resting place on Har Hazeisim.
The gedolim and tzadikim of the generation and
the great roshei yeshiva and poskim of our
times held him in very high esteem, and said that his
personality mirrors the greatness of the gedolim of
the former generations. He was firmly implanted in the
previous generation, while casting his glory on this one.
He is survived by his wife Ethel, his oldest son HaRav
Eliezer, a well-known figure in the chareidi community; his
son HaRav Shmuel, who is the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Bais
Yisroel; his daughter Sheini the wife of HaRav Elchonon
Shmuel Brog, a maggid shiur in Yeshivas Chaim Berlin,
his daughter Liba the wife of HaRav Yeruchom Lishinsky, a
maggid shiur in the Mirrer yeshiva ketana; and
his daughter Devorah the wife of HaRav Hershel Kenerek, the
principal of the Or Hameir Peekskill Yeshiva.
As well he is survived by grandchildren and great-
grandchildren, all of whom are following in his footsteps.
He is deeply mourned by the tens of thousands of students
who, under his guidance, merited to grow in Torah.