Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

2 Iyar 5761 - April 25, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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HaRav Avigdor Miller zt"l
by C. Zilberman and B. Kahn

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 Kesuvos.

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 yedi'os.

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 heart.

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 assembly.

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 discourses.

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 and circumstances.

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 say.

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 Yerushalaim.

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 be harmed."

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.


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