AVIGDOR MILLER ZT"L
By M. Samsonowitz
How the Thursday Night Shiur Began
Although Rav Miller's accomplishments between his wide variety of shiurim,
shul life and writings were already well known, his fame spread through the
world in the wake of his famous Thursday night shiur.
Mordechai, who had been searching for a mentor and found it in Rav Miller,
described 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 it. However, Rav
Miller did give a short shiur in the late summer nights between mincha and
maariv on Chovos Halevovos which lasted 20 minutes. Mordechai implored Rav
Miller to allow him to tape the shiur.
It was no simple feat. Compact tape recorders were unknown and the tape
recorders of that early period were based on reels which slowly wound
around. The machine was heavy and large, and cumbersome to transport.
Mordechai asked his father's friend if he could borrow the reel machine, and
he brought it to shul. Finally, he recorded Rav Miller for the first time.
His disappointment was huge when Rav Miller approached him afterwards and
insisted that he erase the reel. Rav Miller felt he had spoken too sharply
against a certain group, and not want it to 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.
This shiur became the first Rav Miller tape in existence.
Rav Miller 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 it was true.
Another development in 1967 turned out to be a major milestone in Rav Miller
It began with a young Sephardi man in his 20's who was trying to imbue his
life with more Judaism. Pinchos used to daven with Sephardim in the nearby
Shaarei Tziyon shul. During the 60's, 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 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, help him out. If the friend wasn't there, Pinchos felt too
uncomfortable to daven alone. He decided to switch to a minyan where the
praying was slower so he would have an easier time keeping pace with the
Someone told him to try the nearby Mirrer Yeshiva where the davening was
After five months of davening in the yeshiva, Pinchos was feeling
frustrated. Although he was able to more or less keep up with the minyan, he
wanted to feel close 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
finished. 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 schoolyard 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 hamidrash? 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 disappointed and
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 a 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.
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 has 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
On 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' (pejorative term for a religious
Ashkenazic Jew)!" Pinchos and his friends were all young with it guys in
their 20's, and they related disdainfully to rabbis who they considered
relics of less progressive times -- despite the fact that they themselves
all observed Shabbos. The twenty boys had grown up together since first
grade and were best friends. They had only agreed to come because of their
friendship with Pinchos.
When Rav Miller walked in, their disappointment was huge. One of the boys
let loose a wisecrack, "My name is Chita and it means 'wheat'."
Rav Miller answered him sharply, "My name is Miller and a miller crushes
Rav Miller's sharp comment silenced the boys, but he knew not for long.
He asked the boys, "Do you want to talk about Rambam or the Knicks?" The
youths were taken aback at the question.
The young men 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. Pinchos didn't know how to digest this strange
After five minutes, the rav moved on to the Rambam. The audience sat with
their mouths open throughout the speech. They were surprised to see how
articulate the rav was. They totally unexpected 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
Rav Miller mentioned that he had taken the garbage out for his wife, and
noticed a corner of the newspaper sticking 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 had become an expert on the Knicks.
Pinchos soon discovered that Rav Miller was an expert on any topic you asked
him about. Rav Miller was an avid reader and could speedread. He possessed
encyclopedic knowledge because he retained everything he saw. Whatever you
asked him to speak about, he could hold forth on with ease.
The Uniqueness of the Thursday Night Shiur
The Sephardic youths returned for the following ten weeks, and then the
class 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
workforce, and each felt he was addressing their most important questions
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 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. Shmiras 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. Tshuva 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 the 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, ragweed, 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.
A thousand people sometimes attended his shiur. He would unaffectedly say to
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, he made you feel it
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 emuna of 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 should 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 for his fellow man, 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
He also spoke extensively on themes from Tenach, 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, 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
too 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 still 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 it up
every Friday from him and send it to them in Israel. Pinchos was glad to do
Then a short time later, someone else asked Pinchos for a copy. After that,
the requests rapidly multiplied. Finally there was no way out but to buy a
special reel machine that recorded the rabbi and copied his speech onto
Rav Miller tapes began to reach the wide public in 1972.
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?"
The shiur moved to the 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 congregations on the themes Rav Miller propounded and started
tape libraries for the benefit of their congregants.
The tape production of Rav Miller's lectures was finally streamlined and
From 1967 to 2001, over 2,500 tapes were produced of Rav Miller's Thursday
night shiurim -- in addition to numerous other shiurim which 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 a common phenomenon
in the Torah community, Rav Miller was the first whose shiurim were publicly
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 Mir
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 the Mir
Yeshiva. The building was renovated into a shul with 190 seats for men and
100 seats for ladies. Forty families of Rav Miller's most dedicated
congregants made the move together with him. It was decided to change the
name of 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 an exodus of Syrian Jews to Deal, a sprawling
suburban town in New Jersey. Real estate plummeted its lowest for the first
time in many years. Rav Miller encouraged his congregants to buy homes as
close to the Mir Yeshiva as possible.
The following year, there was another exodus of Syrian Jews from Deal to
Ocean Parkway, after many who had moved missed 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 Sephardim who
had faithfully attended his shiurim decided to join the shul.
With the time, between 15-20% 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 tshuva dotted the audience. The
whole spectrum of Torah Jewry was present, and everyone felt he was talking
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.
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
take-off 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. His greatist accomplishments over the past 30 years took place
when he was in his 60's, 70's and 80's - and remained unabated until his
death at the age of 93.
This could only partially be attributed to his vigilance about health. He
carefully watched his health and made it an unassailable practice to eat
healthy 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 by community work.
When he was in his late 80's, Rav Miller had to have a heart valve replaced.
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.
Rav Miller reached his 93rd birthday brimming with plans to publish more
books. In March he published the final book to his commentary on chumash. He
was preparing three volumes on Aggados of Shas. He was working on three
volumes on the Holocaust. He had prepared outlines to finish his history
series. He had taped shiurim on Shaarei Teshuva, Mesilas Yesharim, Chovos
Halevovos, and Pirkei Avos which he was thinking of putting into written
form, including 83, 1 1/2 hour tapes of shiurim he had given on Mesilas
Yesharim. He had 49 tapes on Perek Chelek of Sanhedrin. He prayed often
asking for Hashem to give him more years so he could continue to disseminate
Torah 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 Tehilim throughout the day. 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, 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 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 Slabodka in 1932,
studying under Rav Eizik Sher and Rav Avraham Grodzinski, and the fact he
was able to leave Chelsea for New York to be the mashgiach in 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 Mesilas Yesharim."
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 was overcoming him. He then recited
Kriyas 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'
A short time after midnight his soul departed. The date was 27 Nissan, 5761
(April 20, 2001).
Funeral and Eulogies
The levaya 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 levaya started from his shul, the Beis Yisroel Torah Center, at 9:30
a.m. on Sunday morning, 29 Nissan (April 22). Rav Miller had rarely left the
close environment of his shul and shiurim. 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. Hookups were made to the Mirrer
Yeshiva and the Achiezer Sephardic shul a block down on Ocean Parkway.
Hespedim were delivered by Rav Shmuel Birnbaum, the rosh yeshiva of the Mir
Yeshiva in the United States; Rav Chaim Pinchos Scheinberg, rosh yeshiva of
Torah Or; the Novominsker Rebbe; Rav Yosef Rosenblum, rosh yeshiva of
Shaarei Yosher; two of Rav Miller's sons-in-law, Rav Elchonon Brog, maggid
shiur in the Yeshiva Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin and Rav Yerucham Lishinsky,
maggid shiur in the Mirrer yeshiva; Rav Miller's son, Rav Shmuel Miller,
rosh yeshiva of Beis Yisroel yeshiva; and Rav E. Raful of the New York
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 Yerushalayim, starting out from the Mir Yeshiva.
The first hesped was delivered by the Mir rosh yeshiva, Rav 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
Rav Miller's son-in-law, Rav Herschel Kenarek, mentioned the great merit he
had in being close to his father-in-law for the past thirty years.
"There was nothing he did without thinking through it carefully." He spoke
about Rav Miller's extreme joy of living and his gratitude to Hashem for
Rav 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
Rav Boruch Rosenberg, rosh yeshiva Slabodka 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 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
His son, Rav Shmuel, rosh yeshivas 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
Rav Shmuel Yaakov Bornstein, rosh yeshivas 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
The last eulogy was delivered by Rav Mattisyahu Solomon, the mashgiach of
the Lakewood yeshiva: "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."
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 the shul to choose a fitting
After the funeral, the presidium mournfully met and decided to appoint Rav
Miller's grandson Rav 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 worldview 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
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
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.
Did You Ask Hashem First?
One student asked Rav Miller for a blessing for his wife and the child each
time his wife was expecting, He felt he could rely on Rav Miller's blessing.
First Rav Miller ascertained that he was also asking Hakodesh Boruch Hu for
His blessing with regularity, Rav Miller happily complied and gave his
No Charity For Lions
One student met Rav Miller on the street on Purim. He asked the student's
age, and then, subtracting it from 120, wished him that many more happy
The students' little son, who was wearing a lion suit, stuck out his hand
and asked the rav for tzedaka. Rav Miller declined saying that he only gives
tzedaka to people but not to lions.
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 defamed by a Mizrachi rav.
On the way home, he invited a student to walk with him through Manhattan
As they walked through a deserted side street, a tall thug 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 on 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. Rav 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 "Shedim"
In the beginning, when Rav Miller's gemora study group would encounter
sections dealing with "shedim" or supernatural phenomenon in the gemora, he
would say, "We'll skip the next ten lines because we need more yiras
shomayim for this."
The Year He Stopped Selling Chometz
Rav Miller didn't take money for selling chometz before Pesach. One year the
rebetzin announced that he would only be selling the chometz of his
congregants, but not of outsiders.
Only his close students knew the reason why. A prominent rav had moved into
the neighborhood who was poor and needed to supplement his living. Rav
Miller decided that he wouldn't arrange the chometz sales for outsiders so
they would go to the new rav and he would have an income before the holiday.
Utilize the Opportunity to Influence Others
One day Rav Miller was walking in the Slabodka yeshiva in Lithuania when he
came across a young man who he had known in Yeshiva University. This young
man had been a light-headed fellow and a joker. But here he was, in the
Slabodka yeshiva of all places! 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."
Rabbi Avigdor Miller zecher tzadik livrocha
Ten years ago in Jerusalem, I was sitting one night with a friend and
studying "Praise, My Soul" by Rabbi Avigdor Miller.
We had both grown up in the Midwest. Our husbands were both involved in
day-long Torah study and we were among the lucky few whose husbands had come
to study in Jerusalem and eventually decided to settle here.
Being spiritual types, we decided we wanted to do something to upgrade our
kavanos while davening. I had suggested Rabbi Miller's book "Praise, My
Soul" and she was amenable to the idea. We decided to first do the Shemoneh
Esreh since that was unquestionably the most important prayer of all. Over a
year, we completed the chapter, and then the busyness of our lives took over
and our study partnership came to an end.
But the inspiration from Rabbi Miller's book did not. I had copied some of
his comments into my prayer book and as I recited my prayers every morning,
my eyes passed over his inimical comments and vitalized the words I was
One day the realization hit me that Rabbi Miller's works had had a large
impact on my life. His book on prayer had given life to my daily davening.
Being an avid history fan, his history books had revised my entire concept
of Jewish history gained from numerous faulty sources -- some of them
regretfully picked up in the Jewish schools I attended. And his three books
on Jewish hashkafa had won a Jewish girl in the Midwest to the cause of
Torah 30 years ago. One could say about Rabbi Miller that his books were
written to address the needs of his generation rather than express his own
personal Torah achievements.
At that moment I promised myself that when Rav Miller will be called away by
the heavenly academy, I would sit down and write the story of how much Rabbi
Miller impacted on one Jewish life. That hour has come.
Long ago, in the faraway years of the mid-1900's -- a time of Jewish
uncertainty and confusion too inconceivable for today's youth to
comprehend -- you were considered Orthodox if you kept the basic guidelines
of Shabbos and kashrus, and your father went to shul every day. You were
considered fanatically Orthodox if you wore tznius clothes and didn't go to
movies. Going to a religious day school was a relatively new phenomenon
which could not be taken for granted.
I still remember the principal of the local yeshiva telling my father, "You
keep Shabbos and kashrus -- why are you sending your kids to the local
public school?" and my father telling him that his limited income didn't
allow for him to pay a private school tuition. Many if not most of my
classmates in yeshiva were on "scholarships." In those days, even Orthodox
parents had to be enticed to send their kids to Jewish day schools. Most of
our parents had studied in public schools and didn't think they were so
It was only over many years that the critical need for a day school
education became obvious. You could see the difference in those families
where the older kids studied in public schools because there were no day
school classes for them, and the younger kids studied in the yeshiva day
school which had in the meantime opened. In most cases, the oldest kids
became irreligious and the youngest ones stayed religious.
As if the times were not bad enough, we were growing up in the Midwest, far
away from the intensive Jewish-permeated atmosphere of New York. I remember
several Chassidim from New York (just a little closer than the moon) who
came to our town for an event one Shabbos. A few of us girls asked to be
addressed by them and one agreed. While we gawked at his Medieval
Age-vintage shtreimel, he enthusiastically praised us for retaining our
attachment to Judaism in the parched spiritual desert we were living in. We
walked out of the shiur uncomprehending. 1960's Midwest Orthodox Jewish life
was all that existed, as far as we knew.
Most of us students were like the fragile last autumn leaves dangling from a
tree caught in an autumn storm. The winds that swirled around us
unrelentingly assaulted our tiny connection to our tree. Many if not most of
our relatives were irreligious. We were born into a society where the newly
invented TV, college studies, English literature and belief in our superior
western civilization were stock articles of our faith. Looking at the many,
large Conservative and Reform Jewish populations around us in contrast to
the few, small Orthodox shuls, we felt like the last of the Mohicans. Over
our shoulders we could see the distancing gray clouds of the Holocaust, some
of us still heard screams at night, and sometimes we wondered what it all
It was the days when interurban travel and phone calls were still expensive
and what you saw in your community was all that existed. I remember
self-assuredly asking my Hebrew teacher in 8th grade why we have to learn
the Hebrew language since "who speaks it anyhow?"
Most of us barely tolerated our Jewish studies, and nearly all of us rated
it lower on the totem pole than our general studies. Chumash often seemed
like Foreign Language 101, Rashi was a course in hieroglyphics and
shorthand, and Yeshaya was a little like tackling Shakespeare. Sheer habit
dictated by the school's policy got us used to davening every day although
we rarely understood what we were saying and tried to finish as fast as
possible. Hebrew appeared to be about as useful as Latin and Greek. The
girls from the better homes dutifully did the homework, while the other ones
sat in the back, chewed gum, read teenage magazines and discussed the latest
movies they went to. The battle of the hemline remained a daily skirmish
despite our educators' best efforts.
No one thought of eventually leaving the confines of our town for more than
seminary, and we imagined we would have to raise our own families in the
same pain-in-the-neck isolation and alienation from general society that had
typified our upbringing.
Being a religious Jew was often a series of No's and You can't's - we weren'
t able to go here, we couldn't wear that, we couldn't watch this, we shouldn
't read that. You can't do anything at all on Shabbos, unless you were
willing to walk a mile to Bnos to play some boring games and hear the
counselor tell a story you had heard three times before.
Our dedicated principal and teachers undoubtedly tried to inculcate
Yiddishkeit the best they knew, but the times were difficult and the
During those bleak times, Rabbi Miller's work "Rejoice O Youth" fell into my
hands and opened my eyes. Today I would call it a work of Hashkafa, but at
that time, the word was unknown to us. Rabbi Miller addressed every single
issue that was central to our lives and that had been troubling us, and he
unrelentingly examined it under a Torah microscope. Meaning of life, the
emptiness of western life, the mirage of romance, the falsehood of the
religions, Secularr Zionism, evolution, Reform and Conservative, Bible
critics, and sundry negative influences were all thoroughly treated in his
book. He was the first to tackle the subject of the emptiness of western
society and western values and dispel the subliminal inferior complex we
felt towards Jews less old-fashioned than us. He mercilessly and
sarcastically bludgeoned all these convincing, impressive sounding beliefs
and trends so that you weren't left with a kernel of doubt.
Immense of an accomplishment as this was, he did even more. Strange as it is
to say it, he brought G-d into the mosaic of our lives. We kept mitzvos, we
studied Torah, we translated the words of the prayers, we knew dikduk, we
could read a Rashi. We just didn't have much of an idea of how all this
relates to G-d, Who we vaguely knew was somehow supposed to be a presence in
The idea that G-d had created an apple to give us humans pleasure was a
shockingly new idea. The idea that G-d wants us to enjoy His world, and
keeping mitzvos and studying Torah is just our way of saying thank-you, was
a stunning revelation. He introduced new concepts which we never heard
before: True Awareness, the Jews' unique role and challenges, our great
He challenged us: "It is within your power to gain a real Awareness of G-d's
imminence. This transforms a man's life; he becomes optimistic and
energetic, and his potential abilities begin to emerge and assert
themselves." We had never heard before someone equating success and
optimizing our potential with gaining an awareness of Hashem.
This book (and later books of his) was a major influence on the lives of
many of my contemporaries. It gave us the backing to look western society in
the eye and conclude "the Emperor has no clothes." Convinced of its truth,
many of us started paying more attention to our Jewish studies, and when we
grew older, embarked onto seminary instead of college, and married a ben
Torah instead of an accountant.
The Hashkafa content was the salient feature of all of his books. When Rabbi
Miller's synopsis of Torah history, "Behold a People", came out, I remember
wondering "What can he say about Jewish history down to the Bayis Sheini
which we haven't learned 5 times before in Chumash, Parshas Hashavu and
Jewish History classes!"
I was stunned at his originality when I read the book. His commentary was
based almost exclusively on simple p'shat reading of the Torah's text, and
he only rarely quoted the commentaries and Midrash. He kept pounding away at
your psyche, trying to inculcate his fundamental concepts of gadlus ha'odom
in understanding the Avos and the following generations. It was unbelievable
how much understanding of Hashem, the Avos, and the salient lessons of
Jewish history could be gleaned from a simple reading of his book. To read
his commentary was to feel that you had never learned the material before.
Rabbi Miller's focus and simplicity was unique.
I felt the same excitement when his sequels Torah Nation and Exalted People
came out, which continued Jewish history until the times of the Gaonim.
These seforim had the advantage of drawing upon Talmudic sources to explain
the main Jewish leaders and Jewish events of the period covered from a
perspective of yiras shomayim, which had been lacking from my Jewish history
classes. How surprising to discover that Rabbi Akiva had been traveling
around to encourage the Jewish exiles and better their spiritual and
physical state rather than collect funds for a new revolution against the
Roman Empire, the standard drivel that appears in Jewish history textbooks.
Among the concepts he clearly explained in the book was yeridas hadoros, the
greatness of the sages, and the development of the Oral Law.
"Praise, My Soul", Rabbi Miller's commentary on the siddur, had the same
Hashkafa-slanted explanation. I was feeling frustration with the stupor
which usually descended when I began praying Shemoneh Esrei.
He knew how to bring G-d down to you so you felt He was real and tangible.
He gave you the impetus and the wherewithal to form your own relationship
with Hashem. A glimpse into what being a Torah-true Jew means.
He helped you break the bonds of superficiality and artificiality to reach a
genuine, meaningful, deep connection to Hashem.
He trumpeted his principles and beliefs without hesitation or stammering.
The Jews were chosen. Evolution is a foolish deception. No apologies. No
circumlocutions. No hedging. No doubts.
Today's generation has spawned a number of powerful machzirim b'tshuva who
are able to instill their listeners with similar convictions and emotions.
But for many years and for many American Orthodox Jews, Rabbi Miller was the
only one who could do this.
He is no longer here, but his words continue to resound in me and in the
hearts of the tens of thousands who are dedicated Torah Jews due to him.
Re-Printed with permission from Yated Ne'eman. All rights reserved.