Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Rav Pam

The majesty of man

By Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetsky
HOW do you capture the essence of an elderly man, stricken with a devastating and, ultimately, fatal disease, who insists on attending a fundraising event, having to be brought by ambulance and stretcher? With every last ounce of his failing strength he dressed in his Sabbath finery and left his home for the sake of ten thousand children he had never seen with his eyes but had touched with his heart and soul.
How do you write believable stories of a man who would cry bitter tears when hearing the plight of individuals in need? How does one convey the essence of a person whose mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice -- for Torah -- the Bible -- transcended the constraints of his aged and stricken body?
No one who was privileged to meet Rabbi Avraham Pam, the Rosh Yeshiva, dean, of Brooklyn's Yeshiva Torah Voddath, who passed away a week ago today, will ever forget the warm smile that sparkled for every person --- the strong or weak, rich or poor, observant or those searching to find the correct path.
Rabbi Pam was appointed a Maggid Shiur, or Talmudic lecturer, in Torah Vodaath, in 1939. With secularism running rampant even in the Orthodox community, motivating young Jewish American boys to follow their spiritual heritage in those days was a daunting challenge. But the future dean excelled in doing just that. To him, every student was a world unto himself.
Once, one of Rabbi Pam's students was caught secretly studying math during a Talmud lecture. The student explained that he was afraid that he had not mastered the subject and was going to fail a test. Instead of taking offense at the slight, Rabbi Pam assured the boy that if he would study the day's Talmud lesson with diligence, then he himself would tutor him after class. Math, as it just so happened, was an area of the rabbi's expertise.

Rabbi Pam's disciples were truly like his children. Rabbi Moshe Francis, a founder of the Chicago Community Kollel, which has had a major impact on the strengthening of Jewish observance and scholarship in the Midwest, remembers that he was once speaking with Rabbi Pam at a wedding when someone asked, "Is this your son?"
Rabbi Pam did not hesitate. "K'ben," he responded, "like a son."
In 1943, Rabbi Pam married Sarah Balmuth. Though Rabbi Pam often expressed his gratitude for having chosen the right path in life, there was one choice that he forever emphasized to his disciples, in a manner exceeding any other. He always expressed great gratitude to the Creator for having merited a Rebbitzen, rabbinic helpmate, who tended to his every need, enabling him to pursue a life filled with the Divine Service and Torah study.
The Rebbitzen put order to the thousands of requests for appointments, advice and letters of approbation. Rabbi Pam constantly expressed his gratitude for her ever-present care and concern, not only for the physical amenities of his daily life, but for enabling him to grow in spirituality as well.
The Rosh Yeshiva's emphasis on the importance of mutual respect in marriage found expression in his gentle reminders to disciples to celebrate their wedding anniversaries every year, and without fail.
When Yosi Heber, a close student of Rabbi Pam, became engaged, the Rosh Yeshiva was one of the first to be called with the good news. Immediately, Yosi was asked if a date had been set for the wedding. It was August 22nd. "Why, that's my anniversary!" exclaimed the Rosh Yeshiva, "it will be easy to remember!" Not one to forget an important date or miss an opportunity, Rabbi Heber made it his practice to send out an anniversary card to Rabbi Pam and his Rebbetzin every year thereafter. As the years passed, he made a point of sharing his nachas, joy, with the Pams and included a picture of the children as each addition to his family arrived.
This year, the card was sent out a bit early. During shiva -- the seven day period of mourning -- the Rebbetzin motioned to Rabbi Yosi Heber, that she had something to tell him.
"I wanted you to know that I mentioned to Rabbi Pam on Tuesday, that I received your anniversary card. I took it to the hospital and read it to the Rosh Yeshiva and he reacted to it. It was the last time he reacted to anything!"
A small, inconsequential thing like an anniversary when used correctly can become another solid brick in the foundation of a marriage and the development of future generations. Another aspect of the Rosh Yeshiva's ability to take the small and commonplace things in life and elevate them to being the tools of greatness.
Well after midnight, after the devastating news of the Rosh Yeshiva's passing reached the world, some of Rabbi Pam's closest disciples made their way to the house to join the Rebbetzin and offer whatever solace they could. Upon entering the house, they were shocked to discover the Rebbetzin at work on her ironing board. To their astonishment, she responded, "I am simply ironing Rabbi Pam's tallis -- prayer shawl - and kittel for the burial tomorrow. I know it's late at night, but this is my last chance to honor him."
Rabbi Pam never wore the traditional frock (Prince Albert coat) of a Rosh Yeshiva and always wore a simple fedora --- not a Hamburg or up-brim hat, as most yeshiva deans wear.
Rabbi Pam would leave his hat in the public cloakroom of Mesivta Torah Vodaath, alongside his students'. Once, he innocently took his hat, not realizing someone, obviously not knowing to whom it belonged, had mistakenly balanced their coffee mug on its back brim.
The mug immediately came flying down from the shelf, shattering in a cacophony of ceramic shards. Without hesitating, Rabbi Pam went to get a broom and shovel. He insisted on sweeping up the mess by himself. Then, he went to the local hardware store to get a replacement mug. He could not find the exact matching color and so he wrote a note. In his meticulously crafted expression and perfect lettering, he attached the this message to the mug:
"I was negligent in my actions and I shattered your mug. I have bought this one to replace it. I hope that you forgive me. In the event that this replacement does not suffice, please contact me as soon as possible to arrange compensation."
The note was signed simply, Avraham Pam.
(Author's note: The note from Rabbi Pam, was cherished by the mug's owner, much more than the replaced mug. It is framed and hangs on his wall!)
Rabbi Pam had learned for himself and taught others that you never lose by keeping quiet.
Of course, that viewpoint only applied to personal honor; when it came to chilul Hashem, the desecration of the Creator's name, there was never a moment of silence!
Thirty years ago, Rabbi Pam and his Rebbitzen made their only visit to the Holy Land together. They stayed in Jerusalem, but when Rabbi Pam visited B'nai Brak, the Ponvez Yeshiva was holding its annual Yarchei Kallah summer program. Rabbi Pam saw this opportunity to sit and study in virtual anonymity, and decided to stay in the Yeshiva setting.
The Pams moved into the dorm specially set up for the Yarchei Kallah families, and for two weeks, Rabbi Pam sat and learned. After two weeks, he was invited to a a lifecycle event -- simcha -- in the Ponovez Dining Room, when he saw some people whispering. Then, suddenly a distinguished man approached
"Torah Vodath Rosh Yeshiva, please sit up front on the head table."
The next morning, realizing that his identity was compromised, he and his wife returned immediately to Jerusalem.
Rabbi Pam would lead the charge of Torah sages who decried, improper business practices or fraudulent dealings with government agencies. He did not differentiate between stealing on an individual, institutional, or governmental level. It was all prohibited and he let it be known, emphatically and insistently.
Though he was often the featured speaker at conventions of Agudath Israel and other important venues with the ears of a People focused on his every word, when he left the podium, he was as always the humble giant and master of simplicity.
A disciple recalls how he was in a car with Rabbi Pam and a student his own age, who was also named Avraham. His stop came first and upon leaving the car he turned to his peer, wishing him, "Good night, Avraham."
Rabbi Pam, unfazed at being addressed so informally and not realizing that the message was intended for the other student, simply smiled and returned the farewell. "Good Night to you, too."
In 1990, when the floodgates of the Soviet Union burst open, Jewry was faced with the prospect of hundreds of thousands of souls potentially being lost to secular oblivion. Rabbi Avrohom Yosef Leizerson of the Chinuch Atzmai organization recalls years later that he was present at the annual Agudath Israel convention that year and was among those who spoke to the Rosh Yeshiva of the spiritual disaster facing the children
At that year's keynote session, Rabbi Pam made an impassioned plea to begin a network of schools in the Holy Land for the children of these Russian immigrants.
That Saturday night, he convened a meeting of the wealthy and influential participants at that year's convention.
On the way to the meeting, he met a disciple, whom he would later call a "partner" and a "friend," Reb Avraham Biderman. He brought him along to the meeting. It was at that meeting, that Shuvu was born, and then and there Rabbi Pam appointed Avraham Biderman as chairman.
Rabbi Pam lived and breathed Shuvu. It became his focus and his nachas over the course of the last decade of his life.
Laymen ready to donate five or ten thousand dollars to Shuvu, would increase their contributions tenfold after hearing Rabbi Pam's impassioned pleas.
Rabbi Pam would often cajole laymen to give tzedoka, charity, with self-scarifice. He once told Rabbi Sidney Glenner of Chicago that the challenge of the last generation was, quoting the words of the central "Shema" Prayer, b'chol nafsh'cha --- giving up ones life. The challenge of this generation, is b'chol m'odecha --- giving up one's money for the causes of Torah.
There were a few expressions that bothered Rabbi Pam. He did not like when people would talk about the "Amahliger yohrin," the good-old-days, when everything was so pure.
He felt that we must do our best to improve our generation without deriding it. And, if someone felt that it was once better, he did not want them lamenting the fact. Rather, he wanted to see them act in a way that would raise the level of this generation.
He stressed the need to be exacting when speaking. He asked his students to refrain from the vernacular that infiltrated the Yeshiva world from the street. He felt it was unbecoming for them to express themselves in a less than articulate manner and once told the boys that they should remove "whatchamacallit" from their vocabularies.
A close disciple approached him after one lecture. "What is wrong with 'whatchamacallit'?" he asked
"It shows you are not thinking." he replied.
As a young man, Rabbi Pam was traveling home on the New Lots Avenue subway line when he spotted a five dollar bill lying face down.
He mentioned the find to his wife, who responded, "perhaps we can purchase a special treat with the new-found money.
Rabbi Pam hesitated. "I cannot. How can we enjoy something special when there is someone out there who is broken-hearted?"
Rabbi Moshe Francis, dean of Chicago's Community Kollel, remembers how an impoverished man came to Rabbi Pam toward the end of a study session in the yeshiva. He closed his Talmud tome, and told his disciple, "this is a mitzvah -- religious duty -- that will not be performed by anyone else here. Therefore, I must stop studying the Torah."
He then excused himself and took the man home for a meal.
A man once came to Rabbi Pam in desperate straits. He asked the Rosh Yeshiva to contact certain philanthropists on his behalf. Rabbi Pam responded that he had just called them all for other charities. He was unable to help the man. He gave him what he could from his own money and the man left.
Less than a half hour later, the man realized he had left something in Rabbi Pam's study. When he came back he found Rabbi Pam crying over his inability to help the poor man.
It was a late wedding and Rabbi Pam, who did not have a driver, was one of the last to leave. It was a blustery winter night. As no one who stayed to offer him a ride, he shared a taxi with a student who later related this story.
The cab driver started to drive away from the hall when Rabbi Pam noticed that the man had not turned up the meter flag. The ride would therefore not be recorded into the travel log. Assuming that it was an oversight, the Rosh Yeshiva mentioned that the meter is not running.
"My boss," he exclaimed, "he's a ganev --- thief! I should make a lot more than he offers me. It's okay to moonlight once in a while even if I am on his time! Anyway, what's the difference to you. The fare is twelve bucks. Do you mind if I keep all of it?"
Rabbi Pam was adamant. It's not honest. "Listen," said the driver. "It's my way or the highway. I saw you shivering on this freezing night. I stopped. I picked you up and I'm takin' you home. Let me just do my thing. What does it bother you if I make some spare cash."
Rabbi Pam sighed. "I'll tell you what. Run the meter. I will pay you double. Give your boss what is coming to him and keep the same amount for yourself."
The driver agreed. At the end of the trip the meter showed $12.00.Rabbi Pam paid him $24.00, and gave him a tip of $2.00."
Rabbi Simcha Lefkowitz, Associate Dean of Yeshiva of South Shore, related that a few years ago, the Yeshiva had to dismiss a particular student for an action that clearly defied the Yeshiva's standards and policies.
Pressure from parenting committee and others could not influence the staff, which had thought long and hard about before rendering their decision.
The young boy had heard his teachers, Rabbi Leib Wolf, and Rabbi Yehuda Horowitz, constantly talk about the greatness of their rebbe, Rabbi Pam. And so, on the slight chance that Rabbi Pam would hear his story, the young man called the Rosh Yeshiva who instructed him to come to Torah Vodaath an hour before the afternoon prayers.
The boy was brought before the Rosh Yeshiva, where frankly and openly, he told him what he had done and the ramifications of his actions. Rabbi Pam chided him strongly about his indiscretion and left him thoroughly chagrined.
Then they broke for prayers.
Once the services ended, Rabbi Pam changed his demeanor. "I see that you are truly an ehrlicher bochur -- devout lad -- and you will start anew." The boy, by now repentant and unable to speak, nodded his head profusely and Rabbi Pam agreed to help.
The next day, Rabbi Lefkowitz was sitting in his office when the phone rang.
The soft voice on the other end of the line said. "This is Avraham Pam." The Rosh Yeshiva went on to ask that the boy be returned to the Yeshiva despite the ramifications the administration anticipated. "It is on my head."
Rabbi Lefkowitz needed no cajoling. After all, he mused, it is not often that a member of the Council of Torah Sages calls on behalf of a student he has only met once in his life!
The postscript is vintage Rabbi Pam. The student went on to become a prized pupil in the Yeshiva, won the valedictory award for religious studies, and has been an outstanding student in one of the most prestigious Yeshivas in the Holy Land since he graduated from the South Shore Mesivta - Ateres Yaakov, two summers ago.
There was once a child that was unable to advance to the next grade level, as his skills were way below that of his anticipated grade level. There was no way the principal would allow the boy advance into first grade. The frantic mother called Rabbi Pam, who in turn called the principal.
"If a tutor would bring him up to grade level over the summer would you allow him to enter the first grade?" As soon as the principal agreed, Rabbi Pam arranged for a student of the yeshiva to spend a summer learning with the child, for which Rabbi Pam paid from his own pocket.
Rabbi Pam's efforts in his final public appearance surpasses any human capacity.
It took him literally two hours to dress and come to greet the gathered, all for the sake of the future of the children of Shuvu.
Though many will remember, his strong demeanor, his light gait and uplifting spirit before the terrible illness, no one will ever forget his indefatigable self-sacrifice throughout the last years of his life. His determination and zeal for the spreading of the Divine Word, in spite of his waning strength will give us strength for endless generations. His ethical teachings will resound for all of us to walk in his ways, a true example of the ultimate walking in the ways of the Torah, walking in His ways.
The tragic news emanated from the hospital room in Brooklyn, packed with disciples and family members and reverberated throughout the Torah world throughout that night. Rabbi Pam had returned his soul to his Creator.
Tens of thousands traveled to Yeshiva Torah Vodaath to pay homage to this Torah giant.
Per his request, there were no eulogies, only Psalms and expressions of gratitude spoken by his oldest son, Rabbi Aharon.
May his memory be a blessing and may be a heavenly advocate for a broken nation.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Reb Ari Dovid Block zt"l

Hundreds of talmidim, friends, relatives and community members filled the massive auditorium of Yeshivas Shor Yoshuv as they stood in shock at the levaya of Reb Ari Dovid Block, z”l, a 24-year-old yungerman of the Sho’or Yoshuv Kollel in Far Rockaway, who was niftar suddenly on Sunday, May 13th. Reb Ari was niftar only a year after his marriage to Feigy Ludmir, the daughter of Reb Chanoch Ludmir and the day before the Pidyon HaBen of his bechor, Avraham Yeshaya n”y.

Reb Ari Dovid who was known for his tremendous hasmada and power of hashpa’ah, was beloved to all his friends and Rabbeim and the hundreds of people who knew him, all of them who openly wept like children at the largely attended levaya.

Raised in Phoenix, Arizona, Ari grew in Torah in Eretz Yisrael and most recently in Yeshivas Shor Yoshuv where he became a close Talmid of the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Naftali Jaeger, shlit”a. Rav Jaeger spoke about Reb Ari’s commitment to sidrei Hayeshiva and his unwavering hasmadah. Ari learned in the Yeshiva for three years but this past year, his shana rishona of marriage, he showed unparalleled hasmada. His shemiras hasedorim was extraordinary for any yungerman, let alone one who was recently married. In fact, the day he was niftar, R’ Ari Dovid had gone to the vort of a chavrusa during Bain haSedorim on Sunday. When he realized that the distance from the vort back to yeshiva was longer than expected, he called his chavrusa to say that he would rush back but that he did not realize how far (West Hempstead) was from far Rockaway and would be a little late. He implored his chaver to please tape the shiur that he was supposed to hear, just in case he would miss the first few minutes.

Ari, would never hear that shiur in Yeshiva shel matoh. He collapsed moments later and passed away.

With tearful eyes, Rav Jaeger mentioned that as they were discussing the upcoming Pidyon HaBen, of Ari Dovid’s newborn son Avraham Yeshaya, Ari Dovid’s asked if he could give a donation to a tzedaka fund that was dear to the Rosh Yeshiva. When Rav Jaeger mentioned that as much as he appreciated the offer, it was not necessary for a yungerman of small means to contribute, R’ Ari Dovid did not argue and seemed to be content not to give.

On the day of the Levaya, the Rosh Yeshiva found a check inside under a sefer on R’ Ari Dovid’s shtender. It was made out to the tzedaka and contained a note mentioning that the donation was l’kovod the Simcha.

R’ Ari Dovid’s father, Dr. Yitzchok Ahron (Robert) Block, a well known psychologist both in Phoenix and Lawrence, spoke about Ari Dovid’s devotion to Torah and how it was he who inspired his entire family to grow in Torah and Yiras Shamayim. Even after a difficult operation a few years back, Ari mustered strength to be at the side of his ailing grandfather, Rabbi Morris Block, the founder of the Brooklyn School for Special Education, one of the first schools for severely handicapped Jewish children.

Ari’s Uncle Rav Zvi Block, Rav of Kehilas Toras Hashem of Los Angeles spoke warmly about his long-standing relationship with Ari. During his formative years Ari had a seder with him via telephone, and never missed calling. Ari had a personality which brought a Simchas HaChaim to everyone who was in his sphere. People wanted to be close to him, to talk to him, to hear his divrei chizuk about everything.

His family members commented how so often, no matter what the situation, Ari would walk into his home singing a nigun. And the simcha he exuded complimented his leibedikeit in learning. He was makpid to learn before the davening until late at night. He not only learned for himself but he inspired others. A chaver, Yoni Sebag of Phoenix who is currently a talmid at Shor Yoshuv, was one of the many friends from Phoenix and across the country who were directly influenced by R’Ari Dovid’s effervescent personality. “If not for Ari, I would never have reached any madreiga in Torah and Yiras Shamayim,” he exclaimed tearfully, echoing the sentiment of so many who were inspired by Reb Ari Dovid’s enthusiastic approach to Avodas Hashem.

Ari’s father in law, Reb Chanoch Ludmir gave a stirring hesped in which he mourned the loss of his son-in-law who was indeed a matana. The combination of Ari’s tremendous commitment to limud HaTorah and the mesiras nefesh of his wife Faigy gave them aspirations of a couple that would grow to greatness. Ari named his son Avraham Yeshaya after someone he idolized his entire adult life, the Chazon Ish. Rav Chanoch cried bitterly as he shouted, “I am sure that this Shavuos you will be learning together with the Chazon Ish in Yeshiva shel maalah!”

In addition to his infant son Avraham Yeshaya, R’ Ari Dovid is survived by his parents Dr. and Mrs. Robert Block, two sisters, Rachel married to R’ Noach Tomashevski and Naomi who is engaged to be married next month to Yehushua Goldstien, a a younger brother Yoshi, a talmid at Yeshiva Toras Chaim of South Shore.

May he be a meilitz yosher for his wife, his son, his entire family and all of Klal Yisroel

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Rav Yisroel Shurin, z”l

A Revered Rav and a Link to a Lithuanian Past

This past Shabbos Hachodesh, Harav Yisroel Shurin a scion of Lithuanian Gedolim was niftar in Yerushalayim, just shy of eighty-nine years. Rav Shurin was the Rav of the Magen Avraham Shul in Efrat and helped build that kehilla from its first years. But perhaps one of his greatest legacies to thousands upon thousand of Jewish children was his teaching the next generation the faith and values of the past, and handing down to them the inheritance of our great Torah leaders of old, which was a foundation of his life. For many decades HaRav Shurin wrote a weekly feature for Olomeinu/Our World magazine on gedolei Torah (Torah giants). These 250 articles became the basis of the six-set series of books, "Morei HaUma" (Teachers of Our Nation), the lives and the way of our national Jewish leaders, men of intellect, giants of thought, men of action, whose efforts and lives influenced their generations and many generations to come.

Indeed Rav Shurin left the Jewish people a legacy of Lita. His son, Rav Yitzchak Shurin, one of HaRav Shurin's three sons, said, "He lived in America for 40 years, in Israel for 30. Yet, it seemed when you spoke to him it was as if it was that day that he left Lita. The way he spoke, the pashtus, the warmth, the Limud HaTorah. Whenever you spoke to him, you felt you were speak to a Litvishe Yid. When he spoke, I felt my father transcended time and place. And when he spoke about Telshe or Kovno, you could smell the air of Lita. When he spoke about Ponevezh, you felt you were sitting there. When he spoke about gedolei Torah, you felt their presence. I feel that as long as my father was alive, Lita was alive."

Rav Shurin originated from a renowned rabbinic dynasty of thirty-three generations, which included the Pnei Yehoshua and Rav Yisroel’s great-grandfather, Rav Avraham Aba Krenitz the Ahavas Eisan, a commentary on Mishnayos, and a direct descendant of Rav Aba Chosid of Kroiz, a man so holy that the Vilna Gaon would travel to him for advice and blessings. The sefer Tnuas Hamusar relates that every third rav in Lithuania was part of this famous family.

Rav Yisroel had the zechus to be close with many great Torah luminaries, especially Rav Isser Zalman Melzer, and his father-in-law, Hagaon HaRav Yaakov Kamenetzky, who would often confide in him and discuss major issues with him as well. Rav Shurin once quipped to his nephew, Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky, “I know the most (Litvishe) stories in the world! After all, we all know that the zaide (Rav Yaakov) knows the most stories in the world. But I already got them all from him…” Then he smiled and added, “But there are a few that I know and did not tell him!”

He will be remembered most for being a vibrant link between the gedolei Torah of the Eastern European generation and our generation today.


Rav Yisroel was born on the 27th of Iyar, 5678/1918 in Ritova, Lithuania, the third of seven children. His father, Rav Moshe, founded a yeshiva there and headed it for twelve years together with the Sgan, Rav Yitzchak Eliezer Vishnevski who was the Rav in Koltinan.

Rav Yisroel started out in cheder in Ritova, a mokom Torah which he recalled fondly. The atmosphere was charged with a reverence for Torah and Yiras Shamayim and the love of Torah flowed from the Rabbanim to the Talmidim.

Ritoveh was a Lithuanian town whose Jewish inhabitants were almost all Shomrei Torah and Mitzvos. Rav Shurin would recall how the Rav of Ritave, Rav Shmuel Fundiler, who filled the position after the petirah of Rav Yitzchok Eliyahu Gefen would come into the Cheder to be mechazek the children during Chodesh Elul.

Once, during Elul, the boys had been playing ball and were a bit exhausted when the Rav walked in with a shofar in his hand and declared. Boys, you should understand that a break is important. And it is important to play as well. But not during these days! These days were set aside to become closer to Avinu Shebashamayim, and to work on our midos. These days we must not waste our time on games. I brought a shofar for you. During recess you will practice learning how to blow the shofar!

Indeed the entire Elul, the children used their normal recess time to learn how to blow the shofar together with all the halachos. Towards Rosh Hashana, the Rav tested them and declared that they were worthy of being baalei tekiah! The trouble was that they were sill too young! “when you grow up you will be worthy of this great Mitzvah even in front of great Jews!”

From there, R’ Yisroel left to begin learning at Beis Rubenstein, the yeshiva katanah of Ponevezh Yeshiva. Young Rav Yisroel stayed in Ponevezh for his bar mitzvah where he gave a dvar Torah on the Shev Shmaitsa at one of the local shuls. The mispallelim celebrated the simcha with schnapps and special taygelach – a Lithuanian treat – that his mother baked and sent for the occasion.

Soon after, he continued at Telz Yeshiva and learned there until he and his family moved to Eretz Yisroel in 1935. But from the age of eight until the age of seventeen, Rav Yisroel didn’t see his father who was serving as a rav in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Rav Moshe sent money home to Ritova where his wife, Rebbetzin Rus, raised the family. Instead of moving to the United States, the family decided to relocate to Eretz Yisroel because it was already becoming an important Torah center. Additionally, they sought to leave because Rav Moshe sensed the impending destruction awaiting them in Europe.

Rav Yisroel began learning at the Chevron Yeshiva in Yerushalayim, but switched soon after to Yeshivas Lomzeh in Petach Tikvah when the family relocated there. Ultimately he returned to the Chevron Yeshiva where he spent his most formative and productive years of Torah learning, and where he developed a very close relationship with the rosh yeshiva Rav Yecheskel Sarna. He also participated in the guard duty of the yeshiva that each bachur was expected to do.

It was during this time that he received smicha from Rav Yecheskel Sarne of the Chevron Yeshiva; Rav Isser Zalman Melzer of Eitz Chaim Yeshiva; Rav Reuven Katz, chief rav of Petach Tikvah; Rav Meir Stolewitz of the Zichron Moshe neighborhood in Yerushalayim; Rav Yechiel Michel Zev Hurwitz, a well known dayan of the Knesses neighborhood in Yerushalayim; and rav haroshi of Eretz Yisroel, Rav Yitzchak Halevi Herzog.

On one of the occasions that Rav Yisroel got smicha, Rav Hurwitz told Rav Yisroel that he didn’t have his own stamp to use for the smicha letter. So Rav Yisroel took matters into his own hands and went out to commission a stamp with the rav’s name. When he returned with the stamp in hand, Rav Yisroel was then able to receive his smicha, and Rav Hurwitz was able to use the stamp on subsequent smicha letters.

Having more than one smicha paid off later in Rav Yisroel’s life. While living in New York, he got into a car accident and rammed into a police car. The police officer sued Rav Yisroel for damages, even though Rav Yisroel insisted the officer was lying. In court, Rav Yisroel claimed that his view of the car was blocked by a bus. Once the judge discovered that Rav Yisroel had received his rabbinic ordination from the chief rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Yitzchak Herzog, he promptly dismissed the charges.

It was during the time that Rav Yisroel spent in Yerushalayim that he truly forged an unbreakable bond with the holy chachachim there.

When Rav Yisroel initially went to introduce himself to Rav Isser Zalman Melzer of Eitz Chaim Yeshiva, who was also originally from Lithuania, he was warmly greeted as “a Ritover!” Rav and Rebbetzin Melzer quickly made a simcha out of the occasion, bringing out the schnapps to celebrate a bachur coming from such a chashuv place.

Rav Shurin recalled his first meeting with Rav Isser Zalman. “It was a winter day in Yerushalyim. It was bitter cold and pelting rain. Rav Melzer who suffered from the cold was by the wall in which the oven was. When I told him that I was from Europe and had learned in Telz, he greeted me with such warmth, he made me a tea and offered home-baked cookies. At the time, seventeen year old Reb Yisroel was shocked. He was coming from Telshe where one would not sit in front of a Rosh Yeshiva without permission, and here he was in the home of the world-reknowned Gadol HaDor being treated as if he was either a child or a cherished peer!

Rav Shurin became extremely close with Rav Isser Zalman, and was almost a ben bayis in his home. Once, Rav Aba Grosbard, Mashgiach in Yeshivas Petach Tikvah was visiting the Chevoner Yeshiva in Yerushalayim and asked rav Yisrael to bring him to Rav Isser Zalman. When they arrived at the home they saw a note on the door, “Please do not come from 2-5 PM.”

As soon as he saw that Rav Grossbard began to turn on his heels and leave. But Rav Shurin who was younger was not deterred. He knocked lightly and immediately Rav Isser Zalman answered. He warmly invited them to come in, but Rav Shurin explained that Rav Grosbard was hesitant because of the note on the door.

“That note is not for you, Reb Yisrael!” exclaimed Rav Isser Zalman. And then he turned to his wife, “Baila Hinda, Please! Have rachmanus on me and remove the note!”

When the Chazon Ish first met Rav Yisroel, he asked Rav Yisroel where he grew up.

To this, Rav Yisroel replied, “And if I tell you, would you know?”

The Chazon Ish responded, “Try me!”

“Ritova,” Rav Yisroel revealed.

“You were wrong! I do know Ritova!” exclaimed the Chazon Ish. “I stayed in your uncle’s hotel when I used to buy the wares for my wife’s store.”

This rebuttal shocked Rav Yisroel.

Rav Yisroel frequented the home of the Chazon Ish, and he followed the practice of the Chazon Ish of entering the house from a window on street level, so as not to disturb the Chazon Ish’s wife.

Once Rav Yisroel asked the Chazon Ish a question in Masechta Kesuvos.

The Chazon Ish responded to Rav Yisroel’s query by stating: “It’s a good question, but you don’t know how to ask the question.”

So the Chazon Ish taught Rav Yisroel how to express the question properly.


Rav Yisroel continued to learn in the Chevron Yeshiva until 1939 when war broke out. The situation in Eretz Yisroel was dire with poverty striking the Jews everywhere. His father had said at the time, “If I had a little bit of hard bread to dip into some tea, I would have stayed in Eretz Yisroel.”

While trying to figure out what do, Rav Yisroel sought the eitzah of his rosh yeshiva, Rav Yecheskel Sarne. Rav Sarne replied that since the situation was a “sha’as cherum” (emergency situation), he could not tell Rav Yisroel what to do; Rav Yisroel would have to make the decision himself.

With a heavy heart, Rav Yisroel left Eretz Yisroel with his family though never abandoning his memories of those wondrous impressionable years with the gedolim. He arrived in New York in 1940 and learned under Rav Moshe Soloveichik – the eldest son of the illustrious gaon Rav Chaim Brisker – who recognized Rav Yisroel to be a talmid chacham. Subsequently, he sent him shortly thereafter to his son Rav Yosef Dov in Boston along with four other European talmidim. These were the five original talmidim of Rav Yosef Dov. Prestigious bal habatim used to ask Rav Yisroel to speak as a representative of the other talmidim at events where Rav Yosef Dov spoke.

Rav Yisroel remembered that Rav Yosef Dov used to give shiur for nine hours each day with only a short break for lunch. During the shiur, Rav Yosef Dov would learn the masechtas with the talmidim while giving over his sevoras at the same time. In this way, they were able to cover much ground in their talmud Torah.

When Rav Yosef Dov moved to New York, he brought Rav Yisroel and his fellow talmidim with him. For a short period, Rav Yisroel wrote articles in Hebrew in a weekly va’ad hakashrus publication under the supervision of Rav Yosef Dov. He also wrote book reviews on sifrei halacha for the rabbinic journal Talpiyos.

After a brief stint as a rav in Portland, Maine in 5705/1945, Rav Yisroel returned to New York where he married Malka Kamenetzky, the daughter of hagaon Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky, rosh yeshiva of Torah Vo’Daath. From then on, Rav Yaakov would consult Rav Yisroel, his oldest son-in-law, on many family matters and through those consultations, Rav Yisroel was able to help a number of the family members find their zivugim and first positions in chinuch.

After getting married, he served as the rav of Magen Avraham Kehillah in the East New York section of Brooklyn, which was famous for its many European rabbonim. While in Brooklyn, Rav Yisroel taught at the Beis Yaakov Seminary in Williamsburg, which was the first Beis Yaakov School in America. There he educated many future Torah leaders, amongst them Rebbetzins David and Freifeld. Every Beis Yaakov in the United States had staff members who had benefited from their training under Rav Yisroel.

He also taught at Mesivta Chaim Berlin in Brownsville, Brooklyn. He lectured in many Torah Umesorah teacher-training programs, in which he was mashpiah over many of the budding tamidei chachamim and future teachers of klal Yisroel. During those years, he took advantage of teaching in both the Beis Yaakov School and Mesivta Chaim Berlin by making many shidduchim between the students. In 1954 Rav Reuven Grozovsky asked him to become the Hebrew editor of Torah Umesorah’s day-school monthly journal for children about the gedolei Yisroel called Olomeinu.

In this venue, Rav Yisroel was able to serve as a bridge between the gedolim and the younger generation. These articles were later compiled into a six-volume set of books called Morei Ha’umah. Rav Yisroel wrote articles in many Torah publications during this period and was a member of Agudas Harabonim in America.


He encouraged his youngest son, Yitzchak, to move to Eretz Yisroel in 1977, immediately after he got married, and Yitzchak’s two older brothers, Moshe and Dov, followed soon after. In 5743/1983, he moved with his wife to Efrat and founded Magen Avraham, as a beis medrash and community kollel for the residents of Efrat, a name which he brought with him from his former kehillah in Brooklyn. He also started a gma”ch (gemilus chasadim organization) in Efrat for its residents and the surrounding areas.
When he decided that it was time to return to Israel, he asked his father-in-law Reb Yaakov about it. HaRav Shurin didn't only want to move to Israel, he wanted to help build the land, and was considering moving to Efrat, which was then only a dream on paper. HaRav Shurin received a blessing from his father-in-law that Efrat would be blessed and he would always be protected. Indeed, Efrat had been blessed by his presence for the past decades.
Before his move, the Rav approached the president of Magen Avraham in East New York, and told him that he wanted to move the shul to Efrat, the shul president, Baruch Stein agreed, and helped finance the recreation of Magen Avraham. HaRav Yitzchak Shurin noted, "My father always said, he didn't want a shul. He wanted a Beis Medrash, and if people wanted to daven there, that was okay."
He was very proud of Kollel Magen Avraham, which he founded. And at every siyum, he thanked the wives who encouraged their husbands' Torah learning.
The rav also continued Magen Avraham's tradition of chesed by overseeing a gemach that has generously helped hundreds of families through the years.
While in Efrat, he wrote and published Sefer Minchas Yisroel, which is a compilation of topical questions and answers in halacha, as well as chiddushim on the Gemara and Torah.
Menachem Kuchar, who published Minchas Yisrael and several of the rav's Morei HaUma volumes, noted that "the rabbi wanted to call his sefer by another title, but then decided to call it Minchas Yisrael. He said that the Mincha was the simplest form of korban, and it applied appropriately to the sefer, because he felt that it was his humble contribution to Jewish learning."
In this sefer, Rav Yisroel included many shaylos that people asked him, including the following story.

When he was a young rav in New York, an elderly husband and wife from his shul passed away around the same time. They had two daughters, one married and one single. At the cemetery, the husband of the married daughter told Rav Yisroel the following predicament about his sister-in-law.

“She’s engaged to a goy. Is she still, therefore, able to go to her parents’ graves?”

Rav Yisroel thought about it for a minute and said, “Absolutely not, she is not allowed to mourn for her parents.”

The girl, upon being told the psak, fainted on the spot. There were great arguments in Rav Yisroel’s shul about his psak since according to the letter of the law the girl should have been allowed to visit her parents’ graves. Yet Rav Yisroel wouldn’t change his mind.

A year later, a young girl knocked on Rav Yisroel’s door with a young man wearing a yarmulke.

She said, “Do you remember me, Rav Shurin? I’m the girl that you wouldn’t let go to my parents’ grave. Rabbi, when you told me that I couldn’t mourn for my parents, it was such a shock to me that I did a cheshbon hanefesh and broke up with the goy. Now I am engaged to this man and we would like you to be our mesader kedushin.”
He spent his days in Efrat totally immersed in learning and could often be found in his garden with an open sefer. Rav Yitzchak Shurin described what an impression that made on Efrat's residents and visitors. "He lived right above the gate of Efrat. When people got off at the first bus stop and climbed the steps, at the second house, they'd see an elderly sage sitting in his garden learning." Just as the shomer guarded the city from below, HaRav Shurin and his Gemara guarded it from above.
Rav Yisroel is survived by his wife Malka, the daughter of Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky and their three sons – Moshe, Dov, and Yitzchak – who all reside in Eretz Yisroel, and their many grandchildren and great grandchildren. R’ Moshe is a retired business executive; R’ Dov is a famous activist, radio commentator and musician, and R’ Yitzchak is the rosh midrasha of Midreshet Rachel v’Chaya of Darchei Noam institutions.

May his memory be a blessing.

This article was compiled by Yated Staff with contributions from Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky and Sharon Katz of Efrat, Isrrael.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Reb Chuni Spiegel

Editor’s note: It has been 30 years since the tragic, untimely p’tirah of our dear uncle, Reb Avraham Elchonon Spiegel, zaicher tzadik l’vracha. They say that time heals many wounds, but in this case time alone would not be enough. The great tragedy and sadness of his p’tirah is only mitigated by the work of his wonderful children and the sweetness of his grandchildren who not only remain steadfast to every principle that he believed in, but are also perpetuating his memory through their Avodas HaKodesh.

We know that this tremendous hislahavus HaTorah V’Chassidus comes only because of the zechus of his great neshama and that of his great and pure Avos that have watched the children and grandchildren grow to become the b’nai Torah and b’nai Aliyah that make their family so proud. But the great zechusim of my uncle, Reb Chuni, z”l in ensuring this hemshech hamesorah is only part of the story. It was, and continues to be the mesiras nefesh of his Rebbitzen, who, almost single-handedly, nurtured a generation of children, alone, but not really alone. The vision and strength, the sweetness and chayn of “der groiseh niftar” stood and continues to stand behind this hatzlacha in every aspect of all of their lives.

Indeed, it is the neshama of R’ Avraham Elchonon, his spirit, his vision and his ideas that played such a vital role in the founding and the development of Talmud Torah Ohr Elchonon, which is true to all the ideals for which Reb Avraham Elchonon Spiegel stood. It is a yeshiva that imbues its talmidim with the beauty of Torah, the g’feel for another yid and most of all, Ahavas HaBorai. It is not a new yeshiva. It is a yeshiva that is continuing a mesorah that was personified by the shortened but very full life of its namesake, Reb Avraham Elchonon Spiegel, zaicher tzadik l’vracha.

May the Ribono Shel Olam give the strength to Reb Binyamin, Reb Menachem, Reb Naftali Aryeh, Reb Muttie, and their chosheveh shvogger Reb Moshe Rowner and family to continue in every aspect of their Avodas HaKodesh and give richly deserved nachas to our dear aunt, Rebbitzen Shoshana, tlit”a.

May every letter of Torah learned in the yeshiva be a zechus for his holy neshama.

The sands of time have not diminished the vivid memories of so many chaveirim who shared their thoughts with the family members who conveyed them to me. It is difficult to express the emotions, the excitement, and the bren, that I heard in the brief conversations.

Can you really describe a smile that lit up a room? Is it possible to express the searing pain that went through his heart when hearing of another Jew’s tzarah?

Can one put ink to paper to describe Yiras Shamayim that transcends any mortal expressions of faith?

I spent a few hours on the phone listening to stories and another few hours typing them. But I know that no matter how much listening and typing I would have done, I still would hardly be able to convey a glimpse of an individual who seemed to have been from a previous generation in Torah and Avodah, yet was able to relate to his nephews and nieces in Woodmere almost as a peer. I will never forget the impact he made upon my life with his personification of deracheha darchei noam in every aspect of his life. T’hai Nishmaso Tzrura B’tzror HaChaim.

As this is perhaps the first written recollection of stories, it is my hope that they will prompt many more memories and ma’asiyos that will eventually become part of a greater work about Reb Avraham Elchonon Spiegel, zecher tzaddik l’vracha.

Reb Avraham Elchonon Spiegel
Yamim He’erichu – Shanim Lo He’erichu (Shabbos 105b)
Compiled by his nephew, Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky based on the recollection of his friends and family

Reb Avraham Elchonon Spiegel, known throughout his life to all who knew and loved him as Reb Chuni, was born in May of 1936, the youngest of seven children of Harav Pinchus Eliyahu Spiegel, the Ostrove-Kalushiner Rebbe in the Bronx and his Rebbitzin Basha (nee Burstein). He was the younger twin to his brother, Reb Dovid Spiegel who is currently the Ostrove-Kalushiner Rebbe, in Cedarhurst, New York.

Reb Pinchus Eliyahu was a descendant of a long history of Torah and Chassidus. His father, HaGaon HaTzadik Reb Naftali Aryeh was the son-in-law of Reb Yaakov Yitzchok Unger and a grandson of Reb Avraham Elchonon Unger, Reb Chuni’s namesake. Reb Chuni’s twin was named for his elter zaide, the great Rebbe, HaGaon HaTzadik Reb Mordechai Dovid Dombrover z”tl.

Reb Naftali Aryeh arrived in America in the late 1920s and was joined in the early 1930s by his three sons, Reb Moshe, Reb Elchonon Yochonon and Reb Pinchus Eliyahu.

Despite the winds of change when so many immigrants had r”l abandoned Yiddishkeit, let alone Chassidus, the Spiegels remained steadfast to the mesora that they had received from their great zaides, going back to the Chozeh of Lublin.

It was this atmosphere that helped raise Reb Chuni in a home that was steeped in Torah, Chassidus and Yiras Shamayim. Like his revered father, Reb Naftali Aryeh, Reb Chuni’s father, Reb Pinchus Eliyahu was a Yid who never compromised on the slightest chumra in Yiddishkeit, despite being surrounded by a community that was slowly assimilating into American culture. Reb Pinchus Eliyahu had never eaten meat in America and his father who had a small shul on Faile Street in the Bronx was so removed from this world that he did not even know what his own house looked like. Once Reb Naftali Aryeh’s shammas left him outside his home and expected the Rebbe to just enter. However, the Rebbe, steeped in thought, tarried and walked a few yards before he realized that he might have strayed from the place that the gabbai had let him off. An hour later the gabbai returned and noticed that the Rebbe looked puzzled as to where he actually lived.

As with all of their children, Reb Pinchus Eliyahu and his Rebbitzen made sure that their children went only to the best yeshivos. Together with his twin, Chuni would travel by subway from the Bronx to the Lower East Side, to Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yaakov Yosef. The Rebbitzin was wary of the influence of many of the neighborhood boys who often were lured from learning Torah by the appeal of the American life. She asked the corner police officer to make sure that every day the boys would go to Yeshiva, which he did diligently. The years there were indeed filled with success in Torah and Yiras Shamayim and his care and concern for other Yidden were clearly apparent at this very young age.

His brother Reb Dovid remembers: “We once went on a Chol HaMoed outing to a park where there was a nearby fair. Our parents gave us just enough money for the trip, as of course, being Pesach we were not allowed to eat anything – not even drink water from a fountain. On the way home, Chuni noticed a Jewish boy from the neighborhood who was eating cotton candy. Chuni was shocked and approached the kid. “It’s chametz! We are not allowed to eat this on Pesach!” The youngster replied that he would throw it away but wanted Chuni to pay him for the loss – five cents – the exact amount of carfare home. Without hesitation, Chuni gave him the nickel and proudly watched the boy throw the cotton candy into the garbage. At this young age, Chuni did not care if he had to walk a few miles to get home. He was willing to give up all his money to ensure that a Jewish child would not eat chametz on Pesach.”

After graduating elementary school, and a short stay in high school in RJJ, at age 15 Chuni left to go to the Telshe Yeshiva in Cleveland. Immediately he became well known and beloved, not only to his revered rebbeim, Reb Mottel Katz, Reb Elya Meir Bloch and the rest of the hanhala, but to all the talmidim of the Yeshiva. His ubiquitous smile, simchas hachaim and love for chassidus were admired by the entire yeshiva so much so that he was the first bochur in the history of the very Litvishe Telshe Yeshiva who was allowed to grow his beard and payos. And he wore the beard and every aspect of his Chassidishe heritage proudly. All who saw him realized that there was a special light coming from him. There was a spirit of ehrlichkeit and simplicity that emanated from him. In fact, when the city of Cleveland decided that they were going to produce Chalov Yisroel they decided that they had to market their product as suitable for the most pious of Yidden. Without his permission, they took a picture of young Chuni and put it on the bottle.

After spending a few years under the tutelage of the great luminaries of the Telshe Yeshiva, Reb Chuni went with a group of bochurim to learn by the great Gaon, Harav Ahron Kotler zt”l and join his brother R’ Yankel who was already a talmid there. Later his twin brother, Reb Dovid would join them as talmidim of Reb Ahron.

Immediately a close kesher was formed and Reb Chuni would sit close to Reb Ahron at the table where the Rosh Yeshiva would give the shiur. Reb Ahron would often take his eyes from the oilam and look affectionately at the 18-year-old Chuni. In fact, this closeness to a chassidishe bochur drew some curiosity from others in the shiur. A few of them had the courage to ask the Rosh Yeshiva what he saw in the young Shpiegel bochur that he seemed to favor him over others by looking at him so often in shiur.

Reb Ahron snapped back in wonder. “Vas haist? Er iz maineh balibter talmid!” (“Why do you wonder? He is my beloved talmid!”)

In fact even the Motzei Shabbos that Reb Chuni became a chosson, Reb Ahron smiled and gently chided him, “You know that I give a shiur on Motzai Shabbos, couldn’t you have chosen a different night to become a chosson?”

Reb Ahron drew a close connection with Reb Chuni and eventually the entire Spiegel family. The Rosh Yeshiva eventually became the shadchan for Reb Chuni's older brother Reb Yankel, who became a son-in-law of Reb Moshe Bick zt”l.

Reb Ahron used to praise Reb Pinchus Eliyahu, quoting the Gemara, “I have seen b’nai aliyah and they are very few, and Reb Pinchus Eliyahu is one of them." Reb Ahron smiled as he added, “ah litvishe Rebbe vos ken guht lernin.”

Indeed, Reb Pinchus Eliyahu revered the Rosh Yeshiva. He once accompanied another Chassidishe Rebbe to a shiur given by Reb Ahron at a meeting of Agudas HaRabbanim. Upon leaving, the other Rav commented on the point that Reb Ahron made a machlokes between the opinion of the Gr’a and the Rambam.

“Imagine a machlokes between the Gr’a and Rambam?’ the Rebbe asked sardonically.
Reb Chuni’s father looked at the man sternly. “Gedenkt! Dos iz Reb Ahron. Remember, you are talking about Reb Ahron!” he reprimanded.

Reb Chuni eventually became very close to the Rosh Yeshiva, helping prepare his seforim for shiur and taking charge of the papers that were filled with ma’areh mekomos that Reb Ahron would ask Reb Chuni to post before the shiur. The family still cherishes many of those handwritten pages that Reb Ahron had placed in the charge of Reb Chuni.

When Reb Ahron took ill in early 1962, Reb Yaakov Hirschman and Reb Chuni Spiegel rotated in round-the-clock care of him. Mrs. Rothschild still remembers how Reb Chuni would hardly eat anything at her home near Mount Sinai Hospital. Instead, he would quickly finish his seudah and immediately return to the Rosh Yeshiva’s bedside.

Reb Ahron, despite his weakened condition insisted that only male nurses tend to him. There were only two such nurses in the hospital. Reb Nosson Nadel recalls that one evening, the Rosh Yeshiva needed to have his bandages changed from a particularly complicated and unpleasant seepage from the wounds of his surgery. They were waiting for the male nurse, a fellow named Mr. White, to tend to the difficult chore of changing the bandages.

However, Mr. White was not coming, and the Rosh Yeshiva was becoming very uncomfortable. Reb Chuni disinfected and washed himself and undertook the unpleasant job of changing the bandages himself.

Slowly and cautiously, with the loving care afforded a child, he removed the Rosh Yeshiva’s bandages and began to replace them with fresh, sterile dressings. Suddenly Mr. White appeared at the door.

“Why are you doing that?” he inquired. Reb Chuni explained that he could no longer let his rebbe lay in such discomfort and decided to redress the wound himself. The nurse was so amazed at the delicate and meticulous care provided to the Rosh Yeshiva that he simply turned to Reb Ahron and said, “I have never seen such devotion, even from relatives. Rabbi Kotler, the truth is that with such devoted students like this young man, you really don’t need me!”

This close personal care continued throughout the Rosh Yeshiva’s stay in the hospital. Reb Chuni never shirked from attending to his every need. Once, in his frustration Reb Ahron commanded him, “Breng mir mein mantel, ich vill aheim gayn! Bring me my coat, I want to leave this hospital!”

It took Reb Chuni’s calm manner to convince the Rosh Yeshiva that he had to continue to remain there.

In 1963 Reb Chuni married Shoshana Rabinowitz, the daughter of the prominent Reb of Kehilas Ohel Moshe in the Bronx, and the mechaber of the sefer Kol Bo on Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, Harav Yisrael Rabinowitz.

There was no question that as long as they could possibly sustain themselves, their she’ifa was that Reb Chuni was going to continue learning in Kollel.

Reb Chuni and his Rebbitzen became pillars of the fledgling kehilla of the Lakewood Kollel community. There was hardly a chessed or communal need that did not find a way to their doorstep, and when there was a problem, they created a solution.

When their oldest son, Binyamin turned five, they decided that the local day school could not meet the needs of educating him with the fusion of Torah and Chassidus to which they aspired. Thus, together with a tiny group of yungeleit, they found an old, decrepit building that once belonged to the American Legion, a veteran's group, and began a tiny school that was named simply: The Lakewood Cheder. Hardly anyone in Lakewood remembers that the Yeshiva that now boasts thousands of Talmidim began as a tiny group of children in a dilapidated building that had a small cache of old guns lying in its rodent-ridden basement. (In fact, some of the first Cheder talmidim remember playing cops and robbers with real pistols left there by the Legionnaires!)

Reb Chuni appointed Reb Zalman Pinchus Quinn to be the first melamed, and Reb Quinn, until this very day, after 40 years of chinuch sadly states: “Until this day, there is no parent with whom I have enjoyed discussing the chinuch of their child like Reb Chuni. I always looked forward to him talking to me about the children. He not only showed true concern for his son, but he showered me so much love and respect that it made me feel important in a way that I can never express.

One Chanuka, when I knew Reb Chuni was steeped in debt and was hardly able to feed his family, he gave me an envelope that contained a few dollars. I was shocked and I refused to accept it, knowing that he probably had scraped his last pennies together to amass even this small sum.

Reb Chuni insisted, ‘Chanuka is a time in which we show Hakaras HaTov to our children’s Rebbeim. I will not let a Chanuka go by without giving my son’s rebbe a token of our appreciation.’”

Reb Chuni cared for both the body and the soul of the Cheder. Reb Tzvi Rothberg was a chosson as a rebbe at the cheder. As the trip to New York from Lakewood was somewhat arduous, he asked Reb Chuni if he could get a substitute for the day of his wedding.

Reb Chuni understood that a substitute could never replicate the familiarity between a rebbe and his talmidim, and so he offered to wait until the class was over and then he would personally drive R’ Tzvi to wherever he had to go in order to prepare for the chasuna. Reb Tzvi agreed, and so it was!

He was constantly on the lookout for ways to enhance the chinuch of the young charges. He once suggested that all the boys in a particular class learn Parshas Ha’azinu by heart with Yiddish translation. Reb Chuni came in personally to kvell after the boys completed the parsha, giving each one of them a special prize.

When he realized that the younger boys were not davening Mincha, even though they were indeed old enough, Reb Chuni appointed Mincha Rebbeim to ensure that Tefilas Mincha was said with the right kavana, even at a young age.

Besides looking out for the community, Reb Chuni was sure to look out for the needs of individuals. Not only would he collect tzedaka for the very poor yungeleit, he would do whatever he could to lift the spirits of the disheartened.

A couple who had no children wished to have their Shabbos table enlivened by the zemiros of young children. Every Shabbos, after every Seuda, Reb Chuni would bring all his children to this couple’s home to sit and sing with the geshmak of a Chassidishe Shabbos Tish.

There was a bakery in Lakewood whose owner was not a Shomer Shabbos. Every Thursday night Reb Chuni would go to the bakery, make sure that Challah was taken, that the oven was lit properly and that all the ingredients for Shabbos Challah and bread were 100 percent kosher.

Though the bakery was closed on Pesach, on Erev Pesach Reb Chuni made sure to see that no transactions took place after the z’man, and that no deliveries of flour were brought to the bakery. Though working as if he was a paid Mashgiach, Reb Chuni never took as much as a free roll to make sure that Yidden in Lakewood would not be nichshal in kashrus or chometz, chas v’sholom.

As the town of Lakewood grew, so did its needs. Together with Reb Laizer Stefansky, Reb Chuni was at the forefront of building the mikveh in Lakewood. Until that time, people had to travel to Long Branch, New Jersey for a mikveh. The mikveh was checked and fully approved by Reb Moshe Feinstein z”tl. Reb Shneur Kotler insisted that no other Rav was needed to give his approbation, but the newly arrived Chassidishe Oilam in Lakewood were skeptical whether this “Litvishe Mikveh” would abide by every chumra that would be demanded by the Chassidishe Oilam. With quiet chachma, using his relationships with great Chassidishe poiskim, Reb Chuni devised a way that everyone in the kehilla was totally accepting of the mikveh.

When the city of Baltimore began overseeing Cholov Yisrael milk production under the supervision of Reb Moshe Heineman, shlita, Reb Chuni worked diligently to have milk from Baltimore arrive every week at prices that the B’nai Torah were able to afford.

Every Pesach, the Lakewood Rosh Yeshiva, Reb Shneur Kotler zt”l would fir (conduct) the seder for all the bochurim who were not able to travel home. The Rosh Yeshiva and his entire family would host the remaining bochurim in the Yeshiva’s massive dining room. It was financially impossible to buy all new kailim for the small amount of boys who would stay so Reb Chuni took it upon himself to kasher the entire kitchen for Pesach – milchigs and flaishigs, pots, pans and silverware, according to the strictest chumros.

When a fire broke out in the Laurel-in-the-Pines hotel on a hot Friday night in July 1967, hundreds of people gathered to watch the frightening view of a tremendous building going up in flames. Where was Reb Chuni? He lived right across the street and as soon as the fire broke out he raced into the hotel shul to rescue the sifrei torah that he knew were there. His good friend, R' Avrohom Penzer described how he emerged from the flaming shul, covered in thick, black soot from head to toe, his face beaming with joy as he clutched the sifrei torah in his arms.

But Reb Chuni did not only focus on the spirituality of b’nai Torah. Reb Chuni’s son, Reb Menachem relates that a number of years ago, he once spotted a furniture store on the outskirts of Lakewood. The enticing flyers in the window with offers of ridiculous prices lured him into the store.

The middle-aged proprietor introduced himself as a Mr. Eddie Schuster, and though he was far removed from Yiddishkeit, he was proud of his Jewish heritage.

The course of the conversation led to Reb Menachem introducing himself as Menachem Spiegel. Suddenly an elderly gentleman jumped out of a back room.
“Spiegel?” He asked. “Are you related to a Chuni Spiegel?”
“He was my father.”
“How is he?” asked the old man.
“He passed away many years ago.”
The man’s eyes welled with tears. “Let me show you something,” he said through a choked voice.
He shlepped R’ Menachem over to an old door and pointed up to the doorpost. “You see that mezuzah? Your father brought me that mezuzah when I opened this store! He came in here very often to talk to me about Yiddishkeit! He was from the only people here who would always remind me what it means to be a Yid!”
Then the man broke down and cried.

As the family grew, the pressure of providing for his family mounted and the Rosh Yeshiva together with other Gedolim persuaded Reb Chuni to become a shochet.

After immersing himself totally in the halachos, Reb Chuni was ready for kabalah. He received kabalah from Gedolei Yisrael, among them the Pupa Rav, the Tzailemer Rav, Reb Yona Furst - the Nitra Rav, Reb Moshe Feinstein, the Sigheter Rav, and Harav Landau - Veretzkia Rav.

When Reb Moshe asked to look at his chalef, he was astounded at the perfection of the blade. Reb Moshe asked if he could make a p’gam and have Reb Chuni find it. Reb Chuni left the room and heard a clear knock of the knife. He began to check the knife and at first, he was not able to see any p’gam. After a few moments, he realized what the Gaon had done. The p’gam was on the dull side of the knife!
Reb Moshe smiled and said, “A lesser shochet would have fabricated a p’gam on the sharp side to explain the knock!”

The Sigheter Rav, Reb Moshe Teitelbaum (who later became the Satmer Rebbe) was so impressed after testing Reb Chuni that he immediately made a call and got Reb Chuni his first job. By that time he had moved to New York (in the summer of 1975) and the job took a great deal of travel and preparation.

Reb Chuni took his avodas hashechita seriously with the utmost responsibility. He never left to shecht without immersing in the Mikveh. In fact when a new mikveh in Boro Park opened Reb Chuni decided that he would be the first one to use it and so he obtained the key. At 4 o’clock in the morning, he entered only to find that only the bor geshamim was filled. The main mikveh was still empty and dirty rainwater was standing in the bor – freezing and murky. There was no other mikveh open at that hour and so Reb Chuni immersed himself in that mikveh.

Reb Chuni’s parents, the Ostrove-Kalushiner Rebbe and Rebbitzin were particularly pleased that their son became a shochet. Reb Spiegel had never eaten any meat in America and the chickens that he ever ate were only from shochtim that he knew.
To have a son shecht the chickens was considered a special zechus.

Reb Chuni’s mother was extremely close to her son; his kibud Av V’Aim was of a magnitude that is indescribable. When living in Lakewood, Reb Chuni’s mother once mentioned that she needed potatoes and could not get to the store because of the terribly snowy conditions in Long Beach. Despite the miserable weather, Reb Chuni got into his car and drove over three hours to bring her the potatoes!

He was not only worried about chickens for his parents. In those days, it was inconvenient for yungeleit to shlug kaporos with live chickens. They would have to either travel to New York or find a chicken and a shoichet in Lakewood on their own. Despite the importance of the minhag, it entailed a tremendous amount of bitul Torah. Reb Chuni, now that he had a kesher with a slaughterhouse, would bring a truckload of chickens to the Yeshiva for the yungeleit – a tremendous saving of time and money for them.

During his entire tenure as a shochet, Reb Chuni continued to serve his parents each and every need, no matter how difficult, no matter how distant, and no matter how tired he was.

The kesher was so close that as a chosson, despite the Chassidishe minhag to have both fathers walk the chosson down to the chupa, the Rebbitzin insisted that she would walk her Chuni down to the chupah.

On the job, he was scrupulous about every single detail. Though shochtim were allowed a quota of chickens for their families, and though almost every shochet followed the unofficial rule of an extra chicken or two, Reb Chuni would never take anything that was not due him. If he missed a day, he would take less than the number of chickens allotted to him. If he brought home a chicken for a friend, he would pay the owner of the shlachthois the exact amount and would not take an extra penny from his friends for his efforts in shechting the chicken.

When Reb Chuni started shechting in Empire, he was bothered that there were no shiurim for the shochtim. He quickly got to work on creating a solution. Reb Chuni gathered some old gemoras from his shul and brought them along with him and began giving a daf yomi shiur for all of the employees at Empire.

Because of the long distance from the shlachthois to his home, Reb Chuni would sleep over. He was very bothered that he was away from his wife and children all week and so every night he would call home and learn with each one of his children.

The trips to Miffletown, Pennsylvania were long and difficult. There was a rotation of drivers and in addition to gas and tolls, the driver was paid $52 for his labors in driving the four hour trip. The week of the tragic accident that took the life of Reb Chuni and his fellow shochtim, the designated driver’s car broke down and Reb Chuni offered to drive instead.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, an envelope was found in one of Reb Chuni’s z’l pockets. Inside was a check for $52 made out to the one who was originally designated to drive. He obviously planned to give it to him thinking, “Just because your car broke down, I did not want you to lose out on the $52.”

Those types of actions and hanhagos were indicative of Reb Chuni’s nature. He made sure to consider the feelings of every individual in every aspect of life.

We say in Tehillim, "Uz Yimolay Sichoik Piynu." R' Shabsi Yudlevich would quote the medrash, “What is this 'sichoik', this 'gelechter', that will fill our mouths in the time of Moshiach? At the time of techiyas homaysim all who are worthy will come back to life and they will be the same age as when they were niftar. This will be the gelechter: zaides with black beards will dance with their white-bearded sons…youthful bubbes will dance with their elderly daughters…”

Reb Chuni left the world so suddenly, so tragically, but the strength of his Rebbetzin held the children and family together in a way that no one could have imagined. Every one of their sons and son-in-law, and their eineklach are surely bringing nachas to Reb Chuni in his special place near the kisay hakovod.

We look forward to the day when we will all dance together at the time of techiyas homaysim, b'viyas goyel tzedek b'mihayra v'yumaynu amein.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Rav Avigdor Miller, zt”l- Klal Yisrael's Rebbe

What can be said of a Gadol who was so much a part of this world, yet so distant from it? A man whose innovations in teaching Torah, through tapes and telephone and technology, were twenty years ahead of his time; yet his personal lifestyle resembled that of generations past. How did the man who declared his unwavering emunah with his every word; imparted the language of the Chovos Halevavos in his every nuance; incorporated the words of Tanach into his very vernacular, become the eloquent spokesman who inspired hundreds and thousands of souls, tainted by the heresy of a yoke-casting nation, many of whom never even picked up a Chumash before hearing him, return to Yiddishkeit?

How did the man whose outlook on life made him sound as if he was a Rosh Yeshiva who had never seen the shores of the United States find the right expressions and the gentle wit to pierce the sullied barrier of America's frivolities, and reach the souls of thousands?

How does the tzaddik who slept for sixty years on a sheet-covered board, and ate a raw egg and half a sugar cube for supper, impart a love for Torah to the American kids who lived from one ice cream cone to the next?

How could the man who the Satmar Rebbe labeled as "not from this dor (generation) but rather from a previous generation,” bridge the gap to become a father to so many who needed a bridge to their father in heaven?

How does the Rav who was immersed in the depth of Rav Isaac Sher's shiurim, who absorbed Rav Avraham Grodzinsky's mussar, and the brilliance of the Lithuanian Yeshiva, enable himself to spend an entire year learning HaMafkid with a retired milkman or to discuss Yesodos emunah with throngs of Chassidim and Sepharadim and Yidden from all backgrounds?

The answer must be very clear. The Torah and Mussar of that man, Rav Avigdor Miller, transcended any obstacle that would impede the imparting of the Ribono Shel Olam's words to anyone who was willing to hear. Emes pierces all barriers, and the clear vision he had of the Ribono Shel Olam forever standing in front of him, enabled Rabbi Miller to accomplish the task of thousands. He was a one-man institution; he was a central station of every facet of Torah; a flowing fountain, never ceasing to satiate thirsty souls and strengthening their desires to come back for more. He did more than make ba'alei teshuvah from the non-religious, he made ba'alei teshuvah, ba'alei hipa'alus, ba'alei machshava from the already-committed, imbuing a new sense of desire to grow in Torah, Mussar and Yiras Shamayim.

Sacred Youth

Rav Avigdor Miller was born in Baltimore, Maryland on the second day of Elul in the year 1908, to Reb Yisrael and Hudda Reva Miller.

His grandfather, Reb Dov HaKohen Miller was a very pious Jew; a shochet and a melamed, who fled the terrible persecutions and pogroms of White Russia four years earlier, together with his son and daughter-in-law. Reb Dov continued in his traditional role to serve the kehilla of Baltimore. His son, Reb Yisrael, followed in his ways. With great mesiras nefesh, he struggled to earn a living as a Shomer Shabbos grocer in Baltimore, ensuring that his sons Avigdor and Yeshaya would receive a proper Torah chinuch.

Seeds of Greatness

Although there were no formal Yeshivas during his youth, as a child, Reb Avigdor went learn in a Talmud Torah under the tutelage of a Mr. Tarshish, who would teach him privately in addition to the hours spent in school. By the time of his Bar Mitzvah, young Avigdor was already proficient in Tanach and had a knowledge of Yiddishkeit far greater than most children his age. The words of Tanach became the staple of his language throughout his life.

His brother, Rav Yeshaya Miller, a Rav in Boston for many years, told his son, Rav Yisrael Miller, Mara D'Asrah of Congregation Poalei Tzedek of Pittsburgh, PA, that by the time he was twelve years old, Avigdor had already ceased the normal playful activities for his age, and had immersed himself in serious learning. After his Bar Mitzvah, Avigdor had already decided that he would like to become a Rav.

By the early 1920s, young Avigdor would spend his free time either learning with Reb Tarshish or sitting over a Gemarah in the Bais Knesses in Baltimore. For hours on end he would sit, undistracted and undisturbed, melding every bit of knowledge he received, whether from his mandatory secondary education or his learning, into the essence that would later influence the lives of thousands of Jews across the entire globe.
By the time he graduated from high school he was not only a serious Talmid of Torah, but a master orator and earnest thinker. In those days, for the Yomim Noraim, shuls would be packed, filling over 1000 seats with Yidden whose heartstrings tugged at them to fully observe the chagim. However, the Rav would usually speak in Yiddish, and unfortunately, there were already hundreds of American-born congregants who were not proficient in the illustrious tongue of their forebears. For them, there would be an additional speech in English, in order that they, too, could get a feeling for the awe and aura of the Y'mei HaDin. The question obviously was, who, in 1925, would both be proficient enough in the English Language to speak eloquently, yet be imbued with a high level of Yiras Shamayim and be able to impart the Aimas Hayom, creating an impact on the vast audience? Young Avigdor was chosen. Though only 17 years old, he delivered a stirring English language Kol Nidrei drasha to an audience of more than 1000 people! It was only the first case of a life-long career of powerful oratory that would address the challenges and shape the future of the American Jewish community.

Growing in Torah

That Elul, he left to learn in New York’s Lower East Side, under Rav Moshe Soleveitchik in Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchok Elchonon.

He became close to a group of chaveirim who would be omaid al hamishmar throughout their entire lives as generals in the milchamato shel Torah on these shores. Among them were Rav Nosson Wachtfogel, Rav Yehuda Davis, Rav Mordechai Gifter, and Rav Moshe Bick, zichronom livracha.

He quickly became well liked at the Yeshiva and his leadership was immediately apparent. He was elected to head the student organization and became a spokesman for many of their views.

Rav Miller was careful to use his secular knowledge only to be mashpia on others. His broad knowledge of science attached a higher value to the wonders of creation, and the Almighty's undisputable signature on every aspect of the natural world. His vast vocabulary and command of English was used to communicate Torah hashkafah to the less committed.

In fact, when brilliant young refugees would enter the portals of the Yeshiva, Rabbi Miller was asked to tutor them in the English language. Rav Moshe Soleveitchik asked him to tutor his own son, Ahron. Wisely, Rav Miller carefully chose the most boring volumes as study texts. He did not want his younger charges to be influenced by the tainted outlooks of many authors. He once mused with a family member that he could find nothing more boring and uninspiring as the first ten chapters of Ivanhoe, and so that is what he used to teach them.

When the administration of RIETS wanted to introduce a secular college as part of the Yeshiva, even though he, himself, was attending classes at CCNY, Rabbi Miller, along with his chaveirim, vehemently protested the introduction of the synthesis of secular studies in the same edifice and institution that had formerly exclusively taught Torah.

Within the Yeshiva, itself, Rav Miller strove to elevate the students in a way that would guard them from the prevailing notions of American society in the 1930's. He arranged for the citadel of kanaus and Yiras Shamayim, Rav Yaakov Yoseph Herman, known to today's generation of American students as "All for the Boss," to give clandestine shmuessen and shiurim in Mesilas Yeshorim at night. The administration of the Yeshiva was not enthused with the fact that an outsider was delivering lectures to the students, but perhaps even less so with Rav Herman’s kana'us and intonations that there were places that could offer greater growth in Torah than what could be found in America-- the world of the European Yeshiva.

Rav Miller thought differently, and resolved to grab at the chance of teaching children whenever it would arise.

The Talmud Torah in his home town of Baltimore was looking for a teacher, and Rabbi Miller decided that it would be a perfect opportunity for him to pursue a career in chinuch.

He called his Rav in Baltimore, who tried to strongly dissuade him. "Reb Avigdor, you can go on to much greater things! If you come, I have no choice but to give you the job, but," he continued, "I am advising you to continue learning in Yeshiva."

Rabbi Miller was not moved. On the Sunday meant for interviews, he got on a train and headed for Baltimore. He planned to arrive in the afternoon, but the train stopped in Philadelphia at one o'clock and, for no apparent reason, sat in the station for four hours. He arrived in Baltimore that night and rushed to the shul. His Rav told him, “I saw you did not come, so I hired someone else.” Rabbi Miller was so dejected, that he did not even visit his parents-- he just went straight back to the Yeshiva!

"Oy!" Rav Miller used to exclaim, declaring the hashgacha Elyona of the train's breakdown. "Look at my dejection at the time! But now we know Hashem's plan. [Had I been hired] I would have remained in Baltimore and never seen the majestic Torah world of Slabodka!"

Rav Miller's foremost encounter with that majestic world came in 1932 when the Slabodka Rosh Yeshiva, Hagaon Rav Isaac Sher, arrived in the United States, to raise funds for his Yeshiva.

Every week, during Rav Sher's visit, together with a group of his chaveirim, 24-year-old Reb Avigdor would visit Rav Sher's apartment on Henry Street on the Lower East Side to hear a shmuess from Rav Sher. By that time, the depression had set in and the fundraisng mission proved to be a disaster. After the last shmuess before Rav Sher was to return to Europe, he invited the group to join his Yeshiva. The chevra were so captivated by the shmuessen that they decided to go back with the Rosh Yeshiva to Slabodka.. Rav Miller recounted the enthusiasm of Rav Yehuda Davis, zt"l, who later established a yeshiva in Mountaindale, New York, to encourage everyone to leave Yeshiva University and learn in Slabodka. Rav Sher tried to convince, Rav Gifter, whose uncle was an alumnus of Telshe, to learn in Slabodka, too. Rav Gifter journeyed with Rav Miller to Europe, and decided to spend his first Shabbos in Slabodka. However, he opted to go to the Telshe Yeshiva, convinced that the mussar of Slabodka was not his style. Years later, Rav Gifter mused, how he, who had not appreciated mussar in his original voyage to Telshe, would later don a special jacket to hear the shmuessen of his Rabbeim. Rav Mordechai Gifter remained very close to Rav Miller, attending his wedding in Nayshtatd. His son Reb Eliezer Miller said, that whenever Rav Mordechai Gifter would meet him, he would literally take hold of him and declare, "the z'chus of all my learning is due to your father!"

Rav Isaac Sher would say, referring to the talmidim who returned with him, "I did not manage to bring back money from America, instead I brought back diamonds."

Perhaps it is apparent that his mission was truly successful. The dollars he brought back, and invested in the facilities, suffered a blistered fate, while the diamonds return to illuminate and sparkle for a new generation of Torah in this country.


Rabbi Miller arrived in Slabodka on Erev Shavuos, 1933. He was embraced by the Mashgiach, Rav Avraham Grodzinsky, who kissed him, declaring, "You have arrived for kabalas HaTorah!"

In Slabodka, Rav Miller was introduced to a new world. Within the dilapidated facilities, there was a prolific spirit. Each bochur was a lamdan, their sense of respect for the hanhallah was profound. The overall aura was infused with a sense of overwhelming spirituality, and clear direction. Rav Miller soon became renown for his great hasmada. He learned in abject poverty, barely eating meals; splitting a sugar cube in half to sustain himself mornings and evenings. He slept on a board and wore through the elbows of the suit jackets and shirts that he brought from America. They became threadbare from the sway of material against the wooden shtenders. His meager sartorial extremities embarrassed him. He thought, perhaps, that it would diminish the view of Gadlus HaAdom, so he would not walk into the Bais Medrash in full view of his chaveirim, instead, he would be the first one in and the last one out, avoiding stares from the other charges.
With great toil he continued his relentless mission al HaTorah v'al HaAvoda.

When he made trips to the American consulate for matters relating to his status in a foreign country, he would have to borrow a suit, as his was ragged from wear, but with his charming personality, he made friends with the consular, a Baltimorean, like himself. This relationship proved beneficial when trying to help others get entry visas into the US.

Rav Miller continued his close relationship with Rav Isaac Sher and considered him as his rebbe. He always marveled how every word was weighed and measured, and at his extreme dignity, composure, and restraint. "Everything he said ,you could understand, it was well explained with complete clarity.” In one of his seforim he terms his rebbe as "the clear thinker," an attribute Rav Miller himself would be later known for throughout his unrelenting career as a total mechanech.
Rabbi Shmuel Shapiro, one of his Ba'alei Batim in Flatbush, who journeyed through the entire Shas with Rav Miller, beginning his first line of Gemara with him more than 33 years ago, talks about Rav Miller's appreciation and commitment to clarity. "Rav Miller would often say something and then ask us to repeat it. If we could not, he would say, the reason you cannot repeat it is only because I was unclear. I did not do a good enough job in explaining it. And so, Rav Miller would repeat the sevorah or explanation again and again until his Talmidim would be able to repeat it.

He devoted himself to the unequivocal mussar of Rav Avraham Grodzinsky, and strove to attain the middas haEmes, an attribute that would hallmark his legendary directness and straightforwardness, leading Rav Moshe Feinstein to label him as the "Ish Emes of America."

He was wont to say that the shiurim of Rav Isaac Sher were not as famous as those of the other Roshei Yeshiva. Though Rav Isaac could have said great and brilliant pilpulim, he traded his capacity of brilliance for the relentless search for emes.

His attachment to mussar was not merely in theory; it manifested itself in every aspect of his life. Every step he took, became a journey that explored the greatness of the Almighty. His vision of the Ribono Shel Olam's pervading presence in everything from the massive sun, to the intricate complexities of the tiny apple seed did not escape his mussar-enhanced eyes.

His quest for greatness led Rav Miller to master the entire K’tzos and Nesivos and Shev Shma'atsah by heart, and he would constantly review those volumes, even until the week before his petirah.

On the 4th day of Sivan, in the year 1935, Rav Avigdor Miller married, Ettil, the oldest daughter of Rav Yaakov Moshe Lessin, zt"l, the Rav of Naishtat, Lithuania who also served as a menahel of the Kovno Kollel in Slabodka. His American chaveirim, joined Rav Miller at the home of Rav Levitan, for the wedding.

Rav Miller learned in the Kovno Kollel, and developing strong relationships with Gedolei Torah in Europe. He would spends summers in Tzitivyan, talking for hours with the Tzitivyaner Rav, Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky zt"l, whose son, Rav Binyomin, of Long Island, recalls Rav Miller attending his bar-mitzvah.
Rav Lessin had previously been to America with a delegation that came in 1924, which later helped save some of his family from the Holocaust. With the ominous storm clouds of anti-Semitism looming over the horizon, Rav Avigdor also knew that he and his family would have to leave Europe as well.

Together with their son Eliezer, and their daughter, Shaynee, they traveled to America, back to Baltimore, Maryland. When a position was offered in Chelsea, Massachusetts in the prestigious Agudas Achim shul on Walnut Street, Rabbi Miller decided to accept. He knew that he would face a tremendous challenge raising his family in that community and helping to develop the congregants into B'nai Torah, but he was up to the challenge.

Chelsea had very little formal Torah schooling for its youth. Except for the traditional Talmud Torah, there was nothing to enhance the public school education that the children received. Together with his father-in-law, Rav Yaakov Moshe Lessin, who had arrived in America in 1939 and assumed a position as the Rav of Dorchester, Rav Miller established an intensive after school program. Rav Miller served as Rosh Yeshiva while his brother-in-law, Rav Yisroel Meir Lessin, who had arrived from Switzerland, gave additional classes. Many community members greeted the new institution with consternation if not open rejection. They did not see the shortcomings of the official, yet feeble, education afforded through the synagogue's Talmud Torah. In addition, they understood that a true Yeshiva would cost money, and they did not want to be encumbered with additional expenses for Yiddishkeit.

Rav Avigdor named the Yeshiva Ohr Yisrael after Rav Yisrael Salanter and began teaching the boys Gemarah and mussar on a level that small town America had never seen. Rav Miller did not compromise on his principles nor moderate his clear and unwavering shitas Hachaim for them. He told his nephew, Reb Yisrael Miller, "There was no difference between the shiurim or shmuessen that I gave in Chelsea and those that I gave in Chaim Berlin!"

Meanwhile, the war in Europe was raging and Rav Miller was a constant source of encouragement to Jewish soldiers and servicemen who were sent overseas to fight the battle against the Nazi monster and its Japanese cohorts.

Agudas Yisrael, published a magazine with a column, "Those that fight, write!' Often included in the letters were comments made by servicemen sent to distant locations, whose only kesher to Judaism were the words of encouragement given to them by Rav Miller.

Back in Chelsea, the boys began to gravitate toward mesikas HaTorah, the consternation of the Ba’alei Batim grew. They told Rav Miller to shut down the school, threatening to fire him if he would not.

Rav Miller consulted with his esteemed father-in-law. It is “Yeyhoraig V'al Ya'avor!” exclaimed Rav Lessin. "The Yeshiva will remain opened!" And it did. In fact, the boys grew in learning and their desire to continue on to Yeshiva Gedolah intensified. For summer vacation, Rav Miller would send them to the new summer camps in the Catskills that were administered and directed by b'nai Torah. Those who remained home for the summer, continued to learn with the Rav, in an informal setting on the lawn of his home in Chelsea.

As the Talmidim grew in Torah and Yiras Shamayim, Rav Miller took it upon himself to personally accompany them to Yeshiva Mesivta Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin, to learn under the tutelage of Rav Hutner, zt”l. Rav Hutner was amazed at the grasp and breadth of knowledge that these young charges had, and the fluency in which they expressed their knowledge. He was particularly astonished when Avraham Kramer, related a difficult K'tzos Hachoshen, fluently, in Yiddish!

There was one particular Talmid of whom Rav Miller would say, he is our ticket to Olam HaBah. He emerged as a leader in the Chelsea community and eventually assumed the leadership of the Yeshiva after Rav Millers' departure to New York. Here is the amazing story: Rav Miller had made a public plea for parents to send their children to the Yeshiva. He offered to learn with any child no matter what level he was on. All the child needed to join the Yeshiva was the desire to learn Torah.
After the class, an elderly woman, approached him, saying, "My child would like to learn in your Yeshiva, do you think you could allow him?"

"Certainly," responded the 34-year-old Rav, not realizing whom he had just accepted into the Yeshiva. "I'd love to meet him."

A few moments later the woman came back with a middle-aged gentleman. He was surely a few years older than the young Rav. He was wearing a blood stained apron, his thick fingers, and broad arms testifying to his occupation as a very adept butcher.

"This is my son," she exclaimed, "I am delighted that you will learn with him!"
The gentleman had a rudimentary knowledge of the Hebrew language and, true to his commitment, Rav Miller, began learning with him.
They went through the entire Chumash, soon they went through Mishnayos and Gemarah. In a short while, Mr. Kaufman became a loyal Talmid of Rav Miller and a leader in the community.

The Yeshiva continued to grow, with an enrollment of 51 Talmidim, a staggering number in those days. But the yeshiva only educated older boys, and Rav Miller became quite torn. While the Millers daughter Shaynee was enrolled in the public school, he refused to send his son, Eliezer into that environment. The Chelsea School District granted permission for the Millers to home-school Eliezer, the only child out of 13,000 in the school district to be afforded that permission. But the gnawing problem of proper Torah education was foremost on their mind.

Meanwhile, Rav Miller decided to purchase a separate building to house the Yeshiva. The move was controversial; but in the end, the community united. They were going to have a Yeshiva building.

Rav Miller decided to ask Rav Hutner to address the community at the chanukas habayis, but before he got a chance to call Rav Hutner, something amazing happened-- Rav Hutner called him! He offered him a position as the Mashgiach of Yeshiva Mesivta Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin.

Rav Miller thought of the opportunity he had. Years later, he told his children that he does not remember whether it took ten or twenty seconds to accept.

The day after the chanukas habayis he broke the news to the kehilla. They were devastated, but his Brother-in-law, Rav Lessin, and Mr. Kaufman, took charge as Rav Miller packed his belongings and, together with his rebbetzin, who stood by his every act, moved to Brooklyn.
Chaim Berlin

With Rabbi Miller’s appointment as Mashgiach of Yeshiva Mesivta Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin, in 1944, he was faced with a demanding challenge.

In those days, many boys who attended the Yeshiva were not attuned to a Torah lifestyle, and often came from homes that were barely Shomer Shabbos. Some were not ready for the serious program needed to produce true lomdim.

Rabbi Miller’s goal was to instill a serious sense of responsibility and vision of greatness in the students, helping them to realize the potential each one had to grow in Torah. In addition to ensuring that the bochurim were learning, he was genuinely concerned with all aspects of their behavior.

One zman, while the boys were learning Bava Kama, he noticed that some of the Gemaras that they were using were actually taken from various shuls in the community. When he found out that they were "borrowed" without permission, he refused to allow the boys to return, until each Gemara was returned to it's proper Bais HaKnesses. "How can one learn the laws of damages, while learning from a stolen Gemara?"

He had to play the role of enforcer, maintaining the decorum and seder rooted in his very essence. He never let the image of Slabodka fade from his mind, nor did he lower his sights for the talmidim. His goal was to raise their level in mussar and while he worked to acheive that goal, Rabbi Miller continued his own learning with tremendous hasmadah, learning seven blatt a day, finishing Shas every year, reviewing ktzos and nesivos repeatedly, and teaching the sifrei mussar he was so fluent in.

With the majestic presence and charismatic brilliance of Rav Hutner, at the helm of the yeshiva, Rav Miller nurtured the yeshiva’s sense of structure and order. Chaim Berlin grew to become a central force in Torah education for serious lomdim, producing hundreds of b’nai Torah who grew to be leaders in both the lay world, and in the world of chinuch and Torah education.

He was mechazek the second seder in the Yeshiva, and raised their consciousness about their search for greatness.

According to many Talmidim, Rav Miller served as a policeman, guarding the kovod of the institution, the Rosh Yeshiva and the hanhalla. His demeanor never was ruffled. With gentle humor and sometimes-caustic wit, he deflected negativity and afforded mussar.

It is well known how he would approach a group of young men surrounding a table, worthless banter flowing between them; Rav Miller’s stately form, flowing frock, and perfect diction would startle their idleness, "What will it be this morning, Gentlemen," he would begin. "Would you prefer a scotch or rye?"

Realizing that they were behaving no better than boys in a bar, they would scurry to begin their limudim with a sense of seriousness.

Even the Rabbeim, were affected by his sense of seder. One brilliant Maggid shiur would often lose his way on the subway, sometimes showing up hours late for a shiur. The boys were in a state of limbo, not able to learn properly in anticipation of his imminent arrival.

Rav Miller was insistent that he be more responsible, and would even cancel the shiur if it had to begin late!

His sense of humor could always put a gentle touch on a very serious topic. Once a boy walked into seder late. "Why are you late?" asked the Mashgiach.
"I became a chasson last night," exclaimed the student.
Rav Miller gave his bracha and tochachah in the same breath.
"Mazel Tov! Make sure that never happens again!" he smiled.

His devotion to perfect seder hardly allowed him to tolerate tardiness. His Seder Hayom was punctual and unwavering. The storekeepers on Pitkin Avenue, set their watches to his comings and goings. He was strict about tardiness, but always with a sense of humor. During the Korean War, he would chide the late comers, “It's either 9:30 in the Bais Medrash or 6:30 in the morning at Fort Dix!"


Two years after arriving in New York, he took a position at the Young Israel of Rugby. Orthodoxy in America was still at its budding stages, and Rabbi Miller had an arduous task of incorporating his non-compromising opinions and perspectives into a kehillah that was very satisfied with its level of Yiddishkeit.

Many members left the shul. "It was the needle speech that did it for my family!" one member whose father left, told me.
“Needle speech?” I asked. The man smiled.
"One Shabbos, Rav Miller spoke about carrying. In those days, many people were not aware of the issur of carrying a handkerchief or small items. But Rabbi Miller, he told it like it was! ‘If you carry even a needle, you are chayiv misah!’ That was too much for us.”
Those who remained, however, became more than mispallelim, they became Talmidim!

In 1965, Yeshiva Chaim Berlin moved from Stone Avenue to an empty public school in Far Rockaway, NY. The spacious building was a real bargain, but the bussing of students and the traveling took a toll on Rabbi Miller. Though Far Rockaway was a burgeoning suburb that would see tremendous growth just a decade later, it had not yet reached a level where it could support the Yeshiva financially, with only local boys comprising the bulk of the Yeshiva’s enrollment.

Rebbe to his Flock

Eventually, Rav Miller decided to leave the Yeshiva and immerse himself into full time Rabbanus. He endeared himself to his Ba’alei Batim and concentrated on uplifting them and dreamed of making lomdim from them.

He took a meager salary and was beholden to no one. He was not afraid to talk about the immorality of society in the strongest of terms.

He did not sugar-coat his mussar by weakening his reprimand, but rather, injected humor into the reality of the problem.

After discussing how vile and depraved heresy is, a student asked him, "Rebbe, I must read this stuff for a course I'm taking in college. What should I do?"

Rabbi Miller, looked incredulously at him. "If you are thirsty do you drink from a latrine?"

Melamed Torah L'Amo

At first, his shiurim to the Ba'alei Batim were on easier topics-- Mishne, Chayai Odom and Ein Yaakov, but a visiting Gadol chastised him, saying that he could teach his Ba'alei Batim "Gantz Shas." Like always, Rav Miller was a great mekabel, and he knew that if spoken by a Gadol BaTorah, those were not words, they were reality. And so, in 1967, he embarked on a mission that would leave an eternal impact on hundreds of families across the world.

With a group of fifteen or so congregants seated around a table, he began with the words, "Shanyim Ochazim B'Talis."

To some members of the class, it was as foreign as an ancient language. He had them write down the words. He had them fill in the nekudos. And he had them repeat it. He taught them with the same enthusiasm that a young haschalas gemara rebbe displays towards his Talmidim. And they responded in kind! Nothing was above them; they followed their rebbe's charge, unabashed, unashamed. Repeat after me! "Shanyim Ochazim B'Talis!" And so it went. One of the important skills he would stress was having the students understand the "idiom of the Gemara."

After one year the group grew in size and in greatness. It took a year, but they finished three blatt Gemara-- and they knew it cold!

The next year's project was more than three blatt. It was an entire Mesechta! Night after night they came. They reviewed and they repeated. At the end of a year they finished Gittin!

And then they would make an appointment to come to the Rav's home to take a farher! Everyone had to take a farher! If you knew a blatt by heart you received awards!

A retired milkman began his journey in to the Gemara with Rav Miller at age 65. Three years later ,everyone in the shiur waited in anticipation for the outcome of his "farher."

He returned ecstatic! The Rav took out a bottle of schnapps, something that was very rare for Rav Miller, and made a L'Chaim! Such a simcha is truly worthy of a L'Chaim!

Rabbi Shmuel Shapiro, who finished the entire shas with Rav Miller, and was bestowed with s'micha, related to me how he would pick up the phone to make the appointment and then would wipe his brow in relief, if no one would answer! It was another chance to review!

Who today would have both the courage and the audacity to farher his Ba'alei Batim on his shiurim? But Rav Miller who only knew the emes and feared no one, did what a rebbe should do. It did not make a difference if the student was a child or the President of the shul!

"His enthusiasm and constancy was a source of chizuk for those who attended his shiurim on a continuous basis. Sometimes we would encounter complex issues, but Rav Miller's clarity, and his ability to pepper the most complex and even seemingly boring sugyos with additional Agad'ta Gemaros lifted our spirits and held our hands."

The genius of the potpourri of shiurim in well over a dozen different mesechtos, encompassing some of the most difficult sugyos in Shas, is unimaginable. He wanted to assure his Talmidim that if their inability to come every single night would not impede their ability to hear a shiur with relentless continuity.

And so, for every day of the week, for every seder in shas, for every intellect and on every aspect of hashkafa-- there was a shiur!

On Thursday evenings he gave a hashkafa shiur at the Sefardic Institute. That shiur went on for years and years. It was disseminated by tape throughout the world, his penetrating wisdom reaching all types of Jews in every corner of the world.

The assortment of Yidden who would flock to hear the shiur was indescribable. Chassidim, Misnagdim, Sepharadim, Ashkenazim, Black Hats, Kippot Serugot, aged people in wheelchairs, and high school students and their parents!

He spoke what was on his mind. He expressed his unadulterated opinions and did not hesitate to forever speak the truth. And Emes is what drew them.

He said to a grandchild that much of his hashkafa of history came from the Zichron Yaakov, written by the secretary of Rav Yitzchak Elchonon Spector, the Kovno Rav. He, in fact wanted to translate it and met with Rav Yaakov Lipschutz's grandson Rav Binyomin, of Fall River, Massachusetts, for permission.

Ardently against secularism, Zionism and other movements against the Torah, Rav Miller did not hesitate to speak out against the leaders of idealists that he felt went contrary to the Torah’s against the Torah. He spoke out against the invasion of immorality into our homes, painting a clear picture about the evils of television, encouraging everyone to smash their sets!
"It is like having a sewer draining into your living room!" he cried.
He would support political candidates whose views would promote morality, openly denouncing their liberal opponents.

He acted vehemently to even a subtle hint of impropriety in hashkafa. Reb Moshe Kolodny recalls himself as a student in Chaim Berlin telling the Mashgiach that the Yeshiva received a new set Mishnayos. 'Bring me Mesechtas Sanhedrin," Rabbi Miller said.

When the bochur brought the Mishnayos, he flipped to the back where the Tiferes Yisrael had a section, answering evolution according to the Torah. Instead of denouncing the theory as malarkey, the piece contained some defenses of the theory and tried to answer it according to a Torah perspective.
You see this. It is totally unnecessary and inaccurate. The Navi Yeshaya (51:13) declares, "You are terrified continually, because of the "chamas hamatzik, ..v'ayeh chamas hamatzik -- the oppressors fury.” But where is the oppressors fury?" Everyone is afraid of evolution! It is a lie and a joke! Where is the fear? Rip it out!"

The boy stammered, “R..r..r.ip it out? Rebbe, I can't rip a sefer.” "It borders on heresy, and it's a mitzvah to get rid of it!” With that Rav Miller, removed the section from the Mishnayos and declared, "Ubiartah Harah Mikirbecha!

Rabbi Miller's impact on younger charges was profound. After a strong talk, imploring everyone to smash their television sets, Rabbi Miller received a call from an irate taxi driver, "When I was driving my cab, my son came home and smashed the television! He said you told him to do it! Are you crazy??! "

Rabbi Miller was cool, calm and collected. Is your son named David?" he asked. "Such an amazing fine boy!" Rabbi Miller went on to extol the child, and even more so, the parents that raised him. He was so impressed with their parenting that he asked to send others to their home to take lessons and receive advice! By the end of the conversation, Rabbi Miller had made friends with this man, who ultimately came into agreement with his son's actions!

Rabbi Miller had the ability to inspire others to reach levels of Yiddishkeit they never thought they could.

In the late 1950s, when Yeshiva South Shore, the first all boys Yeshiva of its kind, opened in Long Island, Rabbi Binyomin Kamenetzky, who had known Rabbi Miller in Europe, invited Rabbi Miller to speak to the kehilla to encourage the concept of a boy's Yeshiva!

"You think you can run from the Torah by leaving Brooklyn and coming to Long Island?" he began! "You can't escape the Torah!” He went on to speak strong words of hashkafa and mussar to the kahal. The crowd was not used to a Rabbi taking such a powerful stand to convince them of the importance of separate education. Ultimately, the Yeshiva was established and became the forerunner to a myriad of separate boys and girls Yeshivos on Long Island and the Rockaways.

Endless Shiurim

In the 1970s, when the neighborhood in East Flatbush began to deteriorate, the level of evening shiur attendance began to diminish as well. Rabbi Miller instituted a Torah-by-phone study program, for those who were homebound; a forerunner to the Torah Phone arrangements that are now a household word in many communities.

Rabbi Miller was a non-stop Marbitz Torah. His array of classes reads like a listing of volumes from among the largest libraries of seforim.

His eclectic shiurim could satiate any soul on any level. Even proficient kollel members would sit side by side with the Ba'alei Batim who had recently entered the foray of Milchamato Shel Torah, absorbing Rabbi Miller’s lessons.

The following is just a glimpse of a partial listing of the most recent array of Rabbi Miller’s classes. It is hard to imagine that years ago, the list was almost double in size! He used to give two shiurim each morning, but later switched to one shiur as he got older!

A Sunday shiur in Gittin at 8:00 a.m. began the week for Rabbi Miller. It was followed by a learning breakfast and a shiur in Sanhedrin at 10:30. Monday mornings he would teach Nazir and Monday evenings he gave a shiur in the complex Mesechta Eiruvin. On Tuesday mornings, he taught Pesachim, and in the evenings he delved into the complexities of Mesechta Shevuos. Wednesday mornings he would give a shiur in Mesechta Shabbos and at night would teach Mesechta Kiddushin. On Thursdays he would give a shiur on a different Perek of Nazir, and on Friday Mornings he taught K'subos.

In addition, he gave shiurim in the afternoon-- from the mussar of Chovos Halevavos to the complex simanim of Tur Even HaEzer.

On Shabbos he would learn B'choros. Shabbos afternoons were reserved for his Agad’ta shiur –beginning with two lines of Gemara and expounding for an hour!

He used to say: "The Gemara would make a one line quote with the preface of 'darash Rav,' Do you think Rav spoke only one line? He spoke for hours! The Gemara compressed it into one line, and our job is to reconstitute it!"

Sha’ar Habechina

But he did not stop with Gemara. Every day, before Mincha, he would give a shiur in either Chovos Halevavos, Mesilas Yeshorim or Orchos Tzadikim. In the winter, on Friday nights, we would learn Sha’ar Habechina in Chovos Halevavos, which discusses recognizing Hashem in every aspect of creation. Every year, over and over again. He would learn it and review it. One member said that he learned Sha’ar Habechina with him no less than forty times!

He was a walking, living sha’ar habechina. It was his battle cry. In every one of his books, every time he walked or opened his eyes, he saw the Ribbono Shel Olam. He would carry apple seeds in his pocket and would revel in looking at them. "These tiny seeds contain the codes of continuity! The largest computers pale in comparison to their complexity! This is only the handiwork and direct pronouncement of Hashem's ever-constant Hand in everything!”

On the hottest days of summer, when everyone would mutter about the heat, he would bask instead of sweat in the sunlight, thanking Hashem for that great source of light!

He would constantly remind his talmidim, that despite all their machinations and study, they must never forget that they are in front of the Ribbono Shel Olam.

He would often repeat the story of the Kotzker Rebbe. In the middle of a fervent davening, his congregants swaying with passion, he called his gabbai over. “Give a klop on the Bimah, and please announce to the kehilla, that there is a Ribbono Shel Olam in the world!”

A bochur who had been influenced by Rav Miller was transferring from public school to Yeshiva High School. Rabbi Miller called him. “Now that you are starting a career in a Yeshiva, I’d like to tell you something.
When you go to the Yeshiva you will hear what your rebbe has to say. You will hear, what Tosfos has to say, You will surely hear what the Gemara and Rashi have to say. But remember to come back here. You will hear what the Ribbono Shel Olam has to say!”

In addition to the shiurim in the Bais Knesses, he became the Mashgiach in his son Reb Shmuel's Yeshiva, Bais Yisrael. There, he would give sichos in Yiddish, the language he cherished and used in his home and with his own children. Though he taught mostly in English, he maintained Yiddish for his family, recognizing its vital importance in the continuity of the Mesorah.
He did not hesitate to encourage his Talmidim to use any technology to further their leaning experience. Rav Miller would often quote the Chofetz Chaim, "the technology of the steamship was invented in order to get the American bochurim across the sea to Yeshivos in Europe much faster than ever."

He applied that theory to advance the use of tapes to teach Torah. When cassette recorders were introduced in the early 1970's, Rabbi Miller, with great vision, encouraged their use to record his shiurim, thus beginning the thousands upon thousands of shiurim that have since been recorded for posterity. His tapes are being heard by talmidim today who were not even alive during the original recordings!

He even had the electrical wiring in the shul redone to accommodate the myriad recording devices.

In fact, he was so grateful to Reb Pinchus Shelby for advising him and arranging the taping of the Thursday night hashkafa shiur, that he explicitly mentioned an expression of hakaras hatov to him in his tzava'ah.

In every aspect of his shiurim he searched for emes. After he wrote his first book, Rejoice Oh Youth, he called one of the more cynical boys in Chaim Berlin and presented him with the galleys. "I want you to read this and rip it apart, he said. Try to find every flaw you can. I want to know every fallacy it may contain!" He was forever grateful to that boy as well!

His love for the Ribbono Shel Olam manifested itself in His creation and in His People.

He once asked Rav Isaac Sher, how to grow in Ahavas Yisrael. Rav Isaac told him to pick a Jew and do for him what ever you can.
He picked a Yid in Slabodka and constantly helped the man. Even after the man’s passing, Rav Miller would give tzedoko l’illuy nishmas that man and even publish in his memory.

He was a tremendous Ba’al tzedoko. Discreetly, he distributed tens of thousands of dollars of tzedoka to Yerushalmi families who were b'nai Torah.

Seder haChaim

Rav Miller had his life calculated to the minute. Though he shared in the joy of every simcha-- from brissim to bar mitzvos to weddings-- it was difficult for him to attend. The traveling and participation would disrupt his demanding schedule of learning, teaching and writing. In the 40 years he served as a Rav, with hundreds of congregants and thousands of Talmidim, he was only mesader kiddushin an average of once a year.

When he was sitting shiva, he continued saying shiurim. He felt that it was tzorchai rabim and could not be foregone.

At one of the first of his grandchildren’s weddings, he looked uncomfortable. A former student asked him why he looked troubled. “I am uncomfortable being here, after all. I am missing a shiur.”

The student was surprised, “Rebbe? Aren’t you grateful to be at the wedding of a grandchild? Isn’t that a great z’chus?”
Rabbi Miller was quiet. Three years later, he met the Talmid again. After greeting him warmly, he told him.
“You know, I thought of what you told me. From that day on, I go b’simcha to the weddings of my grandchildren.”

A Talmid, an elderly bochur who ate by Rabbi Miller almost every Shabbos, became a chasson. He very much wanted to share the simcha with his rebbe, but did not want to impose upon him to come to the wedding.

Rabbi Miller, appreciated the chasson’s dilemma. “You know, that if you would ask me to come, I would have to come. I appreciate that you know that it is hard for me to go. And in truth I want to be there, so I will tell you what I want to do.”
Rabbi Miller took off his tie. “If I can’t be there, let me give you my tie. Wear it to the wedding.”
The young man gladly accepted the tie and wore it to the wedding.

Rav Miller, never left his home. He hardly ever, perhaps never, went on vacations or visited relatives, for no specific reason. He always excused himself saying, “I’m sorry but I have a very big examination coming up in the near future.” Of course he was referring to the Yom HaDin.

During the last three years of his life, his body racked with Leukemia, he continued his schedule of shiurim. When it was suggested that he cut back, like a fearless general he exclaimed, “What? Retreat?”

He talked about Issurin shel Ahava, and would explain, that at the time you might think it Issurin, but later you will see that it is Ahava.

As the illness became more serious, so did his resolve. A few months back, however, his devoted grandson, Yisroel, who had helped administer medical treatments, was tragically killed in a car accident in Eretz Yisrael. Soon after, things began to deteriorate.

He gave his last shiur over Pesach, but by then the raging fire of Torah and mussar began to diminish. On early Friday morning, Klal Yisrael lost one of its last lions, as Rav Avigdor Miller, the teacher of thousands, returned his Neshama tehorah to the place where he would be ultimately rewarded on his final bechina.

Rav Miller leaves behind his wife, Ettil, who tended to his every need, structuring her entire life around his ever-constant harbotzas Torah.
He is also survived by his son Eliezer; his daughter Shaynee, who is married to Rav Shmuel Elchonon Brog; his son Shmuel, Rosh Yeshivas Bais Yisrael; a daughter Libby, who is married to Rav Yeruchom Lashinsky, Maggid shiur in the Mirrer Yeshiva in New York; and a daughter Devorah, who is married to Rav Hershel Kanarik Maggid shiur at Yeshivas Ohr HaMeir in Peekskill.

In addition, Rav Miller left behind a legacy of Torah; more than 6000 tapes of shiurim, twelve seforim (five of which are on the Chamishah Chumshai Torah), three on history, three on hashkafah and one on tefillah. These are in addition to the seforim that many Talmidim have published based on his thoughts.

The Levaya took place Sunday morning in front of his shul on Ocean Parkway. Tens of thousands packed the streets to hear Hespedim from
Rav Yosef Rosenblum, Rosh Yeshiva Shaarei Torah; Rav Shmuel Birenbaum, Rosh Yeshivas Mir; Rav Chaim Pinchus Schienberg, Rosh Yeshivas Torah Ohr, Yerushalayim; Rav Shmuel Elchonon Brog, Maggid Shiur Chaim Berlin and a son-in-law of the Niftar; The Novominsker Rebbe; Rav Yeruchom Lashinsky, Maggid Shiur in the Mir Yeshiva and a son-in-law of the Niftar; Rav Simcha Bunim Cohen a Rav in Lakewood and a grandson of the Niftar; Rav Harrari Raful, Rosh Yeshiva Ateres Torah;
Rav Eliyahu Brog, a grandson of the Niftar and the Memalei Makom of his grandfather in kehillas Bais Yisrael.

The Aron was brought to Eretz Yisrael. At the levaya, the maspidim included Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, Rosh Yeshivas Mir, Yerushalayim; Rav Moshe Shternbuch, Ravad of the Aida Hachareidis;Rav Boruch Rosenberg, Rosh Yeshivas Slabodka; Rav Shmuel Miller
a son of the Niftar and Rosh Yeshivas Bais Yisrael in New York; a son-in law, Rav ?? and Rav Shmuel Yaakov Bernshtein, Rosh Yeshivas Chevron Geulah; Rav Meir Zvi Bergman, Rosh Yeshivas Rashbi; Rav Mattisyahu Solomon, Mashgiach Beth Medrash Govoha, Lakewood.
The kevurah was made in the chelkas harabbanim on Har Hazeisim.
May the zchus of his Torah and hashpaah be a mailitz yosher on his family and Klal Yisrael.