Thirteen years ago, the world lost a giant of Torah learning and Mussar. This Sunday, the 27th of Nissan, marks the Yahrzeit of Rabbi Avigdor Miller. Rav Miller’s weekly speeches have been compiled and annotated by his grandson, Rabbi Simcha Bunim Cohen, and printed by ArtScroll in the form of a sefer, Rabbi Avigdor Miller Speaks.
The foreword describes this great scholar:
Rav Miller was born in the United States in 1909, at a time when yeshivos were almost nonexistent and Torah observance was rare among the American-born youth. Despite his family’s poverty, which drove so many others to think first and foremost of financial security, Rav Miller exhibited from his earliest youth a strong desire for truth and a love of Hashem and His Torah. He was the “Avraham HaIvri,” the “Avraham of the other side,” of his time, for he stood on one side of the great river of American life, while the rest of his world stood on the other. It is almost impossible for the modern generation that has grown up in a world in which Torah, yeshivos, Chassidus, and shemiras hamitzvos flourish widely, to appreciate what it meant for a young person to be frum — let alone become a ben Torah — in those days of rampant Americanization and assimilation.
Rav Miller was blessed with an abundance of Heavenly assistance in overcoming the sea of religious indifference that flowed all around him. Whereas it is the nature of a person to be influenced by the standards of the society around him, Rav Miller from his earliest days was prepared to steer his own course. Early on he developed a strong yearning for truth and a fierce will to pursue it to its logical ends, regardless of the obstacles placed in his path or the difficulties encountered on the way.
Our Sages teach us that one who sets out to purify himself is helped by Heaven to attain that goal. In his old age he would recount a number of inspiring thoughts he heard as a child. He remembered a teacher telling him once that when he recited Modeh Ani in the morning, he should reflect on how fortunate he was to have been given another day of life — and how many people had not been so fortunate! This thought made such a lasting impression on him that he was still able to picture the face of that teacher eight decades later. As anyone familiar with his lectures and tapes can attest, it was a thought he repeated numerous times throughout his long life.
Once, as a young boy in Baltimore, he came out after Ma’ariv from shul and heard two old European Jews talking to each other. One said, “Ah! What a geshmacke Ma’ariv this was.” The man rubbed his hands together in pleasure. Rav Miller would often tell what a deep impression it made upon him to discover that praying could be “geshmack.”
His first encounter with the classic mussar work, Chovos HaLevavos, was as a teenager, in a sefarim store on the Lower East Side of New York. For the rest of his life, this sefer served as his constant companion and the foundation for so much of his thinking.
Excerpted from the foreword of Rabbi Avigdor Miller Speaks, written by:
Rabbi Avrohom Leshinsky and Rabbi Yehezkel Danziger
This week’s Free Weekly Learning Download on The Official ArtScroll Blog offers a sample chapter of Rabbi Avigdor Miller Speaks, which will give you the opportunity to learn from one of Rav Miller’s shiurim on his Yahrzeit.
Also available based on the teachings of Rabbi Avigdor Miller: