Living Legacy: Rav Avigdor Hakohen Miller, zt”l
By: Yehuda Alter
The history is still being written of the brilliance and the mussar represented by Rav Avigdor Miller, zt”l, and Yidden from every section of Klal Yisroel are appreciating his wisdom and insight more and more with every passing day.
In honor of his 21st yohrzteit, 27 Nissan, we take a look at his life.
Rav Miller was born in Baltimore, Maryland in the year 1908. This was before the advent of a full day Talmud Torah (Talmudical Academy was founded by Rav Avrohom Nachman Schwartz in Baltimore in the year 1917), and Avigdor would attend after-school Talmud Torah.
Seeing the brilliance of the young child, the heads of the Talmud Torah arranged for him to continue learning with a deeply pious and learned Lubavitcher chossid by the name of Rav Avrohom Eliyahu Axelrod (he was the founder of the Lubavitcher Tzemach Tzedek shul in Baltimore). Although the school could not afford to pay Rav Axelrod, he nevertheless continued to teach his young protégé, and thus, a gadol was shaped Baltimore of yore.
For high school, he journeyed to the big city, enrolling in the RIETS yeshiva, where he remained for a number of years. Eventually, he formed a group of young men to learn mesilas yeshorim—and with this, a lifetime of pursuit of character perfection was commenced. It would not cease until Rav Miller’s last days, when he was well into his 90’s. This career was continued when he made the long journey to Slabodka, enrolling in the great yeshiva.
Here, his reputation grew, and he was suggested as a shidduch for Ettel Lessin, the daughter of Rav Moshe Yaakov Hakohen Lessin of Slabodka (he was later the mashgiach of RIETS). They were married in Slabodka in 1935. The family was fortunate to get out of Lithuania, and make it to the United States ahead of the Nazis, ymsh”sh.
After a stint as a rov in Chelsea, Mass, he became the mashgiach of Yeshiva Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin, which was led by Rav Hutner, a fellow talmid of Slabodka. Simultanously, he became the rov of Agudas Yisroel of Rugby, in East New York. With the demographic changes in the area, he moved the shul to Ocean Parkway, where it was called Bais Yisroel of Rugby Torah Center.
With this, a chapter of harbotzas Torah was begun—the magnitude of which is indescribable.
He geared his countless shiurim to balebatim. He demanded of them, and he transformed them—all through the sheer power of Torah. His entire hashkafah was directly steeped in Torah—and he espoused it fiercely and unapologetically.
He is famed for bringing out the wisdom in Hashem’s Creation, exhorting his listeners to appreciate the miracles that are all around us—and through this to arrive at yiras Hashem.
And then there was his personal example; his rigorous hasmodoh, nonstop learning, not benefitting from this world a drop more than the absolute minimum.
Rav Miller left the world at 97 years of age, in the year 2001—but he left behind and incredible amount of Torah that is being learned by tens of thousands around the world, continuing to be shaped this great American-born gadol.