I am usually very critical of biographies. Rare is the book that captures my interest and encourages a second reading. But the recent offering by Yaakov Hamburger thrilled me and fascinated me enough to come out of semi-retirement and update my blog.
The reason that most stories of Gedolim do not resonate is because the reader gets the feeling that the subject was born into greatness, possessing a brilliant mind and never looking back. What sets Rabbi Miller apart is that he was a self-made man. He worked on himself his entire life, reaching higher and greater achievements even into old age.
Rabbi Miller was born in Baltimore, MD in 1908. Growing up during those years was a tremendous pressure to be "Americanized". The melting pot required one to shake off the vestiges of foreignism and become college educated and pursue the American Dream.
Yet RAM had a great desire to learn Torah, and when he realized that the great bastions of Torah lay overseas, he left the comfort of America and joined the Slabodka Yeshiva. The Slabodka Yeshiva had a tremendous effect on him, and his entire life now became a challenge to pursue greatness - Gadlus HaAdom - as his Slabodka mentors referred to pursuing perfection and making something of one's self.
When winds of war started blowing in Europe, Rabbi Miller returned with his new bride and took a job as rabbi in Chelsea, MA. He opened a day school and began teaching the local populace, but as his children grew, it became apparent that he would need to find schools for all his children with higher standards. When Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner from Yeshiva Chaim Berlin called and offered him the job of Mashgiach, he immediately jumped at the opportunity.
For 20 years, RAM served as Mashgiach with a mixture of wit, humor and toughness. After Chaim Berlin moved and the travel became too taxing, he resigned and moved on to the next phase of his life - teaching.
He began giving lectures in many schools/yeshivos and was simultaneously serving as rabbi in the Young Israel of Rugby. Slowly but surely he took his congregants on a journey to finish Shas. While most American Shuls at the time had lectures in Parsha or Mishnayos, RAM had a dream that he would teach his Baale Batim Gemara. He began slowly, but eventually his Shul finished Shas. When the East Flatbush neighborhood soured, he moved as a whole, together with his Kehilla to Flatbush. He insisted that the Shul relocate only to a place where there are Yeshivos, and settled a block away from the Mirrer Yeshiva. He renamed his Shul - Bais Yisroel Torah Center, and began to give Shiurim there almost non-stop for the next quarter of a century.
Rabbi Miller also began to write books in English, so as to resonate with the youth. He wrote books on Hashkofo and history and eventually on the Siddur and Chumash. These books became best-sellers, as there was a dearth of reading material in the vernacular in those days. RAM also began the very popular Thursday night lecture, wherein he spoke on almost any topic and his recordings were quickly spread around the globe. Many of those recordings have been produced recently in book form.
Rabbi Miller was a staunch supporter of Morality, and spearheaded a group of his congregants to create the Jews for Morality committee.
He lived to the ripe old age of 93, in good health, as he was very health conscience before it was fashionable. His wit and wisdom were famous, as when he was accosted by a nemesis who urged him to "drop dead" RAM replied "God willing, that will be the last thing I ever do!"
It is somewhat ironic, that RAM penned a few lines in the famous book "All for the Boss" about one of his early mentors, R' Yaakov Yosef Herman ZTL. He wrote "The biography of this servant of Hashem is long overdue". I can't think of any one else of recent generations who would so aptly be called a servant of Hashem other than Rabbi Avigdor Miller ZTL.
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