Rav Avigdor Miller on From Weeping to Laughter



You said before that the name Yitzchok is a symbol for us, for how the Am Yisroel will always laugh, how we’ll always be a happy nation. Are we going to laugh at the Holocaust, at the tribulations of the Jewish people?


No, of course not. עת לבכות ועת לשחוק – there’s a time to weep and a time to laugh (Koheles 3:4).

Tisha B’Av, forget about laughing. Tisha B’Av that’s the time, Holocaust time. Not Yom Hashoah, that big bluff that they put on in various places. On Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Day, atheists, people without their heads covered, gather together and they sit down and they discuss the Holocaust, how it happened. They forget that the Holocaust didn’t happen. It was made only by Hakadosh Baruch Hu. It was done on purpose. Nothing happens in this world without Hashem. And therefore it’s not for Holocaust experts to study. It’s for only ma’aminim to study.

And therefore Tisha B’Av we sit down on the floor. It’s a pity it wasn’t utilized yesterday. So wait for next Tisha B’av. That’s eis livkos. That’s a time to weep because only the man who knows how to weep is able to laugh. And then, when you get up from Tisha B’Av and Shabbos Nachamu comes, then it’s a real happiness.

I remember how it was in the good old days when I was a boy; Shabbos Nachamu in the beis hakenesses was like a big yontif. Because people who had mourned for three weeks were able now to rejoice; like it says שמחו את ירושלים וגילו בה כל אוהביה שישו אתה משוש כל המתאבלים עליה – Rejoice with Yerushalayim and be glad with her, all you who loved her, join in her jubilation all those who mourned over her (Yeshaya 66:10). Only if you mourn at the right time then you can laugh at the right time.

And therefore the Jew doesn’t have to wait leasid lavo to laugh. The Jew laughs right now. Shabbos Nachamu in real Jewish homes is a happy occasion. It’s a pity the American environment made us forget that. Most times on Shabbos Nachamu the family is scattered. Everybody is in the country. But in the olden days when there was no country everybody was home all year round. The cheder was open every day of the year. There was no vacation in the yeshivahs. When I was in Slabodka Yeshivah there was no vacation. Vacation? It’s an American idea. And it spread to all the yeshivos today. The good yeshivos give a little bit bein hazmanim from Tisha B’Av until Rosh Chodesh Elul. That’s also an American influence. They didn’t have that. In European yeshivos there was no vacation. Every day of the year; except a little bein hazmanim you had to leave for Pesach because boys lived out of town; but otherwise the yeshivah went on every day. And so the Jewish families were there together always and Shabbos Nachamu was a happy experience. There are a lot of happy days in the Jewish calendar.

Certainly we have to weep at the Holocaust. But we have to weep properly, not weep aimlessly. We have to weep and understand why the Holocaust came. We have to weep and understand that the Holocaust came because the Jews on whom the Holocaust came, in very big numbers, in big proportions, didn’t weep for the churban Beis Hamikdash.

The gemara says why did the churban come upon Beitar? Because they weren’t mesabel on the churban Beis Hamikdash sixty years before that. Jews have to mourn for the churban Beis Hamikdash. Then they learn how to enjoy life and they’ll appreciate the privilege of being Jews. But Jews didn’t mourn, and therefore the Holocaust came. Not merely because they didn’t mourn. That’s only a symptom. They forgot what it means to be a Jew.

Let me tell you an eyewitness account. In 1932, taf reish tzaddi beis, I went to Slabodka. I went to Kovno. It was the summer time, Shabbos afternoon. And I was walking with a young man – today he’s an elderly rabbi – we went together, two chaveirim, and we went to what was the port in Kovno.

Now we were American boys, idealists, and we looked forward to Europe. Our parents had told us Europe was kodesh kodoshim. That’s what we thought.

But when we were in Slabodka we saw already that it was a different story, a very different story. It wasn’t so at all. Things had changed terribly. But let me describe that Shabbos, what I saw. I wrote it down in my memoirs.

We came to the port. Upstream there were a lot of vacation places. One was Vershevisht, a famous vacation place. Only Jews went to vacation. The goyim were too poor. Lithuanian goyim couldn’t afford to go anyplace. That’s how it was. The Jews were the ones who were able to afford vacation.

It was Shabbos afternoon. The landing place, the pier, was packed with Jews. All bareheaded, smoking, carrying packages; a leibedike velt!

There was no Shabbos. And steamboat after steamboat was packed with Jews. Packed! The boat was low in the water because of the weight of the passengers. And everybody going to enjoy a good time. And nobody, nobody at all, was thinking that it would ever change. ‘Now the world is an open free world,’ they thought. ‘It’s a free for all.’

And I was talking to him, to my friend. “That’s Kovno?! That’s what happened to Kovno?”

Nobody dreamed that the time would come that you wouldn’t find a single Jew there anymore. Not one Jew is there today. There are a few in hiding, a few Communists. It’s all wiped out.

Because you have to mourn at the right time; it means you have to keep Yiddishkeit with all the ceremonies. And then you’ll get the benefit of laughing in the right time.

We don’t laugh at the Holocaust. Oh no! But we have plenty, however, in our lives to cause us to rejoice. The Holocaust is not going to cause the Williamsburg Jews to stop laughing. They went through the Holocaust. A lot of them were in concentration camps, and yet they’re standing on the corners and they’re chatting and laughing. Because that’s the Jewish spirit. The Jewish spirit is simchah.

רננו צדיקים בהשם – The righteous sing in Hashem. Tzaddikim are happy. Walk into a shtiebel in Williamsburg. I say ‘Williamsburg.’ You’ll find it in Meah Shearim too. You’ll find it in Boro Park. Williamsburg is better than Boro Park though. It’s a fact – Williamsburg is a lot better than Boro Park. You have to spoil a little bit before you move from Williamsburg to Boro Park. In Williamsburg you walk into a shtiebel, everybody is happy. I used to daven every morning in Williamsburg. I had to be there for a reason. Everybody is happy.

But these Jews, almost all of them went through Gehinom in Europe. They went through it but they bounced right back because they have the authentic Jewish spirit that gives them elasticity. That’s what Judaism is. Holocaust heint, Holocaust morgen, we’re going to stop being Jews because of that? On the contrary! We learned the lesson; we learned that Hakadosh Baruch Hu is on the job and there will be punishment. There’s a tochachah.

It’s no surprise. It says openly twice in the Torah, big parshiyos; והפלא השם את מכותיך. ‘There will be worse things than in the tochachah,’ Hashem says. And that’s why the Jews have to come back. There’s no other way! You can’t get away from the Torah. אם לא ביד חזקה ובזרוע נטויה ובחמה שפוכה אמלוך עליכם – I’m going to rule over you with a strong hand (Yechezkel 20:33). If you won’t do it voluntarily, I’ll force you. ומעמיד עליהם מלך קשה כהמן – He’ll raise upon them a king as wicked as Haman. And Haman wasn’t a king. A melech kasheh k’Haman. That’s even worse.

Oy, you Jews better hurry up and retract! You Jews better retract from trying to run away and getting lost among the goyim. It won’t work. It won’t work!

But we don’t stop laughing chalilah. On the contrary. We learn the lessons, we weep and then we laugh; and we spend our lives in memory of that great name Yitzchak.

TAPE # 181 (August 1977)