Rav Avigdor Miller on Achieving Greatness in Our Generation

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Q
Is it possible today to arrive at the greatness of the old generations? And if it is possible, then why doesn’t it happen?

A:
Let me tell you something. A plant has to have two things to grow. It has to have roots or a seed, and it also has to have the right environment surrounding it. Plants won’t just grow in any climate. In certain climates, like in warm parts of the world, these plants will grow more successfully.

Now today, even if the seed is planted, we are lacking the environment. All around us is an avir of tumas. And the poor little seed, this poor little root, as it sticks its head out of the earth and starts breathing, it is breathing a polluted atmosphere. Full of movies, full of TV, full of radio, full of newspapers; the whole street is full of tzoah, and tumah, and apikorsim, and fools, full of shotim. And therefore, it is very difficult today for a seed to grow successfully.

However, when a person is Ashrei Yoshvei Veisecha – if he sits in the house of Hashem; whenever he has spare time, he remains long in the house of Hashem, so it’s like sitting in Eretz Yisroel. Rabbi Yochanan was once told that in Bavel, there were some zekeinim who lived long. So he asked a kasha: How could they live in Bavel if it says in the Torah למען ירבו ימיכם על האדמה – if you’ll serve Hashem, you’ll live long al ha’adamah, you’ll live long on the land in Eretz Yisroel. But in Bavel, how could they live long? So, they told him: No, the people there come early to the beis hakneses and they remain late in the beis haknesses. “Oh” he said, “Hainu d’ahani lei, that’s what helped them.” The air of the beis haknesses is like Eretz Yisroel. So, if you are in a makom torah it’s an atmosphere where you’ll grow more successfully.

So, these little seeds, when they stick their head out of the earth in a Yeshiva, in a frum neighborhood, there is a good chance that something good will happen. But it won’t be like in the olden days. In the olden days, a little boy used to see nezirim on the street. You know there used to be hundreds of nezirim on the street. Hundreds of nezirim walking the streets. Here’s a man, who, for thirty days, he wanted to think only of Hashem, so he became a nazir. For thirty days he belonged only to Hashem – he’s kodesh l’Hashem. And the little boy growing up, saw hundreds of them on the street. Now in such an environment it’s easy to become a tzaddik, without much trying. And therefore, how important it is to live in a frum neighborhood; how important it is to be in a frum school, a frum yeshiva. Girls should pick out the frummest place to go, and boys too. And they should spend their time there. Up until recently, there was no vacation, you know. In Europe there was no summer vacation bein hazmanim. All twelve  months they were in the yeshiva! In America, you have two months vacation in the summertime; they close up the yeshiva for two months. What are they doing? They go out in the street. In Telz, in Radin, in Slobodka – they didn’t know anything about two months vacation. No, there was no bein hazmanim – all year round they learned!

Except the week of Succos and the week of Pesach – they went home. Otherwise, there was no vacation, they sat in yeshiva all day long. No English. There was no English there, no Litvish. They sat all day long and learned. The cheder was all day long in the oldendays. All day long in cheder! All day long Vayomer Hashem El Moshe. All day long! So they came out of the cheder nationalists; they loved Am Yisroel. They were full of emunah. Only Jews; nothing goyish in them at all! And there they grew great, certainly they grew great. And even then, of course, they were surrounded by goyim who believed in shtus and avodah zarah, and that had some effect. It couldn’t be helped.

And therefore, that’s why we ask Hashem, “Vehaveinu b’shalom mei’arba kanfos ha’aretz – Bring us back to Eretz Yisroel.” How does that come in here, in a the tefillah where we’re talking about the Torah? That bracha right before kriyas shema is about the Torah. So why do we stick in a few words about the geulah; what’s the connection?  So the answer is that the Rambam says, we are asking for Moshiach not to be able to eat pomegranates and dates and figs in Eretz Yisroel.  We are asking for Moshiach in order to be able to sit and learn Torah successfully in Eretz Yisroel. And to learn Torah doesn’t only mean to sit in front of the gemara. It means to absorb all of the great Torah attitudes and ideals. And we want the best environment possible to grow great in. But in the meantime, until Moshiach comes, find the best environment possible, and make yourself as great as you can.
TAPE # E-91 (November 1996)