Rav Avigdor Miller on The Masses Versus The Yeshivos

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Q:
Suppose someone recognized the problem in the time of Hitler and did teshuva. Would it have helped or would it have been necessary for all of the Jews, or at least most of them, to do teshuva?

A:
Now,  don’t make any errors, there certainly were Jews during that time who understood why Hitler came. We had Reb Elchonon Wasserman, zichrono l’vracha. We had roshei yeshivos in Europe. They were great men who understood what was happening and they spoke to the yeshiva people. But you have to know that the yeshiva people with their rebbes were only a drop in the ocean of European Jewry and they didn’t have anybody who listened to them.

One adam gadol, one great man, I think it was Reb Elcohonon who said this. I remember, because I was in Europe at that time. I left Europe in 1937 just when Hitler already was in power. When Hitler started marching, that’s when I decided that I better go home.

Now, at that time this rosh yeshiva said the following: All Jewry in Europe is divided into two classes, two groups. One is the bnei Torah, the yeshiva people, and the second is the rest of the people. Now, it doesn’t mean all the Jews were mechallel Shabbos, no. But even the Jews who kept Shabbos and kashrus and everything else, were no longer on the side of the roshei yeshivos. Because their leaders were the irreligious ones. They read their newspapers and in their heads were their ideas of the wrong people. And their children were leading the way. Even though they sat Shabbos – we sat on Shabbos in the small town where I used to stay and we sang zemiros, but we were drowned out. Because outside the town there was a big hachshara of Jewish boys and girls who were preparing to go to Eretz Yisroel. And they made fires on Shabbos and they ate tarfus and they threw away all of Judaism. That was the new generation and they were going to settle in Eretz Yisroel. And here in the town, the old people were left without a generation to follow them. So even though they sang zemiros, their hearts were with their children. That’s how parents are – when their children forsake the Torah, the parents lose hope and they are no longer enthusiastic for the Torah.

And therefore, I think that Reb Elchonon said this. He said, “It’s only the bnei Torah on one side.” Those who were in the yeshivos were a small band. They were excellent yeshivos, much better than American yeshivos. The yeshivos in Europe at that time were very good yeshivos. They were of very good spirit, but they were isolated from the people.  “And on the other side,” said Reb Elchonon, “are the masses of people who are heading away from the Torah and they don’t listen to the Torah leaders at all.” And therefore, it’s not enough for a little handful of bnei Torah to do teshuva because, after all, the majority of the people are what counts.
TAPE #209 (March 1977)