Rav Avigdor Miller on Hurricanes and Holocausts

Q: What could we learn from the hurricane that was supposed to come today? {this question was referencing either Hurricane Gordon or Hurricane Helene of late September 2000}

A: The hurricane first of all is a test, will you come hear the lecture? They say a hurricane might be coming, and everyone is all nervous and excited, and despite that, you came. You get more reward for that. לפום צערא אגרא, according to the effort required, so too will be the reward.

Secondly, from the hurricane we learn ובכן תן פחדך השם אלוקינו על כל מעשיך — “Hashem, put Your fear on the world” (Rosh Hashana Amidah). Hashem does it to create fear. You have to be afraid of Hashem. A hurricane, chas v’shalom – much worse could have happened. It turned out it didn’t happen, it’s nice and quiet, boruch Hashem. But the fear of the hurricane is enough. The fear of the hurricane is enough to make you a changed man if you’re wise enough to use the opportunity.

You know, I always say, there’s a din in the Torah of the ben sorer u’moreh, a son who is disobedient, and he steals from his parents’ money and buys meat and wine. So his parents can accuse him before beis din and they whip him, they give him malkus. And if he does it a second time, his parents bring him before beis din and they kill him. A little young boy of twelve years old. And everybody pelts him with stones. All the people of the town come and they throw stones at him and kill him.

Now this scenario has so many conditions in the gemara – so many conditions that must be fulfilled in order to kill him, that some say that it never happened. It’s so hard to fulfill because there are so many conditions attached, so it never even happened. But if it never could happen, why is written in the Torah?

The answer is that all the little boys who learn chumash, all the little boys in cheder, are frightened to death by it. They learn the chumash with their rebbi, and they’re frightened. Oh, it’s wonderful! That lesson is wonderful — to be afraid of being wicked. “If I’m wicked, this could happen to me,” the little boy is thinking. He doesn’t know the lomdus in Mesichta Sanhedrin, all the conditions and difficulties, the chumrahs that make it impossible. He doesn’t know about that. To be afraid is a tremendous thing. Learn to be afraid of Hashem!

And that’s why, when we study the principles of the Torah, even if it’s things that won’t happen in our days, nevertheless the fact that it did happen once, is a tremendous opportunity.

Let’s say it happened once in Europe. A terrible destruction happened once in Europe, and we should be afraid. You know, I was in Europe before it happened. I was there. Nobody thought it would happen. Nobody dreamed about that. That they would wipe out towns?! They took the men of every town out to the fields and they shot them down. They shot them down. And three weeks later, they came back, took out the women, and shot the women down. They shot down the men and women. In some places they made a hole in the ground, and they put the people in the hole, and shot them in the hole. Who even dreamed of such a thing?! And before they killed them, the Jews were hiding in their homes starving. They were starving and frightened to death. And the Germans ran around the town, banging on the doors. The German banged on the door, “Give me your child!” “My child?!” “Yes, give me your child. If not, I’ll shoot you all to death immediately.” And the Germans took the children and put them into the back of a truck, and they would drive the truck out to the forest. And on the way out to the forest, the exhaust of the truck, the monoxide fumes were pumped into the interior of the truck, and the children were gassed to death. And they were dumped out in the forest. And then the truck went back for more. The Germans ran around with their guns pulling children from their mother’s arms, to gas them. Who would have dreamed of such a thing?! A meshuganeh world! In our wildest nightmares, we wouldn’t think about something like that.

Now, I must tell you something. The Mirrer mashgiach, zichrono l’vracha, in the old Mir said the following: People forgot about gehenim altogether. Even frum Jews stopped talking about gehenim. So Hakodosh Boruch Hu gave a little sample of gehenim in this world. That’s what he said. That it was a little sample of gehenim in this world. Not gehenim; gehenim is much worse than that. But it’s a sample. And we have to think about that.

We’re here, enjoying all luxuries, with plenty to eat. We have liberty, we have safety, we have equality, everything – and over there they’re burning Jews. Destroying them in terrible, brutal ways. And we have to think, why are we any better than they are? So we have to say, “Ribono Shel Olam, we are learning to fear you. We are trying to make our way of life better, just because of that. We want to use their deaths as a stimulus to improve our lives to be more loyal to you.” We should always think about that. You should think, “Why should I be the survivor, when they were destroyed so terribly?” And the answer is, “I have to learn from the example, the lesson, that was offered, by this terrible catastrophe in Europe. I have to learn how to utilize my life, and I have to say, ‘I’m going to serve You Hashem, and improve all the days of my life just because of that.'”

So it doesn’t matter if it’s a destruction in Europe or a hurricane in America, you have to make sure to see Hashem, and become more and more afraid of Him, all the days of your lives. The gemara tells us (Yevamos 63a) that אין פורענות באה לעולם אלא בשביל ישראל – “Misfortune comes to the world only on account of the Am Yisroel.” The hurricane is for the Am Yisroel. The earthquake is for the Am Yisroel. The Holocaust is for the Am Yisroel. And Rashi (ibid.) says כדי ליראם – to make us afraid, so that we should do teshuva.
TAPE # E-201 (September 2000)

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