This month marks 25 years since I had the privilege of entering Rav Abba Bronspiegel’s shiur at the Yeshiva University’s Mazer Yeshiva Program. We continue to pray for a refuah shleimah for Rav Bronspiegel.
Rav Bronspiegel studied under Torah giants Rav Yeruchum Gorelik z”tl and Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik z”tl at Yeshiva University. For nearly 40 years, Rav Bronspiegel served as a rosh yeshiva at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) at Yeshiva University and for 12 years at the Beis Medrash L’Torah of the Lander College for Men. Throughout his tenure, he guided, inspired and educated thousands of students with compassion, warmth and insight. I was fortunate to be one of those students. My three years as Rav Bronspiegel’s student enabled me to develop my Talmudic learning skill set. More importantly, they allowed me to grow as a person.
During my three years as a talmid in his shiur, we embarked on an in-depth study of Masechtos Beitzah, Bava Metziah and Kesuvos. Rav Bronspiegel’s path/derech in learning focused on the pshat, stressing the importance of each and every word on a particular page of Gemara. In his incredibly masterful way, he incorporated outside sources which vitally elucidated those very words on each page. Whether by including the disputes between the K’Tzos HaChoshen and the Nesivos HaMishpat, the insights of HaGaon Rav Naftali Trop, or the brilliance of the Karban Nesanel, Rav Bronspiegel facilitated our understanding of the Gemara on so many levels through the words of these luminaries.
Rav Bronspiegel would teach us how to navigate a page of Gemara at the proper pace. When the moment came to forge ahead, he would boldly state, “Fasten your seatbelts.” At the same time, when we needed to take time to further digest a particular sugya, he would tell us, “Wait. Wait. Just a second. Just a second.”
Every Thursday, Rav Bronspiegel, like so many of the roshei yeshiva, devoted a significant portion of the shiur to a parsha schmooze, where he highlighted and stressed various important themes of that week’s Torah portion. I remember quite vividly the schmoozes on the parshiyos of Sefer Vayikra, and most specifically Parshas Tetzaveh. He noted the incredible emphasis the Torah placed on the detail of the clothing and attire of the Kohen Gadol. He stressed the importance of the clothing we wear and the way in which we present ourselves in public. He exclaimed, “You don’t have to dress in black pants and a white shirt, but do not dress like a truck driver.” His words remained with me as I began to take greater pride in myself and my appearance.
Rav Bronspiegel always spoke about how he had “two Rebbes,” Rav Soloveitchik and Rav Gorelik. Every year, Rav Bronspiegel would quote Rav Gorelik’s thought on the famous Mishnah in Pirkei Avot (1:6): “Aseh lecha rav, u’kneh lecha chaver, v’hevey dan es kol ha’adam l’chaf zchus: Make for yourself a teacher, acquire for yourself a friend and judge every person with the scales tipped in his favor.”
Why is “v’hevey dan es kol ha’adam l’chaf zchus” mentioned in this Mishnah? Isn’t this a fulfillment of the commandment of Vayikra (19:15), ”B’tzedek tishpot amisecha: In righteousness shall you judge your kinsman”? “V’hevey dan es kol ha’adam l’chaf zchus” is an independent mitzvah, so what does it have to do with “Aseh lecha rav, u’kneh lecha chaver”? Rav Bronspiegel would explain, in the name of Rav Gorelik, that to make for yourself a rav, or to acquire friends, is relatively easy; it’s the maintaining of those relationships which is difficult. Inevitably, we may misunderstand each other, and this is why we require “v’hevey dan es kol ha’adam l’chaf zchus.” This is a prerequisite to fulfilling the ethic of “Aseh lecha rav, u’kneh lecha chaver.”
Every day of shiur, in so many different ways, Rav Bronspiegel taught us the importance of maintaining those relationships. Throughout my three years in the shiur, Rav Bronspiegel spent increasing amounts of time citing the insights of Rav Naftali Trop. I began to wonder why he placed such emphasis on this particular Torah giant. One day (during the pre-Google era), I went to the Gottesman library to research the origins of Rav Naftali Trop. I discovered that, born in Grodno in 1903, Rav Trop was eventually invited by the Chafetz Chaim to be the rosh yeshiva in Radin, Poland. I then found that Rav Bronspiegel’s rebbe, Rav Gorelik, spent ten years studying in the Chofetz Chaim’s Yeshiva in Radin, where he learned with Rav Naftali Trop.
For, you see, Rav Bronspiegel was not only teaching us the insights of Rav Naftali Trop, but the importance of learning from one’s rebbe, and one’s rebbe’s rebbe. He gave us the opportunity to learn from our rebbe’s rebbe’s rebbe. As he so eloquently stated in his January 17, 2002, final address to the yeshiva, before assuming the position of founding rosh hayeshiva of the Beis Medrash LeTorah—which just celebrated its second Chag HaSmicha—“A rebbe who teaches without a mesorah is not a good rebbe.” During the years I was privileged to study under Rav Bronspiegel, this was the message he conveyed to us daily.
I remember Chanukah and Purim in Rav Bronspiegel’s home, as his then rebbetzin, the daughter of the great Rav Elie Munk z”tl, stood giggling as she listened to the anecdotes from the shiur, clearly taking great pride in Rav Bronspiegel’s skilled transmission of Torah to his students. I also remember attending her funeral, as Rav Bronspiegel looked at the audience as he cried, “Now, I am alone.” These words resonated with me for years and taught me what it means to have had and to have lost a true partner in life.
Perhaps my fondest memory was when I met with Rav Bronspiegel to introduce him to my soon-to-be wife and to ask him to be our Mesader Kiddushin. He opened his calendar to mark the date, and I noticed that he had a regular shiur scheduled for that time. He saw my concerned expression and quickly reassured me, “To be the Mesader Kiddushin at a talmid’s wedding is doche everything, afilu Talmud Torah! I will be your Mesader Kiddushin.” Undoubtedly, Rav Bronspiegel prioritized all his students, and loved each one as though each were his own son. So many of us around the world remain devoted to him as a result.
By Zevi Fischer