July 21, 2024
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July 21, 2024
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Insights From Rabbi Aaron Brafman

Reviewing: “Rabbi Aaron Brafman” by Rabbi Shimon Finkelman. Mesorah Publications Ltd. 2023. Hardcover. 404 pages. ISBN-13: 978-1422638125.

His great heart uplifted his talmidim and community, and embraced Klal Yisrael.

“He lived and breathed kevod Shamayim and kevod habriyos and accomplished everything… quietly, without fanfare.”—Rabbi Eytan Feiner

“So, doctor, my brother has an especially huge heart … right?”—Rabbi Aaron Brafman’s brother, famed attorney Ben Brafman, to a cardiologist after Rabbi Brafman’s heart surgery

“Rabbi Brafman never chose to do what was easy for him. He loved his talmidim with all his heart and looked to do what was best for each one.”—A talmid

Rabbi Aaron Brafman was the much-beloved and revered menahel of Yeshiva of Far Rockaway. He was also a respected author and a dedicated askan. But more: He was a man who loved every Jew, who saw potential where others saw failure. In the words of a talmid, he was a man “who lived and breathed Klal Yisrael; whose days were filled with Torah and maasim tovim … and most of all, who epitomized the term ‘rebbi.’”

ArtScroll’s brand new biography of Rabbi Aaron Brafman, written by bestselling author Rabbi Shimon Finkelman, is the compelling story of a guide and teacher who blended greatness and modesty, piety and humor, a deep aversion to anything not “emes” with an amazing ability to see the good in all. As you read one unique story after another, you’ll see why talmidim adored him, friends revered him, and his entire community felt fortunate to have him in their midst. And you will discover what a difference a great rebbi can make.

The following are several inspiring stories from this uplifting book.

A Rebbi’s Love

When Yisroel Bodkins’ mother passed away suddenly, he discovered the true depths of his menahel’s caring.

One day when I was in twelfth grade, I was summoned to Rabbi Brafman’s office. I entered and found him holding the phone. “I don’t know how to tell you this…” he began, and burst into tears. This is how I found out that my mother had passed away suddenly in Lowell, Massachusetts, where we lived.

That day, Rabbi Brafman, who was my rebbi that year, accompanied me on the flight to Lowell. The entire flight, he kept his hand on my arm, his way of letting me know that he was there for me. He had never met either of my parents but he spoke at my mother’s funeral.

A couple of days later, the yeshivah rented a small bus so that the Rosh Yeshivah, my previous rebbeim, and my classmates could come for nichum aveilim. To my surprise and the surprise of my family, Rabbi Brafman also came on the bus. We did not expect him to come, as he had already comforted us. But that was Rabbi Brafman. He just cared so much. My non-religious relatives and family friends could not believe anyone could be so caring. No one would believe it unless they met Rabbi Brafman.

A Man of Truth

A Friday night walk home from shul with Rabbi Brafman, recall his son and sons-in-law, was an experience. Of course, he wished a good Shabbos to everyone he passed. But many times, he would stop and say something personal, inquiring about the family or a particular member of the family. It was part of his being fully focused on others.

Rabbi Brafman once said, “Tonight on the way home from shul, I passed a man who has been upset at me for thirty years. He sent his son to Yeshiva of Far Rockaway to get a good education, but he absolutely did not want him to become a black-hatted ben Torah who would devote many years to full-time learning after graduating high school. But that’s exactly what happened, and for a long time, the man would not forgive me.

“But tonight on the way home from shul, he greeted me with such a warm good Shabbos, I was pleasantly surprised. Maybe it’s because in all our conversations over the years, I never talked negatively and never knocked his own religious standards. All I did was encourage his son to keep on learning, keep on shteiging. I guess he finally understood that I only wanted what was best for his son, so he came to terms with it.”

• • • •

Rabbi Aryeh Zev Ginzburg, a rav in the five towns, reflected on Rabbi Brafman’s middas ha’emes:

It happened once that Rabbi Brafman and I found ourselves at opposite sides of a communal issue. One day, he called to say that he wanted to visit my home so that we could discuss the matter. He was my senior by quite a number of years, but this did not stop him from coming to me instead of asking that I come to him. Though he articulated his position well and spoke passionately, I did not change my view, as I had the backing of great talmidei chachamim. But I was very impressed by what drove Rabbi Brafman—he was kulo emes and truly felt that his position was emes. Our disagreement never became personal. At a simchah, he would come over to greet me and engage in conversation. If he heard that I had been to Eretz Yisrael and had visited Rav Elyashiv, he would call to ask me to relate what I had heard from the gadol hador.

Time passed and the matter about which we had disagreed was no longer on the table. One day, I received a phone call from Rabbi Brafman. He wanted me to know that with the passage of time, he understood my position better. At the time of the disagreement, he had taken a hard-line approach, but now he could see that a softer approach might have been called for.

I was astounded by the call. The discussion was no longer relevant. He was older than me. He did not owe me any apologies or explanations. He had called me for one reason: He was an ish emes, and if now he was able to better understand my position, he had to let me know that.

We met at a wedding when he was already suffering from his final illness. After greeting him, I asked for mechilah in case I had ever offended him in any way. He brushed my request aside, saying it was not necessary. Then I told him, “Rabbi Brafman, I have met many great people in the course of my life and have learned a lot from them. But I consider you my rebbi in the middah of emes.”

By Rabbi Shimon Finkelman


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