Rav Abba Bronspigel ZT”L

February 24, 2023

A Bridge to the Past, an Inspiration for the Future

Rav Abba Bronspigel A”h

Zev Kilstein

There was a time when Rav Abba Bronspigel suffered from terrible back pains and was forced to lie flat on his back, sometimes even on the floor. Once, it got close to the time for him to say shiur, so he told his son, “Chaim, I have to say shiur. Pick me up.”

Stunned, Chaim said, “How can I pick you up? You’re on the floor in pain!”

Rav Bronspigel didn’t back down. “Pick me up,” he said. “I have to say shiur.”

Chaim was able to pull him up, and Rav Bronspigel hobbled over to the shul. Soon enough, the previously bedridden rav was jumping excitedly while delivering the shiur.

This story, one of many, sums up who Rav Bronspigel was.

Early days

Rav Bronspigel was born in 1938 in Modzitz, Poland, during one of the darkest times in history. Surviving on countless miracles, he eventually arrived in America, where he went to Yeshiva Torah Vodaath. Due to his lack of formal education during the war years, he was initially behind his peers in learning, but he quickly grew to become their equal. Eventually, he was considered among the top talmidim.

Afterward, he switched to Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchok Elchonon, where he became a talmid of Rav Yerucham Gorelick (who was a talmid of the Brisker Rav) and Rav Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik. He would later guard the dignity of Rav Soloveitchik by denouncing how some claim he supported their modern causes.

Spreading Torah

Rav Bronspigel became a rosh yeshivah at Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchok Elchonon, where he taught for over 40 years. His teachings demonstrated his amkus, charifus, bekius, and klarkeit. He loved to talk in learning with his talmidim and was among the few maggidei shiur who was available to them in the beis medrash during first seder.

He would challenge them, saying, “Don’t take my word for it; look up this point yourself,” and, “Come back to me and let me know if I’m saying it over right.”

In learning, he would caution them to make sure they understood the gemara with Rashi and Tosafos before moving on to the popular writings of the Acharonim. As he put it, “You [first] have to learn to play the piano…” and, “You have to be an observant Jew.” His strong commitment to the correct way to learn set the standard for them.

His shiur grew in popularity and size; in the 1990s, over 100 talmidim wanted to participate. At the same time, Rav Bronspigel led a kehillah in Boro Park for many years. Later, he became a rav in Monsey.

In the year 2000, he was asked to be the founding rosh yeshivah of Beis Medrash L’Talmud at Lander College for Men. He headed and taught at Beis Medrash L’Talmud for 12 years, until he was physically no longer able to continue.

Ultimately, he was zocheh to teach Torah for over 50 years to thousands of talmidim.

Ahavas haTorah

Over the years, he almost never missed giving a shiur regardless of his age or the weather. He would surprise everyone by coming even when it was snowing. As long as he could drive, he went. As he aged, he would arrive at yeshivah tired from the trip and lacking the energy to say shiur for the full amount of time. Even so, he wouldn’t stay home and give up the chance to teach Torah.

At the levayah this past Sunday, maspidim mentioned his remarkable ahavas haTorah. His children would see him learning day and night at the table, and his oldest child remembers falling asleep hearing his father singing in learning. This ignited a fire in his talmidim, many of whom had weaker backgrounds and were unfamiliar with the idea of having an ahavah and a cheishek for learning.

He would speak about topics that many of his talmidim hadn’t heard before, such as emunas chachamim, ahavas haTorah, Torah lishmah, and earning a parnassah as opposed to having a “career.” These ideas molded how they continued to spend their lives.

Love for his talmidim

He truly cared for his talmidim and they knew it. When he would meet up with alumni, he would ask, “How are you doing? Do you have parnassah? Are you kove’a ittim l’Torah?”

When he would attend their chasunahs, he would dance until he was completely out of energy, to the extent that he would sometimes stagger or almost fall from exhaustion. When that happened, he would take a short rest and then start again.

A talmid remembers calling the house a little late to ask a question about a previous shiur. When he asked if it was alright to be calling then, Rav Bronspigel replied, “Before ten o’clock, don’t hesitate to call. After ten o’clock, hesitate, and then call.”

Another talmid, who wasn’t one of the top talmidim, tried his best to understand the shiur. At the end of the zman, when he turned in his exam, Rav Bronspigel, who knew that the talmid felt insecure in his level of learning, said, “You’ve been coming to shiur every day, right? I see you on Sundays too. I’m giving you an ‘A.’” It was exactly what the talmid needed to hear.

A bridge to the past

Seeing Rav Bronspigel was getting a glimpse of how things were in Europe. One of his sons recalls how he would sit at the Shabbos table after the seudah and get caught up in a chassidishe niggun. He would be so immersed in it that his face would glow like fire.

From time to time, he would carefully paint the retzuos of his tefillin as if he were handling a treasure. When he would take out his arba’ah minim to perform the mitzvah, he would look at them in admiration and wonder. Watching him just look at his arba’ah minim was a sight to see.

When he would give tzedakah, he would say to the collector, “This is not from me. It was meant for you.”

Yiddishkeit was so alive for him that at Kol Nidrei, he had such a fear of the Yom Hadin that he would cry as if someone had passed away. On Shabbos, he was Shabbos’dig; on Yom Tov, he was Yom Tov’dig. He was always fully ready for Shabbos 30 minutes before the zman.

He was not attracted to unimportant things. When his children wanted to go to Niagara Falls, he said, “Turn on the sinks and watch the water go down.” The appeal didn’t register with him.

His bein adam l’chaveiro was exemplary as well, especially his hachnasas orchim. He would see someone on the street and say, “You don’t look familiar; do you need a place to stay?” Guests stayed in his home for days, weeks, and months. He even let people he barely knew live in his house when he was away.

May we learn from his ways.

Yehi zichro baruch.