When did you first meet Rabbi Brovender?
I first met Rabbi Brovender in 1996 while I was an undergraduate at Harvard University, and he came to visit for shabbat. Two of my closest friends, David Wichs z”l and Boruch Siris, were recent alumni of Yeshivat Hamivtar, and often told wonderful stories about Rabbi Brovender and the yeshiva.
I was so drawn in by his unique combination of intellectual honesty, erudition, and humor that when I decided to take a year off to learn in Israel before starting graduate school, it was never a question about where I would go.
I have felt doubly blessed to be able to stay in touch with Rabbi Brovender (and all of my Hamivtar rebbeim) over the 25 years since we first met at Harvard Hillel.
What do you find most important or striking about the “Brovender Method” -his unique way of teaching?
Just like the Torah itself, there must easily be 70 Faces to the “Brovender Method.” One very important skill I learned early in his shiur, and still practice carefully today, is the strategy of always keeping my finger on the place in the Gemara.
I know it sounds simplistic and trivial, but I have seen firsthand over and over again, learning with children and teenagers new to Gemara how easy and frustrating it is to lose your place, physically and then conceptually.
This simple act of holding your place as you look up to the teacher or your Chavruta, or look over to Rashi or Tosfot, or to look up a word in Jastrow, is also symbolic of “holding kup” and keeping the thread of the discussion in the front of your mind.
Like many of the other 70 Faces, this aspect of the Brovender Method can seem shallow on the surface, but with repeated use and experience, the student gains appreciation for its incredible depth and importance.
When it comes to Torah learning, what were you most drawn to after learning with Rabbi Brovender?
Having learned in Rabbi Brovender’s Gemara shiur, that is what I remember best. Unlike some of my friends at other yeshivot who often “talked in learning” about various methods of limmud, etc, I felt like our focus was try to understand pshat, the simple meaning in the Gemara, rarely venturing “off the daf.” At the time it sometimes felt like we were somehow at a lower level, but in the years since then, I have come to value this straightforward approach tremendously, and credit it for any ability I have today for independent learning.
I also remember clearly his weekly Parsha shiur, and how he would spend 50 minutes covering a series of more or less independent sources, and then in the final 10 minutes, pull it all together in an incredible structure that was both profoundly original, but also seemed a perfectly clear reading of the texts.
What lesson or specific Torah that you learned from Rabbi Brovender, do you keep coming back to or carry with you wherever you go?
In addition to the general ideas described above, namely the primacy of Torah learning in life, I fondly remember one specific topic we learned together in chevruta over a period of about five weeks. It is the “classic machlokes” of the Rambam and Ramban about the nature of prophecy and approach to pshat, the simple meaning in the Torah.
We covered a number of passages in the Mishneh Torah, Moreh Nevuchim, and Ramban on the Chumash. He helped me understand where they agreed, where they differed, and why -and that was an experience which I take with me and which helps with all my other Torah learning.