For over 50 years Rabbi Brovender has taught thousands of students from all around the world. This week we introduce you to Rabbi Michael Sunshine. After receiving semicha through Yeshivat Hamivtar, Rabbi Sunshine worked at a shul in San Antonio, TX, for four years and then ran the Jewish Student Connection (JSC) in Denver, CO, for 8 years. JSC runs clubs in public high schools helping teens develop and deepen their Jewish identities and their connection with Israel. Rabbi Sunshine currently works at amhsi.org and lives in Ra’anana, Israel with his wife and children.
How did you meet Rabbi Brovender?
The first time I met Rabbi Brovender was when he came to the University of Pennsylvania campus. I had heard of Rabbi Brovender and his yeshiva years earlier when many of my friends learned at Hamivtar between high school and college. But when Rabbi Brovender visited UPenn I remember he gave a shiur on Birkat Hamazon and the analytical way in which he broke down each bracha and explained it.
What do you find most important or striking about the “Brovender Method” – his unique way of teaching?
Rabbi Brovender’s methodology, as I see it, comes down to an honest and analytical approach of whatever source you’re learning. It means paying attention to the specifics and nuance of language, and working to understand what is actually being said, as opposed to what you think, or want the text to say. I think Rabbi Brovender’s method stems from an approach based on humility where you put yourself and your ego to the side, and try to figure out what the Gemara, or the Shulchan Aruch, or the Sfas Emes is actually trying to say to us.
When it comes to Torah learning, what were you most drawn to after learning with Rabbi Brovender?
From my years as a talmid of Rabbi Brovender, I understood that, for me at least, that to be a well-rounded and committed Jew I would need to learn or to be able and open to learn Torah from all different angles.
What lesson or specific Torah that you learned from Rabbi Brovender, do you keep coming back to or carry with you wherever you go?
I don’t think of it as a time period of “after learning with Rabbi Brovender.” When I left the yeshiva to go work in the States, I remember feeling an acute sadness of not being able to learn every day with the rebbeim in the yeshiva. I had a feeling of shleimut, of wholeness, which at the time I felt I was putting aside.
Then, in my first few months in San Antonio when I would prepare shiurim I realized I had actually taken the yeshiva with me. Besides the ideas I learned and knowledge I gained in the yeshiva, I realized that I was taking with me the methodology of learning and ability to open up a sefer, whether a Gemara, a Rashi, or a Rambam, and learn it with the skills I developed in the yeshiva.
To go a step deeper, from my time learning with Rabbi Brovender I learned that as a Jew there is a unique position we have in the world and by learning the Torah and doing mitzvot we infuse the world with kedusha – transforming something from the way it is to the way it can be. Bringing out its potential.
I often come back to the belief that Rabbi Brovender has instilled in his talmidim the confidence to accomplish great things. At the times when I am uncertain of my abilities, I remember that Rabbi Brovender asked me to teach his shiur for a short period of time when he was overseas. At first I was shocked, and then I understood that if he thought I could do it, then I could.
But there is one specific Torah that I think about, especially during the Yamim Noraim. During Elul 5756 (1996), Rabbi Brovender taught a Torah of Rebbe Nachman. Rebbe Nachman explained that during Elul and the Yamim Noraim one can be uplifted to great heights and attain a significant connection with God.
While it is impossible for that intense spirituality to be maintained throughout the whole year, one’s moments of Dveikut during the year should not be fleeting.
Rather, when we leave the intense embrace of God that we find during the Yamim Noraim, we should be changed, like the imprint left on clay by the king’s signet ring. When we start the new year, we, in fact, will be different than we were just days before.