The talmid who became my rebbi
Personal memories of Rabbi Reuven Bauman
euven Bauman was a lanky and angular 13-year-old when he entered my classroom at the Yeshiva of North Jersey 22 years ago.
The fact that Reuven quickly gained a name as one of most refined bochurim of the shiur did not surprise me; I’d known the Bauman family for a long time.
Reuven’s grandfather, Willie Bauman, was one of the steady participants in a Gemara shiur that I’d been giving in Englewood, New Jersey, since 1983. I was therefore not surprised by the exemplary middos Reuven displayed.
His grandfather had escaped the horrors of the Holocaust and had initially settled in Australia before coming to the States and settling in Washington Heights. Mr. Bauman’s sterling middos, his devotion to learning, his admiration for Rav Shimon Schwab ztz”l and his complete and utter devotion to Torah and mitzvos were transmitted by example to his son Rabbi Mark Bauman, Reuven’s father.
My connection to the Bauman family continued with the next generation, Rabbi Mark Bauman. When Reuven was in preschool, Rabbi Bauman and I worked as rebbeim at the yeshivah. As a veteran rebbi, Rabbi Bauman quickly took me under his wing and we spent hours together sharing our dreams for our talmidim and the nachas we enjoyed from our growing families.
A few years later, on a bright September morning, Reuven Bauman entered my classroom.
It was a natural progression in my relationship with the family begun two generations earlier. Although middos are not always passed on through yerushah, and indeed in Reuven’s case they were certainly earned, nevertheless, the solid family foundation was already in place.
Reuven loved learning. Yet more than learning, he displayed a certain type of reverence — or to be more precise, a veneration and deference to Torah and his rebbeim — rarely seen nowadays. He learned with excitement and with enthusiasm, and he was motivated to understand and absorb every word of Torah.
In retrospect, perhaps this was Hashem’s way of guaranteeing that in the short life granted to him, he would succeed in learning and teaching Torah way beyond what most people his age could ever dream of accomplishing.
The penchant to give over of one’s self to others was a Bauman trait fully embraced by Rav Reuven. Like his grandfather and father before him, he possessed the Bauman quality of humility combined with a sense of regality that manifested itself not in haughtiness, but rather in a total devotion to his life’s mission.
The Gemara teaches us, “From my students I have learned the most Torah.” I can say the same about Reb Reuven, but in his case, the lesson came after he was in my shiur.
Over the years I occasionally meet up with former talmidim. Most say hello and inquire about their eighth-grade rebbi.
Rav Reuven was different.
He didn’t just happen to meet up with me, he sought me out. Anytime he saw me, he ran over and asked how I was doing. Only after inquiring about me would he then share his progress in learning, his growing family, and finally, his joy and pride of joining the ranks of those who are privileged to transmit our mesorah to the next generation.
Just a few short months ago, he visited Passaic. He waited quietly and patiently to greet me after davening. “How is Rebbi doing?” he asked.
I had heard he was spreading Torah in Norfolk, so in response I said, “How is the rebbi in Norfolk doing?”
He smiled and said, with his usual simplicity, “Baruch Hashem, I am doing well. What could be bad? I’m teaching Torah in a wonderful out-of-town community. I have a supportive wife and family and, baruch Hashem, I still have time to learn.”
He then said, “Rebbi, I have to thank you. It was you who started me on my path in learning.”
Rav Reuven was an accomplished and beloved rebbi. He had achieved all of this through his own hard work, diligence, and middos tovos. Nevertheless, it was he who thanked me.
Reuven excelled in the middah of doing chesed for others. He minimized himself for the sake of making his former eighth-grade rebbi feel good.
This was the Bauman legacy I’d personally witnessed — first in his grandfather z”l, then in his esteemed father and mother Rabbi Mark and Esther Bauman, and now I was witnessing it firsthand in Reb Reuven.
Last week, when I heard about the crisis in Norfolk, that one of the rebbeim immediately and without hesitation — emulating Nachshon ben Aminadav — jumped into the sea to save a talmid, a shiver of fear and trepidation went through me.
I knew Reuven was a rebbi in Norfolk and I knew Reuven. If there were one person who would give his life for a talmid, it could only have been Reuven.
Now, with the grim closure of the crisis a reality, I miss him.
I miss his smile and his chein. I miss his capacity for empathy, which was way beyond that typical of a person his age.
I accept that Hashem gave us a gift for 35 years and now asked for His precious and cherished gift back. I accept with total and unwavering belief Hashem’s judgment.
Nevertheless, losing him leaves a void in the life of his wife and his children. It leaves a void in the lives of his parents and his grandmother, and in the lives of his talmidim and the hundreds of others whose lives he touched.
For me personally I miss the budding young talmid chacham who maintained the humility to remember to say a kind word to his eighth-grade rebbi from 23 years earlier, to make my normally frenetic day a little more cheerful and bring a smile to my face.
He remembered his old rebbi, he remembered his current talmidim; he will be remembered by countless people whose lives he touched.
Reuven, you are the talmid who became my rebbi. We loved you and we miss you, and we’ll remain forever indebted to you.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 769)