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Sunday, September 22, 2019

(Editors’ Note: This article is being reprinted with permission from the author. We would also like to note that Rabbi Dr. Brian Galbut A”H had many close family and friends in our readership area. His wife, Adina, grew up in Teaneck and his in-laws, David and Marcia Jacobowitz, are longtime and active members of the Teaneck Jewish community.)

Despite a grueling schedule as a prominent physician, serving as vice president of Boca Raton Synagogue, president of Torah Academy of Boca Raton, and spending time with his beautiful family, Brian Galbut, z”l, always set aside time for learning each and every day. His library of personal seforim, filled with notes, comments and underlines, testifies to the time he spent poring over them and the depths of Torah he plumbed using them as his compass. In addition to the learning he did to prepare chaburas he would deliver in our shul, and to his daily learning with each of his children, for many years, Brian cherished learning the Daf Yomi. For well over a decade, early each morning, before the sun had even risen, Brian could be found learning the Daf with his chavrusa and friend, Rabbi Ben Sugerman.

The Gemara (Yevamos 121a) tells us that Rabban Gamliel relates that he was once at sea and from a distance saw a boat that had capsized and sank. “I was distraught over the loss of Rebbe Akiva who was on board. When I disembarked onto dry land, Rebbe Akiva came before me to study. Shocked, I asked, ‘My son, who brought you up from the water?’ Rebbe Akiva responded, דף של ספינה, a daf (wooden plank) from the boat floated to me, I grabbed unto it and I bent my head before each and every wave that came toward me until I reached the shore.’”

Rav Meir Shapiro, the founder of the Daf Yomi, would quote this story and say when we feel life has thrown us overboard, when we sense that we are drowning, we, too, can grab onto our daf, the Daf Yomi, to find balance and to feel safe.

A little over two years ago, when Brian was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor, the Daf took on even greater significance to him and he grabbed onto it. Literally the week after his first brain surgery, he was not recuperating in his bed or convalescing on the couch, but sitting in the local kollel. He felt learning Torah, reviewing the Daf over and over again was a critical part of his healing process. When I planned a visit, he said, “Why don’t you come meet me at the kollel, we can do the Daf,” and that is exactly what we did on more than one occasion.

Brian decided early on that if he had to confront a horrific illness, he would use it to inspire and ignite others. He would call or text people he knew hadn’t been learning daily or weren’t challenging themselves in Torah and he would ask if they would agree to learn the Daf in his merit. Who could say no to this incredibly genuine and special person asking for help? A “BG Daf Yomi” WhatsApp group was set up, and recruiting people to his growing campaign became his focus. Nothing gave him more joy than seeing the Torah discussions and talking in learning about the Daf in that group.

In the two years that he valiantly and heroically fought his illness, he recruited over 100 people to that group. Over 70,000 blatt gemara were learned in his merit, at his request. He would text someone asking them to learn and then check in for weeks on how the learning was going. When the Daf completed a masechta he would text people individually to wish a mazel tov and make sure they were keeping up. I know of one person who had literally not opened a Gemara since high school, who was struggling to find inspiration to learn, whom Brian successfully recruited to his movement. That individual hasn’t missed a day of learning a daf of Gemara in two years. Brian had actually reserved April 9, 2025, on his calendar for this new masmid’s personal Siyum HaShas and while he tragically won’t physically be there to celebrate it, there is no doubt he will take pride in knowing that he inspired 2,711 straight days of Torah learning just for that one person alone.

But long before Brian was ever diagnosed, he was always inspiring everyone around him. He was, without exaggeration, one of the most extraordinary people I have ever met. He had semicha, a degree from Yale medical school, and was the best husband, father and community leader most of us have known. Brian was literally a walking Kiddush Hashem. In the hospital, his colleagues, nurses and patients not only admired him but came to admire what he stood for. In the Beis Medrash, around the board room, on the basketball court or the golf course, his enthusiasm, positivity, unwavering Emunah, warmth and love were contagious.

As a cardiologist, he didn’t just treat his patient’s hearts, he gave them his own, taking a genuine interest in their overall well-being. If his patient was Jewish he connected them with our outreach efforts and invited them to be part of the community.

When new people moved to town or when someone looked down and out, Brian gravitated specifically towards them. He was often the last person out of shul because he shmoozed with so many and so many loved to be around him. He was friendly with people from all backgrounds, from every segment of our community. He didn’t care where you sent your children to school, what yarmulke you wore, or how you voted. He didn’t see external trappings, he saw your heart, he connected with your neshama and he connected your neshama closer to the things he held so dear, loving Torah, loving Hashem and loving all Jews. He worked hard on behalf of specific institutions he was connected with, but he was supportive of any institution that would grow Torah, whether his children went there or not, whether he was a member or not.

The Sfas Emes only lived to be fifty-eight years old. When he passed away, one of his sons turned to the other and said, “Well, at least our father had arichus yamim.” “What do you mean?” the other brother replied, “He had such a short life!” “I didn’t say he had arichus shanim, long years, I said he had arichus yamim, long and full days.” Brian's shanim were way too short, way too few. He was snatched from us, from his family, from our community, from his patients and from the difference he had yet to make in this world. But while he didn’t have arichus shanim, he most certainly had arichus yamim, making the most of each day, living each to its fullest, packing in more than anyone I know.

My yedid nefesh, Baruch Tzvi Ben Reuven Nosson, Brian, was snatched from this world at 47 years old. Yet anyone who knew him would agree that he most certainly achieved arichus yamim. He did more in a day than most accomplish in a week or longer.

One of Brian's expressions that flowed from his lips constantly was “Baruch Hashem.” No matter the challenge he faced or the obstacles he confronted, he continued to emphatically proclaim “Baruch Hashem, Hashem is amazing.” During harsh treatments, when receiving bad news, or even when his faculties began to fail him, he continued to smile and declare, Ein Od Milvado, there is no one but Him. He didn’t just say it, he meant it, he believed it, he lived it. Just a few months ago, following Maariv the night of Rosh Chodesh Adar, when everyone else turned to go home, it wasGalbut, who despite being unable to articulate the words, launched into the tune for mi’shenichnas adar marbim b’simcha with all his energy. People stopped in their tracks, came back in and Brian led everyone in singing and dancing.

His funeral was on Tisha B’Av. Chazal tell us מיתתן של צדיקים כשריפת בית אלוקינו שקולה, the death of the righteous is equal to the burning of the Beis HaMikdash. The reason is that each is a vehicle for Hashem finding expression in this world and the loss of both are a churban. One of Hashem’s greatest angels who best represented Him, drew others close to Him, and sanctified His name everywhere he went, is no longer. His loss is a true churban.

Towards the end, when he was extremely limited, he would play Rabbi Rosner’s Daf shiur over and over again. When he was no longer conscious, it was the Daf that played by his bed and comforted his neshama. Throughout, he grabbed on to the Daf while we clung to him.

With his passing, it is we who feel thrown overboard, drowning in sorrow and pain. Baruch Hashem he has taught us and modeled for us that in moments like this, to regain our balance and find safety, the answer is to grab onto the daf, be it Daf Yomi or another commitment of Torah learning, a little tighter.

By Rabbi Efrem Goldberg


Rabbi Efrem Goldberg is the Senior Rabbi of the Boca Raton Synagogue (BRS) and is a native of Teaneck.