HaRav Yaakov Yehoshua was born in 5441 (1581) in a small shtetl near Reisha. His father, R' Zvi Hirsch, named him after his grandfather, the Moginei Shlomo (the name Yosef was added in his later years when he was ill).
His Torah teachers were his uncle, Reb Shmuel, rov of Reisha, and the gaon R' Gavriel of Nicholsburg, zt"l. He later learnt with his relative, the holy R' Chaim Reitzes, zt"l.
When he became of age, he married the daughter of the parnes, Rabbi Shlomo Landau, zt"l. Immediately following his marriage, while he was living with his father- in-law, he began to teach many talmidim. He also toiled in Torah together with his brother-in-law, R' Zvi Hirsch Charif, the rov of Halberstat, writing chidushei Torah together.
After his rabbonis was killed in a tragic fire, he married the daughter of Rabbi Yissochor Ber and his wife, Matel, a"h. The latter was well known for her wealth and charitable deeds and was called "Di Reiche Matel."
After the passing of the Chacham Zvi, the Pnei Yehoshua became rov in Lvov in 5478 (1611). However, the townspeople did not accept his strong, unwavering stance with regard to mitzvos and the way he feared nor favored no man, no matter what his status. They embittered his life until, after six years, he left Lvov and in 5490 took up the rabbonus in Berlin. There too life was not too peaceful and after a few years he moved on to become rov of Metz.
His last post was from 5500 (1640) as rov of Frankfurt-am- Main, after the petiroh of Rabbi Yaakov Popiresch, zt"l.
On 14 Shevat 5516, as Shabbos was approaching, the Pnei Yehoshua was niftar at the age of seventy-five.
After Shabbos he was accompanied by throngs of Jews and their rabbonim to his final resting place.
The first to eulogize him was the Nodah Biyehudah, zt"l, who announced that although the Pnei Yehoshua had requested that there be no hespedim, he would nevertheless disobey, since one must mourn the death of Rabbon Shel Kol Bnei Hagolah.
His great sefer, Pnei Yehoshua, is a basis to understanding gemora and Rishonim.
Gedolei Yisroel over the years were effusive in their praise of the Pnei Yehoshua. Some of their comments are:
The Nodah Biyehudah writes in one of his teshuvos that the words of Rabbeinu are like darts hitting the bull's eye of a target.
The holy Chasam Sofer, zy"a said that since the days of the Rashba there has not been a sefer compiled like that of the Pnei Yehoshua.
The Koznitzer Maggid said that the Ruach Hakodesh would appear in the Beis Midrash of the Pnei Yehoshua to confirm the truth of his Torah.
In his sefer, the Chidoh writes that he merited to meet the Pnei Yehoshua in his house, "and I merited to greet the Shechinoh for some days, and his countenance is like that of a mal'ach Elokim."
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Fire! Fire! The cry of panic was heard throughout the town. A small spark had caught, and before long the whole city was a burning cauldron. Among the victims of this tragedy were the mother-in-law, wife and daughter of the Pnei Yehoshua.
The Rabbi, too, found himself surrounded by flames with no escape route. Without losing himself, he made a neder to Hashem, swearing that if he would be saved from this life- threatening situation he would strengthen his Torah learning and delve into one sugya for days at a time.
As he was promising his neder the wall of flames parted, allowing him to pass through unscathed. Following this miracle he began writing his sefer Pnei Yehoshua.
It should be noted that Reb Menachem Mendel of Kotsk retold that before Rabbeinu began writing his sefer, he completed Shas 36 times!
One day during the morning hours, the Pnei Yehoshua sat wrapped in his tallis and crowned with tefillin, learning until his talmidim arrived. When they did not turn up as usual, he was concerned but continued studying. After half the day had passed, his talmidim finally arrived, shivering from the blizzard and cold wind they had encountered on the way.
Rabbeinu asked them the reason for their delay and as he looked up to face them, he noticed, at the same time as his talmidim, that his beard had been stuck to the table with the day's frost and ice. The Pnei Yehoshua commented, "It looks like it's indeed very cold."
Up till then he had been so engrossed in his learning that he had been unaware of the fierce cold that had prevented his pupils from coming.
The holy countenance of the Pnei Yehoshua was an image beyond our imagination. As the Rav Hakodosh Rabbi Moshe of Savron, zt"l recounted. It was during the period that the Pnei Yehoshua was living in a small shtetl close to a forest. One morning, adorned with tallis and tefillin as usual, the Rabbi was on his way to shacharis when he noticed that the streets were unusually quiet for this time of the day. He wondered where were all the teeming crowds that usually streamed their way to shul and work. The answer became frighteningly clear when suddenly a lion that had strayed from the forest jumped into his path.
Removing the tallis from his face, the tzaddik bared to the lion the full force of his holy countenance. Immediately, the lion turned on its heels and fled back to the forest.
When the Chacham Zvi was on his travels through Poland he posed a difficult sheiloh to the Gedolei Hador. The Pnei Yehoshua's answer was much to his liking and the Chacham Zvi asked him what was his position. When he was told that Rabbeinu was leader in a small town and even there was not too well accepted, he told the Pnei Yehoshua, "Know that you are destined for greatness to a much higher degree!"
When the Chacham Zvi returned to his hometown Lvov, the kehilla in Lisk asked him to choose a rov for them.
The Chacham Zvi replied that if they would give him a wage of 50 guilden, he himself would be their rov. It was agreed that the people of Lisk would come in three months time to escort the Chacham Zvi with great honor to their town.
Meanwhile the Chacham Zvi sent a message to the Pnei Yehoshua, instructing him to prepare himself as rov of Lisk.
The three months were up and, as designated, a delegation arrived to Lvov to escort the Chacham Zvi home.
"I hereby present to you Rabbi Yehoshua," announced the Chacham Zvi to the startled dignitaries.
"He is like me in learning and in his ways. Do not change the wage from what we agreed upon and you will all be successful."
After their initial shock, the men of Lisk accepted the emissary of the Chacham Zvi and the Pnei Yehoshua became rov of the great kehilla of Lisk, beloved and respected by all!