Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

3 Ellul 5761 - August 22, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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HaRav Avrohom Yaakov Pam zt"l
by S. Bruchi, D. Rubinowitz and Yated Ne'eman Staff

On Friday 28 Av, tens of thousands of bereft Torah-loyal Jews, headed by maronan verabonan, the gedolei haTorah vehaChassidus, accompanied HaRav Yaakov HaKohen Pam, zt"l, on his last earthly journey. HaRav Pam was the rosh yeshiva of Torah VoDaas. One of the great marbitzei Torah in the United States, he produced tens of thousands of students. He was the president of the American Chinuch Atzmai and of the Shuvu and the Nechomas Yisroel organizations. He was niftar Thursday night, 28 Av, after an illness, during the 89th year of his life.

Upon learning the bitter news of HaRav Pam's petirah, a heavy pall of mourning descended upon all beis Yisroel and the yeshiva world in particular. HaRav Pam was one of the formulators of the derech of the yeshiva world in the United States; one who created and sustained the American Torah world, and one of its most venerable roshei yeshiva. He was also a venerated model figure to countless Jews, due to his unique manner of avodas Hashem.

On Thursday night after chatzos, the bitter news of his petirah spread quickly throughout American chareidi centers. The news reached Eretz Yisroel on Friday morning, while many were still davening for his recovery.

HaRav Pam's health had severely deteriorated in recent months, and his illness aroused concern among the Torah world that hastened to plead for his speedy recovery. Prayers uniting all circles of chareidi Jewry in the United States were uttered fervently, expressing the great esteem in which all held this illustrious godol who guided beis Yisroel for so many decades.

Close to chatzos on Thursday night, his health took a drastic downward turn, and family and students streamed to his room in Boro Park's Maimonides Hospital, where they mournfully cried out "Shema Yisroel," and "Hashem Hu HoElokim." His family and students did kriya, as obligated by halocho.

All felt bereft and orphaned. In the morning, his bier was brought to the study hall of the Torah VoDaas yeshiva in Flatbush, where he taught Torah, yir'oh, mussar and halocho to tens of thousands of students over a period of more than sixty years. The beis medrash that had been a beacon for his many students, from which the light his Torah had shone forth for long distances, resounded with the weeping of those who had come to lament the petirah of the tzaddik, one of the last vestiges of the previous generation.

On Friday afternoon, his levaya, attended by tens of thousands of students and mourners who had arrived from all parts of the United States, formed a massive entourage that proceeded from the yeshiva. He was buried Friday afternoon in the plot of his fathers in the cemetery in Queens.

Over 10,000 men and women came to pay respect to the Rosh Yeshiva. The streets were closed off from 18th Avenue to Courtelyou Road, and from Coney Island Avenue to Ocean Parkway, including the service road. It was very organized. Police barricades kept the women across the street with a special section in between for the cars and roshei yeshiva to get across.

Almost all the Roshei Yeshiva and gedolim were there. People came back from the mountains specially for the levayo.

Here is the list of gedolim (perhaps not comprehensive) who attended: Novominsker Rebbe, HaRav Elya Svei, HaRav Aharon Schechter, Mattersdorfer Rebbe, HaRav Henoch Leibowitz, Rachmasrivka Rebbe, HaRav Malkiel Kotler, Bluzhever Rebbe, Munkatcher Rebbe, and HaRav Shmuel Birnbaum.

The group said Tehillim and his son, HaRavAharon Pam, spoke for a few minutes on behalf of the family. He stressed how HaRav Pam st'l did not want a hesped -- he was a father to all. He asked mechila from his father and thanked everyone for all that they did.

Hundreds followed the procession through Crown Heights to the Interboro to the cemetery. Everything was very organized -- there were police all along the route directing traffic.

The Rosh Yeshiva was buried near other Torah Vodaas gedolim: Rabbi Herman, HaRav Reuven Grozovsky and HaRav Yaakov Kamenetzky.

His Biography

HaRav Avrohom Yaakov HaKohen Pam, son of HaRav Meir, a ram in the Chaim Berlin yeshiva who had studied in the Slabodka and Radin yeshivos in Lithuania, was born in Tamuz 5673, into a home filled with Torah and pure yiras Shomayim. In his sefer, Atara LaMelech, HaRav Avrohom Yaakov describes his father and his dveikus to Torah, imbibed as a young man in Slabodka. During that period, HaRav Pam's father was immersed in Torah day and night, sharing a common language with the fervent lomdim of the yeshiva. In time, he was appointed to the position of maggid shiur in the yeshiva of the ga'avad of Ponovezh (HaRav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman), along with HaRav Eliyahu Dushnitzer.

In the sefer, HaRav Avrohom Yaakov also speaks about his righteous mother, who was the epitome of chessed. She assisted the poor and brokenhearted in a remarkable manner. He wrote: "Once a person complained: `My father-in-law promised me a huge sum for my wedding, but did not fulfill his promise. He tricked me.' My mother consoled him by saying: `From the amount your father-in-law promised you, it is evident how much esteem he has for you, and how deserving you are in his eyes of so large a dowry.'"

In that home, HaRav Avrohom Yaakov's unique personality was formed. He showed distinct signs of being destined for greatness. He constantly sought to grow in Torah and to rise in spiritually, and his diligence, greatness, refinement and purity of thought were manifest even when he was young. He was noble of spirit, outstanding in his middos, and meticulous in his interpersonal relationships.

As a child, he studied in Kovna. His family later moved to the United States, where his father was appointed to the position of ram of the Rabbenu Chaim Berlin yeshiva. Once in America, the thirteen-year-old Avrohom Yaakov began to study in Torah VoDaas. He became very close with his mentors, the rosh yeshiva, HaRav Dovid Lebowitz, zt"l, and HaRav Shraga Feivel Mendelowitz, zt"l, rapidly becoming the yeshiva's finest student.

The rosh yeshiva and the mashgiach were especially fond of him, seeing that he was a bor sud she'eino me'abeid tippa who was destined to light up the skies of Jewry with his Torah and unique character traits.

He was known for his outstanding hasmodo as well as for his work on his middos and his study of mussar. His entire life centered around Torah study and middos improvement, and was one long saga of deep immersion in Torah study and exertion in avodas Hashem in an unassuming manner.

After marrying the former Sara Belmuth, tibodel lechaim tovim ve'arukim, who helped him in a most dedicated manner her entire life, he was asked to serve as ram in the Torah VoDaas Yeshiva Ketana, and later as the rosh yeshiva of the yeshiva gedola. For more than sixty consecutive years he delivered shiurim and mussar discourses to the yeshiva students. His discourses would penetrate his students' souls and form a path in their hearts leading to beis Hashem. He was a mechanech in his very essence and conduct and a manifestation of the fact that Torah and yiras Shomayim are the core of life. His image lit up their hearts long after they had left the yeshiva.

HaRav Pam had a tremendous impact upon his tens of thousands of students. From his shiurim, they derived guidance in avodas haBorei and acquired the eternal kinyonim of pure Torah and yiras Shomayim. They regarded him as an archetype of the genuine oved Hashem, whose life focused only on serving Hashem with his entire heart and soul, raising kevod Shomayim and disseminating Torah and mussar, especially among the younger generation. His students regarded him as a compassionate figure who sought only their welfare and whose desire was to guide them along the paths of Torah and mussar.

For some six decades, the great HaRav Avrohom Yaakov HaKohen Pam was an anchor for hundreds and thousands of students deeply attached to him with strong bonds of love. They sensed that he was their support during times of happiness and during times of distress, and felt that they could turn to him for counsel.

He would study Chulin with Shulchan Oruch with the avreichim of the Torah VoDaas Kollel, and after testing them, he would grant them yoreh yoreh, yodin, yodin.

His students note his fatherly image and the warm manner in which he influenced them to pursue Hashem's path. He personally fulfilled whatever he demanded of his students, and was a model of humility, the noble trait from which he elicited his quality of tolerance and the pashtus noted by his many students. He never sat at the Mizrach in the yeshiva, but rather among his students, like one of them. He wore a short jacket, not a rabbinical frock: a model of humility, modesty and simplicity. It was no mistake that he merited to be called, "the Chofetz Chaim of America."

His home in Flatbush was a center of Torah guidance. Every single corner in that home, which was the utmost in pashtus, radiated with kedusha and embodied the daled amos of halocho from which Torah emanated to chareidi Jewry the world over. In that home, HaRav Pam was consulted as a partner in all decisions pertaining to chareidi Jewry. He welcomed all in a warm manner, opening his doors to every Jew in need, listening attentively to them and making all-out efforts to help.

His appearances at the meetings and conventions of Agudas Yisroel in the United States had a tremendous impact. His speeches were heard each time with cherdas kodesh, for he was a beloved figure, accepted by all circles of the chareidi community. He spoke calmly, with measured, well- chosen words that penetrated the hearts of his listeners.

Although he didn't participate in the last Agudah convention, a speech that he had recorded at home was presented. He spoke about the trait of emes,saying that it should be the guiding light of the entire chareidi sector. As a man of truth, for whom truth was the central point of his life, he spoke penetratingly about the sin of chilul Hashem caused by a lack of integrity.

His profound, weekly shiurim in parshas hashovua in Torah VoDaas were famed throughout the United States, and many people attended them. Hundreds of tapes of his shiurim on the parshos and on middos serve as the mainstay of the chinuch of every ben yeshiva in the United States. They constitute the bulk of his sefer, Atara LaMelech, which contains discourses on hashkofoh as well as guidance, chiddushim and explanations, with particular stress on integrity in one's interpersonal relationships. These shiurim generally focused on middos tovos and the good practices he himself exemplified.

Alongside his leadership of many of the struggles of Torah Jewry in the United States, he was very concerned about the problems of Torah Jewry in Eretz Hakodesh. The issue of the chinuch of Jewish children was close to his heart, and he was the first to offer his aid in every effort in this area. He was particularly interested in the Torah-true chinuch in Eretz Hakodesh. After the petirah of HaRav Moshe Feinstein,zt"l, he was appointed president of Chinuch Atzmai in the United States. He was also a member of the presidium of the largest Torah organization in America, Torah Umesorah. During recent years he was president of the Nechomas Tziyon organization, active in American secular schools.

He founded the Shuvu organization for the chinuch of Russian children in Eretz Yisroel, and was its patron during the past few decade. He became involved in this organization when HaRav Avrohom Yosef Laizerson, one of the heads of the Chinuch Atzmai in Eretz Yisroel, arrived at an Agudah convention in the United States. At the directives of the gedolei HaTorah, HaRav Laizerson then raised the problem of the education of the children of Russian immigrants who want to study in Chinuch Atzmai schools.

The subject was raised at the convention and HaRav Pam, very upset over the difficulties encountered in the area of the chinuch of immigrant children, accorded the issue a pivotal place at the Agudah convention. In his stirring, tear- filled speech, he addressed the thousands of participants at the convention, making them keenly aware of the urgent need to rally to the aid of Russian immigrant children. Then and there, he set up a special committee for rescue activities, and in that manner, Shuvu was born. He was its loyal patron until his final day. HaRav Pam said that in the beis din shel ma'aloh it will surely be noted that he had a part in the founding of Shuvu.

Four years ago, he contracted a serious illness and underwent surgery. The Torah world prayed for his refuah, and with Hashem's help, he resumed his regular Torah activity. Two months ago, his health began to deteriorate. Prayers were recited for his recovery in all the yeshivos. Despite his difficult condition, three weeks ago he participated in the annual convention of Shuvu, setting out for the meeting on a stretcher by ambulance. At the meeting, he spoke for five minutes about the tremendous importance of granting Jewish children a Jewish education. At that, his final public appearance, he conveyed the message that every Jew under all circumstances is obligated to do his maximum for the sake of the education of Jewish children.

Last week, his health rapidly deteriorated, and he was rushed to Maimonides Hospital in Boro Park, where he returned his pure soul to its Maker on Thursday night at 12:30, in the presence of his family and many of his students and close acquaintances.

The levaya left Torah VoDaas on Friday morning, and was attended by tens of thousands of mourners. Before the procession set out for the cemetery, chapters of Tehillim were recited. As per his final request, no hespedim were delivered. His son, HaRav Aharon Pam, delivered words of parting.

He is survived by an illustrious family: sons that are gedolei haTorah and grandchildren and great- grandchildren, all of whom are pursuing the path he charted for them. His sons are: HaRav Aharon, a ram in Darkei Torah in New York; HaRav Dovid, a rav in Beis Medrash Shneour in Toronto; and Rav Usher, a ram in the Talmud Torah of Lakewood.


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