HaRav Avraham Yaakov Hacohen Pam zt'l was born in
Lithuania 88 years ago. His father was a rov and an
outstanding talmid chochom. He learned in the famed
Kodshim Kollel in Radin where he was a chavrusa of
HaRav Elchonon Wassermann.
At the age of nine, he left his town to enter a yeshiva in
Kovno. He was younger than the other bochurim so that
the rosh yeshiva asked his father jokingly, "Where is his
crib?" He received a letter from his former rebbi that said,
"Someday this young bochur will be a godol
beYisroel." (The family still has the letter.) He was
accepted and learned with complete devotion.
Rav Pam would eat Shabbosim at the home of HaRav Yaakov
Kamenetsky zt'l, who was learning at the time in the
famed Kovno Kollel. They would cross paths again later in life
when they were both on the hanhalla of Yeshiva Torah
Vodaas. Rav Yaakov would affectionately refer to Rav Pam as
the "Kohen Godol."
Rav Pam's father immigrated to the U.S. when his son was 11
years old; the rest of the family came two years later. He
attended Mesivta Torah Vodaas and became a devoted talmid of
the Rosh Yeshiva, HaRav Dovid Leibowitz zt'l, a
Slobodker talmid who had also learned in the Kovno
Kollel and was the nephew of the Chofetz Chaim. He always
considered HaRav Leibowitz as his primary rebbi in life. He
wrote a beautiful tribute about his Rebbi after he passed away
signed "A Talmid."
At the age of 21, he faced a dilemma: In those days, most
bochurim his age went to work and didn't learn in
beis medrash any more. He wanted to continue with his
learning but had no one to learn with! He learned by himself
in a shul in Brownsville for five years until he became
Rav Pam started saying shiurim in the Mesivta in 1937,
and for the next 64 years he said shiurim to thousands
of talmidim who went through Torah Vodaas. He started
as a 10th grade rebbi, then moved up to 12th grade -- and for
the last 25 years he said the Yoreh De'ah shiur. He
felt it was a zechus for him to say this particular
shiur in his old age, for in his prime as a bochur,
he learned Chulin with a lot of hasmodoh. He
would eat and take care of what he had to, but it was always
with Chulin on his mind. He thus felt it fitting that
he should say a shiur on that which he toiled so hard
on, in his advanced years.
When HaRav Aaron Kotler came to the U.S. in 1941 he said
shiurim on Zeroim to a select group of
avreichim; HaRav Pam was never among that group. HaRav
Gedaliah Schorr zt'l who also later became a rosh
yeshiva in Torah Vodaas, was also a part of the group.
Rav Pam had a special affinity for the sefer Mishna
Berurah. He knew every se'if with the Mishna
Berurah and Biyur Halacha. When it was hard for him
to see and people would learn with him, he would correct them
if they read the Biyur Halacha improperly. His set of
Mishna Berurah was buried with him as a testament to
his love for those seforim.
He married Sarah Balmuth who was from a Galician family. HaRav
Hutner zt'l was the shadchan; he told the girl's
father that "he was going to be a godol beYisroel,"
echoing the sentiments of Rav Pam's youth rebbi.
A Rebbi to Talmidim
His shiur was known for its emphasis on clarity. He
would say that a bochur has to know the gemora,
Rashi, and Tosafos clearly before he goes deeper into the
sugya. He didn't like to use the gemora as a
springboard to delve into the sugya without a clear
understanding of the basic facts first.
Those of us who didn't learn by him got a taste of his
shiur at the last Siyum Hashas in 1997. He started the
new cycle at the main siyum in New York City by
learning with everyone the first mishna in Brochos.
He explained each part of the mishna with simple
eloquence; we felt as if we were all sitting in his shiur
room in Torah Vodaas listening to his blat shiur on
Brochos daf beis.
His love for his talmidim was boundless. He was
available to them anytime they needed something from him -- an
answer in halacha, a hashkofoh question, or advice
about life. They reciprocated his love by helping him out as
much as possible. They took up his causes as their own and
always assisted him when he was ill. In fact, when he was
niftar at 1:15 Friday morning, 35 talmidim were
at his bedside; some having been there for days.
Rav Pam personified the middoh of pashtus. He
looked and dressed like a simple person; he never wore a long
coat or even sat on the mizrach in Torah Vodaas.
Rav Pam visited Eretz Yisroel 35 years ago with his wife. They
went to Bnei Brak to see the Ponevezh Yeshiva, which was
hosting its Yarchei Kallah at the time. The beis medrash
was alive with the kol Torah of the participants.
He told his Rebbetzin that he would like to join them on one
condition: the minute someone starts referring to him as a
rosh yeshiva in Torah Vodaas, he is leaving.
They moved into the dormitory and stayed together with the
other members of the Yarchei Kallah. Rav Pam learned in total
anonymity for two weeks. One day there was a pidyon haben
in the Yeshiva. Someone came over to him and suggested
that since he is a rosh yeshiva, he should sit at the head
table for the seuda. His anonymity breached, he left
that very day back to Yerushalayim, where he was originally
He measured his words carefully. Everything he said was
thought out and was said for a reason. He would mention the
Sheloh that says two mal'ochim accompany a person and
write down everything he says. "They don't write shorthand. If
a person would see this personally, how careful he would be
when he utters a word!" he said emotionally. He lived with
this Sheloh as his guide in watching what to say.
Whenever he spoke and demanded a certain middoh from
the audience, one had the feeling that he himself had worked
on the middoh first before addressing the public. He
would speak about emes because his lived with that
He demanded from bnei Torah a certain extra sensitivity
in middos and interpersonal relationships as befitting
a talmid chochom. He would say that the Rambam writes
that a talmid chochom should not walk around with even
a stain on his shirt; so surely he should speak and act as
befitting a ben Torah.
A grandson related that his grandmother offered a bochur
some watermelon and the bochur responded "Yes." Rav Pam
was so agitated that the bochur did not say, "Yes,
please," as a courtesy, that he had to go to his room to rest
Concern for Others
His ahavas Yisroel was legendary; he hated machlokes
with a passion. He once remarked at an Agudah Convention
that if a married couple feel they must divorce, why must they
put themselves through such strife and turmoil by fighting
with each other?
The evil of speaking loshon hora was something he
emphasized his whole life. He once mentioned in a shmuess
that his mother did not know what it meant to speak
negatively of a fellow man. This was the environment in which
he was raised.
He would say that the underlying cause for loshon hora
is a lack of ahavas Yisroel. He suggested many
times that people should learn the Chofetz Chaim's sefer
Ahavas Chesed as a way of increasing their concern for
their fellow man.
He said from Chazal that the reason the meraglim were
able to speak loshon hora about Eretz Yisroel is
because they lacked ahavas Eretz Yisroel. When the love
for something is lacking, there is nothing to stop a person
from speaking ill about it!
A bochur was once caught stealing from his roommate.
The roommate, who was very sensitive, was afraid to stay in
the dorm. Rav Pam invited him to sleep in his home. His wife
thought the bochur moved in because the heat in the
yeshiva wasn't working properly and needed extra care, so her
husband was being nice to him. She never found out the real
reason why he brought the bochur home!
His address was a place for every individual who needed wise
counsel and a listening ear. Many people came just to cry
their hearts out to him. He would listen to them and they
would leave feeling relieved without him giving advice on how
to resolve their issues! They felt as if they unloaded their
"weight" on him and he relieved them of their burden just by
giving them the time of day to vent their pain and anguish.
They felt someone -- a real caring person -- was listening to
His son HaRav Aron Pam said at the levaya that HaRav
Shneur Kotler mentioned to someone when he was ill that if he
dies, he is sure that the mosdos he felt responsible
for will be taken care of, but who will be busy with the many
individuals who came to him for help? "Similarly, the
mosdos my father felt responsible for will find someone
else to guide them, but who will take care of the many people
who needed his help?"
He refused to have a gabbai or a secretary assisting
him with the many requests for his time. At one point, the
family decided he should take one day off from seeing people
just so he could have a break. He replied that they are right,
but what happens to the person who needs him today and cannot
wait until tomorrow? He will have lost his chance. "I cannot
do that to a person."
A lot of money went through his hands that he gave as
tzedokoh to those he knew needed it. This past Shiva
Ossor BeTammuz, he had just arrived home from the hospital and
was in a very weakened condition. He said, "We must do
gemilus chassodim." He summoned an older person who
lived in the neighborhood and needed a lot of chizuk.
Rav Pam kissed him on the hand and gave him a check for
$1800. He next got on the phone with a talmid and
requested $10,000 for someone he knew who needed the money.
The talmid came over immediately with the money. Only
after this was all taken care did he say, "Now I can go lie
The Rosh Yeshiva demonstrated enormous respect to other
talmidei chachomim. When HaRav Reuven Fine zt'l
was rosh yeshiva in Torah Vodaas, he would frequently travel
to Eretz Yisroel to visit his family. The bochurim
would accompany him to the airport to see him off. One
time, the bochurim were at HaRav Fine's house getting
ready to go to the airport when HaRav Pam came in to say good
by. After he talked for a few minutes with HaRav Fine, the
entourage began the trip to Kennedy Airport. HaRav Pam stayed
on the street and walked behind the cars for a few steps so he
could fulfill a mitzva by escorting a talmid
Leader of the Klal
The last years he was involved in all major decisions facing
Klal Yisroel. He was a member of the Moetzes Gedolei
Hatorah of Agudas Yisroel of America. HaRav Shach asked him to
become chairman of Chinuch Atzmai, which he served with total
For the last ten years HaRav Pam was the backbone of the Shuvu
organization, which has educated some 10,000 Russian children
in Torah and Yahadus. He spoke at the Agudah Convention
one year and said, "We are not doing enough for the Russian
children in Eretz Yisroel, we must do more." These simple,
heartfelt words penetrated the hearts of the assembled guests.
Immediately after he finished speaking, people came over to
him asking "What could we do?" They had a meeting that night
and Shuvu was born.
He was selflessly devoted to that cause. He was in constant
contact with those running the organization in Eretz Yisroel.
He attended every function -- parlor meetings, dinners even
when it required a considerable amount of mesiras
Just a few weeks ago, the annual Shuvu parlor meeting took
place. HaRav Pam was extremely weak yet he insisted he must
go. The doctors spent the entire day taking him off the
machines he was on and hooking him up to portable ones. Three
doctors went with him to ensure everything was all right. He
spoke a few heartfelt words about Shuvu but really nothing had
to be said: Just to see how Rav Pam came and how much effort
he exerted to come, conveyed to everyone his strong and deep
feelings about the organization.
He was niftar early Friday morning. When people went to
Shacharis they were greeted with signs that informed
them of the sad news. The levaya was at the Torah
Vodaas beis medrash, a mokom that meant so much
to him as a bochur and later, as part of the
As per his explicit wishes, there were no hespedim. He
mentioned this request numerous times to his family and was
very passionate about it. His oldest son, HaRav Aaron Pam,
said a few words in the name of the family. The thousands who
attended then accompanied HaRav Pam on his final journey.
The family members relate that Rav Pam would get very
emotional when he would duchen on yomim tovim.
It was as if he felt the generation resting on his
shoulders and wanted to give the bircas kohen to all of
them. Now that he is at the Kisei Hakovod, he should be
a meilitz yosher for his family, his talmidim,
and all of Klal Yisroel for he truly knows what they all