Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

6 Kislev 5762 - November 21, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








The Chofetz Chaim Of Torah Vodaas

by Moshe Musman

Part Two: Man Of His People


"On the dais stood a man, with a lowered gaze, his face glowing with a special radiance and pleasantness, and the shadow of a smile hovering about his lips. One could sense his discomfort at standing before an audience of thousands, and the unarticulated question, "Who appointed you?" hovering about him. Yet he accepted Heaven's wish that he be the one to offer words of rebuke. [Thus compelled, almost against his will,] he coated each word in love and fondness. He delivered his message of reproof with extraordinary tenderness . . .

His talks were living demonstrations of the words of the posuk (Melochim I 19:11-12), "Hashem is not in the noise" but in the "still small voice." He was no rhetorician. He didn't shout or wave his hands in excitement. He always spoke calmly and pleasantly -- that was precisely why what he said was so persuasive and had such influence. Everybody felt that not a single word of what he uttered was insincere. Everything emanated from the depths of his heart, which overflowed with love for every creature made in Hashem's image.

He spoke slowly and moderately; almost in a whisper. The absence of any of the usual, more dramatic speech making devices, might have given the impression that this was no more than a simple shmuess, not overly concerned with issues of moment to the general community. But if one listened closely, it immediately became clear that he was getting right to the heart of contemporary Jewish life and placing it in all its historic context, framing the whole within a lucid and solid outlook, drawn from the eternal wellsprings of Torah and mussar, and coming from the same ancient quarry that our leaders have always hewn."

(From an appreciation by Yisroel Spiegel)

You Are Not Free to Refuse

Rav Pam was no willing party to the efforts to get him to join the American Agudah's Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah. In the early nineteen eighties, Reb Yaakov Kamenetsky, who was already on the verge of his own nineties, felt that he and Reb Moshe, who served as chairman of the Moetzes, would not be able to continue in their positions of leadership for many more years. He therefore began to try to get Rav Pam to become a member of the Moetzes. (At that time, Rav Ruderman zt'l, was unwell, although he later recovered and took an active part in communal affairs for several more years.)

Reb Yaakov had already been applying pressure for two years, while Rav Pam, arguing that he felt himself unworthy, had been demurring, when Reb Yaakov finally became "angry" with him and gave him no choice in the matter.

Reb Yaakov and Reb Moshe were niftar a couple of years afterwards. When Rav Pam was asked to fill Reb Moshe's position as chairman of the Moetzes, he refused outright, explaining simply that he was unequal to replace Reb Moshe. When he was asked to take over Reb Moshe's position as president of Chinuch Atzmai however, he accepted. He felt, with just as much conviction, that as unworthy a successor as he might feel, he simply couldn't refuse the invitation to undertake a task that had such fateful implications for the Torah education of so many Jewish children in Eretz Yisroel.

Rav Pam had little connection with Reb Moshe during the latter's lifetime (though he was a very close friend of his son-in-law Rav Moshe Shisgal zt'l) besides taking part in the meetings of the Moetzes, which were held in Reb Moshe's home. However, Reb Moshe was the only godol whose picture hung in Rav Pam's home.

His strong resolve to strengthen Torah chinuch in Eretz Yisroel and his readiness to assume the mantle of leadership in this respect were immediately apparent from the moving address he delivered when he rose to be maspid Reb Moshe in Mesivta Tiferes Yerushalayim. He began by saying that since he was unfit to speak about Reb Moshe himself, he would speak instead about chinuch. He first quoted Chazal's observation, that out of every thousand children who enter cheder, only one eventually emerges who is capable of rendering halachic rulings and asked how many thousands of talmidim there needed to be before a poseik of Reb Moshe's stature, who issued rulings to other morei horo'oh, could emerge?

That led him onto the state of chinuch in Klal Yisroel and to declare that the only way to produce more giants like Reb Moshe, is to increase the numbers of Jewish children receiving a full-blooded Torah education, by further thousands.

Upon stepping into Chinuch Atzmai, Rav Pam "inherited" a major financial crisis, towards whose solution he proposed and implemented the Adoption Plan, whereby communities and yeshivos across the United States undertook the support of struggling Chinuch Atzmai institutions all over Eretz Yisroel. Rav Pam gave his all to this idea, travelling personally all over America in order to set the scheme upon its feet. From that time, for several years, he was in constant contact with Rav Shach zt'l. They would speak to each other at least once a week.

A Quiet and Effective Leader

He was a quiet person by nature, not the type that thrives in the bustle and commotion that often accompany communal involvement. However, by virtue of the careful thought and planning that went into everything that he said and did, he was a highly effective leader and speaker. He would advise students that when they had to address large gatherings, they should think in advance about the message they wanted to convey and ensure that it was a suitable one for their audience. Whenever he spoke, there was always a direct point and a relevant lesson. Because of this, when he spoke at simchas, the celebrants would remember what he said for years afterwards.

When someone repeated to him an explanation he'd heard as to why Reb Moshe never used to speak about the past, Rav Pam rejected the suggestion and said that it was simply because Reb Moshe had no time for engaging in reminiscing, unless there was some point to it. Rav Pam himself also almost never spoke about his past, unless it was in order to convey a specific piece of information or lesson. Every conversation with him was a source of guidance; every encounter was instructive.

His sensitivity operated on the communal as well as on the individual level, and he would accordingly set aside his preferences and do all he possibly could for the benefit of others. He never derived much personal satisfaction from attending Agudah conventions. As the simple ben Torah that he felt himself to be, he would much rather have sat quietly on his own learning then participate in the lengthy and crowded convention sessions. However, he did what he felt he had to do and in fact, he was the only one who used to attend every single session.

One motzei Shabbos at a convention, a family member found him lying down, utterly exhausted, "from hearing," as he put it. When asked why he had to "hear" so much and why he troubled himself to go to every session, when there were always some of the younger rabbonim in attendance, Rav Pam replied that he felt it was an honor for the Agudah that there should always be at least one white beard sitting on the dais. Characteristically, he would always give the Agudah a donation after he participated in a convention to defray the costs of his board and lodgings.

There were times when he felt impelled to take the initiative and he was highly successful in doing so. One such occasion was at a meeting of the Moetzes over a decade ago, when options for providing spiritual direction to the large numbers of Russian immigrants that were then pouring into Eretz Yisroel, were discussed. Rav Pam stood up and declared that special Torah schools had to be set up for the children of the olim and he emphasized that American Jewry had the means to implement such a solution.

Although other American gedolim also lent Shuvu their support, it was Rav Pam who spearheaded the entire project and accompanied it on a day to day basis, literally until his last days. His dedication to Shuvu and his self- sacrifice on its behalf were awe inspiring. The cause was so close to his heart that in his last years, Shuvu's welfare and his own health became inextricably bound up. Under his careful guidance, Shuvu has grown to encompass some fifty Torah institutions across Eretz Yisroel, catering to some ten and a half thousand students kein yirbu. These include kindergartens, dormitories, elementary and high schools, a yeshiva gedoloh and a kollel.

Rav Pam himself made just one trip to Eretz Yisroel, just before the Yom Kippur War in the summer of 5733. He made a point of staying for just twenty-nine days, as he felt that being in Eretz Yisroel for thirty days may give him the halachic status of an inhabitant which would involve him in the prohibition against leaving Eretz Yisroel. Some talmidim who accompanied him actually decided not to return to America because of this and they have been living here ever since. Today, from his own generation, Rav Pam is survived by his worthy and distinguished younger brother, who lives in Yerushalayim.

Source of Succor

We can only guess the magnitude of the help which Rav Pam quietly extended to individuals over the years. A story which was repeated by his oldest son, Reb Aharon ylct'a, at his father's levaya, puts this aspect of his klal work in perspective. Shortly before his petiroh, Rav Shneur Kotler zt'l, remarked that he was not overly concerned about the future of the large institutions for which he had raised funds, for it was safe to assume that there would be others who would step in and assume responsibility. What worried him were the hundreds of individuals whom he supported, whom nobody else knew about, (who collectively benefited from a full half of the three million dollars that he raised annually). What would become of them when he would no longer be there?

Rav Pam too, knew of many Yidden in difficult circumstances to whom he channeled regular financial assistance. He ministered the funds that came into his hands with meticulous care, keeping track by himself of all the recipients and the amounts given out.

He found ways to distribute funds to many of these families even though he had no other particular connection with them. From time to time, throughout the year, he would hand a number of envelopes to one of his grandsons and instruct him to deliver each one into the hands of one of the parents at the address written on the front and say that it came from Rav Pam. From the recipients' reactions, or lack of them, it was evident that such deliveries were regular occurrences.

Every Purim large numbers of such envelopes were delivered. On his last Purim, many of the hundreds who came during the hours of eleven a.m. to one p.m. to convey their good wishes - - forming a line outside Rav Pam's home that stretched onto the next block -- brought sums for matonos lo'evyonim. (A special request had been made not to bring mishloach monos.) Rav Pam later said that he had given out an enormous amount of money that day. Before Pesach too, very large sums passed through his hands, going to help making the Yom Tov less of a financial hardship for many poor families.

His desire to help others in whatever way he could was unaffected by considerations of personal comfort or dignity. He regarded himself as a simple Yid, obliged to do chesed with everybody. At the mikveh one erev Rosh Hashonoh, a visitor to the neighborhood (who obviously was not aware to whom he was speaking) asked Rav Pam whether he could use his towel. Rather than give him a used towel, Rav Pam told the man that he lived nearby and would run home and bring him a clean one. A bochur who was present was shocked to hear what the Rosh Yeshiva was proposing to do and he ran upstairs to his room straight away and brought a towel. Sure enough however, Rav Pam arrived back ten minutes later with a towel. When he found out what had happened he admonished the bochur, "You snatched a mitzvoh away from me on erev Rosh Hashonoh!"

A certain youngster, who had a difficult situation at home, used to hang around the yeshiva during the Ovos Uvonim learning sessions, making something of a nuisance of himself. He would tell the organizer that he wanted to be given one of the lottery tickets that are distributed among the participants. The organizer told him that if he learned, he'd get a ticket. On one occasion the boy responded, "Learn with me."

The organizer, at his wits' end, replied somewhat sarcastically, "Learn with Rav Pam!" The Rosh Yeshiva, who used to arrive ten minutes before ma'ariv, had just walked in. The boy took the suggestion seriously and took his request to Rav Pam, who immediately said, "Okay, bring a mishnayos."

When they had finished learning together Rav Pam told the boy, "We could do this every week. I'll come early and you bring the mishnayos" -- and that was what they did. Several weeks later the boy disappeared and when he stopped by the yeshiva a few years later, he was dressed like any other yeshiva bochur. The astonished organizer asked the boy what had brought about the change and the latter told him that it was all " . . . thanks to Rav Pam!"

Unaided is Unfettered

Over the years, Rav Pam tried his best to avoid accepting any assistance from others, even simple things that are not usually regarded as particular favors. He would repeat an adage that he had heard from his mother, "Alein is die neshomoh rein (By doing things oneself, one keeps one's neshomoh pure, unbeholden to others)" and he tried to live by this as much as possible.

For example, when offered rides home he would often refuse saying that it was "healthier to walk." When invited to simchas, he politely turned down offers to send someone over to pick him up, saying that there was "less aggravation" (due to lateness etc.) involved if he made his own way there by cab.

If it was possible, he would pay something to a person who had helped him. If not, he tried to do something for them in return. If this was also not possible, he would enter the person's name into a special notebook that he kept, together with a few words about any special needs of theirs (e.g. parnossoh, a shidduch) and would be mispalel for them at auspicious times.

He maintained this policy even when he grew older and infirm. During his last few years he had back trouble and he had to support himself when walking. It was hard for him to get in and out of a car, so he used to walk home from the yeshiva but he refused to let anyone accompany him. When he needed support in the street, he would take a shopping cart to lean on, rather than a walker, so that he wouldn't look like he needed help.

Often, when it was time for him to go home there was a line of people waiting to speak to him. He stayed behind until he'd dealt with each of them and only then would he leave. When asked why he no longer had them walk with him and talk on the way, as he had once done, he replied that when talking with someone, it is derech eretz to look at them. Since he now had to concentrate fully on his walking, he was unable to look at the other person as they walked together. Leaning on their arm was out of the question, so he simply stayed behind, irrespective of how much of his time it took, and despite the fact that when people saw him staying on, more came over to see him, until finally, he was free to make his own way home.

Once, when it was raining, the elderly Rav Pam began his usual walk home alone, not noticing that a bochur was walking behind him holding a big umbrella to shield him from the rain. At the street corner, he realized what was happening and he turned round and told the bochur, "The hat is old and the Jew is old but the rain isn't going to do me any harm. Go back and learn!"

At home, only Rav Pam or his rebbetzin, tlctv'a, would answer the telephone and the door, even if it took a few extra minutes. Rav Pam was unwilling to take someone in, to handle phone calls. He preferred to see to things himself, rather than have the responsibility of someone else dealing with calls that were meant for him. If he was alone in the house he had to answer the door himself and it could take him several minutes to get there. Sometimes visitors left before Rav Pam could get to the door with his walker. He would say that he had tried his best and one was not obligated to do more than one could.

Once, someone arrived at Rav Pam's home late at night and found him sitting at the end of the couch, which was unusual because he almost never sat on a couch. He was tired and commented that things were getting too much for him. His visitor saw an opportunity to get him to agree to having some help and he responded by saying that when people are younger they can manage but when they get older, they often need help.

When Rav Pam heard these words he jumped up from the couch straightaway and left the room, saying nothing else to his advisor that evening. Later however, he told him, "Alein is die neshomoh rein. Meir is men nisht mechuyov (By oneself, the neshomoh stays pure. One isn't obliged to do any more)."

It's Enough to be Alive

Rav Pam's last few years brought serious illness and a considerable measure of suffering. Despite his weakness and general condition and despite the painful treatments that were administered, no complaint was ever heard from his lips. When someone asked him why he never complained, Rav Pam replied by quoting the gemora's words (Kiddushin 80), "What should a person complain about? It's enough for him to be alive."

"Do you know how old I am?" he asked the questioner.

"Yes." (He was in his late eighties.)

"Do you know that other people don't live so long?" he returned. He regarded every day of life at his age as a gift, even if painful, and certainly not something to complain about.

The supreme efforts he made during this period of his life, that were apparent to all around him, to assist all who approached him, can perhaps give us an idea of the extent of his toil in learning in his younger years, when he sat and learned by himself in relative seclusion. Even though he had always been involved with others, teaching, advising and guiding, his home had always been a private place where people who needed him came by appointment.

This changed following his first bout of illness, some seven years ago, when his home became a public thoroughfare with callers coming and going at all times. His rebbetzin willingly rose to the difficult challenge of running her household and caring for an ailing husband while fielding all kinds of visits and calls whose only similarity was their unpredictability.

Once, right at the end of Pesach, Rav Pam received a call from a seventeen-year-old boy who had been orphaned of both parents. He was living in a relative's home but was unhappy. He complained that he had no friends, to which Rav Pam's response was, "You have one friend for sure: Avrohom Pam."

As the conversation progressed, the possibility of moving out of the relative's home was raised, and the question of where to move from there. "You could come here," Rav Pam suggested. Someone asked him, did he really think that he could take a seventeen year old boy into his home at such a time?

Rav Pam responded with a story: When he was already an old man, a lady once asked Reb Isser Zalman Meltzer zt'l, to help her write a letter in Russian. His rebbetzin asked him in surprise, "Have you become a secretary in your old age?"

Reb Isser Zalman replied, "What does the Ribono Shel Olom have from me now that I no longer have the strength to learn, if not to do a little chesed?"

This was the policy which Rav Pam now adopted. He began to get involved in extending all kinds of assistance to people that had not been possible for him earlier. Another story also took place on a motzei Pesach, right after havdoloh when Rav Pam was very weak and was preparing to take some nourishment.

A couple from overseas arrived at the house, claiming that they had an appointment. Rav Pam said that they should be brought in and they described their tragic situation, asking him to write them a letter that would enable them to collect for the treatment of one of their children, who was sick R'l. Rav Pam said he would add something to a letter they already had from one of the other rabbonim. However, that letter was laminated so Rav Pam slowly climbed the stairs and wrote out a new letter for the couple, who were very happy. He was so exhausted following that encounter that he didn't have the strength to eat more than a couple of mouthfuls. When a family member asked whether he felt he was really required to go to such lengths, at such personal cost, Rav Pam said that just as on motzei Yom Kippur, halochoh tells us to go straight to the mitzvoh of building the succah, he also wanted to go straight from havdoloh after Pesach, to another mitzvoh.

A Jew in Eretz Yisroel who knew Rav Pam, once called him to tell him that he was in serious trouble. He had been deprived of his livelihood and his family was on the brink of destitution. Rav Pam advised him to study computers and made an arrangement with one of the philanthropists he knew to support the man until he was able to find a job in his new profession.

Some time later, Rav Pam's health took a turn for the worse and even the doctors raised their hands in despair. Rav Pam however, pulled out of the immediate crisis and was allowed to return home, although he was extremely weak. On the day he came home,a call arrived from the Yid in Eretz Yisroel: the donor had stopped his support. The donor had in fact suffered serious losses and had to cut back on the scope of his charitable activities. The family member who took the man's call tried to explain the position to him but Rav Pam gave instructions that the details be noted down, since he may be able to do something later on.

When the donor later received a call from Rav Pam himself, a witness said that he came away from the call looking extremely pale. Rav Pam had called to say that he could not stop this man's support, because the whole family's welfare was at stake and the father would eventually be able to stand on his own feet.

Rav Pam made the call despite his own grave situation, because, like Reb Isser Zalman, he felt that this was how he could serve the Ribono Shel Olom at such a time.

Conclusion: In His Own Words

"The Torah of life that we received at Har Sinai is to reveal the glory, the greatness and the holiness of the Torah's path, as it translates into life, to nations and princes; to serve as an example of how a person can live a life of morality, splendor and integrity. The Torah's essence is `its ways are the ways of pleasantness.' All of this applies equally between man and his fellow and between man and wife. It applies in relations with neighbors as well and even towards gentiles -- towards every creature in the world, we must demonstrate the splendor of the Jew whose life is planted firmly upon Torah foundations." (From a convention address)

"Our aspiration is to raise bnei Torah -- the main thing is to be connected to Torah and to arrange all one's affairs in accordance with Torah. A ben Torah is someone whose entire being and essence constitutes a Torah personality. Torah's holiness and brightness illuminate his soul and adorn him with a crown of charm and respect. He is careful to respect others, he takes care not to harm anyone, his ways are pleasant, he loves his fellow men and tries to benefit them . . . and all this springs from the Torah that resides within his soul. This is a ben Torah and this is what we aspire to create." (From his remarks at a gathering in 5749, marking Torah Vodaas' seventieth anniversary)

All who knew Rav Pam will agree that nothing sums up his life and himself better than these words of his own.


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