The close to two thousand who attended the levaya of
Rebbetzin Pesha Leibowitz--aside from the many telephone hook-
ups broadcasting the hespedim--testified to the love
and connection Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim's talmidim and
alumni felt for their Rosh Yeshiva's wife after her
petiroh on erev Rosh Chodesh Tammuz.
As Rav Naftali Portnoy, the Rebbetzin's nephew, said, "The
thousands of people at the levaya of this eishes
chayil, were past and present talmidei hayeshiva
ranging from bochurim and young men to 65-year-old
talmidei chachomim. And among this broad range of
individuals were so many who felt such a personal loss . . .
For the Rebbetzin was truly a mother to them . . ."
Indeed, that is the sense of loss that was most often
expressed: that the thousands of talmidim of Yeshivas
Chofetz Chaim of the past 60 years had lost their mother, for
she was truly the mother of the yeshiva. No matter how large
the "family" became, she had time and concern for every one
of her "children." Though she was not zoche to give
birth, she was the consummate mother of thousands.
From where did Rebbetzin Leibowitz acquire her vast
capabilities, her love for Torah and for those who learn it,
her keen insight into the needs of others? Her lineage and
her affiliation with the great luminaries of Radin provided
the tools that she would employ throughout her life to
accomplish her unique and lofty goals.
Rebbetzin Leibowitz was born Pesha Trop in Radin in 1927 to
HaRav Avrohom and Esther Trop. Rav Avrohom was named after
his great ancestor, the brother of the Vilna Gaon. Rav
Avrohom's father was HaRav Naftali Trop, who was the rosh
yeshiva of the Chofetz Chaim's yeshiva in Radin. Rebbetzin
Pesha attributed much of her successes in life to the
brochoh and hashpo'oh of her grandfather.
Esther (Sapir) Trop also descended from a prominent family of
talmidei chachomim who later settled in Petach
The Trops spent World War II deep in Asiatic Russia, with Rav
Avrohom imprisoned in Siberia. After the war, the Trops
reunited and fled to the United States, where Rav Avrohom
became the rosh yeshiva of the Stoliner Yeshiva.
Several years later, Pesha married HaRav Henoch, the son of
HaRav Dovid Leibowitz, a nephew of the Chofetz Chaim and a
talmid of HaRav Naftali Trop. In the hesped
said by HaRav Abba Zalka Gewirtz, a long-time friend of the
Rosh Yeshiva, he said that the Rebbetzin's mother used to say
that the Leibowitz's shidduch was actually made by
special shadchanim: HaRav Naftali Trop with his
talmid HaRav Dovid Leibowitz. This most appropriate
shidduch bore beautiful fruits.
A Devoted Wife
After coming to America to be rosh yeshiva in Torah Vodaas,
HaRav Dovid Leibowitz soon founded the Chofetz Chaim yeshiva
in Williamsburg. When Pesha married HaRav Henoch he was
already the rosh yeshiva, as his father had passed away. The
Leibowitzes lived in Williamsburg until the yeshiva moved to
In the early years, the Rebbetzin taught limudei
kodesh at Breuer's High School and at Rav Avrohom
Neuhouse's Bais Yaakov. She was considered a brilliant
teacher. Many attested to her quick intelligence, and years
later women still recalled their Morah with affection.
Rav Yosef Singer, a talmid, related that he once met a
woman who years before had had the Rebbetzin as a substitute
for only one day, but that one day had an impact on her that
she never forgot.
The Rebbetzin had been taught by Rebbetzin Vichna Kaplan, the
well-known disciple of Soroh Schenirer. Rebbetzin Kaplan
commented that out of the many excellent students she had
taught over several decades, two students stood out:
Rebbetzin Freifeld and Rebbetzin Leibowitz.
Despite her success in educating girls, the Rebbetzin chose
to terminate her brief career in order to devote herself to
her husband and the yeshiva. The Rebbetzin spent the rest of
her life helping the Rosh Yeshiva cultivate the yeshiva and
the bochurim and opening branches throughout the
United States and in Israel.
The Rosh Yeshiva attributed his accomplishments to the
Rebbetzin. She devoted her days and nights to caring for the
Rosh Yeshiva. Their family friend and doctor, Dr. Raymond
Feinberg, quipped, "When the Rosh Yeshiva coughed, it hurt
The Rosh Yeshiva would say that the Rebbetzin took care of
his needs to the degree that did not have to take care of
them at all.
The Yeshiva's Mother
Along with the Rebbetzin's devotion to the Rosh Yeshiva, she
exhibited unusual concern for the bochurim and also
for former talmidim of the yeshiva. She involved
herself in their physical and spiritual welfare, and
contributed significantly to their growing into bnei
The talmidim looked to the Rebbetzin as a mother. And
she herself displayed the complete devotion and concern of a
mother. One of the yeshiva's top talmidim did not live
in the dorm, but walked home about half a mile every night.
When he got engaged, the Rebbetzin's first comment was, "Soon
I will be able to stop worrying about his late night walks
home after seder."
Even after talmidim married and left the yeshiva, she
would call on erev Shabbos to wish them a Good Shabbos. She
continued to worry about them and their finances. After they
had children, she would ask about them. And when former
talmidim came to visit, she would ask them about other
alumni, much as a mother asks a son about his brother's
In recent years, the Rosh Yeshiva and the Rebbetzin rarely
went away for Shabbos. One time, they had to go away. After
packing and the other arrangements had all been made and they
were ready to leave, the Rebbetzin heard that a certain
alumnus was coming to the neighborhood for Shabbos. The
Rebbetzin felt that this particular talmid could use a
little encouragement. She felt that if she would run into
him, she could give him the chizuk he needed. So she
canceled her plans and stayed home, and then arranged to "run
into" this man. The talmid who related this story
commented, "This was the extent the Rebbetzin would go for
The Rebbetzin's unusual concern prompted many at the
levaya to express their devastating feeling of loss of
After the Rebbetzin's petiroh, the Rosh Yeshiva
described the essence of the Rebbetzin's life. He said that
she epitomized emmes and ehrlichkeit, along
with the gift of binah yeseiroh. In her own learning,
which she continued throughout the years, she always aimed
for the true understanding. She disdained the idea of
reciting the text without comprehension.
The Rebbetzin had an unusual knack for understanding the
needs of others. Often, people would come to see the Rosh
Yeshiva. Not wanting to overtax her husband, she would
sometimes ask them to come a different time. But at times she
would look at the visitor and assess that he needed to see
the Rosh Yeshiva right now. She would let him in.
If she felt that a bochur needed to apply himself
better, she would ask him to tell her something he had
learned. Or she would ask what the Rosh Yeshiva had said in
the shiur. Knowing that the Rebbetzin might ask, the
bochur would make sure to pay attention in the next
Once, with no alternative, the yeshiva's hanholoh
decided to dismiss two boys who were unruly. The Rebbetzin
made a deal with the hanholoh. She agreed that the
boys would not live in the dorm but she offered her basement
for them to sleep in, as long as the boys could remain in the
yeshiva. She gave them the extra care she felt they needed.
Today, these two boys are respected rabbonim.
In fact, the Rosh Yeshiva and the Rebbetzin generally had
between six and eight boys sleeping in their basement. Often,
but not always, these were boys who needed a little more
attention, some extra mothering. The Rebbetzin helped shaped
these boys into bnei Torah.
The Rebbetzin had ways of helping others without them even
realizing it. She would get money to people without them
knowing. When she heard that people in Israel could not
afford to buy clothes, she began organizing packages of
secondhand clothes. She herself would bring clothes over when
she and the Rosh Yeshiva took their annual trip to Eretz
Yisroel. For these trips, she packed the minimum for herself
but squeezed as much donated clothing as she could into as
many suitcases as she could.
One time after closing all of the luggage, she realized she
had forgotten to include a donated coat. She immediately
removed some of her own items (the few that were there) and
packed in the coat.
The Rebbetzin's intuitive chessed reached beyond the
boundaries of the yeshiva. Once, the Rebbetzin heard that
some girls in a certain school were not receiving what she
felt was a full curriculum. She asked a man affiliated with
the yeshiva, who had some girls in the school, if she could
use his basement. There she arranged a Sunday School, which
included several girls whom she taught what she felt was
missing in their school.
The Rebbetzin had the unique ability to relate to adults and
children alike and to understand what they needed. For
children who came to visit, she always had a lollipop at
hand. For the adult, a listening ear.
Another unusual trait the Rebbetzin exhibited was great
simplicity. She always had used furniture and did not spend
money on herself unless it was necessary. Her dress was
simple. Nonetheless, she had an aesthetic touch within the
tzimtzum. Everything about her was clean and
appealing. She probably inherited this from her mother, who
demonstrated this same tasteful simplicity. During the war
years in Siberia, the Rebbetzin's mother took gauze bandages
and made them into curtains.
Her Last Days
During her final days in the hospital, the Rebbetzin suffered
greatly. However, she characteristically pushed herself aside
for the needs of others. Her nephew, Rabbi Portnoy, related
that soon after she suffered a stroke, he went to visit her
in the emergency room. A few weeks previously she had asked
him to arrange a job interview for a former talmid.
The Rebbetzin's first words upon seeing Rabbi Portnoy in the
hospital, were, "Were you able to take care of the
Throughout her last few weeks, she was unable to keep her
food down. But when her husband came in she would control
herself, not wanting to distress him.
For good reason, HaRav Leibowitz would call his wife,
"Mein heilige Pesha." A maggid shiur in the
yeshiva and former talmid, HaRav Reuven Hochberg,
stated, "He would say that he experienced Olom Habo in
this world being granted such a good wife."
The memory of Rebbetzin Pesha Leibowitz should inspire us to
emulate her ways, as she inspired so many others throughout