03 Aug Q & A WITH TALMID RABBI YOSEF EISEN: REMEMBERING RAV PAM ZT”L ON THE 20TH YAHRTZEIT
Rabbi Eisen is the Rav of Kollel Bnei Torah, and the Rabbinic Administrator of the Vaad of The Five Towns & Far Rockaway
When were you in Rav Pam’s shiur?
In 1984 and 1985.
Was it difficult to get into Rav Pam’s shiur?
Rav Pam at that time was giving the Semicha Shiur. As long as the Talmid was committed to attend the shiurim, which was twice a week for about an hour and a half each shiur, and to commit to the Farhers, he could get into Rav Pam’s shiur
What type of Rebbi was Rav Pam regarding the methodology of his shiur?
Rav Pam’s shiur had incredible clarity with extreme precision in his delivery. Rav Pam chose every word and formulated every terminology that he wanted to convey. He was incredibly prepared and the breadth and depth of the subject matter of the he was giving a shiur was just all incompassing. His presentation of the Yora Deya shiur was a brilliant tapestry, weaving together of all the different parts of the halacha including the Shach, the Taz, Rav Akiva Eiger. One of the messages that was repeated constantly from Rav Pam was that it’s impossible to learn the Yora Deya without the Pri Megadim. Rav Pam therefore spent a lot of time on the Pri Megadim, There was always a clear sikum at the end of the discussion of the shiur and there was always a round-up at the end of the shiur to make sure that we left with something clear in our minds which we were able to take back and chazur.
Please explain Rav Pam’s Farhers.
I discussed this in the documentary that came out before Tisha Ba’v about Rav Pam. During a Farher, Rav Pam would ask a practical question. For instance: There was a leaky bottle of milk in the refrigerator. The milk fell onto a plate that had some fleishigs in it. By the time you took it out of the refrigerator, the milk had spilled onto the chicken that was on the plate. What’s the halalcha regarding the plate? What’s the halacha regarding the chicken? Everybody would then start searching and trying to look for the exact Siman and somebody would blurt out an answer at the farher. They might shout out, “Rebbi! Okay. This is the halacha. It’s found in siman kuf hey se’if bais.” Then Rav Pam would turn to him and say, “And vos zukt d’ Rama?” Then the person would have to look back quickly and see what the Rama holds and if he agrees with the mechaber… Then Rav Pam would ask, “And vos zukt d’Shach? ‘’Then the person would stop and have to look at the Shach as well . Then finally the incredible instructive life lesson and learning would come when Rav Pam would ask about the precise language that the Shach uses to explain the halacha of the mechaber. Rav Pam would then explain that the reason why it’s so important to know and familiarize yourself with the lashon of the Shach is because the Shach chose words and phrases that captured the essence of the Halacha. When you’re clear and precise in the exact words of the Shach, that means you have now mastered the halacha in its essence.
Was there a quick vort that Rav Pam gave over and over throughout the years?
The mantra of Rav Pam, if you could put it in a nutshell, was “Deracehu Darchei Noam.” Everything about Torah, everything about hanhagos hachayim, everything about bein adam lamakom and Bein Adam Lechavero, has to be rooted in Derchechu Darchei Noam. The sweetness, the positivity, and the absolute beauty of Torah has to be conveyed in a person’s hanahagos hachayim.
Rav Pam would take this vort, this yesod of deracheah darchei noam and he would apply it to all relationships; relationships between a husband and a wife, a child and his parents, a person and his in-laws, an employee and his employer, between friends, and even how you should treat a janitor. That was his whole vision of the beauty of Torah; it had to be reflected in the way a person would interact with other people.
Rav Pam explained beautifully why it’s called middos. A person does not only have to be a ba’al middos, but needs to constantly be involved in Avodas HaMiddos. Middos are not something that are just done; it’s a lifelong mission to work on middos continue to refine them. Rav Pam would then explain that’s why chazal referred to character traits as middos, because it’s through hanhagos hachaim that a person is measured, his true essence is measured. That’s the word middah. It’s not only a characteristic trait. It’s a barometer. The way that a person is measured is not only through his Torah scholarship and other accomplishments in ruchniyus. It’s through those hanhagos Hachayim.
Rav Pam was known as the master of the “Art of Listening”. Can you please explain?
Years ago, at a Melave Malka, the featured speaker was Rabbi Dr. Yaakov Solomon, who was a wellknown therapist. He said that he learned the art of listening from Dr. Diamond, a well known pediatrician in Boro Park. Dr. Diamond had one of the busiest offices in Boro Park, and would rush from room to room, spending the necessary time with each patient. Dr. Diamond had a chair with wheels on it and if the child was old enough, he would wheel himself right up to the child so he was faceto- face with him. He would ask the child himself, “ So tell me. What’s bothering you? Tell me how I can help you.” He would spend the time listening as though there was no one else in the world for those few minutes. He gained the confidence of the patient and the parent, because he was so focused on listening. That’s how parents have to relate to children. Rav Pam had so much on his shoulders. He was the Rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva torah Vodaath, one of the members of the Moetzes Gedolei Torah; he was the Nassi of Chinuch Atzmai. In his latter years, he carried the whole burden of Shuvu from Eretz Yisroel. He was sought after by so many different people from so many different backgrounds. And yet, with all of that, when you spoke to Rav Pam, regardless of the intensity or seriousness of your problems, when you were near him, his calmness and knowing that he was going to listen to you, put you at total ease and removed your anxiety. Rav Pam would turn his chair around, face you and look at you with his beautiful, shining eyes. Nothing else existed in his world. That’s how he listened. That’s how he dispensed advice. The problem the talmid had presented became his problem. Rav Pam’s eitzos were not only practical, they were unique eitzos from his perspective as a very unique human being and Rosh HaYeshiva. They would radiate with siyata dishmaya.
What is one word that describes the gadlus of Rav Pam?
Devotion. Most people would say anivus, but that’s obvious. Rav Pam’s anivus was evident in the way he walked and the way he carried himself. I wanted to share with you another angle; Rav Pam’s devotion was reflective in every single thing that he did. He was a devoted husband, father, grandfather, and Rosh Yeshiva. Devoted to each and every Talmid, Devoted to Shuvu, devoted to bringing out the greatness of every yid. He was a devoted eved Hashem like Avraham Avinu.
Was being a Kohen ever a problem for Rav Pam?
It was never an issue. In fact it was exactly the opposite. Rav Pam was a person who excelled in generating ahava. He gave people confidence and brachos and was constantly mechazek people that were underdogs. “Ich bin a koehn hamevarach behaava.” When he said those words to you, would literally as if you just went under a waterfall of ahava. The way he said his words was the effect of his kehuna. He utilized his status kehuna in generating love to everyone. It didn’t limit him; to the contrary It empowered him to give brachos. The kohanim say “ Hamevarach es amo Yisroel BeAhava.” That was his Kehuna. He used the nusach of the bracha to give brachos even when he wasn’t standing to duchan.
Rabbi Zev Smith once walked into Rav Pam’s house & heard Rav Pam on the phone raising his voice which was totally out of character. After Rav Pam got off the phone, he noticed Rabbi Smith there and he told him that he had to explain what had happened. Rav Pam had been on the phone with someone who was telling him how miserable he was, that he had no friends, and wanted to commit suicide. He was calling to say goodbye. The person just wouldn’t listen to anything Rav Pam was saying, so Rav Pam felt he had no choice but to yell the words. “I’m your good friend! I’m your friend!” You can imagine the result of that conversation.
Were you at the Shuvu parlor meeting when Rav Pam was taken to the meeting by ambulance?
Yes, I was. It was in July and Rav Pam was niftar in August. Everybody was shocked. People were shocked that askanim brought Rav Pam until they realized that this was the goodbye message that Rav Pam wanted to impart. He was wheeled into the room to speak about shuvu. Rav Pam didn’t consider this anything extraordinary. He did what he felt he needed to do and what the RBSh”O wanted him to do. Rav Pam served Klal Yisroel literally with his last ounce of strength.
Rav Pam’s devotion was nothing less than a perfect, humble devotion.