Rabbi Pesach Pruskin • “The Rav of Kobrin”
Rabbi Pesach, the Rav of Kobrin, was among one of the great teachers of Torah during the last century, becoming famous as a remarkable Rosh Yeshiva while he was still young. In an era when Roshei Yeshiva were great and noble Torah figures, Rabbi Pesach’s rise to greatness was considered phenomenal.
Rebbetzin Pesche Soloveitchik (the wife of Rabbi Moshe Soloveitchik) once stated, “At the Brisker Rav’s, it was said that Rabbi Pesach was fortunate, for in the generation of Rabbi Chaim and Rabbi Meir Simcha, he already occupied an honorable position as a Rosh Yeshiva while still young.”
Rav Avraham Pruskin, the son of Rabbi Pesach, once asked the Gaon Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (who was one of Rabbi Pesach’s main disciples) why he had departed from the Slutzk yeshiva. He wanted to know why Rabbi Moshe had left Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer, the famous Slutzk Rosh Yeshiva, to be with his father Rabbi Pesach, who at the time was still relatively young.
Rabbi Feinstein replied, “If you want to know who your father was, I will tell you what he did and how he acted. During the summer he went to the countryside with us and sat down in the grass, studying Torah with us for the entire day. He opened a Gemara and immersed himself in the minutest detail and the most infinitesimal nuances concerning the question at hand. He listened attentively to what each student said, and in this way he conquered our hearts. Where could we have found a Rosh Yeshiva like your father, who spent the entire day with his students? Of course Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer was an extraordinary Rosh Yeshiva, but he was busy tending to the needs of the city’s community, and it was impossible for him to devote as much time to his students as your father did.” Rav Avraham Pruskin said, “That was the secret of my father’s success.”
Rabbi Pesach was born in 5639 (1879) in the small town of Koshchin, near Kobrin in Lithuania. His father passed away before he was born, and he was named after him. We know nothing about his infancy, and he may not have been a prodigy as a child. However as an adult, he was absolutely amazing. Of his family (he had two brothers and sisters), he was the only one who remained connected to Torah.
He grew up with his great grandfather, the Gaon and Tzaddik Rabbi Pinchas Michael of Antipole. His widowed mother, who did not want to live off of others, only gave her children what was strictly necessary.
From his earliest years, the young Pesach was noticed for his great diligence in study. He experienced hunger and misery as he studied Torah, and he suffered a great deal while studying in the Chafetz Chaim’s yeshiva in Radin. At one point, having not enough bread to eat or proper clothes to wear, his friends advised him to travel to the home of his sister, who lived in Vilna at the time, and ask her for help. As it turned out, she was ready to help him, but only on condition that he leave the yeshiva and go study in a secular school. Rabbi Pesach immediately left his sister’s home and never returned.
From Radin he went to study in the Slobodka yeshiva, where he attracted the attention of the Alter of Slobodka, Rabbi Nathan Tzvi Finkel, who saw in the young Pesach a rising star in the firmament of Judaism. The Alter showed him affection and brought him into his inner circle. Pesach also devoted himself to studying Mussar and yearned to perfect himself in it. In order to do this, he stayed for some time in Kelm, the center of Mussar in those days. There he was recognized for his great fear of Heaven, for he paid great attention to the performance of mitzvot. He was once given a secular book to look at, and after having read a few pages he abruptly stopped because he had come across some questionable statements. For the rest of his life, he regretted having read the little that he did, saying: “If there is something improper in me, it is only because of those pages in the book that I had the weakness to read” (From Marbitzei Torah U’Mussar).
After his marriage, Rabbi Pesach was named as the Mashgiach of the Slutzk yeshiva, which was headed by the Gaon Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer, the Rav of Slutzk. Even though his primary task was to supervise the yeshiva students and give them courses in Mussar, he did not neglect Torah study and gave commentaries on the Talmud. Rabbi Pesach was influenced by the Rosh Yeshiva’s method of study, and he too began to give Torah classes before attentive students. Over the course of time, he revealed himself to be a marvelous Rosh Yeshiva and an educator who possessed the grace of G-d.
For various reasons, Rabbi Pesach was obligated to leave the Slutzk yeshiva, and from there he went to Shklov and founded a yeshiva that he directed. Many extremely gifted students from the Slutzk yeshiva followed him to Shklov, and before long he acquired respect as a Rosh Yeshiva and Torah great. What follows is a statement by one of Rabbi Pesach’s greatest students: “Many Torah greats and Gaonim were his students, people who were truly educated by citing him and learning from his deeds and method of study. I recall the immense joy that I had as I listened to his lectures and explanations over the years, or when I had the merit of citing him” (Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, in his approbation to a book of Rabbi Pesach’s commentaries).
In 5683 (1923), Rabbi Pesach became the Rav of Kobrin. There he founded his Beit Ulpanah Rabta D’Kobrin yeshiva, and it quickly become famous as students began to flock to it from all corners of Poland, Russia, and Lithuania. Even students from far-off Galicia came to warm themselves by the light of Rabbi Pesach’s Torah and fear of Heaven.
Rabbi Pesach did not enclose himself in the tent of Torah study, but instead took an active role in the affairs of the community, handling community matters with authority. In particular, Rabbi Pesach devoted his energies to establishing schools for boys and girls, and when a “Tarbut” (secular school) was founded in Kobrin, Rabbi Pesach fought against it, proclaiming from his rostrum: “Whoever sends his children to this school, it is as if he pushed them to betray their faith!”
When the Second World War erupted, Rabbi Pesach was staying with many rabbis in a summer retreat far from the city. One morning he packed up his things with the intention of returning to his yeshiva and community. People were surprised at this, and asked him where he was going. Rabbi Pesach replied, “My place now is with the Jews of my community. During a time of danger, the place of a captain is on his ship.” He returned to Kobrin and suffered the tribulations of the time with the members of his community. His pure heart broke from grief, and he passed away on the 11th day of Heshvan 5700 (1939).
Some of Rabbi Pesach’s Torah commentaries were saved by his son Rav Avraham, who escaped to the United States. They were published under the title Chiddushei Maran Rav Pesach MiKobrin.