This Day in History – 14 Shevat/February 3

Yahrtzeiten

5654/1894, Harav Yechiel, zt”l, the Alter Rebbe of Alexander

5731/1971, Harav Dovid Shapiro of Yerushalayim, zt”l, mechaber of Bnei Tziyon


 

5516/1756, Harav Yaakov Yehoshua Pollack, the Pnei Yehoshua, zt”l

The Pnei Yehoshua was born on 28 Kislev 5441/1680 in Reisha, Poland.

The Pnei Yehoshua’s first wife was the daughter of the parnas Reb Shlomo Landau Segal. One tragic day, some barrels of gunpowder caught fire and exploded in Lvov, and the power of the explosion, together with the ensuing fire, killed 36 Jews. Among them were his first wife and daughter, his mother-in-law and her elderly father.

This changed the Pnei Yehoshua’s entire life, as he wrote in the introduction to his sefer:

“And so, on the day of my tragedy, I accepted an obligation and made a neder [to write a sefer]. For I had been sitting comfortably at home with friends and talmidim who follow me, when suddenly the city became a ruin, overturned in an instant. There was no thunder, just the sound of a burning fire advancing, and then the sight of enormous, licking flames, which began consuming our house. It had all resulted from one hundred large, terrible barrels of gunpowder that had exploded and taken the houses with them, including a number of large, tall, well-built dwellings that were reduced to rubble.

“…I succumbed, too, being knocked down to the depths and caught as if in a press by the weight above me… I couldn’t move or even breathe. In that moment I felt that my life was over; I feared that I would never see anyone again and that my home would prove [to be] my grave.

“However, Hashem in His mercy did not let any evil befall me… At that point, sitting under the ruins, I said, ‘If Hashem will be with me and will take me out of this place in peace, and will give me a new family and many talmidim, then I will not hold myself back from the beis medrash but will diligently study Shas and poskim there in depth and spend frequent nights in the depths of halachah, studying each subject for nights on end. For my soul desires to follow the ways of my fathers, especially my maternal great-grandfather, Reb Yehoshua, the Rav of Cracow, after whom I am named, the author of Maginei Shlomo.’

“Before I had finished speaking, Hashem heard my prayer and opened a path for me between the fallen columns so that I exited the place unscathed. This was a clear sign that my deliverance was Hashem’s direct doing, for there was no one near to rescue me.”

The outgrowth of this neder was the sefer Pnei Yehoshua.

While he learned, the Pnei Yehoshua hardly felt anything that was happening around him. One winter day it was so cold that his talmidim didn’t come to learn until noon, when the weather became a bit more bearable. When they arrived at the beis medrash, they found the Pnei Yehoshua sitting and learning, wrapped in his tallis, still wearing his tefillin, and with his icy beard stuck to the table. When he saw them, he asked why they hadn’t come earlier, and they told him how cold it had been. Only then did he notice his beard frozen to the table, and he said, “It seems that it must really have been cold.”

On 14 Shevat 5516/1756, shortly before Shabbos, at the age of 75, Harav Yaakov Yehoshua was niftar.

Yehi zichro baruch.


 

Feb. 3

In 1783, Spain formally recognized American independence.

In 1865, President Abraham Lincoln and Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens held a shipboard peace conference off the Virginia coast; the talks deadlocked over the issue of Southern autonomy.

In 1913, the 16th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, providing for a federal income tax, was ratified.

In 1943, during World War II, the U.S. transport ship Dorchester, which was carrying troops to Greenland, sank after being hit by a German torpedo; of the more than 900 men aboard, only some 230 survived.

In 1966, the Soviet probe Luna 9 became the first manmade object to make a soft landing on the moon.

In 1989, Alfredo Stroessner, president of Paraguay for more than three decades, was overthrown in a military coup.

In 1994, the space shuttle Discovery lifted off, carrying Sergei Krikalev, the first Russian cosmonaut to fly aboard a U.S. spacecraft.