The Baba Sali, Reb Yisroel Abuchatzeira ZT"L

Yarzheit 4th Shevat

This article originally appeared in Yated Neeman, Monsey NY. and is reprinted here with their permission

Reb Yisroel Abuchatzeira, the great Moroccan tzaddik, was commonly known as the Baba Sali, or "Praying Father," because of his ability to work miracles with his prayers. This title, however, actually originated with an incident that occurred in Rav Yisroel's childhood.

Unlike most children his age, the young Rav Yisroel never longed for toys or sweets. All he wanted was a new siddur, the kind with large, shimmering letters.

One day his father, Rav Mas'ud Abuchatzeira, brought home such a siddur. But he was reluctant to give it to Rav Yisroel, fearing that its glitter might divert his son's attention from his prayers.

Reb Yisroel offered his father a proposition. "Let's make a deal," he said. "You give me the siddur, and if I pray with less fervor, you take it back."

"It's a deal," Rav Mas'ud replied.

Rav Mas'ud never did ask for that siddur back. Rav Yisroel prayed with great devotion and eventually became a pillar of prayer on whom Klal Yisroel rested.

 

ILLUSTRIOUS STOCK

Reb Yisroel Abuchatzeira descended from an illustrious family of Sephardic chachamim and tzaddikim, beginning with Rav Shmuel Abuchatzeira, who was known for his piety and scholarship.

Although Rav Shmuel was born in Eretz Yisroel, he lived in Damascus for a time, where he studied with Rav Chaim Vital. In Shem Hagedolim, the Chida refers to Rav Shmuel as an "Ish Elokim kadosh. Wise people speak of his might and wonders in saving the Jewish community from many difficulties."

The Abuchatzeira family eventually moved to the Moroccan city of Tafelatlech, where Rav Shmuel's son Mas'ud served as a rav. Rav Mas'ud's son Yaakov, known as the Abir Yaakov, succeeded his father as rav of Tafelatletch. Rav Yaakov was a great scholar who was known to be a baal mofeis.

The Abir Yaakov's oldest son, Mas'ud, followed in the family's footsteps and became an av beis din in Tafelatlech. It was there that his son, Rav Yisroel, the Baba Sali, was born.

A UNIQUE UPBRINGING

Rav Yisroel was born on Rosh Hashana 5650, and grew up in a home permeated with Torah and kedusha. The examples his parents set had a profound influence on him.

His family lived on a large estate. One wing contained a yeshiva, where budding scholars studied day and night. Rav Mas'ud's beis din was situated in another wing, and Rav Yisroel's oldest brother, David, studied in a room on the other side of the house.

Young Yisroel was eager to see how his father and brothers conducted themselves at mealtime. However, he hardly saw them at mealtime because they ate very little, in keeping with their ascetic lifestyles.

One of the main lessons Rav Yisroel learned in his home was that one should guard his tongue and use his power of speech only for Avodas Hashem.

Once, when Rav Yisroel was 10, he encountered a group of children who were fighting, and he denounced the child who started the fight. Later that day, he recounted the incident to his father.

"I was so angry at those children," he told him, "that I nearly cursed the instigator."

Rav Mas'ud listened carefully to Rav Yisroel's story, and used it as a springboard to teach him a lesson that eventually became the cornerstone of Rav Yisroel's way of life.

"My son," he said. "You are destined for greatness, and one day, all that escapes your lips will be fulfilled. As a result, you must only bless and speak well of others, and never curse anyone."

From that day on, Rav Yisroel was particular to always guard his speech.

Rav Mas'ud not only trained his children to guard their tongues, but also their eyes. On the rare occasions in which Rav Mas'ud went outside, he would cover his eyes with his cape to prevent himself from seeing inappropriate sights. From this behavior, Rav Yisroel learned the importance of Shmiras Einayim, guarding one's sight.

TORAH AND TESHUVA

Rav Yisroel was extremely diligent in his Torah learning, and as a youth, he studied day and night, sometimes in his brother's attic.

When he was 12, he began to fast during the Yemai Hashovavim, a special period between Teves and Adar that is conducive to teshuva. Knowing that his parents would refuse to let him fast in this manner, he hid his behavior from them.

Before long, however, his brother Rav David realized how weak and pale Rav Yisroel has become and understood that he was fasting.

"Yisroel," he told him, "you are too young to undertake such fasts. Besides, there is no need for you to fast during Yemai Hashovavim, since you haven't sinned."

Despite his brother's urgings, Rav Yisroel continued to fast.

After his bar mitzva, Rav Yisroel was accepted into the family's yeshiva, where a rigid learning schedule was maintained. The students rose for tikun chatzos and then studied kabbalistic works until dawn, when they would go to the mikveh.

After Shacharis and a light breakfast, they studied Gemara in depth until Mincha, and after Mincha they attended a shiur in Shulchan Aruch.

When Rav Yisroel was 16, he married Precha Amsalem, who served as a true helpmate throughout the many years of their marriage.

IN THE SHADOW OF WWI

With the outbreak of World War I, France gained control of many parts of North Africa without a struggle. A year after the French conquest, however, the residents of the region near Tafelatlech rebelled and drove out the French army. This rebellion was headed by the Moslem Mulai Muhamed, a cruel tyrant who appointed himself king and religious ruler of the area. He particularly harassed the Jews of Tafelatlech.

Three years after Mulai Muhamed's conquest, the French, who hadn't reconciled with the rebels, began to shell the rebels' outposts, which were very close to the Jewish districts.

During this period, Rav Yisroel studied diligently, totally ignoring the shelling. When the firing began, he hid under the stairs of his home and continued to study.

The situation, however, escalated, and Rav Yisroel decided to move his family and the yeshiva to a quieter area, so that they could study undisturbed. But it was too late. Mulai Muhamed had besieged Tafelatlech, and no one could leave or enter it.

In time, Mulai Muhamed's harassment of the Jews increased, and he even executed a number of Jews on the false grounds that they had collaborated with the French.

Shortly after Chanuka 5680, Mulai Muhamed issued a decree to massacre the Jews of Tafelatlech. However, he didn't specify the day on which he planned to execute his decree. Rav David Abuchatzeira consoled the distraught members of his community, revealing to them that he made many efforts to cancel the decree, among them a plea to Hashem to take his life as an atonement for the entire community.

While he was comforting them, soldiers appeared and ordered Rav David to come with them. He was then tied to a cannon and shot to death, dying al kiddush Hashem. The Jews of Tafelatlech had to bribe Mulai Muhamed to have Rav David's body returned to them, and they buried him according to Jewish tradition.

With Rav David's death, the Jews of the region decided to leave Tafelatlech and flee to nearby Arpud, where special efforts were made to redeem those taken captive by Mulai Muhamed. But Arpud was still close to the area ruled by Mulai Muhamed, and Rav Yisroel and his fellow townsmen soon fled to Bodniv.

TO BODNIV AND ERETZ YISROEL AND BACK AGAIN

Once in Bodniv, Rav Yisroel's followers asked him to serve as their rav, but he refused. He didn't feel he was spiritually ready to lead a community, nor did he feel worthy of succeeding his brother Rav David. He was greatly pained by his brother's murder and decided to go to Eretz Yisroel to print Rav David's sefarim

In 5682 Rav Yisroel, accompanied by his loyal attendant Moshe Shetreet, set out for Eretz Yisroel, passing through Algeria, Tunisia and then Egypt, where he visited the grave of his grandfather, the Abir Yaakov. From Egypt he set sail to Jaffa, and then went to Yerushalayim.

Once in Yerushalayim, he was greeted by former residents of Tafelatlech, as well as by many sages who had known the great rabbanim of the Abuchatzeira family. He stayed at the home of Rav Yosef Shlush, who helped him publish Rav David's works.

Rav Yisroel remained in Eretz Yisroel for a year. When he returned to Bodniv, he could no longer refuse the community's request that he serve as its rav and av beis din.

Rav Yisroel was very active in Bodniv, transforming the city into a vibrant Torah center with a large nucleus of talmidei chachamim.

Together with another one of his brothers, Rav Yitzchak, he reestablished the Abir Yaakov Yeshiva and attended to the city's spiritual and material needs, as well as to those of the nearby community of Arpud.

He soon gained fame for the potency of his blessings, particularly for the many instances in which he blessed water and the water was then used to bring about a miracle. He also thwarted the attempts of the enlightened Alliance, or Kol Yisroel Chaveirim Society, to corrode the Jewish values of Morocco's Jews.

SECOND VISIT TO ERETZ YISROEL

In 5693, Rav Yisroel made another trip to Egypt, leaving leadership of the community of Bodniv in the capable hands of his son, Rav Meir Shalom. In Egypt, he prayed beside the grave of the Abir Yaakov, and from there he traveled to Eretz Yisroel.

This time, he stayed in the Porat Yosef Yeshiva, spending most of his time with its rosh yeshiva, Rav Ezra Attia, Rav Yaakov Adas and Rav Aharon Harari Raful. After a while, he visited Tzefas, where a remarkable incident occurred.

Rav Yisroel had traveled to Tzefas with his attendant. After immersing in the Arizal's mikveh, he asked his attendant to take him to the Arizal's ancient synagogue. The attendant told him that the shul had been closed for a long time, because everyone who tried to enter it in recent years had died.

Rav Yisroel, though, was undaunted, and sent his attendant to the shul's gabbai to fetch the key. At first, the gabbai refused to comply, claiming that it was dangerous to enter the shul. Finally, when Rav Yisroel insisted that he give him the key, he yielded.

The attendant was terrified when Rav Yisroel asked him to accompany him inside. But Rav Yisroel reassured him, "Hold onto my cloak and follow me. Nothing will happen to you."

As soon as Rav Yisroel and his attendant entered the shul, Rav Yisroel opened the aron kodesh and read from one of the sifrei Torah. After reciting a short prayer, he told his attendant, "The danger has passed. I have conducted a tikun for the shul, and from now on, no one entering it will be harmed."

The gabbai, who had been waiting outside and was trembling in fear, didn't believe his eyes when he saw Rav Yisroel and his attendant emerge from the shul. That day, he told Tzefas' residents about the miracle, and the shul was once again accessible to all.

JOURNEY HOME

From Tzefas, Rav Yisroel went to Damascus to pray at the grave of Rav Shmuel Abuchatzeira. Then he returned to Yerushalayim to take leave of its sages before returning home. Rav Yisroel then set sail for Morocco.

Shortly after Rav Yisroel's boat to Morocco had set sail, however, a violent storm erupted at sea. The terrified passengers crowded into one corner of the ship and prayed for their lives. Rav Yisroel, though, went up to the ship's main deck and approached its railing. As the ship swayed from side to side, he removed a cup from his pocket, bent down and drew a bit of the rising seawater.

Then, while reciting a number of pesukim, he slowly poured the water back into the sea. Once all the water in the cup had returned to the sea, the storm subsided.

Back in Bodniv, Rav Yisroel's fame grew, and soon he was asked to serve as Morocco's chief rabbi. Although he was reluctant to accept such a position, he eventually yielded to his followers' pleas. Upon assuming that position, he and his family moved to Arpud, the capital city of the Risani district in southern Morocco. He and his family also spent the difficult years of World War II in Arpud.

PRAYING FOR SUCCOR

During World War II, news reached Arpud that the Nazis planned to overtake North Africa and from there advance to Egypt and Eretz Yisroel. Rav Yisroel immersed himself in prayer, and encouraged his followers to do teshuva.

When the Germans invaded North Africa, its Jews feared that their end was near. Yet even then, Rav Yisroel continued to pray, promising his community that if they did teshuva, the enemy wouldn't overtake them. A short while before the German troops reached the Risani region, the Americans arrived on the scene, saving the entire district.

After that, Morocco's Jews continued to pray for the welfare of their brothers in Eretz Yisroel, to where the Germans were rapidly advancing. While the Germans reached El Almein in Egypt, they soon retreated close to the borders of Eretz Yisroel.

During the War of Independence, Morocco's Jews, encouraged by Rav Yisroel, also prayed for the safety of Eretz Yisroel's Jews. Immediately after the war, many Moroccan Jews made aliya.

In 5710, Rav Yisroel decided to visit Eretz Yisroel once again, but this time, he planned to make it his permanent home.

HOME AT LAST

At first Rav Yisroel settled in Lod, not far from his brother Rav Yitzchak, who lived in nearby Ramle. But when he was offered the position of rav of Lod, he moved to Yerushalayim. There he rented a small apartment in the Baka neighborhood, and devoted himself solely to Torah study.

Three years after his arrival in Yerushalayim, he was offered the position of Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, but he declined the offer.

Shortly afterward, the leaders of the small southern town of Netivot, most of whose residents were of Moroccan origin, invited him to move there.

At first, Rav Yisroel hesitated to accept their invitation because he wasn't certain whether Netivot was within the consecrated borders of Eretz Yisroel He discussed the issue at length with Rav Yissochor Meir, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Hanegev. When the two concluded that Netivot did, indeed, have kedushas Eretz Yisroel, Rav Yisroel agreed to move there.

Within a brief period of time, Netivot became a famous and important town to which thousands flocked to receive the Baba Sali's blessings.

One of the first to visit him in Netivot was his brother Rav Yitzchak. Rav Yisroel, who was happy to see him, held a special seuda in his honor. At the end of the seuda, he pleaded with Rav Yitzchak to remain in Netivot for the night. However, Rav Yitzchak said that had to attend to a number of affairs early in the morning and preferred to return to Ramle that night.

Soon after Rav Yitzchak left Netivot, the car in which he was riding crashed. Rav Yitzchak was seriously injured and was niftar that night.

Rav Yisroel was broken by the news, and for a long time found it difficult to console himself over the loss of his beloved brother.

IMPACT ON NETIVOT

Rav Yisroel had a profound impact on Netivot and its surrounding settlements. Many residents of these settlements changed their entire lifestyles due to his influence and began to observe the mitzvos hateluyos ba'aretz. In time, the Negev began to bloom spiritually.

From the moment Rav Yisroel arrived in Netivot, large numbers of people lined up at his door, seeking his help. His prayers led to many miracles and resulted in great kiddush Hashem. Many people also returned to their roots as a result of his influence.

One of the most famous incidents involved a young man who was injured in battle.

The young man arrived at Rav Yisroel's home in Netivot in a wheelchair. He told Rav Yisroel his story: "I was injured by a bullet in my back during the Yom Kippur War. Although I underwent a series of operations, I am still a cripple and can't stand up. One of my legs is so bad that the doctors want to amputate it. A friend suggested that I visit the Rav, who is supposed to work wonders with his prayers. At first I refused. But in my despair, I decided to give it a try."

"Do you put on tefillin every day?" Rav Yisroel asked.

"No."

"Do you keep Shabbos?"

"No."

"If such is the case, " Rav Yisroel replied, "you should be thankful that only one leg is in such a serious condition. We believe that Hashem gives us healthy limbs so that we may serve Him. Those who don't keep the mitzvos should regard their healthy limbs as gifts."

At that, the young man burst into tears.

Rav Yisroel looked him the eye and asked, "If I bless you that you will be able to stand, will you begin to observe the mitzvos?"

"Yes," the young man eagerly replied.

"Then give me your hand, and may you have a refua sheleima."

After the young man kissed Rav Yisroel's hand, Rebbetzin Abuchatzeira told him to try and stand up. To his surprise, he was able to stand up immediately, and even take a number of steps without assistance.

Startled by the remarkable change in his situation, the young man ran out of the house in search of a telephone. The nearest telephone was in Yeshivas Hanegev, a few feet away from Rav Yisroel's home.

The young man raced over to the yeshiva, and called his family to tell them about the miracle. The yeshiva students, who overheard the conversation, were stunned. Taking him by the hand, they broke out into a fervent dance.

A short while later, the young man returned to Rav Yisroel's house with many of the yeshiva students, and a special seuda was held in honor of the miracle.

The young man's story spread like wildfire throughout the country, and caused many to adopt a Torah lifestyle.

This is only one story out of the many thousands of accounts of the great miracles brought about by the Baba Sali's prayers.

RELATIONSHIP WITH GEDOLIM

Due to the Baba Sali's kedusha and unique conduct, the gedolei Yisroel of his time respected and admired him.

The Satmar Rebbe, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum, held him in high esteem, and sent people to him for blessings.

The Baba Sali was also had close relationships with Rav Aharon Rokeach of Belz, the Shomrei Emunim Rebbe, the Beis Yisroel, the Riminetzer Rebbe, Rav Shmuel Wosner, and many other Gedolei Yisroel.

When the Baba Sali met the Chazon Ish, the Chazon Ish called him "an oved Hashem gadol."

HIS PETIRA

During his final years, Rav Yisroel suffered from many painful ailments. He was niftar on the 4th of Shevat, 5744. Thousands of people from all over the country attended his levaya, and mourned the loss of a great tzaddik who, with his prayers, had worked wonders.

Rav Yisroel was buried in a special plot in Netivot. Many visit his grave every day, certain that he who prayed for them during his lifetime will certainly intercede on their behalf in the World of Truth.

Zechuso Yagen Aleinu.

Please also see www.tikunim.com which explains Tikun haGilgul

which Baba Sali had told many people to say .

see also Reb Yisroel Abu-Chatzera - BABA SALI