Rabbi Moshe Idan of Jerba

Born on the Isle of Jerba in 1842, Rabbi Moshe Idan was without question one of the greatest Kabbalists of his time. He was also a poet and outstanding grammarian. His father, Rabbi Kalifa Idan, had as his disciples the majority of those who would eventually become the spiritual leaders of Jerba. To get an idea of the scope of his intelligence, we need only to cite the praise given him by Rabbi Massoud Cohen El-Haddad, of Beth El Yeshiva in Jerusalem, when he visited Jerba. After meeting with him, Rabbi Massoud was asked by his hosts what his impressions were. He replied, “Rare are those who have, in this world, attained his level in Kabbalah – even in Eretz Israel.”

In the preface to his literary works, Rabbi Moshe Idan wrote the following as his signature: “The one who is content with very little, the servant of G-d, Moshe Idan.”

In fact, despite his enormous knowledge in the revealed and hidden aspects of Torah, Rabbi Moshe demonstrated a humility that was proverbial in degree. Furthermore, not wanting to rest on any certainty of his spiritual state, he thought it good to undertake a great many fasts.

As we stated earlier, Rabbi Moshe Idan was the author of many literary works. Among them were Torah Moshe, Tif-Eret Moshe, and Shashuah Mitzvah, which contained commentaries on Torah, Kabbalah and mitzvot. This last item is explained in Shashuah Mitzvah by enumerating and explaining the mitzvot in the form of long poems.

What follows are some stories concerning this Tzaddik.

One day, while he was teaching at the yeshiva in the city of Gabes, a woman came and asked him to write a letter for her. Rabbi Moshe explained to her that he could not, on that day, help her because he was busy as a paid employee for the day. The woman didn’t understand his explanation at all. Worse, she thought that he had insulted her and went to the Gabbai (synagogue’s administrator).

The Gabbai asked her, “Are you sure that you remember exactly what the Rav said?”

“Yes,” responded the woman. “He treated me as if I was his employee.”

The Gabbai quickly explained to her that an insult (G-d forbid) was not intended here. In fact, what Rabbi Moshe had told her was that, as a salaried employee, he was responsible for keeping track of his time – to the minute – for the yeshiva. Once free of his obligations, he would no doubt make it his duty to write that letter for her.

The Gabbai added: “Go to his place tonight, to his house, and I am certain that he will kindly help you.”

Reassured, the woman realized that it was all a simple misunderstanding on her part. She then went to Rabbi Moshe’s home that same night, later to leave with the letter that she had so desperately wanted.

The following scene took place in a café in Gabes. One of the patrons, a non-Jew, began to tell everyone as follows: “There’s not another person in the world like Rabbi Moshe Idan.” And since he was asked the reason for this compliment, he told them the following story.

“This morning, at sunrise, we heard a scream coming from the beach. We got there as quickly as possible and saw a man stuck in the sand up to his waist, unable to move, and even less to free himself.

“We asked him, ‘What happened?’ He answered us by pointing his finger at Rabbi Idan who, as he normally did, had come to immerse in the sea. The man added, ‘That man bothers us every morning by coming to soak in the sea. To prevent him from returning, I got the idea of taking his clothes that he normally leaves by the edge of the water. Then it happened, after I snatched them, that I found myself frozen to the ground, not able to move. I beg you, do me a favor – get me out of here!’

“At the time, the Rabbi continued to bathe quietly, and we could see that while all this was happening, he was completely relaxed, oblivious to everything. We then approached the Rabbi to ask him to explain the man’s mishap, and he replied to us, ‘All that needs to be done is to put the clothes back in their place and the man will be able to go.’ This was done, and the man’s paralysis vanished as if by magic. He then took to his heels and, despite all our calls, decided not to return.”

What follows is an excerpt from Rabbi Moshe Idan’s book Tif-Eret Moshe.

There exists two traits that each one should cling to. First of all, respect for others, of which our Sages have said, “The arrogant are destined for hell, but respect for others leads to the Garden of Eden.” The one who possesses this virtue lives among the righteous, of whom it is said that they are alive even after their death. Such a person will not be quick to sin. Our Sages have cited the word of the prophet: Shuvu! [Return!]. The reverse of the Hebrew letters give Bushu [Shame] – be ashamed of not respecting others. Be ashamed, they say, of the evil paths that you could have taken, and in this way you will merit the Garden of Eden and live eternally, just as the prophecy says, “Why should you die, O Children of Israel?”

The second trait that one should cling to is humility, a trait that the Sages have already praised by pointing to Moses himself as a role model. Even though he had thousands of virtues, the one that the Torah recalls to his credit is precisely humility: “Now this man Moses was very humble, more than all the men upon the face of the earth.” Our Sages have also written that, in the history of Israel, three righteous people have had their humility recognized: Abraham, David, and Moses. Now the initials of these names form the word adam (man). I myself have cited this sacred adage: “A man’s pride will finish by humbling him.” No doubt, therefore, that it’s necessary to recall the humility of these three righteous men in order to bring one’s heart to its senses and thus escape pride.

Rabbi Moshe Idan returned his soul to the Creator on Elul 4, 1894 at the age of 52.




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