Rabbi Israel Abouhassira


Rabbi Israel Abouhassira – Baba Sali

Rabbi Israel Abouhassira was born on the day of Rosh Hashanah in the year 5650. His father was the Tsaddik Rabbi Massoud, the Rabbi of Rissani, a village near Tafilalet.

From his youth, Rabbi Israel was accustomed to getting up before dawn, and after having immersed in the mikveh of purification, he hurried to the synagogue for the morning service at Netz HaShama (sunrise).

He prayed with immense fervor and concentration. After the service he would study with great tenacity.

On the 12th of Iyar, 5668, his father Rabbi Massoud left this world. At the time of his passing, Rabbi Israel was 18 years old. Nevertheless he was already a Gaon, a man whose fear of Heaven surpassed his wisdom. The Jews of Tafilalet begged him to accept, despite his young age, the position of Rabbi and to be the spiritual leader of the yeshiva. Being very modest, Rabbi Israel tried to evade the responsibilities that they wanted to place on him. However, the Jews of Tafilalet knew that it would be difficult for them to find another saintly man such as him. They so insisted that he accepted to take on the duties of his father in his place.

Thus, besides the position of Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Israel was also given responsibility of the Rabbinate. The Jews of Tafilalet scrupulously adhered to his directives, and for them his words were like those of the oracle in the Holy of Holies.

In the year 5681, at the age of 31, Rabbi Israel came to visit the Holy Land. All the Gaonim and rabbis of the country went to meet him with trepidation and respect, welcoming him with great honor. His name was known and famous; he was the holy man who performed miracles and whose blessings were always answered. All the inhabitants of Jerusalem rushed to his residence in order to receive his blessing.

Rabbi Israel traveled to Sefat in order to pray at the gravesite of the Tzaddikim, as well as to pray for the hastening of the Final Redemption. With a trembling heart he approached the tomb of the Saintly Arizal, and for the next hour he prostrated on it and cried. Then, after having immersed himself in the frigid waters of the Ari’s mikveh, he asked to visit the synagogue where the Ari normally prayed.

To his great surprise, access was denied him. The Jewish caretaker of the synagogue, the one who held the keys to the place, told him that it had been several years since it had closed down, and that no one dared to enter.

“Those who dared to try never came out alive,” he added, concluding his explanation.

Rabbi Israel reassured him, then asked him to kindly give him the keys anyways.

Trembling with fear, the caretaker gave him the keys, all while trying to persuade him that it was best to give up on his plan.

A large crowd began to form around the Ari’s synagogue, all wanting to witness this event. Tense and fearful, they carefully watched what was about to happen. Rabbi Israel took the key and pushed it into the lock of the synagogue’s door.

The door, which had remained shut for many years, opened with a piercing creak. The spectators’ fear began to increase. Rabbi Israel turned towards his servant and said, “Grab my coat and follow me. As long as you hold on, no harm will come to you.”

With emotions running high, the Tzaddik penetrated to the inside of the synagogue, followed by his servant who didn’t dare let go of the side of his coat. Rabbi Israel moved towards the Holy Ark, pushed the colorful vale aside, and opened the doors of the Ark. He took out the Sefer Torah found inside, placed it on the table, then began to read. The servant’s heart almost stopped, not knowing if he was asleep or awake. The synagogue then began to fill with a great light, luminous and pure. Rabbi Israel turned towards his servant and said, “You can let go of my coat now. Nothing will happen to you. From this day on, everyone can come into this synagogue without any worry.”

All the Jews who were waiting outside were overtaken with joy when they saw the Tsaddik coming out of the synagogue. They had been witness to Rabbi Israel’s great saintliness. One after the other, they approached the Rabbi to kiss the side of his coat and to receive his blessing.

Rabbi Israel had great difficulty leaving the Holy Land, which he kept fond memories of. And despite his ardent desire to remain there, he decided to return to Tafilalet, to Morocco, to oversee his community, one that had been like a flock without its shepherd while he was in Israel.

The house of Rabbi Israel had become a center of attraction for the Jews of Tafilalet. People came knocking at his door day and night: The poor to ask for assistance, the sick to receive his blessing in order to get better, and the one who had a dispute with his neighbor in order to get the Tsaddik’s verdict.

Once, during nighttime on Shabbat, Rabbi Israel was studying the secrets of the Torah and probing the mysteries of the world. He was so absorbed by his study that he didn’t notice that one of the Shabbat candles had fallen to the floor and began a fire. A member of his family, noticing the beginnings of this fire, immediately ran towards Rabbi Israel to warn him of the danger. The entire house could have caught on fire.

Rabbi Israel took his cane and came close to the fire that was now beginning to spread. He made as sign in the air with his cane and said, “Master of the world! May the fire stop there!”

When the flames reached the spot designated by the Tzaddik, the fire suddenly went out by itself.

In the year 5724, Rabbi Israel decided to complete his most cherished plan – to move to the Holy Land. The majority of the Jews in Morocco had already left their poor exile and ascended to the land of Israel. The great captain and faithful shepherd was not the first to leave. He only accepted to leave Morocco when the majority of the Jews had already settled in Israel and cherished its land.

The news of the Rabbi’s arrival in the Holy Land spread quickly, and hundreds of people came to welcome him at the port, among them being great rabbis and important figures.

From Morocco, Rabbi Israel brought with him all the books and manuscripts that he possessed. He wasn’t ready to give them over to anyone. Those whom he closely knew worked for three days to pack his books, which filled more than 30 large crates and had to be transported with great difficulty by truck to the port. This immense library comprised all sorts of books: Simple commentaries, secret commentaries, ancient books, new books, etc. He also possessed books of great worth, and manuscripts of great Rabbis and of Rabbis in his family. Just Rabbi Israel’s books themselves contained more than 3,000 pages of commentary on the Torah.

Rabbi Israel, a genius on both the revealed and secret aspects of the Torah, was a very modest man. Despite his great scholarship, he never considered himself worthy of all the honors that were bestowed upon him. He spoke of the great Sages of the generation with enormous deference, as if he were a dwarf standing before giants. Each time that a Talmid Chacham came to visit him, he rose in his honor and took the habit of excusing himself by saying, “Pardon me if I did not receive you with all the respect that I owe you.”

One day, his son-in-law found him seated on the floor lamenting. Rabbi Israel said, “People think that I have something, or I have a special trait, but I know myself well and I have none of these. I’m afraid that in this world, I’ll be awarded everything that is owed to me in the world to come, and that’s why I’m lamenting.”

All his life, Rabbi Israel was infused with the terrible pain caused by the suffering that followed the destruction of the Holy Temple and the exile of the Shechinah. He would always bring it to the fore by saying, “And the Shechinah, what does it say? ‘They have dishonored me.’’’

In the heart of the night, when all of creation was enveloped in deep silence, Rabbi Israel would sit on the floor, and from the deepest part of his being he would lament over the exile of the Shechinah and the Jewish people who were ridiculed and oppressed.

On Sunday, the 20th of Tevet 5744, Rabbi Israel fell sick from what would turn out to be his last illness. He lay dying for two weeks, during which time all of Israel implored Him who resides in the heavens to completely heal him. However the doors of heaven remained shut, and on Sunday, the 4th of Shevat 5744, Rabbi Israel was called before the Celestial Court.

The terrible news of the departure of the Tzaddik spread quickly. All the communities of Israel were affected and in mourning. Thousands of Jews cried bitterly over the loss of this great pillar that was no more.

From that day on, it would no longer be possible to reach the saint, this extraordinary Tzaddik whose majesty and splendor illuminated the entire world.

May his merit protect us. Amen.




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