Rabbi Moshe Kalfon Hacohen

At the age of 40, Rabbi Shalom Hacohen had the joy of having a son born in a miraculous way. On the day of the boy’s brit, an enormous crowd gathered in order to partake in his joy. The prevailing custom dictated that the person who had delayed in having children should “sell” his newborn. Rabbi Shalom Hacohen therefore symbolically “sold” his son for a few dollars to Rabbi Moshe Idan (a very great Sage and renowned Kabbalist) in order that he be considered as his son. The child received the name of Moshe Akiva Reuven, and his mother added the name Kalfon for a reason that only she was privy to.

From his earliest age one could recognize his extraordinary sanctity, a person in whom the thirst for Torah knew no bounds. His father sent him to study under Rav Yosef Berrebi, and at the age of 10 he began to study the laws of Shechita. It didn’t take long for him to be made responsible for Shechita in the town of Zarzis.

The conditions under which Shechita was carried out in that town were very difficult at the time. There was still no slaughterhouse to use, and the slaughter of fowl (as well as cattle) was performed in the fields under the hot sun.

Rabbi Moshe Kalfon was not up to the challenge of this work, and so he fell gravely ill and was forced to stay in bed for several months. Unfortunately, his eyes had been affected by his illness and he lost some of his sight. Upon returning to his native town of Jerba, he could no longer study his books, suffering greatly as a result. He therefore traveled in search of a cure for his eyesight.

Upon his return at the age of 21, he married and plunged himself into his cherished studies. It is surprising to note, despite the urgings of his doctors, just how many books and articles he wrote; the light of the Torah had illuminated his sick eyes. He was still quite young when asked to sit upon the Rabbinical Court of Jerba. He had trouble taking upon himself such responsibility, preferring instead to discretely study Torah. One day, he dreamed of a hand that was pointing to him and ordered that he leave the Beth Midrash and join his future colleagues on the Rabbinical Court.

Never did he look for wealth or honor, and what’s more is that he only accepted a very small salary. Everyone, including Muslims, would sing his praises. Everywhere, people would recount just how much he loved peace and how true and fair his judgments always were.

We tell of many stories regarding people who wanted to disobey or show disrespect towards him: They would unfortunately be struck or warned in a dream, then come back to him trembling and asking for forgiveness.

One day a man who had been declared guilty displayed an arrogant disposition towards him. He had barely turned his back on Rabbi Moshe when he was hit by blindness and had great difficulty getting back home. “Woe to me,” he sighed, “that I acted arrogantly towards Rabbi Moshe!” From that time on, the man learned to respect the Chachamim. A few years later, this same man was again summoned before Rabbi Moshe. This time he again had difficulty accepting the verdict. Rabbi Moshe attempted to settle things as best he could, but the man persisted in his views and didn’t change his position.

“No, my son. Don’t continue to rebel,” Rabbi Moshe told him. “I advise that you not refuse in any way. Know that it’s your good that I want.”

“Certainly Rabbi,” the man responded. “In my bones I still feel the punishment that you inflicted on me a few years ago when I disobeyed you.”

“G-d help me!” Rabbi Moshe cried. “I have no power to punish! Who gives man his speech, and Who gives him his sight? Let’s not try to understand Divine decrees!”

“But Rabbi,” the man replied, “my eyesight completely died out when I left this place!”

In 1943, the state of the Jews in Tunisia was very difficult. The Nazis had invaded northern Africa and wanted to apply the “final solution” there as they had in conquered parts of Europe. Thousands of Jews were saved because of the efficient action of Rabbi Moshe Kalfon Hacohen. The end of the war was approaching and the city of Jerba was still besieged. The Jewish population of the city suffered terribly. The Passover holiday was approaching and wheat had been rationed. It was forbidden to purchase it directly from farmers, and it could only be gotten in quantities that had been fixed by the government. How were people going to buy flour to make matzot?

Hashem never abandons the Children of Israel. Even before this problem arose, G-d had already cleared the way for a happy solution. At that time, Rabbi Levy Yitzchak Rabinovitch was serving as the Jewish military chaplain in the French garrison at Jerba (Tunisia was at that time a French colony), and he took a great liking to Rabbi Moshe Kalfon.

One day, the chaplain sensed that Rabbi Moshe was beset by a heavy heart.

“What’s the matter Rabbi,” he asked. “I get the feeling that your worries never leave you.”

Rabbi Moshe shared his anguish with him: “Passover is near and the faithful don’t have enough flour for the holiday.”

“I’ll think it over,” the chaplain replied. “Perhaps I can convince the French government to be generous.”

Rabbi Moshe blessed the chaplain and wished him success in his endeavor. Rabbi Levy quickly arrived at the military camp and presented his request to the governor. He explained that the Jews would soon be celebrating Passover, and that to do so they needed a large amount of wheat.

“Fine,” responded the governor. “But I wish that the Rabbi would come here himself, and I will give him the necessary authorization.”

Rabbi Moshe learned of the news with great joy and didn’t delay in arriving at the military camp. That year, the Jews of Jerba didn’t lack any matzot.




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