Rabbi Tsemah Tsarfati

Rabbi Tsemah Tsarfati was the leader of the Rabbanim of Tunis. He founded a great spiritual center and taught Torah to numerous students that came to imbue themselves with his wisdom. Rabbi Tsarfati renewed the study of the Gemara with the Tosafists and implanted in his students a love of study for various commentators.

On the eve of every holiday and Shabbat, he would pass by the shops and pressed merchants to close their businesses in order to tranquilly welcome Shabbat. Rabbi Tsarfati united in his person astonishing wisdom with purity and holiness. His courteousness and nobleness were well-known, to the point that even non-Jews respected and esteemed him well.

Rabbi Tsemah devoted his days and nights to the study of Torah. Yet every night, when he prepared himself to study quietly, the problem of lighting confronted him. It was difficult for him to obtain a new tallow candle or a little oil for a wick each time that he needed it.

One night, Rabbi Tsemah did not have a way to light his candle. Yet he was not about to forsake a long night of study. He went outside in the darkness, headed to the nearest bakery, and asked the baker’s assistant to help him light his candle. The assistant joyfully did so, and Rabbi Tsemah began to feel reassured: Hashem had come to his aid and he had not lost hours of study in vain!

While he was walking back, the candle blew out. Rabbi Tsemah returned to see the employee and, excusing himself for bothering him, asked him to kindly light the candle once again. The candle blew out several times while on route, and each time the employee relit it. Eventually, sadness began to take hold of Rabbi Tsemah’s heart. Perceiving that such was the case, the employee took the candle and brought it himself to the Rav’s home in order that it not get blown out while on route. “For a commandment is a lamp and the Torah is light,” and the tiny flame warmed Rabbi Tsemah’s heart. He placed his hands on the head of the employee and uttered a blessing, wishing him great wealth.

One day, while Rabbi Tsemah was traveling through Istanbul on his way to Eretz Israel, Hashem placed an extremely wealthy Jew on his path – none other that the baker’s assistant! In his generosity he gave the Tzaddik a donation, a sizeable amount in fact, so that he could settle peacefully in Eretz Israel and study Torah.

One year, a trying epidemic struck Tunis, producing numerous victims. Cries of distress rang out from every home. There was not one house that was not touched by illness.

Rabbi Tsemah, who could no longer tolerate seeing the suffering of his people, invited the Angel of Death to come to his Beit Midrash. His students were stunned when he signaled to them with his hand that the angel had arrived. Rabbi Tsemah rebuked the angel in front of everyone, and while holding a bag of beans in his hand, he ordered him to immediately leave the city and its inhabitants alone for as many years as there were beans in the bag.

Pushed by curiosity, one of the students dared to ask the Rav for the bag in order to count the number of beans inside. Eighty were found.

That same day, the epidemic ceased and the inhabitants of Tunis breathed easier. They had seen with their very eyes that “the Tzaddik degrees and G-d executes.”

And in fact, eighty years later the epidemic once again struck the city, but Rabbi Tsemah was already in the world where only goodness reigns.

Near the end of his life, Rabbi Tsemah fell gravely ill. He suffered terribly for two years, without any remedy for his ills being found. The Jewish community implored Hashem, Who heals the sick, and begged Him to have pity on their Rav.

Rabbi Tsemah himself related that during those difficult times, the Prophet Elijah appeared to him and gave him the remedy to his sickness: If he studied Gemara and the Poskim on the eve of a Brit Milah in the home of the baby’s mother, he would be healed.

Rabbi Tsemah agreed to do this, and he was quickly healed. From that day on, he wandered near the doors of the Jews of his city and was invited into each home in which a boy was born. There he prepared himself to study Torah until daybreak.

Since that time, the custom among the Jews of Tunis has been to gather a minyan of Chachamim in the home of the baby and to study until daybreak.

To the great regret of all those that loved him, Rabbi Tsemah Tsarfati passed away in Jerusalem in 5477 (1717), receiving at his death all the honors due a Tzaddik.




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