Rabbi Ephraim Enkaoua

To this day the Jews of Morocco evoke with awe and veneration the name of the holy Tzaddik, Rabbi Ephraim Enkaoua, may his merit protect us. Rabbi Ephraim was born in 5114 (1354) in Toledo, Spain. From his youth he distinguished himself by his exceptional abilities, intelligence, and extraordinary memory. All those who knew him felt respect and admiration for him. During his early years, he studied Torah with his father, who was a great Tzaddik. Thanks to his great intelligence and lively mind, he quickly acquired a broad knowledge of Shas and the Poskim. At the age of 13, his father sent him to Girondi, where he attended the famous yeshiva of the venerated Gaon Rabbeinu Nissim, one of the great Sages of Spain.

During this time the Jews of Spain experienced a period a peace and tranquility that lasted until 5150 (1390), when King Alfonso died. At that point the inquisition began, and the Jewish communities of Seville, then of Cordova and Toledo, experienced the worst of tragedies. Some were forced to convert to Christianity, but the great majority of Jews, confronted by the cruel choice of dying or converting, chose death. It was with courage and pride that they went to their deaths in sanctifying the Name of G-d, among them being the grandson of Rosh, Rabbeinu Asher.

With his own eyes Rabbi Ephraim Enkaoua saw his father die as a martyr, yet he himself, 37 years old at the time, managed to escape death. In the middle of the night he fled to the city of Malaga in the south of Spain, and two weeks later he arrived in Morocco.

During this time, Jewry in North Africa was in a very poor state, both religiously and economically. Jewish communities lived in great ignorance and even ended up adopting certain irrational Berber customs.

Rabbi Ephraim Enkaoua settled in the town of Marrakech and immediately began to organize community life there. He founded schools for young children, as well as a yeshiva for adolescents, and taught them Torah and Mussar. In but a short time the Jewish community was transformed; in the synagogues, merchants and craftsmen came to hear Torah discourses, and once again the voice of Torah resounded.

Rabbi Ephraim Enkaoua had the reputation of being a “master of miracles.” He traveled to the villages of Morocco with the goal of strengthening Torah study and the observance of mitzvot. During this time the city of Tlemcen was forbidden to Jews. Following a series of events, however, the king of Morocco gave the authorization for Jews to once again live in Tlemcen, and he named Rabbi Ephraim Enkaoua as Rabbi of the city. The king gladly agreed and honored all his requests.

Rabbi Ephraim Enkaoua founded a yeshiva in Tlemcen that quickly became one of the main centers of Judaism in Morocco. He was known not only for his knowledge of Torah, but also for the miracles that he performed. One of the most spectacular involved a lion and a snake.

To the south of Tlemcen lay an immense forest populated with wild beasts. One day, a fearsome lion ventured out of the forest and killed several inhabitants of the city. This event occurred several times, and everyone in the city was panic stricken. As soon as Rabbi Ephraim Enkaoua leaned of what had happened, he enveloped himself in his Tallit, donned his Tefillin, and majestically went into the forest unarmed. After a brief moment, a raging lion leaped in front of the Tzaddik. Without losing his composure, Rabbi Ephraim Enkaoua recited a verse of Psalms: “Upon the lion and the viper you will tread; you will trample the young lion and the serpent” (Psalms 91:13). Suddenly changed, the lion approached the Tzaddik, crouched down before him, and lay at his feet. All of a sudden, a long snake came closer to them and coiled itself near the Tzaddik. Rabbi Ephraim grabbed it, climbed onto the back of the lion, and then wrapped the serpent around the lion’s head like a bridle and headed for the city. The Rabbi rode throughout Tlemcen on the back of the lion while using the serpent as a bridle. All the inhabitants of the city were shocked – their eyes wide open at what they saw. When he arrived at the Jewish quarter he assembled everyone around and said the following: “Look and you will understand. It is not the lion, nor the serpent that kills, but rather it is sin that gives wild beasts the power to harm.”

Rabbi Ephraim Enkaoua descended from the lion, then he let the serpent go from his hands and it vanished from sight. Wild beasts no longer entered into Tlemcen from that moment on, and all the inhabitants of the city, both Jews and Muslims, thereafter viewed Rabbi Ephraim Enkaoua with more respect and fear than ever, seeing in him a holy man.

Rabbi Ephraim enjoyed his latter years, dying in Tlemcen in 5202 (1442) at the age of 88. Since his death, the Jews of Morocco regularly come to pray at his grave on the day of his Hilloula, Lag BaOmer.




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