Sunday, 15 January 2012

Rabbi Yaakov Abuchatzeira - The Abir Yaakov - Yahrtzeit 20 Tevet

Baba Sali - The Abir Yaakov - Baba Meir

Rabbi Yaakov Abuchatzeira (1806 – 20 Tevet 1880) was the direct descendant of that great Tzaddik – Rabbi Shmuel Elbaz (a pupil of Rabbi Chaim Vital, the student of the great kabbalist, the holy Ari) who was given his surname Abuchatzeira (father of the mat) because of a famous story told about him. 

Rabbi Shmuel was a great Torah scholar and great man who was chosen by his friends to collect charity funds for the Yeshiva by travelling overseas in search of wealthy donors. On approaching the captain of the ship and asking for the opportunity to board the ship (without the necessary funds,) he was denied. He offered to take the basest of places on the ship and work for his upkeep while aboard. The captain however, denied him yet again. With no other choice, he removed a mat from his bag, threw it upon the waters and "rode" the mat! When the captain saw that he was a holy man, he offered him a free ride. An offer that was no longer accepted! 

From that day onwards, Rabbi Shmuel was known as Rabbi Shmuel Abuchatzeira or "Father of the Mat" in Arabic. Indeed, all his descendants after him followed in his path – holy men blessed with Divine Inspiration, great men filled with kindness. Just a few generations later, his descendant Rabbi Massud – the great Rabbi of Tafilalet would have an amazing story to tell…

A couple came to the Rabbi seeking a divorce. The Rabbi granted the divorce, but the woman had wanted to stay a little longer in order to talk to the Rabbanit. Night fell, and fearing for her life – the Rabbanit suggested she stay with them for the entire night. That evening, Rabbi Massud had a dream… He was told that the woman staying over was destined to give birth to a very great soul. However, it was to emanate from a holy union – one between the Rabbi and her. He was instructed to marry her three months later. Rabbi Massud had no idea how he would tell his wife about this mysterious dream!

It turned out however that the Rabbanit had the exact same dream – and was told of the importance of her husband marrying this woman. The Rabbanit (a holy woman herself) accepted this decree and convinced the woman to marry her husband.

Upon returning from shul that morning, before Rabbi Massud had time to tell over his own dream, the Rabbanit approached her husband informing him that the woman had already accepted! A short time later, a son was born to the couple – Rabbi Yaakov! He would become the great man – the Abir Yaakov, an outstanding Tzaddik, whose grandson the world today know well – the Baba Sali – Rabbi Yisrael Abuchatzeira!

Rabbi Yaakov's piety was outstanding. His Torah learning was on a level far beyond what even the greatest of our generation can fathom. He wrote twelve masterpiece books. These books are a must for anyone pursing the study of the mystical kabbalistic tradition – and also for those wishing to understand Halacha – the revealed part of Torah, appropriately.

Rabbi Yaakov's days were filled with Torah learning from day to night. He slept very little. He had a specific way of teaching Gemara. He would cover the commentaries of Rashi and Tosefot and learn only the words of the Amoraim – trying to understand the Gemara on it's own – without additional assistance. Only afterwards when his students had given their learning the best chance by themselves, would he go ahead and look at the commentaries. He would say, "First roshi, then Rashi" – "First my head, then the commentary Rashi". In the afternoon Seder he would teach Reishit Chochma, Peleh Yoetz and Shevet Mussar. 

Each evening he would learn 18 chapters of Mishna – covering the entire Oral Law (Shas) each month! This he would do completely off by heart! Shortly before midnight, he would sleep, only to awaken to begin the prayer of Tikkun Chatzot – mourning for the Temple. He would then learn the Eitz Chaim, Mevo Shearim and Zohar. He would proceed to be one of the first ten in shul, and after davening, continue to learn. He would eat very little and spend much of the day involved in distributing charity to those in need. It was all of this that made him into the outstanding Tzaddik and true Mekubal (kabbalist) that he was.

Rabbi Yaakov performed many wonders and miracles for the Jews of Morocco. Childless couples were blessed with children, many sick were healed and many who were depressed left his presence filled with new life and happiness!

In the city of Paranda, there once lived a very depressed, bitter and disheartened woman who had a son of 16 years of age. He had been stricken with polio and was paralysed in both legs leaving him in a wheelchair for life. So depressed was the woman, that she prayed that the child should die!

One day, Rabbi Yaakov was visiting Paranda. When the ruler witnessed the commotion taking place with the Jews singing and dancing at the happy occasion of seeing the Rabbi, he wondered about it all. He ran to find out what the commotion was all about, and upon being told about the great Rabbi that had been accorded such honour he became intensely jealous! He decided to levy a heavy tax upon all the Jews for their "rebellious" behaviour!

Later – after a short rest, Rabbi Yaakov began to accept the public for blessings and offer advice. Among the people who came was this very woman. She entered and told Rabbi Yaakov's host that she wished for the Rabbi to pray that her son should die! He asked her to explain herself, and related the story to Rabbi Yaakov.

Rabbi Yaakov listened to the request and told the host that he would not pray for the son to die, but rather to be completely healed. He explained to the host that he should tell the woman to bathe her son, dress him in clean garments and bring him to see him.

The next day, the woman arrived with her son – having "prepared" him as the Rabbi had requested. The Rabbi instructed that the son should be brought through on his wheelchair to a place in the room directly underneath a skylight where the sun would shine upon him. Rabbi Yaakov asked the boy his name, and then instructed him to get out of his wheelchair and come over to him. He instructed him to return to his wheelchair and then to get out and approach him again – and then yet another time. Thereafter, he told the boy that he could return with his mother and that he would merit health and longevity.

The community was abuzz with excitement at the good news, for everyone had known of the revealed miracle that had taken place. The mother brought the story to the attention of the ruler of the city. She had sold jewellery to the people of the town and had been in touch with the ruler before. This time, however, she would be introducing a new person to her team and would have to introduce the young boy to the ruler. She would also have to explain why she had never introduced the boy before.

The ruler, who had known how sad this woman had always been, and now seeing her glowing face realised the great miracle that had taken place through the distinguished guest! He regretted his previous decision to tax the Jews, and after nullifying his decree, welcomed the rabbi into his home. He invited many guests to his home that day and told them the story of the miracle rabbi who had healed a young boy who had never been able to be cured through the best of the doctors of the town! Now, with just a few words, the rabbi had cured the boy completely!

Rabbi Yaakov arose at the meal and in humility told the guests how it was not he who had healed, but rather G-d, the Creator of the world, who had done the wonder! He explained that it was only because he himself fulfilled the words of G-d that G-d had allowed him to be the vessel through which the miracle would occur. Hashem answers the prayers of those who study His Torah and fulfil His Mitzvot – he explained.

Rabbi Yaakov performed a wonderful Kiddush Hashem!

There are many wonderful stories about this exceptional Tzaddik and of course his descendants who followed afterwards.

May the merit of this Tzaddik, and the Rambam (whose Yahrtzeit also falls on this same day!) protect us all and bring blessing to each of us where we need it most in our lives.

*Baba Meir - **Baba Hana - Baba Sali - Abir Yaakov - ***Baba Chaki 

* Baba Meir - Rabbi Meir Abuchatzeira, eldest son of Baba Sali

** Baba Hana - Rabbi Avraham Abuchatzeira, son of Baba Chaki and direct grandson of Baba Du (Rabbi Dovid, Baba Sali's older brother who died Al Kiddush Hashem)

*** Baba Chaki - Rabbi Yitzchak Abuchatzeira, Baba Sali's younger brother

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