Thursday, 8 January 2015

Rabbi Moshe Calphon HaKohein - Shoel VeNishal

Rabbi Moshe Calphon HaKohein - known for the responsa he wrote entitled "Shoel VeNishal" an 8 volume collection of Halachic responsa of more than 3000 answers, was born on 12 Shevat 5634/1874 and departed this world on the 18 Tevet 5710/1950. He was the rabbi of the Island of Gerba and one of the giants in Torah of Tunisia in the previous generation. To date, some 44 books of his writings have been published, with many other works still in manuscript form.

Already from a young age his talents were recognised. He studied the laws of Shechita and Bedika (Shu"b) the laws for ritual slaughter and checking of the animal for signs indicating the animal may not be kosher - in the city of Zervis in Gerba, and received his ordination for Shechita from the rabbis in Gerba. At the tender age of 25, he was already asked to officiate on the Beit Din in Gebra - but he refused all offers - for reasons amongst others that he wanted to earn his Parnassah from the work of his own hands i.e. and not to receive his income from his Torah activities.

He was in the process of making Aliyah to come to live in the land of Israel when, during his activities to arrange for his papers, he died in Tunisia where he is buried. Later, in 2005 his bones were taken to be buried in the land of Israel - being buried on Har Hamenunchot next to Rabbi Masas, Rabbi of Jerusalem. He was eulogised by Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef who emphasized his particular strict observance and approach and direction in Halachic thinking in accordance with the laws as laid out by Rabbi Yosef Karo in his Shuchan Aruch.

Rabbi Salman Mutzafi (Kabbalist of the Previous Generation)

Rabbi Salman Mutzafi (27 Shevat 5660/1900 - 17 Tevet 5734/1974) was one of the rare giants of Torah of the previous generation. He was of a true Kabbalist in the fullest sense of the word - but read on to understand what that really means.

He was born in Baghdad - home of the Ben Ish Chai - Rabbi Yosef Chaim and though he was only 9 years old when the Ben Ish Chai died - he was already enamored by him - never having had his thirst quenched from this giant of Torah. In those very young years of his life, he would do everything he could to push through the crowds of people listening to the Shiurim of the Ben Ish Chai - to catch a glimpse of this giant, to kiss his hands, to listen to some words of true holiness - and to receive his blessings for his own success in his life. It seems those blessings came to fruition too...

His family had come out from amongst the exile from Spain many years before - then known as the Musafiya family - but due to people not pronouncing his name correctly - it was eventually changed to Mutzafi. His father would take him to Shul at the tender age of 2 so that he would be surrounded by the images of the leading Tzaddikim of that time - and so that he would absorb only words of Kedusha (holiness) and Tahara (purity.) He began studying in "Midrash Talmud Torah" at the young age of 5 - and make no mistake - he become thoroughly absorbed in everything he studied - being unable to take himself away from the holy words of Torah... for his entire life. At the age of 6 he was already completely fluent in reciting the entire Torah with all it's musical cantilations and correct grammar off by heart!

At the age of 9, he left his home secretly in order to attend the funeral of the Ben Ish Chai - and accepted upon himself to devote his life to Torah study with an added measure of separation and holiness - as the casket of the Ben Ish Chai was lowered into the ground. He would tie a string to his finger and run it through to the door of his father's room and tie it gently on the handle - so that when his father would awaken at midnight to begin his recitation of Tikun Chatzos and study of Torah - he would wake up himself to join him.

When his father died, he sanctified all his time to Torah study and to live a life of great modesty away from the fanfare and matters of the community - and to immerse himself in the Kavanot (mystical intentions of prayer) of the Rashash (Rabbi Shalom Sharabi.)

By the tender age of 16 - he had already worked through the entire Tur (presumably with all the commentaries) - a monumental work and a tremendous effort to work through for even the average Torah scholar - years older than he was then. At the age of 18, he was certified as a Shochet (ritual slaughter) and a Mohel. He was also respected by the Muslim community. He joined his teacher - the great kabbalist Rabbi Yehuda Petaya in the year 5695/1935 in the Holy Land - a year after his teacher had already arrived.

For two years, he studied the Kavanot (mystical intentions) of the Rashash. He would take one hour to recite the Kriat Shema! He would take two hours to recite the morning blessings! He would spend his days and nights immersed in performing the holy Yichudim - unifications - in order to draw down abundant blessing to all the worlds and to hasten the redemption.

He was very careful with the Kashrut of food and during the Shemita year (as is this year), he would travel out on his own to the non-Jewish fields in order to obtain his fruits and vegetables.

In 5708/1948 - due to the danger of Jewish life at that precarious time in Jewish history, he moved his Yeshiva "Bnei Tzion" - which focused on the study of Zohar and Kabbalah, from Kever Rachel to the "Tevig" Shul in Rashbam Street Jerusalem. When the money he had brought with him from Iraq had run out, he took over the running of the "Ohel Rachel" Shul for the sake of providing Parnassah to him and his family - and refused to make use of his Torah knowledge as a means to obtain his Parnassah.

He immersed himself in the meditations and mystical intentions of the Rashash Siddur for a period of 40 years and never stopped discovering new novel insights into Torah. He was fluent in all four areas of Torah - Pardes - Peshat (simple meaning,) Remez (hint/allusion/gematria,) Drush (homiletic,) and Sod (secret / Kabbalah).

He was an expert in the secrets of calculating the calendar times and astronomy. Even though Rabbi Yehuda Petaya gave him Semicha so that he be known as "Chacham" (a wise man - in the language of the Sefardi lexicon, and surely the greatest of compliments to indicate his level of learning,) he was strict that nobody refer to him in that way.

Close to midnight on Tuesday evening in the year 5735, his life situation became severe. He asked for a glass of tea, made a blessing upon it, drank, lay on his right side, recited the Kriat Shema  and returned his soul to it's Maker.

Friday, 2 January 2015

What is a Sofer - And How is a Torah Scroll Written? (Video included)

Ever wondered how a Torah is written? What exactly must a Sofer learn in order to be able to write a Sefer Torah? Have you ever wondered how long it takes to write a Sefer Torah? Do you ever consider the lengthy amount of time taken to write Mezuzot and Tefillin - when making your purchase - and why the price is what it is? Though this video doesn't answer all these questions - if you're new to understanding just how much goes into writing a Torah scroll, enjoy the video below. It's a great start to appreciating just how much work is involved.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

The Bridge of Life (Animated video included)

There was once this story... Someone was out on a life mission - you know, to get somewhere he needed to go. He found himself near a bridge he had to cross, and realised he just wouldn't make it, unless of course he crossed it. I think Rabbi Nachman of Breslov speaks about this bridge of life and never to be afraid of crossing it and all. Rabbi Nachman's story doesn't really tell us the conclusion. While out on his mission, this "someone" finds that as he crosses the bridge - there just so happens to be someone else in the world. Amazingly, he too is off on his mission too! If only Rabbi Nachman had told us that there would be others crossing the bridge too!

So meanwhile - while crossing his own bridge, he comes across the other fellow doing the same thing from the other side. As we know only too well, it's always "us" that's important, after all, would Rabbi Nachman have not told me about the importance of my mission and my bridge to cross if it were not important?! Go figure! The other fellow is a follower of Rabbi Nachman and his beautiful song too, so he seems to think he too has the right of way.

There's a collision. It seems to happen to the best of us. Yes, the entire world is a very narrow bridge, and we should not be afraid to cross it. But let us not forget that there may well also be other traffic - coming from the other side. Let us not forget, that if we're going to make it across with "flying colours," we're going to have to value the other fellow too! When we do, we'll probably both make it across that bridge - safely... and happily... Of course, if we're simply not prepared to value the other... well, we know well what the results will be...

It's a beautiful message - so just think of this animated movie every time you find yourself crossing that bridge - and finding another "in the way." There's always a way of doing things - and everyone stands to gain.


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