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Sunday, July 01, 2007



A small glimpse of the crowd of literally thousands who were at the Ohr HaChaim's gravesite last night. Even more are going today!

Today is the 15th of Tammuz and the 264th yahrzeit of Rabbi Chaim ibn [ben] Attar, better known as the Ohr HaChaim HaKodesh. Rabbi Chaim ben Attar was a Torah commentator, Kabbalist, and Talmudist. His sefer Ohr HaChaim is a famous commentary on the Torah, which merited to be included together with the commentaries of the Rishonim like Rashi, ibn Ezra, and the Ramban, in the Mikraos Gedolos.
For more, see last year’s post: The Ohr HaChaim and Songs of Shlomo
Much of what follows has been translated from the parsha sheet "Shimu us’chi Nafshchem", taken from the Nehora website, and from this week’s [June 27] English HaModia.


IN THE YEAR 5499 (1739), Rav Chaim ben-Attar decided to realize his life’s dream: to make aliya to the Holy Land. As he writes in the introduction to his sefer Ohr HaChaim, "Since Hashem has enlightened me, there is nothing else to do but to arise and go to the place I’ve thought of - the place of the Shechina [Divine Presence], the exalted, beloved city…I girded my loins, endangered myself greatly, until Hashem brought me…"
Rav Chaim’s trip was fraught with travail, and more than once he was suspended between life and death. But he also experienced great miracles every step of the way.
When the ship he was traveling on was in the midst of the sea, suddenly the sky changed unrecognizably. The white clouds slowly disappeared, giving way to dark, black clouds, which covered the entire horizon. The sea became gradually rougher. The white-foamed waves grew higher and higher, and then suddenly subsided. The ship was tossed about the stormy sea, rising and falling with the waves.
The passengers were convinced that it was only a matter of time before their ship would be torn asunder and sink. Rav Chaim did not lose control, but prayed that Hashem would deliver him from his plight. He hurriedly wrapped his tallis, tefillin and his precious writings - his chiddushei Torah - in a sealed container.
Suddenly, a burst of thunder shook the entire area. The planks of the ship began to come apart, and the screams of the passengers combined with the noise of the ship’s breakage. The passengers were all cast into the stormy waves of the sea.
Miraculously, a thick plank of the ship passed in Rav Chaim’s direction. He hurriedly swam towards it and climbed onto it, and after many difficult hours on the stormy sea, he was cast onto the shores of a desert land. Although his strength was sapped, his mouth never stopped uttering praise and thanks to the Creator for his salvation.
AFTER A SLIGHT RECOVERY, he began to make his way through the desert, without even knowing where it would lead. He placed all his trust on Hashem that he would land up in the right place.
As he slowly made his way about, the roar of a lion suddenly reached his ears, coming from a nearby forest. Gazing upwards, he saw the beast galloping towards him. Rav Chaim then looked up to Heaven and said, "Master of the Universe! Just as you saved me from the stormy sea, please deliver me from the jaws of the lion!"

(Actually, an illustration from another famous Ohr HaChaim story, "Tzaddik in the Lion's Den," but it applies here as well).
The speeding lion stopped dead in its tracks, looked at the tzaddik with dreamy eyes, and then turned around and went back into the forest. Relieved of his distress, Rav Chaim again offered a prayer of thanks to the Creator for this wondrous miracle.
FOR SEVERAL DAYS, Rav Chaim wandered around, sustaining himself on plant life from the forest. Eventually, he came upon a hideout of a gang of thieves. Seizing him, the thieves brought him to their leader, who recognized Rav Chaim as a former master and teacher of his, from Morocco.
"Don’t you recognize me?" he asked Rav Chaim. Identifying himself, he told Rav Chaim how he left the Beis Medrash [study hall], and eventually sunk to the lowest level - that of a thief.
"Ah, now I know," said Rav Chaim, "why I had to endure such an arduous and perilous journey. It must have been Divinely ordained that I meet you, to help you return to the good way."
Rav Chaim held a lengthy, heart-to-heart discussion with his former talmid, convincing him to leave his evil ways and return to the good. His efforts bore fruit, and the leader of the thieves left the gang in order to travel with the tzaddik. They eventually arrived in Livorno, Italy, a large city with a notable Jewish community in those days.
THE JEWS OF LIVORNO greeted Rav Chaim very warmly and respectfully. They spared no effort at making his stay in their community as pleasant as possible. They were hoping that Rav Chaim would stay and settle in their town. They helped him publish two of his sefarim - "Pri Toar", and his famous commentary on the Torah, the "Ohr HaChaim". The latter sefer became so famous that the tzaddik was called after it.
In Livorno, the Rabbi Chaim raised large sums of money for publishing his books and establishing a yeshiva in Eretz Yisrael. With thirty followers he arrived in Eretz Yisrael, four days before Rosh Hashana 5502 (1742), and settled in Acco. Rav Chaim and his students spent Yom Kippur in the cave of Eliyahu HaNavi [Elijah the Prophet] on Mount Carmel (Haifa), where they all felt a great sense of holiness and witnessed seeing a great light at the spot where according to tradition Eliyahu used to pray. The holiday of Purim was spent in Tzfas and Meron, where a great deal of time was spent studying the holy Zohar. They later moved to live in Peki'in for a few months.
On the 15th of Elul 5402 (1742), Rav Chaim finally arrived in Jerusalem with his group. On that day, the Baal Shem Tov told his students: "Today Moshiach ben Yosef entered Yerushalayim." Rav Chaim immediately established a yeshiva called Knesses Yisrael and a second secretive yeshiva for the study of Kabbalah. One of his new students was Rabbi Chaim Yosef David Azulai (the Chida), who at that time was only 18 years old.
The Chida later wrote that as profound as the Ohr HaChaim’s written works were, "they revealed but a tenth of his wisdom…and wherever he went, an aura of holiness enveloped him."
Rav Chaim and his students were constantly going on many journeys around the Land of Israel visiting gravesites of the tzaddikim. They used the opportunity to pray for the welfare of Jews all over the world, the success of their yeshiva and its financial supporters.


Unfortunately, it was only a few months later and Rav Chaim was on his deathbed. The best doctors had been called in to treat him, but to no avail. In a short while he would leave this world. His wife approached the bed. With tear-swollen eyes, she cried, "When you leave me, I will be all alone in the world. Who will support me? What will become of me?"
Gathering his last bit of strength, he whispered to her: "Do not fear, I will not allow you to starve. After my passing, a rich man will come to you from Constantinople to buy my tefillin. You may sell them to him, but you must warn him that he should guard their sanctity very carefully. When he puts them on, he should not take his mind off of them, and not speak even the slightest mundane conversation.”
After the Shloshim [30-day mourning period], a wealthy merchant from Constantinople appeared in Jerusalem, seeking directions to the home of Rav Chaim. "Please sell me the tefillin the tzaddik prayed with," he begged Rav Chaim’s widow upon his arrival. "I’ll give you 300 ducats [golden pounds] for them (an enormous sum in those days, enough to support his wife for life)."
"I’ll sell them to you," she replied, "only if you will treat them with the utmost sanctity." She then delivered the details of Rav Chaim’s warning. The man agreed, accepting the tefillin with extreme reverence.
Arriving home, the man indeed treated the tefillin with extreme care and sanctity, never taking his mind off them - even for a moment. From the time he began to wear these tefillin, he experienced an arousal of holiness he never had before. The prayers left his mouth with fervor and great feeling.
ONE DAY the wealthy man was in the beis midrash, praying with these special tefillin on. Suddenly, one of his young attendants entered and started pestering him with questions related to his business. At first, the man did not react, but continued to pray. But the lad would not relent, and, unable to restrain himself, the man finally answered the question, sharply.
He immediately returned to his prayers, but the words came out clipped and garbled. The special feelings of holiness that he had previously felt had also disappeared. As soon as he realized this, hew felt greatly disturbed, but could not pinpoint the cause of the loss. He certainly did not attribute the change to that one sharp word he had spoken. He innocently thought that perhaps some letter in the tefillin had been erased, and decided to take them to a sofer for an examination.
An empty Tefillin Klaf - Parchment
When the sofer opened the tefillin boxes, he and the wealthy man were astounded at what they saw. The klaf (parchment) of the tefillin was completely blank - the letters had flown away.

Zechuso yagein Aleinu – May Rabbi Chaim ben Attar’s merits protect us all!

What a wonderful story.
thanks for posting it.
my analysis here.
Kol Tuv,
Batya, Thanks for stopping by, & I'm glad you liked it!
Josh, rather than engage you in an endless & silly debate, I'll quote here what a friend wrote me about your blog:
You want me to take seriously a Jew who doesn't even believe in miracles? I read his post of his on the Trisker Maggid story. What a typical misnagid. It must be a dark life to never believe in the hiskashrus of a Rebbe and his Chassidim. People don't ever see to really get things outside of their narrow-minded views.
I'll let my readers, and yours, decide what to believe & how to look at Tzaddikei HaEmes.
agreed, that i don't believe in these particular miracles, and that there is no real point in debating.

if you are interested in a business deal, though, I have a bridge to sell you... only 300 ducats. unfortunately, after I take your money, the bridge will mysteriously fly away.
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