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6****Rabbi Chaim Abulafia (Kabbalist, head of the Jewish court in Tveria [Tiberias])

Rabbi Chaim ben Atar - Ohr HaChaim

Born: Sale, Morocco, 1696
Died:          Israel, 1743

Torah commentator, kabbalist, talmudist.

    Rabbi Chaim ben Atar, the Rabbi of Sale  spent the majority of his time engrossed in Torah study, His saintly way of life gained him the name Ohr HaCaim HaKadosh (the holy one), and only on a temporary basis engaged in his profession, weaving threads of gold and silver into fancy garments.

 Once, the governor of Sali, where the Ohr HaChaim lived, was marrying off his daughter. The entire family bought expensive clothing and sent them to the Or HaChayim to weave gold threads into the material. He said to them, "Every month I work enough for my livelihood, and the rest of the time I devote to Torah study. This month I have already earned enough money for my livelihood. Come back next month." They then told him that the wedding was taking place already that month. The Ohr Hachaim still refused the job, and returned to his studies. When word got back to the governor about R' Chaim's refusal to perform the work for his daughter's wedding, he was incensed. He immediately ordered that the lions in his courtyard be starved and sent a warning to R' Chaim that if he doesn't accept the job at once he will be cast into the lion's den. He ignored the warning and continued learning. The governor's men eventually came and took R' Chaim from his home and threw him into the lion's den. He sat in the middle of the lions, who formed a circle around him, and sang chapters of Tehillim in a sweet, pleasant voice, as all the lions watched and listened. It was quickly reported to the governor what was happening, and he came to see the amazing miracle with his own two eyes. As soon as he looked into the den, he ordered that R' Chaim be lifted from the den, and begged the sacred rabbi for forgiveness, entreating him with gifts. Thus, through the great rabbi the verse was fulfilled - "And your fear and intimidation will be cast over all the beasts of the land." Chazal teach us that anyone within whom the image of God rests in totality instills fear upon the animals, "and no animal overcomes a person unless he appears to the animal as another animal" (Shabbat 151b), that he has lost his "Tzelem Elokim," image of God. 

R' Chaim's dream was to go to Israel. After receiving spiritual signs approving his desire, he went on his way. He stopped over in Livorno (Italy),  where he raised large sums of money for publishing his books and establishing a yeshivah in Israel. With 30 followers he arrived in Israel, four days before Rosh HaShanah 5402(1742) and settled in Acco. R' Chaim and his students spent Yom Kippur in the cave of 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 Elijah used to pray. The holiday of Purim was spent in Tzfat and Miron, where a great deal of time was spent studying the holy Zohar . They later moved to live in Pki'in for a few months. On the 15th of Ellul 5402(1742) R' Chaim finally arrived in Jerusalem with his group. He immediately  established a yeshivah called 'Knesset Yisrael'  and second secretive yeshivah 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.

   R' Chaim and his students were constantly going on many journeys (zia'rot)  around the land of  Israel visiting grave sites of the tzaddikim. They used the opportunity to pray for the welfare of Jews all over the world, the success of their yeshivah and its financial supporters. 

   The most famous of Rabbi Chaim's works is Ohr HaChaim , a commentary on the Torah. In this work he employes the four methods of exegesis: peshat-explaining the simple meaning; derash-homiletic interpretation; remez-allusion; and sod-the kabbalistic esoteric approach. This book was enthusiastically accepted by Sephardic and Ashkenazi rabbis alike. His book Chefetz Hashem was his first book, it was a commentary on tractates Shabbat, Horayot and Chulin. His second book was Pri Toar, a commentary on Yoreh De'a (one of the sections of Shulchan Aruch). Rishon Letzion was a book he wrote when living in Jerusalem, its a commentary on Prophets and Writings (NACH) and a few tractates of the Talmud.

   The founder of the Chassidic movement, The Baal Shem Tov maintained that if he could join forces with Rabbi Chaim, together they could bring the Messiah. The Baal Shem Tov made several failed attempts to reach the Holy Land. In fact the Baal Shem Tov believed that R' Chaim was the Mashiach of that generation. On the day that R' Chaim came to Jerusalem, The Baal Shem Tov told his students: "Today Mashiach ben Yosef entered Yerushalayim". R' Chaim departed the world at the time of Mincha of shabbat Pinchas. At that exact moment the Baal Shem Tov was eating the 3rd meal of shabbat and uttered out: "the western candle has been extinguished". After shabbat he explained: "The tzaddik in the west, R' Chaim ben Atar left the world. The proof for that is: there is one secret about the washing of the hands (netilat yadayim) which is revealed to only one person in each generation. This secret was known to R' Chaim. When I washed my hands for the 3rd meal, that secret was revealed to me, and that was my sign that the "western candle' was extinguished." 

Rabbi Chaim ben Atar was 47 when he departed the world. He was buried outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, on Mount Olives. Before the "Six Day War" in 1967, the Jordanians had control over the cemetery where R' Chaim was buried, they destroyed many tomb stones and paved a new road. When the tractor touched the grave site of R' Chaim, it turned upside down and the driver was killed. They tried a second time, and again the tractor turned upside down and the driver was killed. Someone tried to use a hammer, it turned on himself and he was killed too. The grave site was left intact.                

R' Chaim had two wives. His first wife Patzonia was unable to bear children for him and encouraged him to marry a second wife. His second wife Ester gave birth to a few daughters. Both of his wives passed away within a few years after R' Chaim's death, and were buried next to him.   

The Ohr HaChaim about death...

    The Ohr Hachaim explains that the Torah is teaching us that death is a loss to those that remain alive--not to the person that died. It can be compared to a person who sent his son to a faraway land in order to start a business there. The son settled in that place and over time became very close to many fine people there. After many years, the father summoned the son to return home and the son acceded to his wishes. The son is not lost. Those who had grown to know and love him are no longer able to see him and to build the relationship further, but the son is not lost. On the contrary, the son is returning home to his father. Those friends going ahead and gouging themselves over the agony of the son’s departure would be preposterous. Sadness and a melancholy feeling of detachment are in order. Gouging is definitely not. 

"There steps forth a star from Jacob, and there arises a scepter out of Israel" (Numbers (Balak): 24:17)

This prophecy speaks about the coming of Mashiach. Our Sages said: "If the Jews are worthy, God will hasten the Redemption; if they are not worthy, it will come at the appointed time." If the Jews do not deserve a miraculous salvation, the Redemption will be subject to the laws of nature. "There steps forth a star from Jacob, and there arises a scepter out of Israel"--Mashiach's arrival will be similar to that of an earthly king. (Ohr HaChaim)

May the merit of the tzaddik Rabbi Chaim ben Atar  protect us all, Amen.

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