#513 (s5768-02 / 7 Tishrei 5768)

Tzadik of the Roosters

Before Rabbi Yosef Saragosi passed away, he left instructions to be buried on the spot where Elijah the Prophet had revealed himself to him, in the village of Ein Zeitim.

Tzadik of the Roosters

Rabbi Yosef Saragosi was an exile from Sicily during the time of the Inquisition. At first, he settled in Egypt where he established a major yeshiva. In the late 1400's he left Egypt and went to settle in Tsfat where he devoted himself to the study of Kabbala. He was one of the chosen few to whom Elijah the Prophet revealed himself. Soon thereafter he gained the distinction of becoming the city's first elected chief rabbi in recorded history. In 1504 he made a historic decision about the Sabbatical year in the holy land, which held sway even over the opinion of the leading rabbis of Jerusalem

Aside from his greatness in Torah, he was also renowned for his character which was like that of Aharon Hakohen. He settled arguments between neighbors and between husband and wife. He offered his help not only to the Jews of Tsfat but also to the Arabs, who came to him with their quarrels. They implicitly trusted him to arrive at a true and just settlement.

Before R' Yosef passed away, he left instructions to be buried on the very spot where Eliyahu had revealed himself to him. His request was honored and his grave was dug in Kfar Ein Zeitim, not far from the tomb of the tana, Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai.

R' Yosef was a holy man, who performed miracles. He gained his various titles from those miracles. He was called "Tzadik of the Roosters" because of an interesting event which occurred after his death.

In those days, Tsfat was a regional center of the Ottoman Empire. The governor of Tsfat at that time made life miserable for the Jews of Tsfat. He was an evil, hard-hearted person who despised the Jews and was jealous of their financial success. He had designs on their money.

Once, he decreed that the Jews bring him hundreds of pure white roosters, knowing very well that they would never be able to find such a large number in all of the surrounding area. And if they were unable to fulfill his decree, he would be free to punish them as he pleased.

The Jews of Tsfat decreed a fast upon themselves and gathered in the beit haknesset - synagogue. They poured out their hearts and prayed for heavenly assistance. Then they went to the graves of the many holy men who were buried nearby, including that of Rabbi Yosef Saragosi, and prayed that the merit of the righteous protect them and save them from the evil-doer.

That night, the head of the community had a dream in which Rabbi Yosef Saragosi informed him that Hashem had heard their prayers at his graveside. He then instructed him to tell the Jews of Tsfat to gather all the roosters they could obtain, regardless of color, and to bring them to a certain place.

When he awoke, the man was very exited. He told his dream to the members of the community. They immediately went off to gather all the roosters which they could find. They brought them to the required place and a miracle occurred. The yellow, brown, black, reddish, spotted fowl, all suddenly turned a pure white!

The Jews of Tsfat were overwhelmed with joy. They quickly led the crowing chorus to the governor's house. The leader of the community was at the head of the procession and informed the governor that his request had been fulfilled. The governor looked at the snowy white crowing birds and understood that the Jews had wrought a miracle. From that time on, he was careful to treat his Jewish subjects fairly and to offer them his protection.

From that time, the appellation "Tzadik of the Roosters" clung to R' Yosef Saragosi; many also called him "The White Tzadik". The synagogue where he had been accustomed to study and pray during his lifetime has been preserved to this very day and is referred to by the Jews of Tsfat as "The Beit Haknesset of R' Yosef the White Tzadik."

[Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from "The Arizal - The Life and Times of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria" by Nechemiah Piontac (Mesorah) and from "The Bannai Shul" by Chana Katz

Biographic Note:
Rabbi Yosef Saragossi (14xx-?) First chief rabbi in Tsfat's recorded history. Laid groundwork in 1490's-early 1500's for Zefat to subsequently become a major center of Torah scholarship. Sometimes known as "Tzadik HaLavan" because of a miracle that occurred in his name

Yrachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and editor of Ascent Quarterly and the AscentOfSafed.com and KabbalaOnline.org websites. He has hundreds of published stories to his credit.

A 48 page soft-covered booklet containing eleven of his most popular stories may be ordered on our store site.

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