Rabbi Avraham Dov Auerbach of Avrush was a Rebbe in Europe
for forty years and in Zefat for ten. Before that he had been a disciple of Rabbi
Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev and the first two Rebbes of the Chernobyl dynasty.
One of his disciples was Rabbi Shmuel Heller, the chief rabbi of Zefat. His famous
book, Bas Ayin, was written in Europe, but he refused to allow it to be
printed until he could 'expose' it to the air of the Holy Land and refine it there.
His meeting with the philanthropist Sir Moses Montifiore in 1840 led to the beginning
of modern Jewish agricultural settlement in Israel.
It was in 1830, at the
age of 65, that Rabbi Avraham Dov of Avrush settled in the holy city of Zefat
(Safed). But although he had waited many years for the opportunity to bask in
the spiritual light of the Land of Israel, once there he found life in the Holy
Land too difficult to bear. The hardships were all too apparent, while the holiness
of the land was hard to discern.
When he felt he could bear no more, Rabbi
Avraham Dov began to think of returning to his home in Avrush, where he had been
the Rebbe since 1785. "After all," he reasoned, "I left my relatives
and my students behind in order to live in the land, but it is to no avail, for
I am suffering so bitterly. Let me return to Avrush; they will be happy to see
me, and I will be glad as well."
When Rabbi Avraham Dov reached the
decision to return to Europe, the rainy season in Israel was approaching. One
day, as he was walking to the synagogue for the afternoon prayer, he heard noises
coming from the surrounding rooftops. He couldn't identify the strange sounds,
so he asked the townspeople he passed for an explanation. They were amused that
he didn't know.
"Here in Zefat," they explained, "we have
the custom of performing household chores on our flat roofs. We also use the roofs
for storing food and other household supplies. The noise you hear is caused by
the women scurrying about, removing everything from the roofs."
why are they doing that?" the Rabbi asked.
"Why, so that nothing
gets ruined by the rain, of course," was the incredulous reply.
Rabbi Avraham Dov was still confused. He looked up at a sky as blue as the sea
when there are no waves in sight. "It certainly doesn't look like rain,"
he said, hoping for some further clarification.
"Surely you remember
that tonight will be the 7th of the month of MarCheshvan, when we start
to say the prayer for rain. We beseech G-d to be merciful and send benign rains
to water our crops and provide water for us. Since we are sure that our Father
in Heaven will hear our prayers and will heed our request, we take precautions
so that our possessions won't be ruined when the rains come."
faith of the people affected the rabbi deeply. Suddenly his eyes were opened and
he saw the sublime heights of faith achieved by the simple Jews of the Holy Land.
His pain and disappointment were replaced by a sense of awe at the holiness of
the land and its people. At that moment, he abandoned all thoughts of returning
to Avrush and began a new leg of his own spiritual journey in the Holy Land.
thereafter, he became established as the leader of Zefat's burgeoning chassidic
In a letter dated 13 Tammuz 5598/1838, Dr. A. Loewy, Sir Moses Montefiore's
secretary, wrote the following about Rabbi Avraham Dov. "This man
is one of the most learned and esteemed people I have ever seen. It is
a simple matter for him to serve the community without receiving any recompense
from the communal funds. He distributes everything that he has to the
poor of his people. There are always between 10 and 15 people eating regularly
at his table" (Devir, Vilna 5622/1862).
In 1838 he was kidnapped by the vicious Druise
who were then perpetrating a pogrom in Zefat, as they had done also in 1834. They
ordered him to write a ransom note to his community, but he refused. The Druze
then put him in a sack and began to beat him. When they thought they heard in
the distance the hoofbeats of approaching Egyptian cavalry they fled, leaving
the rabbi tied in the sack. He was later found and returned to Safed.
what he is most famous for (besides his monumental book of chassidic thought,
Bas Ayin) is his part in the earthquake miracle of 1837.
In the deadly
earthquake of 24 Tevet 5597 (January 1, 1837), 5,000 people lost their lives,
of whom 4000 were Jews, more than 80% of the community. It was between the afternoon
and evening prayers, when most of the men were in shul, that the tremors and rumblings
suddenly began. Of all of Zefat's shuls only two remained standing (Ari-Sephardi
and Abuhav), and many hundreds of Jews at prayer perished under the collapsed
debris. In the shul of the Avrusher
Rebbe, as elsewhere, panic set in, and the congregants began to bolt for the
"Come to the ark if you wish to be saved!" shouted the
Rebbe in a powerful voice. Immediately everyone crowded around him. The Rebbe
threw himself on the ground, praying and weeping. Local tradition records that
although most of the building collapsed, the part where the men were clustered
remained upright and everyone was saved. A plaque outside the shul today testifies
to this miracle. The line between the original structure (over the Ark) and the
reconstructed portion is clearly visible. One source (Eden Zion) states
that while nearly all the walls collapsed, the domed ceiling miraculously remained
aloft, almost as if it were suspended in the air!
Just before Rabbi Avraham
Dov passed away in the epidemic of 1840, on the 12th day of the Jewish month of
Kislev, he announced that his would be the last life claimed by the terrible plague.
And so it was.
[Assembled and adapted by Yrachmiel
Tilles from Anaf Etz Avot, L'chaim #527, Safed the Mystical City,
Zefat: A Guide for an Inner-Dimensional Journey, and Ascent Quarterly.]
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