"The Tzadik of the Hens"
by Chana Katz
must have been quite a sight -- dozens, maybe hundreds, of noisy roosters clucking
and plucking their way down the Tsfat-Meron road to the gravesite of Rav Yossi
As if this spectacle in itself were not enough, someone sojourning
this road some 400 years ago, would most certainly have done a double take: On
the way out of Tsfat, the roosters were brown and black. But on the way back to
Tsfat - - - they were pure white!
A miracle, completely above nature, had
And the legend of the "Tzaddik HaLavan" (or the
"saint of the roosters") was born.
was never easy for the Jews in the Land of Israel after the Christians and the
Muslims arrived, but there were times of peace and times of turbulence. One time
of peace came under the leadership of Tsfat's first recorded elected Chief Rabbi,
Yossi Saragossi. His mild manners and esteem of peace and harmony earned him great
respect, not only from the Jewish residents of the area, but neighboring Arab
dwellers as well.
But some time after Rabbi Saragossi's passing, a Sultan
in the Ottoman Empire rose to power who made harsh decrees against the Jews of
Tsfat. Under one such decree, they were ordered to deliver a large number of white
roosters to the Sultan's doorstep. It was an impossible demand since nowhere could
so many white roosters be found.
The Jews of Tsfat fasted and prayed at
the synagogue-burial site of Rav Yosi Bannai. One night, a member of the community
said that Rabbi Saragossi had come to him in a dream.
Bring the roosters
to my gravesite, R. Saragossi told him.
The next day they set out for the
journey to R. Saragossi's grave.
The procession down the road was filled
with tension and an air of despair.
It is said that the miracle took place
at the gravesite. The colored roosters became white as a fresh snow. One can only
imagine the joy and awe that marked the return trip to Tsfat.
Sultan realized the great miracle that was done for the Jewish people, he swapped
his harsh decrees for a course of respect.
And from that time on, R. Saragossi
became know as the "Tzaddik of the Hens." And to this very day, most
locals in Tsfat still refer to the Shul of
R. Yosi Bannai as the shul of the "Tzaddik HaLavan."
Hushed Valley of Olive Trees
One doesn't need roosters today to visit
the grave of R. Saragossi, who had raised Tsfat's standing among the land of Israel's
cities and towns with his combination of Talmudic and Kabbalistic knowledge.
fact, the solitude and serenity of R. Saragossi's gravesite is alluring in itself.
lies in a valley filled with olive trees overlooking the almost hypnotic peaks
and valleys of the northern Galilee.
is how to find the grave of R. Saragossi. After passing Meron, the resting place
of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, and winding around the curving incline toward Tsfat,
you will pass -- on the right side of the road -- a lone building and plaza on
a little hill which houses the gravesite of the esteemed Talmudic scholar, Rabbi
Yehuda Bar Iloy. Soon after you round that bend, you can begin to look for a small
marker on the right side of the road. If you look closely at the marker, it should
show a map with arrows pointing to the grave of Rav Saragossi -- 70 meters away.
your car on the side of the road and pass down some 20 steps bounded by a blue
rail. Pass through a blue gate and walk straight down the dirt path. Looking up,
you'll see a canopy of trees, as if saluting in tribute to the great Jewish leader
who lies ahead.
The grave is a clearly marked, rounded blue cement slab.
It is encompassed by layered stone steps, which offer those who come to pray or
meditate the serenity of unbridled nature. The gravesite of Rabbi Yehuda Bar Iloy,
a large, two-story building, hovers over to the west in the direction of Meron.
loss, Tsfat's gain
If it weren't for the Spanish Inquisition, Tsfat
may never have received the likes of Rav Saragossi, who had been among the leaders
of his community before being banished from Spain in 1492. But the hand of Providence
pushed R. Saragossi to Sicily, Beirut and Sidon and then, finally, to the holy
city of Tsfat.
While the Sephardic influence was minor in Jerusalem at the
time, it was powerful in Tsfat and Rav Saragossi was quickly catapulted into the
The Torah status of the Tsfat community flourished under
Rav Saragossi, even catching the admiration of Jerusalmites to the south, with
whom a rivalry of sorts both simmered and boiled over the centuries to come.
one rabbinical dispute, Rav Saragossi and his colleague, Rav Peretz Colombo, made
a ruling regarding whether the particular year, 1504, was a year of sh'mitta,
a sabbatical year for the land. To the ire of the Jerusalem rabbis, who ruled
otherwise, the opinion of the Tsfat rabbinate prevailed.
But for the most
part, Torah learning and peaceful times prevailed under Rav Saragossi. It's even
recorded that at one point Rav Saragossi wanted to leave Tsfat for another city.
The desire of the locals to keep him in Tsfat led to not only pleas for him to
stay, but a nice annual wage as well -- a majority of which was paid by the Arab
governor of the city!
With the eventual succession of leadership from R.
Saragossi to R. Yaakov Berav, the high standards of leadership were continued.
Today, one doesn't need to travel to the gravesite of Rav Saragossi
with dozens of noisy roosters. But of course, sincere and heartfelt prayer to
a Tzaddik can always change more than the color of feathers -- even and maybe,
especially -- nowadays.
[Chana Katz, a journalist from South Florida,
lives in Tsfat with her husband and four children.]