Before he became the Chief
Sephardic Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu once served as a judge
in the rabbinical court for the South of Israel, in Beersheva. During those years,
he often travelled to visit the famous Kabbalist Baba
Sali in the nearby small town of Netivot. Baba Sali, in turn, always warmly
welcomed him, and displayed great affection for the accomplished Torah scholar.
those days that he was in Beersheva, Rabbi Eliyahu slept in a rented room in the
home of a local family. One evening, while he was immersed in researching the
complexities of a Jewish law that he would have to rule upon in court the following
day, there was a knock at his door. Two young men entered, and announced that
Babi Sali had invited Rabbi Eliyahu to join him in a mitzvah meal at the house
of the Chief Rabbi of Beersheva. The rabbi asked them to convey his appreciation
to Baba Sali for the invitation, but unfortunately he was obligated to decline;
he was still in the year of mourning for his mother of blessed memory, and so
was not allowed to participate in any celebrations.
A short time later,
the two young men returned. They said they had relayed his reply and rationale,
but that Baba Sali said that nevertheless, he should still come to join him in
the meal, and that he was waiting for him. Rabbi Eliyahu decided that this time
he had no choice but to obey the summons; how could he possibly refuse someone
of Baba Sali's stature?
When he entered the house where the celebration
was taking place, he saw that Babi Sali was sitting at the head of the front table,
his holy face radiating light and purity. As soon as Baba Sali noticed him, he
motioned for another chair to be brought over, and for Rabbi Eliyahu to sit next
to him. After they discussed some Torah topics for a short time, Rabbi Eliyahu
begged to be excused, explaining again that he really wasn't supposed to participate
in any joyous celebrations that year, and also that he needed more time to study
sources in preparation for the case that he would have to judge in court the next
Baba Sali acted as if he hadn't heard.
Rabbi Eliyahu sat quietly
for a few more minutes, and then repeated his request. Baba Sali responded, "How
can you think to abandon me here alone? Who will be available to discuss Torah
Rabbi Eliyahu sat in silence once more, by now completely
puzzled. Why did Baba Sali insist that he remain-surely he knew the law as well
as he did?
While he was still contemplating, the door opened and three policemen
walked rapidly into the room. Trailing behind them was the owner of the apartment
in which Rabbi Eliyahu lived. The Rabbi wondered what he was doing here , and
why he had come with the policemen.
As the four of them approached the front
table. The landlord then cried out, "That's him! That's Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu
who lives in my apartment."
The policemen turned to Rabbi Eliyahu.
The big smiles on their faces indicated that they were overjoyed. "What a
lucky man you are, Rabbi!" one of them exclaimed.
The astonished rabbi
didn't know what they were talking about. He asked for an explanation. Baba Sali,
meanwhile, was ignoring the whole procedings.
The policemen reminded Rabbi
Eliyahu that earlier that day he and his two fellow judges on the rabbinical court
had ruled against the father in a disputed claim of child support brought by the
ex-wife. The man was known in Beersheva and to the police for his violent tendencies.
It seems that several hours after the verdict he had vowed to take revenge upon
the three rabbinical figures.
The policemen then related that the man had
gone to the house of one of the other judges and asked to be let in. Upon gaining
entrance, he took the sack in his hand which he previously had filled with mud
and other filth, and dumped it on the head and clothing of the rabbi. After that,
he hurried to the house of the second judge, where this time he didn't satisfy
himself by embarrassing the rabbi and damaging his garments, but instead beat
him visciously to the extent that he required medical treatment.
judge quickly tried to warn his colleagues. He contacted the first judge and learned
to his dismay that he had already been 'blessed' with a visit. The two then immediately
attempted to telephone to Rabbi Eliyahu in order to warn him. There was no answer.
They then called the landlord, who told them that the rabbi had been there earlier
and had been immersed in study, but he was not there now. They became afraid and
called the police.
The police ran to investigate, and when they couldn't
discover any trace of Rabbi Eliyahu or anyone who knew his whereabouts, they feared
that perhaps this time the violent revenge-seeker had done something even more
terrible, G-d forbid. As their worry grew, they asked the landlord to join them
in their search. As they drove, the latter suddenly remembered that there was
a celebratory meal being hosted by the rabbi of the city. Hoping that this was
the key to the disappearance of Rabbi Eliyahu, they had come in the squad car
to check. "Thank G-d we found you alive and well," the policmen concluded
After thanking them for their concern, Rabbi Eliyahu turned
to stare at Baba Sali. A trace of a smile danced across the holy sage's face,
as if to say, "Nu? Now do you agree that you are permitted to stay here?
This is not just a celebration meal; this is your obligatory Meal of Thanksgiving
upon having passed through a life-threatening danger!"
and adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles from Baba Sali. The photo is taken from
p. 144 of that same book.]
Rabbi Yisrael Abuhatzira
(1890-4 Shvat 1984), or "Baba Sali," as he was affectionately
known throughout the Jewish world, was born in Tafillalt Morocco in to one of
Jewry's most illustrious families. From a young age he was renowned as a scholar,
leader, miracle maker and master kabbalist. In 1964 he moved to Israel, eventually
settling in 1970 in the Southern development town he made famous, Netivot.
Mordechai Eliyahu, the former Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel, was born in
Iraq. A noted sage in all areas of Torah study, he is considered to be one of
the leading authorities on Jewish law in Israel today. His son, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu,
is currently the Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Zefat.
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.