#316 (s5764-07/ 10 Cheshvan)

An Indispensable Requirement for a Blessing

In 5664, when Tsfat' sages learned that the venerable Rabbi Shlomo-Eliezer Alfandri had moved to Israel, they invited him to serve as their city's chief rabbinical judge.


An Indispensable Requirement for a Blessing

In 5664 (1904), the elderly Rabbi Shlomo-Eliezer Alfandri resigned his position as chief rabbi of Damascus and moved to Eretz Yisrael. He settled in Haifa, where he studied undisturbed for the next several years. When the sages of Tsfat (Safed) learned that Rabbi Shlomo-Eliezer had made aliyah, they invited him to serve as their city's chief rabbinical judge.

Rabbi Shlomo Eliezer accepted the position, even though he was already nearly 90 years old. And he served in this position for nearly twenty years! He was referred to fondly as Sabba Kadisha, the "holy grandfather," a title he has already acquired before his decades in Tsfat.

In Nissan of 5674 (1914), Rabbi Shlomo-Eliezer, accompanied by many of Tsfat's residents, went out to bless the new moon. After completing the prayer, he looked upward, clapped his hands and let out a piercing cry. Then he said: "I see that a large-scale war will soon break out."

Four months later, World War I began.

During the war, Tsfat's residents suffered from a lack of food and water. One time, the Turkish pasha (governor) visited the city. He was perched on a white steed, and was accompanied by an entourage of soldiers. He wore a flashy uniform, and a glossy medallion, which indicated his high rank, hung from his neck.

When Rabbi Shlomo-Eliezer heard of his arrival, he went out to greet him. The pasha was awed by the Sabba Kadisha's majestic appearance, and asked him for a blessing.

Rav Shlomo-Eliezer replied, "Only the humble can receive blessings. I will bless you after you come down from your horse."

The pasha got off his horse and lowered his head to receive Rabbi Shlomo-Eliezer's blessing. "May Almighty G-d help you in your efforts to see to the needs of the oppressed Jewish Nation," Rabbi Shlomo-Eliezer said.

The pasha was very impressed by Rabbi Shlomo-Eliezer and, as a result of that encounter, he made sure that Tsfat's residents had sufficient food and water.


In Turkey, too, Rabbi Shlomo-Eliezer saved the Jewish residents in a time of war. But that is another story. Suffice to say, Rabbi Shlomo-Eliezer's greatness was evident even as a youth, and while still a young man, he was appointed to the Spiritual Council of Istanbul. Many of Istanbul's Jews pleaded with him to accept the position of Chacham Bashi (chief rabbi of the city), and to join its rabbinical court. Rabbi Shlomo-Eliezer, however, refused to accept any rabbinical positions, preferring to devote himself to Torah study. He also refused to wear the customary dress of the Torah scholars of Istanbul, which consisted of a turban and a silk robe. When people referred to him as the city's chiefrabbi, he would reply, "I am not a rabbi - just a simple layman."

Appreciating his greatness, Istanbul's Jews founded a yeshiva for him, and many outstanding scholars studied there. One of Rabbi Shlomo-Eliezer's most distinguished students was Rav Chaim Chizkiyahu Medini, author of the encyclopedic Sedei Chemed, who was to become the chief rabbi of Hebron .

Rabbi Shlomo-Eliezer was once seated at a celebratory meal at the home of one of the most prominent members of Istanbul's Jewish community, when he heard two secular Jews discussing the "natural" causes of earthquakes. His face ablaze, Rabbi Shlomo-Eliezer rose from his seat and vehemently countered their arguments.

"According to your scientific theories," he cried, "an earthquake can't occur here at this moment. But if the Al-mighty wills it, an earthquake will occur here this moment, in defiance of the laws of nature."

At that very moment, an earthquake shook the entire city. And that was when Istanbul's Jews came to regard Rabbi Shlomo-Eliezer as a miracle worker.


[Excerpted and adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles from www.yadyosef.com]

Biographical note:
Rabbi Shlomo-Eliezer Alfandri (1820 - 22 Iyar 1930) was born in Istanbul, Turkey, where where his reputation for piety and wisdom was established at a young age. He served as the chief rabbi in Istanbul and Damascus, and subsequently in Safed for 20 years toward the end of his life. He passed away at age 110 (!) in Jerusalem. Many of his halachic responses are included in his book, Sabba Kadisha. For more information on his life and writings, click here.


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.

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