Weekly Chasidic Story #712 (s5771-46 / 16 Tammuz 5771)

Exile and Redemption

The Ohr HaChaim refused the enormous payment offerred for a piece, saying, "This is not a butcher shop; the meat is reserved for needy Torah scholars."

Connection: Seasonal -- 268th yahrzeit of the Ohr HaChaim


Exile and Redemption

One week nearly three hundred years ago, in the area of Sali, Morocco, a plague broke out amongst the cattle. As a result, all the Jewish-slaughtered animals were found to be traife ("unfit"-disqualified). Only one calf was "kosher mehadrin" acceptable without question, and that was the one slaughtered specifically for the tzaddik, Rabbi Chaim Ben-Atar, the "Ohr HaChayim Hakadosh."

When one of the wealthy men in the city heard about this, he rushed to the Rabbi Chaim's house, hoping to get some meat in honor of Shabbat. He offered an enormous price for a piece, but the Ohr Hachaim refused, saying, "This is not a butcher shop, and the meat is reserved for the poor Torah scholars of our city." Indeed, every week it was his custom to distribute meat to the poor Torah scholars in honor of Shabbat.

While they were speaking, one of Rabbi Chaim's "customers" walked in. Upset, the rich man exclaimed, "Huh? You call this one a Talmid Chacham ["wise student"-i.e., accomplished Torah scholar]?" The Ohr Hachaim ignored his comment and gave the scholar his portion. The rich man realized the futileness of his endeavor, and stalked out in anger.

That night, the Ohr Hachayim had a dream in which he was told from Heaven that since he had not protested against the embarrassment of a Talmid Chacham, he would have to go into exile for a full year. Immediately, Rabbi Chaim packed his few belongings and set out on his long arduous journey, traveling from one town or village to another, making sure not to sleep two nights in the same place. He often went to sleep hungry, yet he accepted his pain with love and prayed to the One Above to forgive him for his sin.

One Friday many months later, the Ohr Hachayim found himself on the outskirts of a city. He sat down on a stone to rest his weak body and reflected on the first verse of the weekly Torah reading, "Eem b'hukotai tailaihu." When he continued walking towards the city, deep in thought and attachment to the Creator, forty two original explanations of this verse occurred to him!

Later, when he arrived in town, he went directly to the local shul. The shamash [caretaker] invited him to his home for Shabbat. At the conclusion of the Friday night meal, the shamash told his guest of the local custom to join the meal at the house of the Rabbi of the city. So they went together, joining the throngs already gathered, waiting to hear the Rabbi's pearls of wisdom.

When the time came and all eyes turned towards the head of the table, the Rabbi was still sitting quietly, in a trance-like state. After a few more moments, he roused himself and began to speak. He transmitted fourteen brilliant explanations on the first verse of the weekly Torah reading, "Eem b'hukotai tailaihu," and then concluded, "These explanations I just heard in Heaven, in the name of the holy tzadik, Rabbi Chaim Ben-Atar."

"Mr. Chaim ben-Atar [i.e. not a tzadik, not a rabbi -ed.]!" the unknown guest called out. All eyes turned to see who had the chutzpa to dishonor the Ohr Hachayim, and were prepared to punish him. However, the shamash, feeling responsible for his guest, requested them to leave the poor man alone.

At the conclusion of his Shabbat day meal, the Rabbi expounded on a second set of fourteen interpretations, saying that these too he had heard in Heaven in the name of the holy tzadik, Rabbi Chaim Ben-Atar.

The same scenario repeated itself. Again the anonymous guest screamed out, "Mr. Chaim Ben-Atar," heightening the irritation of the townsmen.

Before the Third Meal, the shamash warned his guest to behave properly. To no avail. The scene repeated itself a third time. They decided to lock the disrespectful guest in a room until after Shabbat, and to keep him locked up until fitting measures would be decided upon.

That night, a sudden strong storm swept through the city, causing much damage. The townspeople franticly rushed to the Rabbi for his prayer and blessing. The Rabbi told them that he had just been informed from Heaven that Gehinom closes on Shabbat, and it does not reopen on Saturday night until the Ohr Hachayim recites Havdala [the "separation" ceremony to enter into the new week]. Since the tzadik could not make havdala, being that he is currently locked in a room, a great uproar ensued above, which is the cause of such a harrowing storm below.

Upon hearing this and realizing their mistake, the townsmen immediately released their holy guest from his confinement. Rabbi Chayim understood that this was his sign that his repentance had been accepted in Heaven, and the next day set out to return to his home.

Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from a passage in Lma'an Yishme'u #72, <avreicheilubavitch@gmail.com>, translated from Toldot Ohr HaChaim.

Connection: Seasonal -- 228th yahrzeit of the Ohr HaChaim

Biographical note:
Rabbi Chaim (ben Moshe) Ibn Atar (1696 - 15 Tammuz 1743) is best known as the author of one of the most important and popular commentaries on the Torah: the Ohr HaChaim. He established a major yeshiva in Israel, after moving there from Morocco. Chassidic tradition is that the main reason the Baal Shem Tov twice tried so hard (and failed) to get to the Holy Land was that he said if he could join the Ohr HaChaim there, together they could bring Moshiach. He is buried outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem.


Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor of this website (and of KabbalaOnline.org). He has hundreds of published stories to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells them live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.

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