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The Legend of the Baba Sali

Updated: Sep 8, 2020

One shudders when pondering the greatness of the Kabbalist Rabbi Yisrael Abuchatzeira. Nicknamed the Baba Sali (“Praying Father” in Arabic), he was a master of both the revealed and concealed Torah, known for his many miracles. Had there been only a few stories, skeptics could argue they didn’t really happen but his feats are both numerous, well-documented, and credible as both religious and non-religious Jews witnessed them.

​Born to the illustrious Abuchatzeira family of great Kabbalists that go far back 400 years, the Baba Sali lived in seclusion for 40 years, barely having contact with the external world. This allowed him to remain immersed in Torah and Prayer and keep his intellect untainted by the forces of Tumah (impurity). Born on Rosha Hashanah, in the small city of Teffillalt in the year 5650 (1890) to Rabbi Massour Abuchatzeirah, the Baba Sali had since a young age tremendous power in his prayers. Seeing this, his righteous father made him promise to use it only for blessing others.

​When he grew older, someone asked himwhether he makes use of “Kabbalah Ma’asit” (practical Kabbalah). The Baba Sali said he doesn’t. Rather, “one who can pray like a baby can perform miracles just like me”.

As we know, all of Kabbalah is divided into 3 parts.

The first one, called Kabbalah Yiunit (“Theoretical”), which studies the order of the spiritual worlds and how Hashem runs Creation. Kabbalah Nevuit (“Prophetic”), is the set of skills that teaches one to achieve Ruach HaKodesh. Finally, Kabbalah Ma’asit deals with angelic oaths, use of divine names and bending nature. Rabbi Chaim Vital was adamant and veheemently prohibited this last area. He explains in Etz Chaim that the forces of darkness could easily gain a foothold on a person using it, endanger his life and make him lose his share of the World to Come.

Unsurprisingly, due to his tremendous humility, the Baba Sali didn’t publish written works. He made his students promise not to record his lectures. In order to detach himself from the physical world even more, he fasted often as is the custom of many Mekubalim.

Rabbi Chaim Vital writes in Sha’ar Ruach HaKodesh that fasting 2 days in a row is equivalent to 27 days and 3 days in a row is equivalent to 40 days. Besides fasting often during the week, it was recorded that the Baba Sali fasted from Motzaei Shabbat to Erev Shabbat (a full 6 days straight) no less than 82 times!

Not only that, but he refused all types of honor as one of his attendants also testified that the Baba Sali would strive to be the first in the synagogue so people wouldn’t be bothered to rise up for him. In many instances, he refused gifts from people who had been guilty of Chillul Shabbat or planting during the year of Shmittah (the 7th year when planting is prohibited by the Torah).

​One famous incident is counted when Rabbi Yisrael went to Tzfat. For many years, the ancient Beit HaKnesset of the holy Arizal had been locked. After much pressure, the shamash who had been refusing to give the key to anyone, gave it to the Baba Sali only, for anyone that came inside the Synagogue met his end. That’s why it was sealed from the public. Nevertheless, Rabbi Yisrael Abuchatzeira went in with a rope tied to him, opened the Holy Ark and started reading from the Torah. After he left, thousands of people came to visit the ancient Synagogue and it’s open to this date in his merit.

​The Baba Sali’s Arak (a strong drink) was known to be used for many miracles. Another story is told when, during a certain wedding, the non-Jewish waiter fell asleep in the wine room, with all the caskets open. This posed a big problem, because the wine was not mevushal (cooked), which meant every single casket could’ve been invalidaded by Torah Law. In this case there was nothing to do, all the bottles would’ve had to be discarded. The Baba Sali saw this, put a napkin around his bottle of Arak and filled every cup to the brim. When he took away the napkin, the bottle was full!

​We haven’t even scratched the surface speaking about the greatness of Rabbi Yisrael Abuchatzeira. He is buried in Netivot and his grave is a pilgrimage site for thousands of people all throughout the year.

References and additional reading:

1. Baba Sali – Our Holy Teacher: His life, piety, teachings and miracles (Judaica Press)- by Rav Eliyahu Alfasi and Rav Yechiel Torgeman

This article was written and published in the zechut of all Emuna Builder Partners. May they have complete emuna and continue spreading emuna!

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