Updated: Sep 8, 2020
Rabbi Chaim Ibn Attar was born in Salé, Morroco, in 1696 and one can’t find enough words to describe his greatness. He’s the author of the beloved and classical commentary on the Torah, Ohr HaChaim, by which he’s nicknamed.This magnificent work features in almost virtually every Mikraot Gedolot (digest of commentaries on the whole Torah) and is a favorite of many people worldwide, old and young.
A wondrous Kabbalist
It was known that he was also a great Kabbalist and that Eliyahu HaNavi visited him frequently to teach him great secrets of the Torah. We can have an idea of how big the soul of a Rabbi is by his disciplines. None less the Chida studied with him and wrote about the Ohr HaChaim: “… he uprooted mountains like an unstoppable torrent, his holiness was that of an angel of the Lord, having severed every bondwith the dealings of this world." Not only that, but he was also one of the few individuals throughout Jewish history that received the honorific “the Holy” (HaKadosh).
Sadly, his life was cut short at 47 just like many Kabbalists die young. The reason is that, since they are at the front lines of the spiritual war, the forces of Tumah often gather up to try to cut him.
A teaching by the Ohr HaChaim
The Ohr HaChaim’s commentary is incredibly deep, innovative and shows his mastery of the Tanach, Talmud, Halacha, Kabbalah, Hashkafa (Jewish thought) and Philosophy. One such famous instance is when the sons of Yaakov Avinu throw Yosef in the pit. The Torah writes that “the pit was empty, it had no water”, to which Rashi comments “it was empty of water, but it had snakes and scorpions”.
Why did the brothers not kill Yosef right away, since he appeared to be rebelling against the monarchy of Yehuda and deserving death penalty?
The Ohr HaChaim explains that the brothers wanted foolproof evidence that Yosef was destined to die. A person has free choice and can choose to kill another one even if the victim does not have a decree of death from Above. However, animals only perform the will of Hashem and, if someone is completely innocent, then he will not be harmed by an animal! That’s why, if they killed Yosef, it wouldn’t be proof of his guilt, but if an animal killed him, then wecould be sure he was deserving it!
The Ba’al Shem Tov’s testimony
A famous story of the Ba’al Shem Tov illustrates the greatness of the Ohr HaChaim. The Zohar teaches us that the highest point of Shabbat (and the entire year) is called Ra’ava D’Ra’avin (desire of desires) and it happens for each person after the Mincha prayer. At that particular time, the Ba’al Shem Tov washed his hands to eat the holy third meal. He then paused for a few moments and declared “Alas, the great Ohr HaChaim, the light of the West [Eretz Yisrael] has passed away” [Some say he said “The western lamp”, alluding to the middle candle of the Menorah].
His students were puzzed and asked him how he knew about that. The Ba’al Shem Tov replied “There’s a supremely holy secret about washing the hands that is revealed to only one individual at a generation. This was the Ohr HaChaim, and now it was revealed to me from Above. That’s how I know.”
The Ba’al Shem Tov also revealed that the Ohr HaChaim had a spark of Mashiach himself. Not only that, but if both of them could ascend to Eretz Yisrael, they could bring the Geulah.
The Kever of the Ohr HaChaim is situated at the Mount of Olives (Har HaZeitim), where it’s a pilgrimage site to Jews of all denominations. In fact, during the period of Jordanian domain of the Mount of Olives, many graves were desecrated and destroyed. The enemies wished to build a road passing by that cemetery. It happened that one of the Jordanian soldiers tried to destroy the grave of the Ohr HaChaim, but when his hammer hit the grave, it slipped from his hand right into his head, killing him. Undeterred, one of the Jordanians came with a bulldozer to the grave of the Ohr HaChaim. As it touched the holy grave it flipped and fell in the adjacent Kidron Valley, killing the driver. That’s when the Arabs realised there was something to that holy grave and left it in place.
Many Jews have reported wonderful salvations from praying there. May the merit of this Tzaddik merits protect us!
This article was written and published in the zechut of all Emuna Builder Partners. May they have complete emuna and continue spreading emuna!