A Light from Aram Soba
Rav Avraham Ades (5608/1848-28 Av 5685/1925)
By D. Sofer
The city of Aram Soba in Syria, otherwise known as Halab, was among the
most ancient Jewish communities in the world. According to tradition, Jews
lived there even before the destruction of the first Beis Hamikdash. It was
also a city that produced great Torah sages, and whose residents honored and
supported talmidei chachamim.
When the Shela Hakadosh passed through Halab on his way to Eretz Yisrael,
he said that he felt very much at home there.
One of the greatest sages of Aram Soba was Rav Avraham Ades (Antebbe), a
remarkable talmid chacham who devoted every possible moment of his time to
According to Rav Gidon Meir Gilkrov, author of Hey'ir Hamizrach, a book
about Rav Avraham, it was this devotion to Torah that enabled Rav Avraham to
eventually achieve the spiritual level of Ruach Hakodesh.
He also produced an illustrious family of gedolei Torah, as well as many
students who became great talmidei chachamim and Torah leaders.
DESTINED FOR GREATNESS
Rav Avraham Ades was born in Halab in 5608/1848. His parents' home was
steeped in kedusha and love of Torah. His father, Rav Yitzchak, was a
textile merchant, but he devoted all of his spare time to Torah study and
achieved great levels of yir'at Shamayim and piety. Every night, he would
rise to recite Tikun Chatzot, and then would say Tehillim until dawn,
completing the remainder of the sefer during the day.
When fellow kabbalists asked Rav Avraham why his father had merited so
great a son, Rav Avraham brought the following account to illustrate his
father's spiritual stature: "When my father was on his deathbed, in a nearly
unconscious state, he suddenly lifted his hand and called out, 'Boruch haba,
David Hamelech.' Then he lowered his hand and passed away."
As a youngster, Rav Avraham studied in yeshivos headed by such gedolim as
Rav Mordecahi Abadi and Rav Ezra Tawill Hakohen. It is related that during
this period, Rav Avraham studied so intensely that puddles of perspiration
collected underneath the table at which he sat.
At the age of 20, he married the daughter of Rav Moshe Swed, rav of Aram
Soba and author of She'elot and Teshubot Emmet Mishpat and Shalom Emmet.
After his marriage he devoted himself solely to Torah, studying b'chavrusa
with Rav Yitzchok Shrim. Every year, during the 40 days between Rosh Chodesh
Elul and Yom Kippur, the two would remain awake all night studying together
in preparation for Yom Hadin.
While still a young man, Rav Avraham began to teach Torah in Aram Soba.
Many of his students later became great Torah sages, including Rav Yosef
Yedid Halevi, Rav Shlomo Laniado, Rav Ezra Attia and Rav Yaakov Katzin.
He imbued his students with a deep love of Torah, stressing the
significance of devoting one's entire life to Torah study. Instilling such
an ideal, however, was very difficult because of the harsh economic
conditions that existed at that time. But Rav Avraham was not deterred. He
not only taught the importance of such a goal, but he also arranged
financial aid for his students so that they could continue to study
undisturbed. In this manner, he played a vital role in producing generations
of gedolei Yisrael.
One of the students he urged to study Torah full-time was Rav Ezra Chamawi,
who had originally planned to work. When Rav Chamawi's father-in-law heard
about Rav Avraham's urging, he asked, 'Who will support the family?"
"I will find wealthy Jews to support him," Rav Avraham assured him.
Rav Chamawi eventually became a rosh yeshiva in Halab and its rav, as well
as the author of many Torah chiddushim.
Rav Ezra Attia, who later became the renowned rosh yeshiva of Porat Yosef,
was orphaned from his father at an early age and came from a very poor
family. Rav Avraham also enabled him to devote himself to full-time Torah
In turn, these illustrious Torah sages produced many of their own
outstanding students, who later helped bring about the spiritual revival of
TO ERETZ Yisrael
In 5656/1896, Rav Avraham immigrated to Eretz Yisrael and settled in
Yerushalayim, where the wealthy Rav Shalom Musayof provided him with a
Soon after his arrival, Rav Avraham founded Rechovot Hanahar, a kabbala
yeshiva in the Bucharian neighborhood, where he studied for many years.
Before long, some of the city's finest kabbalistic sages joined him there.
Rav Avraham Munsa related: "I was privileged to know Rav Avraham in his
later years, and to see him poring over his studies the entire day in the
Bava Tama synagogue in the Bucharian neighborhood. Every two or three weeks,
he would complete a mesechta."
Rav Yehuda Ades, the current rosh yeshiva of Kol Yaakov, relates: "Once Rav
Ezra Attia pointed to a sefarim shrank in front of him and told me, 'Your
grandfather knew all this. But his main greatness was his profundity and
Rav Avraham was very ascetic and pious, and he wore a sack close to his
body so as not to experience too much material comfort in this world. But he
hid this sack from the view of others, even going so far as to lay and
remove his tefillin outside the shul so that no one would see the sack.
He also ate very meager meals.
"The neshama is a spark of the Shechina," he explained. "As a result, a
person does not require the enjoyment provided by food."
In 5680/1920, there was a very heavy blizzard in Yerushalayim. Rav Avraham
took advantage of the snowfall and filled a room with snow so that he could
conduct "gilgulei sheleg," a tikun that consists of rolling 310 times in the
snow, according to the kavanot of the Arizal.
Despite the icy weather Rav Avraham began to roll in the snow. When he was
past the 100th roll, he lost count because of the kavanos he recited after
each one. Unperturbed, he started again from the beginning.
Rav Avraham was exceptionally kind and genial and greeted everyone warmly.
His encouraging words had a profound effect on the downtrodden people who
turned to him, causing many to do teshuva.
During his later years, secular Zionists began arriving in Eretz Yisrael
and they succeeded in convincing many Jews to abandon Torah and mitzvot. The
country's youth were particularly vulnerable. In his pleasant and loving
manner, Rav Avraham drew those youngsters back to Torah, and some eventually
became prominent talmidei chachamim.
In Eretz Yisrael, Rav Avraham also continued his practice of supporting
Rav Meir Refael, one of the rabbanim of the Yazdi sect, arrived in Eretz
Yisrael in 5683/1923, and was Rav Avraham's neighbor in what was known as
the Musayof courtyard. He related that since his financial situation was
difficult, Rav Avraham would support him in various roundabout ways.
"He would ask me to repair items in his house, and then pay me unusually
high fees for my work," said Rav Meir. "When I told him that he was
overpaying me, he would reply: 'The Torah requires us to love the ger. Who
is a ger? One who comes to Eretz Yisrael with his staff and knapsack. You,
who left your wealth in your native land and came to Yerushalayim, are
surely in the category of a ger.'
"One Succot," Rav Meir continued, "I had no money to purchase my Yom Tov
needs. Rav Avraham invited me to his house and said, 'Let's make a
cheshbon, and see how much I owe you.'
"'You don't owe me a thing,' I replied.
"'Yes I do,' Reb Avraham insisted. Then he gave me a substantial sum of
money and told me to use it for my holiday expenses."
GUARDIAN OF TORAH
In Yerushalayim, Rav Avraham was a member of the beit din of the Aram Soba
community, presiding in that position alongside Rav Yosef Yedid Halevi and
Rav Ezra Harari-Raful. This beit din fought all attempts to undermine
religion in the city.
Rav Avraham's efforts to prevent breaches in religion actually date back to
his years in Aram Soba. When representatives of the notorious Alliance
society arrived in Halab, he was on alert to their insidious schemes. These
representatives would present themselves as G-d fearing Jews, while their
true goal was to lure Jewish children into enrolling in schools run by
At first, Rav Avraham was the only one of Aram Soba's chachamim who
recognized the Alliance's ruse. One time, an Alliance representative asked
to be called up to the Torah in Aram Soba's main shul. Rav Avraham,
however, slapped him in the face and removed him from the bima. It was clear
to all what kind of person the Alliance representative really was.
In Yerushalayim, one of Rav Avraham's primary efforts was a proclamation
issued in 5680/1920 that prohibited shaving with a razor. The proclamation
also said that although according to the halacha one may remove his beard
with a lotion, pious Jews are careful not shave their beards at all.
This proclamation was signed by Rav Yosef Chaim Hakohen, the rav and av
beit din of the Maarvi sect in Yerushalayim; Rav Chaim Shaul Doweck Hakohen,
rosh yeshiva of Rechovot Nahar Yeshiva; and many other great Sephardi and
In 5684/1924, a Bnai Brith office was established in Aram Soba. The Torah
sages of the Aram Soba community who were living in Eretz Yisrael-among
them Rav Avraham-disapproved of this organization.
Rav Avraham was very close with Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld and visited him
frequently. When Rav Avraham learned about the founding of the Bnai Brith
society in Aram Soba, he and Rav Ezra Harari-Raful asked Rav Sonnenfeld for
his opinion about it. When he heard that Rav Sonnenfeld vehemently opposed
it, Rav Avraham proceeded to issue a proclamation entitled Koshet Divrei
Emmet, which publicly decried it. Rav Sonnenfeld's opposition is mentioned
in the proclamation.
Rav Avraham was also greatly pained by the secular chinuch that was gaining
a foothold in Eretz Yisrael during his later years. At that time, there were
a number of secular schools on Yeshayahu Street. When Rav Avraham had to be
on Yeshayahu Street, he would avoid passing by those schools; instead, he
took a roundabout, lengthier route to his destination. Fortunately, today
those schools are Talmud Torahs.
FOR THE SAKE OF THE BUCHARIAN SECT
In Rav Gidon Meir Gilkrov's book on Rav Avraham, Hey'ir Hamizrach, Rav
Gilkrov writes that Rav Avraham was very devoted to the Bucharian sect, in
whose neighborhood he lived.
In 5682/1922 Rav Yosef Chaim Shalamof, a great Bucharian rav, moved to
Eretz Yisrael, settling in the Bucharian Quarter. In Bucharia, Rav Shalamof
had been an outstanding darshan, who drew people closer to Torah with his
Shortly after his arrival in Yerushalayim, Rav Avraham asked him to
continue this practice in the Bucharian neighborhood of Yerushalayim. When
Rav Shalamof said that he couldn't deliver drashot in Yerushalayim because
he had left his library in Bucharia, Rav Avraham presented him with a number
of costly sefarim from his own personal library, urging him to use them in
the preparation of the drashot.
Rav Ades suffered from many physical ailments throughout his life, but he
accepted his suffering with love. The manner of his petira, though, was
One day, as he was crossing the street, he was struck down by a bus driven
by a new driver. Rav Avraham was rushed to Shaarei Tzedek hospital in
Rav David Harari-Raful described Rav Avraham's final hours: "During those
hours, he made valiant efforts to pore over Shir Hashirim. Then, with a
glowing expression, he said: 'I fully forgive the bus driver who struck me.
The accident was an act of Hashem. May Hashem in His kindness bless the
driver with a long life and good years.'"
Rav Avraham fought for his life for three days, returning his pure soul to
its Maker on the 28th of Av, 5685/1925.
Until today, his illustrious descendants continue to follow the path he
charted for them.
Re-Printed with permission from Yated Ne'eman. All rights reserved.