THE BABA SALI,
RAV YISRAEL ABUCHATZEIRA ZT"L
Rav Yisrael Abuchatzeira, the great Moroccan tzaddik, was commonly known as
the Baba Sali, or "Praying Father," because of his ability to work miracles
with his prayers. This title, however, actually originated with an incident
that occurred in Rav Yisrael's childhood.
Unlike most children his age, the young Rav Yisrael never longed for toys or
sweets. All he wanted was a new siddur, the kind with large, shimmering
One day his father, Rav Mas'ud Abuchatzeira, brought home such a siddur. But
he was reluctant to give it to Rav Yisrael, fearing that its glitter might
divert his son's attention from his prayers.
Rav Yisrael offered his father a proposition. "Let's make a deal," he said.
"You give me the siddur, and if I pray with less fervor, you take it back."
"It's a deal," Rav Mas'ud replied.
Rav Mas'ud never did ask for that siddur back. Rav Yisrael prayed with great
devotion and eventually became a pillar of prayer on whom Klal Yisrael
Rav Yisrael Abuchatzeira descended from an illustrious family of Sephardic
chachamim and tzaddikim, beginning with Rav Shmuel Abuchatzeira, who was
known for his piety and scholarship.
Although Rav Shmuel was born in Eretz Yisrael, he lived in Damascus for a
time, where he studied with Rav Chaim Vital. In Shem Hagedolim, the Chida
refers to Rav Shmuel as an "Ish Elokim kadosh. Wise people speak of his
might and wonders in saving the Jewish community from many difficulties."
The Abuchatzeira family eventually moved to the Moroccan city of
Tafelatlech, where Rav Shmuel's son Mas'ud served as a rav. Rav Mas'ud's
son Yaakov, known as the Abir Yaakov, succeeded his father as rav of
Tafelatletch. Rav Yaakov was a great scholar who was known to be a baal
The Abir Yaakov's oldest son, Mas'ud, followed in the family's footsteps and
became an av beis din in Tafelatlech. It was there that his son, Rav
Yisrael, the Baba Sali, was born.
A UNIQUE UPBRINGING
Rav Yisrael was born on Rosh Hashana 5650, and grew up in a home permeated
with Torah and kedusha. The examples his parents set had a profound
influence on him.
His family lived on a large estate. One wing contained a yeshiva, where
budding scholars studied day and night. Rav Mas'ud's beis din was situated
in another wing, and Rav Yisrael's oldest brother, David, studied in a room
on the other side of the house.
Young Yisrael was eager to see how his father and brothers conducted
themselves at mealtime. However, he hardly saw them at mealtime because they
ate very little, in keeping with their ascetic lifestyles.
One of the main lessons Rav Yisrael learned in his home was that one should
guard his tongue and use his power of speech only for Avodas Hashem.
Once, when Rav Yisrael was 10, he encountered a group of children who were
fighting, and he denounced the child who started the fight. Later that day,
he recounted the incident to his father.
"I was so angry at those children," he told him, "that I nearly cursed the
Rav Mas'ud listened carefully to Rav Yisrael's story, and used it as a
springboard to teach him a lesson that eventually became the cornerstone of
Rav Yisrael's way of life.
"My son," he said. "You are destined for greatness, and one day, all that
escapes your lips will be fulfilled. As a result, you must only bless and
speak well of others, and never curse anyone."
>From that day on, Rav Yisrael was particular to always guard his speech.
Rav Mas'ud not only trained his children to guard their tongues, but also
their eyes. On the rare occasions in which Rav Mas'ud went outside, he would
cover his eyes with his cape to prevent himself from seeing inappropriate
sights. From this behavior, Rav Yisrael learned the importance of Shmiras
Einayim, guarding one's sight.
TORAH AND TESHUVA
Rav Yisrael was extremely diligent in his Torah learning, and as a youth, he
studied day and night, sometimes in his brother's attic.
When he was 12, he began to fast during the Yemai Hashovavim, a special
period between Teves and Adar that is conducive to teshuva. Knowing that his
parents would refuse to let him fast in this manner, he hid his behavior
Before long, however, his brother Rav David realized how weak and pale Rav
Yisrael has become and understood that he was fasting.
"Yisrael," he told him, "you are too young to undertake such fasts. Besides,
there is no need for you to fast during Yemai Hashovavim, since you haven't
Despite his brother's urgings, Rav Yisrael continued to fast.
After his bar mitzva, Rav Yisrael was accepted into the family's yeshiva,
where a rigid learning schedule was maintained. The students rose for tikun
chatzos and then studied kabbalistic works until dawn, when they would go to
After Shacharis and a light breakfast, they studied Gemara in depth until
Mincha, and after Mincha they attended a shiur in Shulchan Aruch.
When Rav Yisrael was 16, he married Precha Amsalem, who served as a true
helpmate throughout the many years of their marriage.
IN THE SHADOW OF WWI
With the outbreak of World War I, France gained control of many parts of
North Africa without a struggle. A year after the French conquest, however,
the residents of the region near Tafelatlech rebelled and drove out the
French army. This rebellion was headed by the Moslem Mulai Muhamed, a cruel
tyrant who appointed himself king and religious ruler of the area. He
particularly harassed the Jews of Tafelatlech.
Three years after Mulai Muhamed's conquest, the French, who hadn't
reconciled with the rebels, began to shell the rebels' outposts, which were
very close to the Jewish districts.
During this period, Rav Yisrael studied diligently, totally ignoring the
shelling. When the firing began, he hid under the stairs of his home and
continued to study.
The situation, however, escalated, and Rav Yisrael decided to move his
family and the yeshiva to a quieter area, so that they could study
undisturbed. But it was too late. Mulai Muhamed had besieged Tafelatlech,
and no one could leave or enter it.
In time, Mulai Muhamed's harassment of the Jews increased, and he even
executed a number of Jews on the false grounds that they had collaborated
with the French.
Shortly after Chanuka 5680, Mulai Muhamed issued a decree to massacre the
Jews of Tafelatlech. However, he didn't specify the day on which he planned
to execute his decree. Rav David Abuchatzeira consoled the distraught
members of his community, revealing to them that he made many efforts to
cancel the decree, among them a plea to Hashem to take his life as an
atonement for the entire community.
While he was comforting them, soldiers appeared and ordered Rav David to
come with them. He was then tied to a cannon and shot to death, dying al
kiddush Hashem. The Jews of Tafelatlech had to bribe Mulai Muhamed to have
Rav David's body returned to them, and they buried him according to Jewish
With Rav David's death, the Jews of the region decided to leave Tafelatlech
and flee to nearby Arpud, where special efforts were made to redeem those
taken captive by Mulai Muhamed. But Arpud was still close to the area ruled
by Mulai Muhamed, and Rav Yisrael and his fellow townsmen soon fled to
TO BODNIV AND ERETZ Yisrael AND BACK AGAIN
Once in Bodniv, Rav Yisrael's followers asked him to serve as their rav, but
he refused. He didn't feel he was spiritually ready to lead a community, nor
did he feel worthy of succeeding his brother Rav David. He was greatly
pained by his brother's murder and decided to go to Eretz Yisrael to print
Rav David's sefarim
In 5682 Rav Yisrael, accompanied by his loyal attendant Moshe Shetreet, set
out for Eretz Yisrael, passing through Algeria, Tunisia and then Egypt,
where he visited the grave of his grandfather, the Abir Yaakov. From Egypt
he set sail to Jaffa, and then went to Yerushalayim.
Once in Yerushalayim, he was greeted by former residents of Tafelatlech, as
well as by many sages who had known the great rabbanim of the Abuchatzeira
family. He stayed at the home of Rav Yosef Shlush, who helped him publish
Rav David's works.
Rav Yisrael remained in Eretz Yisrael for a year. When he returned to
Bodniv, he could no longer refuse the community's request that he serve as
its rav and av beis din.
Rav Yisrael was very active in Bodniv, transforming the city into a vibrant
Torah center with a large nucleus of talmidei chachamim.
Together with another one of his brothers, Rav Yitzchak, he reestablished
the Abir Yaakov Yeshiva and attended to the city's spiritual and material
needs, as well as to those of the nearby community of Arpud.
He soon gained fame for the potency of his blessings, particularly for the
many instances in which he blessed water and the water was then used to
bring about a miracle. He also thwarted the attempts of the enlightened
Alliance, or Kol Yisrael Chaveirim Society, to corrode the Jewish values of
SECOND VISIT TO ERETZ Yisrael
In 5693, Rav Yisrael made another trip to Egypt, leaving leadership of the
community of Bodniv in the capable hands of his son, Rav Meir Shalom. In
Egypt, he prayed beside the grave of the Abir Yaakov, and from there he
traveled to Eretz Yisrael.
This time, he stayed in the Porat Yosef Yeshiva, spending most of his time
with its rosh yeshiva, Rav Ezra Attia, Rav Yaakov Adas and Rav Aharon Harari
Raful. After a while, he visited Tzefas, where a remarkable incident
Rav Yisrael had traveled to Tzefas with his attendant. After immersing in
the Arizal's mikveh, he asked his attendant to take him to the Arizal's
ancient synagogue. The attendant told him that the shul had been closed for
a long time, because everyone who tried to enter it in recent years had
Rav Yisrael, though, was undaunted, and sent his attendant to the shul's
gabbai to fetch the key. At first, the gabbai refused to comply, claiming
that it was dangerous to enter the shul. Finally, when Rav Yisrael insisted
that he give him the key, he yielded.
The attendant was terrified when Rav Yisrael asked him to accompany him
inside. But Rav Yisrael reassured him, "Hold onto my cloak and follow me.
Nothing will happen to you."
As soon as Rav Yisrael and his attendant entered the shul, Rav Yisrael
opened the aron kodesh and read from one of the sifrei Torah. After reciting
a short prayer, he told his attendant, "The danger has passed. I have
conducted a tikun for the shul, and from now on, no one entering it will be
The gabbai, who had been waiting outside and was trembling in fear, didn't
believe his eyes when he saw Rav Yisrael and his attendant emerge from the
shul. That day, he told Tzefas' residents about the miracle, and the shul
was once again accessible to all.
>From Tzefas, Rav Yisrael went to Damascus to pray at the grave of Rav Shmuel
Abuchatzeira. Then he returned to Yerushalayim to take leave of its sages
before returning home. Rav Yisrael then set sail for Morocco.
Shortly after Rav Yisrael's boat to Morocco had set sail, however, a
violent storm erupted at sea. The terrified passengers crowded into one
corner of the ship and prayed for their lives. Rav Yisrael, though, went up
to the ship's main deck and approached its railing. As the ship swayed from
side to side, he removed a cup from his pocket, bent down and drew a bit of
the rising seawater.
Then, while reciting a number of pesukim, he slowly poured the water back
into the sea. Once all the water in the cup had returned to the sea, the
Back in Bodniv, Rav Yisrael's fame grew, and soon he was asked to serve as
Morocco's chief rabbi. Although he was reluctant to accept such a position,
he eventually yielded to his followers' pleas. Upon assuming that position,
he and his family moved to Arpud, the capital city of the Risani district in
southern Morocco. He and his family also spent the difficult years of World
War II in Arpud.
PRAYING FOR SUCCOR
During World War II, news reached Arpud that the Nazis planned to overtake
North Africa and from there advance to Egypt and Eretz Yisrael. Rav Yisrael
immersed himself in prayer, and encouraged his followers to do teshuva.
When the Germans invaded North Africa, its Jews feared that their end was
near. Yet even then, Rav Yisrael continued to pray, promising his community
that if they did teshuva, the enemy wouldn't overtake them. A short while
before the German troops reached the Risani region, the Americans arrived on
the scene, saving the entire district.
After that, Morocco's Jews continued to pray for the welfare of their
brothers in Eretz Yisrael, to where the Germans were rapidly advancing.
While the Germans reached El Almein in Egypt, they soon retreated close to
the borders of Eretz Yisrael.
During the War of Independence, Morocco's Jews, encouraged by Rav Yisrael,
also prayed for the safety of Eretz Yisrael's Jews. Immediately after the
war, many Moroccan Jews made aliya.
In 5710, Rav Yisrael decided to visit Eretz Yisrael once again, but this
time, he planned to make it his permanent home.
HOME AT LAST
At first Rav Yisrael settled in Lod, not far from his brother Rav Yitzchak,
who lived in nearby Ramle. But when he was offered the position of rav of
Lod, he moved to Yerushalayim. There he rented a small apartment in the Baka
neighborhood, and devoted himself solely to Torah study.
Three years after his arrival in Yerushalayim, he was offered the position
of Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, but he declined the offer.
Shortly afterward, the leaders of the small southern town of Netivot, most
of whose residents were of Moroccan origin, invited him to move there.
At first, Rav Yisrael hesitated to accept their invitation because he wasn't
certain whether Netivot was within the consecrated borders of Eretz Yisrael
He discussed the issue at length with Rav Yissochor Meir, Rosh Yeshiva of
Yeshivas Hanegev. When the two concluded that Netivot did, indeed, have
kedushas Eretz Yisrael, Rav Yisrael agreed to move there.
Within a brief period of time, Netivot became a famous and important town to
which thousands flocked to receive the Baba Sali's blessings.
One of the first to visit him in Netivot was his brother Rav Yitzchak. Rav
Yisrael, who was happy to see him, held a special seuda in his honor. At the
end of the seuda, he pleaded with Rav Yitzchak to remain in Netivot for the
night. However, Rav Yitzchak said that had to attend to a number of affairs
early in the morning and preferred to return to Ramle that night.
Soon after Rav Yitzchak left Netivot, the car in which he was riding
crashed. Rav Yitzchak was seriously injured and was niftar that night.
Rav Yisrael was broken by the news, and for a long time found it difficult
to console himself over the loss of his beloved brother.
IMPACT ON NETIVOT
Rav Yisrael had a profound impact on Netivot and its surrounding
settlements. Many residents of these settlements changed their entire
lifestyles due to his influence and began to observe the mitzvos hateluyos
ba'aretz. In time, the Negev began to bloom spiritually.
>From the moment Rav Yisrael arrived in Netivot, large numbers of people
lined up at his door, seeking his help. His prayers led to many miracles and
resulted in great kiddush Hashem. Many people also returned to their roots
as a result of his influence.
One of the most famous incidents involved a young man who was injured in
The young man arrived at Rav Yisrael's home in Netivot in a wheelchair. He
told Rav Yisrael his story: "I was injured by a bullet in my back during the
Yom Kippur War. Although I underwent a series of operations, I am still a
cripple and can't stand up. One of my legs is so bad that the doctors want
to amputate it. A friend suggested that I visit the Rav, who is supposed to
work wonders with his prayers. At first I refused. But in my despair, I
decided to give it a try."
"Do you put on tefillin every day?" Rav Yisrael asked.
"Do you keep Shabbos?"
"If such is the case, " Rav Yisrael replied, "you should be thankful that
only one leg is in such a serious condition. We believe that Hashem gives us
healthy limbs so that we may serve Him. Those who don't keep the mitzvos
should regard their healthy limbs as gifts."
At that, the young man burst into tears.
Rav Yisrael looked him the eye and asked, "If I bless you that you will be
able to stand, will you begin to observe the mitzvos?"
"Yes," the young man eagerly replied.
"Then give me your hand, and may you have a refua sheleima."
After the young man kissed Rav Yisrael's hand, Rebbetzin Abuchatzeira told
him to try and stand up. To his surprise, he was able to stand up
immediately, and even take a number of steps without assistance.
Startled by the remarkable change in his situation, the young man ran out of
the house in search of a telephone. The nearest telephone was in Yeshivas
Hanegev, a few feet away from Rav Yisrael's home.
The young man raced over to the yeshiva, and called his family to tell them
about the miracle. The yeshiva students, who overheard the conversation,
were stunned. Taking him by the hand, they broke out into a fervent dance.
A short while later, the young man returned to Rav Yisrael's house with many
of the yeshiva students, and a special seuda was held in honor of the
The young man's story spread like wildfire throughout the country, and
caused many to adopt a Torah lifestyle.
This is only one story out of the many thousands of accounts of the great
miracles brought about by the Baba Sali's prayers.
RELATIONSHIP WITH GEDOLIM
Due to the Baba Sali's kedusha and unique conduct, the gedolei Yisrael of
his time respected and admired him.
The Satmar Rebbe, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum, held him in high esteem, and sent
people to him for blessings.
The Baba Sali was also had close relationships with Rav Aharon Rokeach of
Belz, the Shomrei Emunim Rebbe, the Beis Yisrael, the Riminetzer Rebbe, Rav
Shmuel Wosner, and many other Gedolei Yisrael.
When the Baba Sali met the Chazon Ish, the Chazon Ish called him "an oved
During his final years, Rav Yisrael suffered from many painful ailments. He
was niftar on the 4th of Shevat, 5744. Thousands of people from all over
the country attended his levaya, and mourned the loss of a great tzaddik
who, with his prayers, had worked wonders.
Rav Yisrael was buried in a special plot in Netivot. Many visit his grave
every day, certain that he who prayed for them during his lifetime will
certainly intercede on their behalf in the World of Truth.
Zechuto Yagen Aleinu.
Re-Printed with permission from Yated Ne'eman. All rights reserved.