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Stories of Rabbi Yaakov Abuchatzeira zt'l

excerpts from the book "Maase Nissim" part one by R.Avraham Mugrabi (with permission)

Although he dressed very simply, Rabbi Yaakov Abuchatzeira's name became known throughout the land. Any man who had a dispute with his fellow would come to him to resolve it in good manner. Arabs and Jews, all knew him and he made many miracles and wonders for them, and sanctified G-d's Name throughout the land.

Almost all these stories, I did not write them down until I confirmed and heard them directly from the descendants of R.Yaakov Abuchatzeira.

Guardian of Israel

R.Yaakov was a big tzadik, a guardian of Israel, he hardly slept. He never lied down on a bed. Rather, he would doze a bit while he was sitting and then continue in his torah study. His heart was open like the entrance to the Ulam (Temple). He exiled himself from place to place, gathering money for the poor, blessing the broken hearted and sick. Many times people came to him even in the middle of the night, disturbing his rest, but he did not protest.


Watch your Words

When Rabbi Yaakov visited Tunisia he lodged by a very rich and honorable businessman. The businessman greatly honored him as is fitting for a torah sage. He set the table with silver and gold vessels like the table of a king. He sat at the table big rabbis in honor of the guest. During the meal, the businessman's wife looked through the window to see R.Yaakov. But when she saw that he was not wearing honorable clothing (for this was his custom due to great humility) but rather was dressed like a simple person, she disdained him in her thoughts. She then said to her husband: "what is all this? You turned the whole world over with such big preparations for this Rabbi and he sits there and eats like a dog!"

Her husband scolded her and quieted her. Immediately after she left, she began to bark like a dog.

Her husband heard the barking sounds and quickly searched all the rooms but did not find any dog.

He approached his wife and lo and behold she was barking like a dog. He contemplated why this was happening and remembered the words she said on R.Yaakov. He thought to himself: "surely she is being punished measure for measure".

Immediately he went to R.Yaakov and told over the whole matter and beseeched him to forgive her and heal her. Right away, R.Yaakov took a cup from the table which had some drink and prayed for her.

The host gave the cup to his wife and told her to drink from it. Immediately after she drank from the cup, she returned to health and began to speak like a human being.

Then she fell before R.Yaakov and confessed her sin, crying and beseeching him. All those present were amazed at what their eyes saw and realized they were sitting at a table amongst a holy man beloved to the Creator of the world.

(from this story we learn how much one needs to be careful of the honor of the torah sages and not to demean them ch'v. All the torah scholars are beloved before the Holy One, blessed be He, more than anything. For they abandon all the good of this world in order to toil in G-d's holy torah.. Whoever honors them merits many things and all the more so for those who support them..)


Visit to a Cave

This story I heard from Baba Sali who heard it from R.Yitzchak Dahan. One time R.Yitzchak Dahan and R.Yaakov were in the city of Sifro in Morroco. In that city is the grave of the holy bachur (thus they called the grave of a young torah scholar who died sanctifying G-d's Name).

R.Yaakov wanted to visit this grave. We went there and the place where the bachur is buried is in a cave and to reach there, there are places where one needs to crawl down on the ground. For he was buried deeply in the cave and the entrance was very narrow.

And it was that when R.Yaakov reached the cave and wanted to enter, all the openings of the cave expanded up and made a clear path. He did not need to bend down or squeeze through at all. He entered to the place of the grave and stayed there for about two hours. He did yichudim (kabalistic meditations) in order to connect himself with the [soul of the] dead person.

After two hours, he said to R.Yitzchak Dahan. Know that right now, the dead person is not at his grave. He is currently in Jerusalem and will return tomorrow. Therefore we need to return tomorrow.

When R.Yaakov wanted to leave the cave, again all the openings rose up to the height of R.Yaakov and likewise the next day when they returned.

R.Yaakov rejoiced the next day when he found the Bachur at his grave, returned from Jerusalem. He prayed there and returned to his place happy and joyful.


When I Sniff Tobacco

R.Yaakov's son R.Massoud Abuchatzeira told the following story to his son R.Yisrael Abuchatzeira (Baba Sali). When R.Maasoud wanted to learn kabala from R.Yaakov, he urged him to teach him kabala from the books of the Arizal. His father answered him that he must first toil by himself in order to merit to understand the torah of truth in the kabala and afterwards he will teach him the kabala.

R.Massoud toiled and worked hard. During his studies, he sensed a certain question. He approached his father and asked him the question. When R.Yaakov heard the question, he greatly rejoiced on his son's question. Then he said to him: "from today onwards come to me every midnight with the book and I will teach you. For I see from your question that you truly toiled to understand (they studied at midnight for then is the most favorable time to study kabala).

Thus they studied for a long time and finished all the books of the Arizal. R.Massoud became very wise and proficient in kabala and in order to pray with the kavanot (kabalistic intents) he arranged a siddur (prayer book) with all the necessary kavanot (similar to the siddur of the Rashash).

When he finished it, he showed it to R.Yaakov his father. R.Yaakov examined it and saw that his son was tremendously proficient in kabala and he rejoiced greatly.

But R.Yaakov told him thus:
"With this I see that you are proficient (baki) in kabala and that you remember and understand all that you learn. However, know my son that all of these kavanot I mekaven (have intent for them) merely when I sniff tobacco (for he was used to sniffing tobacco).

My son, you must know that all that is written in the Etz Chaim (the Arizal's main book on kabala) - it is only one thousandth of what one needs to mekaven (have intent). Know that if this room were full of pages of kavanot from the floor to the ceiling, it would not be enough to write down all the kavanot hidden in the books of the Arizal. But he who merits, he is shown everything from Heaven."


Intent in Prayer

I heard from R.Avraham Abuchatzeira, Rabbi of Yavne (city in Israel) that R.Yaakov would pray the Amidah prayer for an hour, no less and no more, three times a day, Shacharit, Mincha, and Arvit (morning, afternoon, and evening).

Due to the many kavanot (kabalistic meditations) he would do, he was not aware of what was happening around him. For his body was on the ground but his thoughts were bound to the spiritual worlds.

One time when he was in the city of Pas, the people of the city did not believe that the Rabbi does not sense anything happening around him. They tried to scream loudly but they saw that the Rabbi did not hear anything. They brought a gun and fired a few times near his ear. But even to this, the Rabbi heard nothing due to his great cleaving (in the prayer).

When he finished the Amidah prayer, they asked him for forgiveness for having made such loud noises. But the Rabbi wondered and said "I did not hear any of you".


Write for me Tefilin

One time when R.Yaakov was in the city of Morakesh he asked there if there was a G-d fearing expert scribe who could write for him the parchments of tefilin (phylacteries). They told him there is a torah scholar who is an expert scribe and also a kabalist and extremely G-d fearing. He is the head of all the scribes in the city.

R.Yaakov requested to summon him. The scribe came to R.Yaakov and R.Yaakov asked him to write for him tefilin mehudarot and on condition that he immerse in a mikveh before writing every holy name and also that he is mekaven (has intent) in all the kavanot (intents) of the Arizal.

R.Yaakov told the scribe to not be concerned for the expenses for he would pay him whatever amount he wanted. The scribe undertook this and started to write the tefilin with great meticulousness of every detail.

However it happened that while writing one of the holy names, he forgot and did not have any kavanot (intents). He only realized this after he finished writing everything and decided to not say anything to R.Yaakov for it was very difficult for him to re-write everything again with all the conditions of R.Yaakov.

Thus he decided to give them to him as they were. He came to R.Yaakov and gave him the tefilin. R.Yaakov saw the beautiful handwriting and that everything was nice. Then he began to scan the writing, checking through each letter. When he reached the holy name which the scribe forgot to have intent on, he stopped and looked at it a lot. Then he told the scribe: "isn't it correct that you forgot to have intent on this holy name, as I can sense?" (for he knew the truth with ruach hakodesh).

The scribe admitted it and asked R.Yaakov to forgive him and that he would write everything over for him. R.Yaakov accepted this and the scribe wrote new tefilin which were as R.Yaakov requested.


Attempted Murder

another story I heard from R. Yisrael (Baba Sali), grandson of R.Yaakov, who heard it from an eyewitness.

When R.Yaakov was in Algiers, he lodged by one of his disciples. But once he got there, one of the very important Rabbis of the city passed away. R.Yaakov's arrival at the city was known only to a few special individuals. Two of those who knew decided amongst themselves that they must invite R.Yaakov to join the funeral processions and that he would say some words for the deceased.

Thus they did. They came to him and told him. R.Yaakov accepted their request and told them that he would join the levayah (funeral procession) and also speak for the deceased.

They told him that when the levayah would start, they will come to take him and accompany him. The two men went to the place of the levayah and on the way encountered the head of the community (president of the commitee). He was very wealthy but in our many sins fulfilled the verse: "the rich man answers brazenly".

He was a very harsh man and the two men joyfully told him that R.Yaakov was in their city and that they invited him to the levayah and that he would also speak for the deceased. The head of the community became angry with them and told them: "are there no wise men in our city that you went and invited this Rabbi?" He uttered all kinds of insults and scorn and then told them that since they did this on their own, it is now up to them to go and cancel everything with R.Yaakov and that he does not allow R.Yaakov to join the levayah.

When the two heard the words of the head of the community and saw his rage, they had no choice but to go to R.Yaakov to tell him not to come. But in order to keep the peace, they decided to say some excuse through which R.Yaakov will understand that he does not need to come. For they felt very uncomfortable to tell him the true reason.

They came to R.Yaakov sat before him and said: "our master! yes we invited you to the levayah but since the place is very far from here, therefore your honor does not need to toil to come to the levayah".

R.Yaakov who knew everything through ruach hakodesh told them: "I know that this is not the real reason. It is the head of the community who sent you to me and he refuses that I come. As for me, that which I told you I would come, all of my intent was for the mitzvah and to bring contentment to the [soul of] the deceased through the eulogy (drasha). And now that the head of the community prevents me from this, HE WILL BEAR HIS SIN (he said with hakpada/irritation).

The two men left embarrassed from R.Yaakov and went to the levayah. On the way, they saw a very great commotion. It was next to the house of the head of the community. They approached to see what happened and were shocked to hear that the head of the community who was healthy suddenly dropped dead. They asked when this happened and saw that it was at the same time R.Yaakov said: "he will bear his sin".

They came to the sons of the family and told them what happened and that R.Yaakov cursed him and he died because of his sin. But when the sons of the family heard the words of the two men that because of the Rabbi their father died, they became very enraged. They decided together to go to R.Yaakov and avenge their father's death, ie to murder R.Yaakov.

In truth though. R.Yaakov did not say more than the words "he will bear his sin".

Then immediately all the sons of the head of the community left to fulfill their evil thoughts to murder R.Yaakov. When they reached the house, the owner of the house who hosted R.Yaakov saw them and asked them what they wanted. They told him the whole matter. Then he shut the door on them and the men banged on the door to break it open.

In the meantime, the owner told over to R.Yaakov everything and asked his advice.

R.Yaakov told the owner: "you are afraid of them? They can come in." Then R.Yaakov got up and said: "I will go out to them and they will see". R.Yaakov opened the door and told them: "leave here cursed ones".

All of them surrounded him yelling and wanted to approach him to murder him. R.Yaakov said to them: "know that if you don't leave here, a fire will consume you!"

As soon as he finished the words "a fire will consume you", fire rose up from under the ground and flamed under the men. Then they immediately fled from R.Yaakov and were unable to approach him at all.

All the people of the city heard and were awed and they honored R.Yaakov very greatly.


Arab Stone Throwers

Another story I heard from R.Yisrael Abuchatzeira (Baba Sali). One time R.Yaakov Abuchatzeira visited the city Tomisnat. There he lodged in the home of a baal bayit (working man) who honored him greatly. He arranged in his home a room with a bed, table, and candelabrum (menorah). R.Yaakov sat there and learned (torah). Whoever had a question would enter there.

In that neighborhood lived arabs who hated Jews extremely. When they saw that many Jews were coming to visit the Rabbi in the house of the Jew, they became jealous of the honor and their hatred burned within them.

What did they do? They told their sons to pretend to be playing outside and to throw stones in the room where R.Yaakov was staying. (they did not want to do this themselves. For the government was good to the Jews and thus they feared for themselves).

The children did what their parents told them. They approached the house where R.Yaakov was and began to throw stones through the window.

R.Yaakov said: "what is this that they are bothering me?!"

The people went outside and saw the arab children. The host returned to the house and told R.Yaakov. Then he became very angry. When the host saw that R.Yaakov was angry, he requested of him not to punish the arab children. For their fathers are great enemies [of the Jews] and if something happens to their children, they will increase to persecute us.

When R.Yaakov heard this, he calmed down and decided not to punish them. He told the host: "if so, just close the window then and that will be enough".

The window was made of glass and the host did as the words of R.Yaakov. The children continued to throw stones and now their joy increased even more. For now they can do even more damage to the Jew by breaking also the window.

But how surprised they were that when they threw stones on the glass window, the stone bounced off the glass and struck the child himself who threw it. Thus all the children tried to break the window until they were all wounded from stones. The matter was a wonder in their eyes until they decided to call their parents to come and see the matter.

The parents came and saw their bruised sons and they were filled with anger on the house of the Jew.

Then they told their children to take large stones and throw them at the house and then the window will break. But everything was for nothing. Every rock thrown would bounce off and strike the one who threw it.

Then the arabs told themselves that certainly the guest Rabbi must be a holy man of G-d and that is the reason this is happening. They went to the Rabbi to ask forgiveness.

They went up to R.Yaakov and went down on their knees and kissed his feet and requested forgiveness for the children. For they have no sense at all.

R.Yaakov said: "falsehood is on your lips. You yourselves sent the children to do what they did".

They admitted and were embarrassed before the Rabbi and asked for his forgiveness.

R.Yaakov spoke to their hearts and told them he would forgive them only on condition that there be friendship between them and the Jews. He told them that the Jews want to live in peace with them and not in hatred.

Then they took on themselves the words of the Rabbi and from then on there was great friendship between the Jews and Arabs in that city, more than all other cities. And the city of Tomisna was happy and joyous in the merit of R.Yaakov Abuchatzeira.


Time to Go

Another story I heard from Baba Sali. R.Yaakov had many students. One of his closest students was called "Shlomo Chayun" and this student learned with R.Yaakov's son - R.Massoud. One time R.Chayun was in the city of Midlat taking care of important matters. At the time, R.Yaakov was in the city of Pas and immediately decided to go to Midlat. When he arrived there, he found R.Chayun his student and asked him what he was doing there. He then told him to go home immediately and without delay.

The student asked for an explanation but R.Yaakov told him: "go now immediately to your home. I will follow you back in two hours". R.Chayun dropped all his matters and did what he was commanded, and immediately set off. In the meantime, the person with R.Chayun asked R.Yaakov why he sent him home.

Then R.Yaakov answered him that he saw on his headscarf names of angels appointed on the times of Levayah (funeral). The time of my student has arrived and I want him to die in his home and not in a different city. Therefore I sent him.

Then R.Yaakov himself went to Tapilelat and came to his student, finding him already ill. The illness intensified more and more. On the Sabbath, during the third meal, R.Yaakov came to him and found him in a bad state.

He asked him how he feels and R.Chayun said: "I see already the closed (grave) is open and the open (mouth) is closed".

R.Yaakov told him: "if so, go to peace", and thus it was that he died on that Sabbath and was only 42 years old.

R.Chayun wrote an important introduction on the book "Pituchei Chotam" of R.Yaakov Abuchatzeira.


Disrespecting a Grave

Another story I heard from eyewitnesses, from a Jew born in Egypt - until this day every year on the anniversary of his death, both Jews and Arabs come to pray at the grave of R.Yaakov, to beseech G-d on their needs in the merit of the tzadik.

That which the arabs there honor him so much, this was due to a story which occurred after his passing. Thus it happened:
a certain Arab was traveling from his city to central Egypt. To take a shortcut, he decided to go through the Jewish cemetery (there R.Yaakov was buried).

While passing through the cemetery, he decided to rest a bit and eat next to the grave of R.Yaakov. When he finished and wanted to leave, he tried to climb on the donkey but was unable.

Then he told himself mockingly: "I'll put my foot on the grave of this Jew and then I'll be able to climb on the donkey."

But when he stepped one foot on the grave of R.Yaakov and the second on the donkey, his body and the body of his donkey dried up and froze together and he was paralyzed. He could only speak with his mouth and he began to scream for help.

Thus he remained for several hours until people passed by. They came to him and tried to move him but all their efforts did not succeed. The word spread to the whole city and everyone came to witness this wonder.

The matter reached the house of the kingdom and the king decided to come with his ministers and advisors to see this wonder. The whole city was amazed and the matter spread far away.

When the king arrived and saw, he told his ministers that certainly a holy Jew is buried here and only the Rabbi of the Jews can rectify the matter.

They called in the Rabbi of the city and the king asked him to pray to the tzadik to forgive the arab.

The Rabbi did as the king requested and prayed to R.Yaakov to forgive this arab. Slowly, slowly, the Arab returned to health and the Name of G-d was sanctified in public.

From then on, arabs come till this day to prostrate themselves at his grave.
(see the book for much more)

see also:

Rabbi Yaakov Abuchatzeira (Hamodia article. mirrored from sephardiclegacy.com)

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