Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

9 Shvat 5772 - February 2, 2012 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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The Ohr HaChaim Hakodosh Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar, zt"l

In honor of his yahrtzeit, 16th Tammuz

The indelible impression of his grandfathers' diligence that the Ohr HaChaim observed and which was part of his youth never left him. Their regular schedule was a full day of learning, after which they would rest a little, never oversleeping the midnight hour. At chatzos they would be up, to sit and mourn the destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh. After this, their learning resumed, continuing unabated through the following day.

Rabbeinu was truly the prime example of the ideals that he writes of in his sefer Ohr HaChaim al HaTorah in Parshas Ki Sovo: "There is no goodness besides Torah. If only people would feel the sweetness of Torah they would become obsessed with it, chasing after Torah with all their might. All the gold and silver in the world would be worthless in their eyes, for Torah supersedes all the goodness and treasures of the world."

The elderly Sephardim of Jerusalem related that in addition to all his learning in the revealed Torah and the esoteric Kabbalistic works, on erev Shabbos, Rabbeinu would also learn Hilchos Eidus.

"Whoever says Kiddush is as though he testifies as a witness to the Creation of the world by Hashem," he reasoned. "And since I have to be an eid kosher, I should learn the halachos involved."


The princess was due to be married and lavish preparations were under way. The Ohr HaChaim, who worked as a goldsmith for a limited number of hours just to earn enough to continue his learning, was unconcerned with all the activity, until a contingent of messengers from the king arrived at his door. Having heard of the Ohr HaChaim's talent in the art of making jewelry, the king wanted him to create an exquisite piece to adorn his daughter the bride's neck on her wedding day.

Placing other jobs aside, Rabbeinu began working. However, when the time came for his usual learning session, there was no compromise. The Ohr HaChaim's main "job" was his Torah learning and any other trade remained secondary, no matter who his customer was.

The long-awaited day arrived and the king looked forward to presenting his daughter with a magnificent piece of jewelry.

To his fury, his messengers returned from the Ohr HaChaim empty-handed. The piece was not yet ready, for the Ohr HaChaim had not had enough time to finish it.

"Not enough time!" spluttered the king. "I'll teach that Jew a lesson he will not survive to forget!"

Immediately, soldiers were dispatched to fetch the Ohr HaChaim, with a decree that he be thrown into a lion's cage.

Unruffled, the tzaddik asked for permission to take with him his tallis and tefillin and a few seforim.

"You'll have no need for those objects," sneered the king. "In a few moments the hungry lions will pounce on you as their prey and devour you. They surely have no necessity for holy books and things.

"Lower him in!"

As though a story out of the Tanach were coming alive, instead of pouncing on his saintly figure, the lions lay down at the Ohr HaChaim's side, heads upon their paws in respect for him. Their previous roaring and snarling abated and a calm, eerie stillness filled the cage, as the Ohr HaChaim proceeded to sway softly. The lions lay and listened to his sweet voice of Torah and tefillah, while the soldiers trembled nearby.

Unable to believe the startled report of his guards, the king came to see the miracle personally. When he had recovered from the shock of the spectacle enough to speak, he ordered that Rabbeinu be taken out of the cage and respectfully asked how this wonder came to be.

"It's very simple," explained the Ohr HaChaim. "Since your decree was issued because I had taken my time to learn Torah, the Torah had to come to my defense and protect me from evil."

Apologizing profusely and duly humbled, the king set the Ohr HaChaim free, lavishing gifts on him as he sent him home.


Another story is told of the Ohr HaChaim's journey through a wild desert, where wild animals were known to roam freely.

As Rabbeinu walked through the arid, endless sands, he saw a wild beast of prey in the distance. The lion, too, noticed the Ohr HaChaim and approached him. As he neared, the Rabbi fearlessly stood erect until the lion drew closer and lay down, tame, at his side.

Tzaddikim explain the story logically: Since Rabbeinu never sinned, he had never damaged his physical being and the tzelem Elokim, in which man was created, was retained in him completely, so that even the king of the beasts was afraid of him.


In his introduction to his sefer Cheifetz Hashem, the Ohr HaChaim explains the reason for choosing this name.

"Know my brothers that all my learning throughout my life stemmed out of a love for Hashem and his Torah, my sole intention being to do Cheftzo, His will. Furthermore, my teaching comes not from my own intellect, but from Hashem Himself — it is all Cheifetz Hashem."

His yeshiva, situated in a hidden spot in the hills around Yerushalayim, was guarded at the entrance by one of his pupils. Not every person could enter freely to learn there and the guard would not allow anyone in without permission from his teacher.

Once, Rabbi Avrohom Gershon of Kitov, zt"l, the brother-in-law of the Baal Shem Tov HaKodosh, wanted to join those learning in that elite yeshiva. The guard, however, refused to give him entry, citing in the name of Rabbeinu that indeed R' Avrohom Gershon Kitover lacked only one thing: he had never yet done a service to a talmid chochom.

Biding time, the Kitover awaited his opportunity and when the Ohr HaChaim had to change his shoes, R' Avrohom Gershon jumped to bring his footwear to him. After that he was accepted into the holy academy.


After his petiroh, the Ohr HaChaim was buried in Har Hazeisim in Yerushalayim, where it is known that tefillos recited at his grave do not go unheeded.

During World War II, the Germans invaded North Africa and advanced steadily northwards towards the Middle East. The Yidden of Eretz Yisroel were terrified that soon the Nazi hand might chas vesholom have them in its grip.

A yom tefillah was announced and all residents of Yerushalayim and its surroundings converged on Har Hazeisim to the tziyun of the Ohr HaChaim.

Led by the Husyatiner Rebbe, zt"l, and by R' Shlomke of Zvhill, zt"l, the Yidden poured out their hearts, entreating the Ohr HaChaim to intercede in Heaven and nullify the destructive decree that was hanging over their heads.

Upon completing the fervent tefillos, the Husyatiner turned to the crowd and announced, "Boruch Hashem! Hashem Yisborach will help, for we have achieved a yeshua and our enemies' downfall."

Sure enough, after a few days, the Germans were driven back in a Heavenly ordained twist of fate and the Jews of Eretz Yisroel were spared.

When Chassidim asked the Husyatiner how he had been so sure of the salvation, he revealed, "As we finished davening at the grave of the Ohr HaChaim, we saw the Name of Hashem lighting up the tziyun and I understood that Heaven was sending us a message that the yeshua was close at hand."


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