A Sephardic Story

"If you will walk in My statutes and keep My mitzvos…I will cause violent beasts to disappear from the land" (Leviticus 26:1,6) – If you labor in the study of Torah in order to fulfill the mitzvos, the wild beasts of the land will no longer be violent (Sifra – Rabbi Shimon)

Dear Friends,

Rabbi Chaim Ibn Attar - known as the "Ohr HaChaim" - was a leading 18th century sage and kabbalist who lived in Morocco and who later moved to the Land of Israel. He earned his livelihood as a silversmith; however, he always made Torah study his primary occupation, and his craft secondary. He would sit engrossed in Torah study, until his last coin was spent, and only then did he engage in worldly matters.

Two ministers from the court of the King of Morocco once came to him with a certain amount of gold. "The King has heard that you are the foremost expert in your craft," they said. "Therefore, he sent us to commission you to fashion a piece of the finest jewelry in honor of his daughter's wedding. You will be paid a princely sum. However, you must complete the work in ten days."

At that time, our master, Rabbi Chaim, still had enough money to cover his daily expenses. Therefore, he put away the gold, and returned to his holy books. However, upon his return home, he forgot all about his commission, due to his preoccupation with his studies.

On the appointed day, the two royal ministers returned and asked for the finished piece of jewelry. Then Rabbi Chaim remembered the matter, and confessed that he had not yet begun his work. Since the emissaries were both haters of the Jewish people, they were overjoyed to hear that they would have an opportunity to denounce Rabbi Chaim. They returned to the palace and told the King that the Jewish silversmith had rebelled willfully, and thus had dishonored the crown. At this, the King commanded that Rabbi Chaim be cast into a pit of lions, this being the punishment for treason.

When the police came to arrest Rabbi Chaim, he asked for permission to bring along a volume of Psalms, a few holy books, and his talis and tefillin. They laughed at him and exclaimed, "Do you think you are going to a hotel? You are on your way to be killed in a lions' den!" However, the Jewish sage paid no heed to their words, and packed his bag. Unsuspecting, his wife asked him, "Where are you going?" He answered simply, "I shall return soon."

They took their prisoner straight to the lions' den and threw him in. The lion keeper opened an overhead window to see what would happen. However, he was amazed by what his eyes beheld. There sat our master, Rabbi Chaim, wearing his talis and tefillin, praying and studying in a loud voice, while in front of him crouched the lions in a semi-circle, like students before their teacher, listening attentively to his words. Overcome with trembling, the lion keeper ran to inform the King. After hearing his report, the King and his royal entourage proceeded to the lions' den to see with his own eyes this awesome sight. Then he proclaimed before everyone, "Now I know that there is a God of Israel!" The King commanded that Rabbi Chaim and his belongings be retrieved from the pit, whereupon he asked him for an explanation of the miracle.

Rabbi Chaim answered, "I refrained from my work because of my immersion in the holy Torah, therefore the Torah protected and saved me!"

The King asked his forgiveness, and sent him home in peace and with great honor (Toldos Ohr HaChaim, p. 11, n. 4, citing Sefer Ma'aseh HaGedolim al HaTorah).

Have a Shabbat Shalom,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)

P.S. The above story was adapted from "The Vision of Eden" by Rabbi David Sears. "The Vision of Eden" is published by Orot: www.orot.com .

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