Rabbi Yaakov Abihssira
Our saintly and venerated teacher Rabbi Yaakov Abihssira, may his memory be blessed, was born in Tafilaleth, Morocco in the year 5567 (1807). At the time he was born, a great brightness illuminated his room, and his father Rabbi Messod and the entire community were joyous. They knew that a child prodigy had just been born.
In growing up, Rabbi Yaakov showed a particular interest, and a seldom-seen aptitude, for Torah study. His father initiated him in the different disciplines and the young man showed a great ability for understanding. Rabbi Yaakov soon grew to adulthood and his love for Torah increased ever more. He quickly became a Kabbalist and saintly man renown for his great piety. He slept very little and would spend the entire week, night and day, in the Beth Hamidrash devoting himself to the study of our Holy Torah. He would leave only on the eve of Shabbat to go home. When necessary, he would journey from city to city to collect funds for the destitute and sick. Even when bothered in the middle of the night, he would never complain. He was a generous man and his home was open to all who visited. People came from everywhere to consult with him, and he was ever careful to ensure that peace reigned between the members of his community. He had a sharp sense of justice, even if his decisions appeared at times surprising. Thus a rabbi who was staying with him for an entire year had the impression that Rabbi Yaakov was judging cases in ways that hardly conformed to the Din (Jewish Law), and this greatly surprised him. Yet in every case, the truth suddenly dawned upon him and it turned out that Rabbi Yaakov had correctly judged from the outset. It is said that the truth was shown to him from Heaven, and that G-d had steered him clear of the least trouble.
Rabbi Yaakov Abihssira was infused with Ruach Hakodesh (the Holy Spirit) and had the power to perform miracles. Examples of such are numerous and are illustrated by authentic recounts that have been transmitted across time. His body, people say, was connected to the earth, but his spirit sailed about in the upper worlds.
Rabbi Yaakov Abihssira authored twelve books. Some find an allusion to these works in the verse that states, “The sons of Jacob [Yaakov] were twelve” (Gen 35:22). Among his books are commentaries on the Torah: Pituhe Hotam, Mahsof Halavan, and Levona Zacca; Responsum: Yoru Michpatcha Leyaakov; a collection of Drashot: Doresh Tov; and works on Kabbalah: Bigde Haaserad and Guinze Hamalech. All of these were printed after the death of the Tzaddik.
One day his son, Rabbi Messod, asked his father for permission to publish his works. Rabbi Yaakov replied, “My son, you will not print them until after I join the next world. There I will see if they have G-d’s consent, and I will let you know in a dream.” In fact, after the death of the Tzaddik, Rabbi Messod saw his father in a dream, at which point his father asked him to publish his works, for he then knew that they had been approved by G-d.
His love for the Holy Land ran deep. On several occasions he expressed the desire to leave everything and go there, but the community never wanted to separate from the Tzaddik. When he had reached an advanced age, he informed his entourage that the time had come for him to move. He felt compelled as by an overwhelming force, yet wasn’t sure that he could realize his dream. He managed to travel all the way to Egypt, to the city of Damanhour (near Alexandria). This place would be the last step of his long journey. Once, at the outset of Shabbat, while he was preparing to recite Kiddush, a candle suddenly went out without apparent reason. He then said, “Fine! May the soul return from where it came and may the body go to where it should.” Those who heard these remarks were perplexed.
The next morning Rabbi Yaakov fell ill. His condition became worse during the entire week that followed, to the point that he found himself on death’s door by Thursday. His host, Mr. Saroussi, had a doctor come by, a pious man, who announced that, unfortunately, there was nothing that could be done for the Rabbi and he would certainly pass away that night. When the doctor left, Rabbi Yaakov got up and asked his host what he had said. Mr. Saroussi, however, didn’t want to reveal the doctor’s remarks to him, but on the Rabbi’s insistence he eventually did.
“I must still live until just after Shabbat,” Rabbi Yaakov said in correcting the doctor’s prognosis, “and I have certain things to do.” Friday morning, when the doctor returned to confirm the death (for he was convinced that the Rabbi was already dead), he was stunned to see the Rabbi (clearly better) with a Torah book in his hand.
Sunday morning, numerous merchants in the city came to see him for a blessing. He told them, “Today you will not go to work, for the time has come for me to leave this world.” Then he looked at them one by one and called out two Rabbis among them, asking them if they were prepared to take care of his body after his death. He warned them, however, that it wouldn’t be long before he died. The two learned men agreed. And so Rabbi Yaakov began to recite the Song of Songs, Vidui, and other prayers to ask forgiveness for his sins. He was then asked if he wished to be buried in Damanhour, and he agreed on condition that it be in a Jewish cemetery. Finally, he recited the Shema and entrusted his soul to G-d.
He passed away on Sunday, Tevet 20, 5640 (January 4, 1880).
The following epitaph is engraved on his tombstone:
Choice Cut Stone
Pain for this Splendor
That Fades Away in the Earth
The Great Man from Maghreb
Patriarch of Law
Holy Kabbalist, Pious and Saintly
Leaned in the Sciences
Revealed and Hidden
Our Teacher, Our Rabbi
Crown of our Head
Diadem of our Glory
Rabbi Yaakov Abihssira
May the Memory of the Righteous and the Saintly be Blessed
May His Merit Protect Us
Called to the Celestial Court
The 20th of Tevet in the Year 5640
May His Soul be Bound to the Light of Eternity