Sunday, June 27, 2010

Ohr HaChaim's Yorzeit today

Handle with Care

It was early in the summer of 5583 (1743) and Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar was on his deathbed, in Jerusalem. The best doctors had been called in to treat him, but to no avail. In a short while he would leave this world. His wife approached the bed. With tear-swollen eyes, she cried, "When you leave me, I will be all alone in the world. Who will support me? What will become of me?"

Gathering his last bit of strength, he whispered to her: "Do not fear, I will not allow you to starve. After my passing, a rich man will come to you from Constantinople (Ishtanbul) to buy my tefilin. You may sell them to him, but you must warn him that he should guard their sanctity very carefully. When he puts them on, he should not take his mind off of them, and not speak even the slightest mundane conversation."

After the Shloshim [30-day mourning period], a wealthy merchant from Constantinople appeared in Jerusalem, seeking directions to the home of the Ohr HaChaim, as he was known. "Please sell me the tefilin your saintly husband prayed with," he begged Rabbi Chaim's widow upon his arrival. "I'll give you 300 ducats [golden pounds] for them (an enormous sum in those days, enough to support the widow for life)."

"I can sell them to you," she replied, "only if you will treat them with the utmost sanctity." She then delivered the details of her husband's warning. The man agreed, accepting the tefilin with extreme reverence.

Arriving home, the man indeed treated the tefilin with extreme care and sanctity, never taking his mind off them while he had them on -- even for a moment. And from the time he began to wear these tefilin, he experienced an arousal of holiness he never had before. The prayers left his mouth with fervor and great feeling.

ONE DAY the wealthy man was in the main beit midrash (Study Center) in Constantinople, praying with these special tefilin on. Suddenly, one of his young attendants entered and started pestering him with questions related to his business. At first, the man did not react, but continued to pray. But the lad would not relent, and, unable to restrain himself, the man finally answered the question, sharply.

He immediately returned to his prayers, but the words came out clipped and garbled. The special feelings of holiness that he had previously felt had also disappeared. As soon as he realized this, hew felt greatly disturbed, but could not pinpoint the cause of the loss. He certainly did not attribute the change to that one sharp word he had spoken. He innocently thought that perhaps a problem had arisen with one of the letters in the tefilin, and decided to take them to a professional scribe for an examination.


When the sofer opened the tefilin boxes, he and the wealthy man were astounded at what they saw. The parchment of the tefilin was completely blank – all the letters had flown away!


Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from , a strongly recommended site for chasidic bios and stories, and especially music.

Connection: 267th yahrzeit

Biographical note:

Rabbi Chaim (ben Moshe) Ibn Atar (1696 – 15 Tammuz 1743) is best known as the author of one of the most important and popular commentaries on the Torah: the Ohr HaChaim. He established a major yeshiva in Israel, after moving there from Morocco.  Chassidic tradition is that the main reason the Baal Shem Tov twice tried so hard (and failed) to get to the Holy Land was that he said if he could join the Ohr HaChaim there, together they could bring Moshiach. His burial site outside the Old City of Jerusalem, on the Mount of Olives, is considered a propitious place to pray.

From:  Story #657 (s5770-42) 15 Tammuz 5770

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