Translation by Yehoshua Siskin
37years ago today the Baba Sali, Rav Yisrael Abuhatzeira, passed away. Rav Zevik Harel wrote about him and how he turned personal anguish into sensitivity toward others:
“We speak a lot about the Torah and the miraculous doings of the Baba Sali, but I want to talk about what he experienced in his life, which is not to be believed. At the age of 18 he was orphaned from his father, who was also his rabbi. From that moment he became attached to an uncle, Rav Yitzhak, the older brother of his father, but four years later Rav Yitzhak was murdered by robbers. The Baba Sali’s older brother, the town rabbi, was murdered by the Moroccan government, and the leadership of the Jewish community fell upon the shoulders of the Baba Sali. The Baba Sali’s first wife died while giving birth to a daughter, who did not survive either. He married again, but for ten years the couple was childless. Several years later, his younger beloved brother came to visit him and was killed in a traffic accident on the way home. This is not the end of the list, yet one of these disasters alone could have made a lesser person bitter and gloomy. But the Baba Sali only grew and transcended and purified himself through all this pain. It would seem that there are two possibilities in life: either to become broken by suffering or to become more sensitive and more understanding of the suffering of others. The Baba Sali felt everything acutely — from the pain of every poor and anguished person that came to him for help to the pain of the Divine Presence.
“Perhaps tens of thousands of people found solace in him since he understood what it was like to lose a father, or a wife, or what it’s like to have to wait to have children. His prayers and his love for everyone, due to his own anguish, came from a warm and expansive heart. Once on Hanukkah the Baba Sali saw that Hannukah gelt in the form of paper money was being distributed to some children. He insisted that they receive the same amount of money, but in coins. When he was asked why, he said that a child is more excited by shiny coins than pieces of paper. His sensitivity reached into children’s hearts.”
In his memory.