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The Yartzheit of the Ben Ish Hai

The 13th of Elul marks the Yartzheit of Rabbi Yosef Haim of Baghdad (1833-1909), who is more commonly known to us as the Ben Ish Hai.  His father, Rabbi Eliyahu, was childless for many years until he received a blessing from the great Rabbi Yaakov Abuhasera of Morocco, who promised him a child who will "illuminate the world" with his Torah and piety.  Indeed, Rabbi Eliyahu begot a child, Yosef Haim, who distinguished himself as a child prodigy already at a very early age.  It is told that when he was still just four years old, his father asked him to explain the precise meaning of the question "Ayeka" – "Where are you?" – which God asked Adam after he partook of the forbidden tree (Bereshit 3:9).  The child replied that the word "Ayeka" can be read as an acronym for the phrase, "Ani Yode'a Kol Ha'nistarot" – "I know all hidden things."  God thus admonished Adam for thinking that he could hide from God.

 

Already at the age of 14, Yosef Haim began answering questions of Halacha.  He saw a letter with a Halachic query addressed to his father, and he replied with the answer.  At some later point, his father saw the letter with the question and sent his response.  The questioner wondered why he had received two responses, and Rabbi Eliyahu thus realized that his son had already replied, and that he was – even at this young age – qualified to rule on complex Halachic issues.

 

Rabbi Yosef Haim wrote scores of works, 24 of which were published during his lifetime.  His most famous works are Ben Ish Hai, a book of Halachic rulings for which he was named; Ben Yehoyada, a commentary to the Aggadic sections of the Talmud; and Rav Pe'alim, a collection of responsa.  Questions of Halacha were sent to him from throughout the Jewish world, including from the Far East.  Rav Haim Palachi, the renowned Rabbi of Izmir, Turkey at the time, also sent his Halachic questions to the Ben Ish Hai.  In fact, the Rabbis of the time remarked that they followed every ruling of the Ben Ish Hai, even those that ran in opposition to the rulings of the Shulhan Aruch.  The Rabbi died in 1909, and his funeral, which was attended even by many non-Jewish residents of Baghdad, was the largest funeral in Baghdad since Talmudic times.

 

In his work Ben Ish Hai (Parashat Nisavim), Rabbi Yosef Haim lists a number of texts and verses that one should recite on both nights of Rosh Hashanah before reciting Kiddush.  He writes that upon returning home from the synagogue, one should sit at the table and recite "Patah Eliyahu," a passage that appears in the beginning of the Siddur, through the words "Kum Rabbi Shimon."  One should then recite 12 times the verse, "Ve'Noah Masa Hen Be'ene Hashem" (Bereshit 6:8), followed by the verse, "Va'yizra Yitshak Ba'shana Ha'hi…" (Bereshit 26:12), which should likewise be recited 12 times.  Thereafter, one should recite ten times the verse, "Ki Imecha Mekor Haim Be'orecha Nir'eh Or" (Tehillim 36:10), and 17 times the verse, "Or Zaru'a  La'sadik U'le'yishre Lev Simha" (Tehillim 26:12).  One should then recite 10 times the verse "Va'amartem Ko Le'hai…" (Shemuel I 25:6) and declare "Tahel Shana U'virchoteha" ("Let the year begin with its blessings!").  Upon concluding these recitations, one should proceed to recite Kiddush.

 


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