This past Thursday, hundreds of Jews made a pilgrimage to the tomb of the revered Rabbi Yisrael Abuhatzeira in Netivot, located in southern Israel. The Hebrew date of the passing of the Baba Sali is 4 Shevat (which this year fell out on Friday night, and Saturday). To this day, most people refer to Rabbi Yirsrael Abuhatzeira as “the Baba Sali” (“Praying Father”). The Baba Sali was a leading Moroccan rabbi who was renowned for his incredible displays of piety and for his prayers and advocacy on behalf of the Jewish communities in which he served.
The Baba Sali was born in Morocco on Rosh Hashanah (the first day of the Jewish new year) in either 1889 or 1890. It was in Morocco that the Baba Sali spent most of his life studying the Hebrew scriptures and leading a life of simplicity and piousness. The Baba Sali came from a family who owned a large estate which included a yeshiva where young Torah students studied the bible night and day. The Baba Sali’s father Rabbi Mas’ud, was a halachic (Torah law) scholar in his community and community members would go to him to seek his advice in halachic matters. On the rare times that Rabbi Mas’ud traveled, he would cover his eyes with his cape to avoid seeing inappropriate sights. Rabbi Yisrael continued in his father’s footsteps and was known to avoid looking directly at woman that were not related to him whenever possible.
As a child, Yisrael was a diligent Torah scholar, studying day and night. At the age of 12, he began to fast during the six weeks of repentance, known as Shovavim. Knowing his parents would not let him continue, he hid his fasting from them, but his brother, David, noticed how weak and pale he was. Despite his older brother David’s urges to stop his fasting, the young Yisrael continued to fast. After his bar mitzvah (special 13th year birthday celebration), he entered his family’s yeshiva, where the students rose at midnight for to mourn for the loss of the Holy Temple and to pray for its rebuilding.
The Baba Sali was an advocate for the aliyah (immigration to Israel) of Moroccan Jewry to “Israel. Since the days of his advocacy on behalf of aliyah, nearly the entire Moroccan-Jewish population subsequently immigrated to Israel. The Baba Sali himself settled in the city of Netivot, Israel in 1970. After coming to Israel, the Baba Sali became a leading figure to Jewish communities in Southern Israel and throughout the world. His piety, advocacy on behalf of Jews from all walks of life and his great Torah knowledge were all reasons that the fame and legend of the rabbi spread throughout the world.
Rabbi Yisrael Abuhatzeira passed away on January 8, 1984 (4 Shevat 5744) at the age of 94 or 95. His funeral was attended by an estimated 100,000 people. In recent years, around this time of year, the anniversary of the rabbi’s passing, thousands make a pilgrimage to the burial site to commemorate the passing of the revered rabbi. It is believed that this year, since the anniversary took place on the Sabbath, there were less people than in previous years that participated in the pilgrimage, as making arrangements to travel and sleep in the city over the Sabbath were more difficult.