24. A Letter from Morocco to the Western Wall (IFA 556)
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24 A Letter from Morocco to the Western Wall T O L D B Y A S E P H A R D I C M A N T O D O V N O Y Before Rabbi H.ayyim Ben Attar (author of Or ha-H.ayyim* ) immigrated to the Land of Israel, his friend Azulai, his friend in Morocco—I mean the young rabbi from Jerusalem, Rabbi H.ayyim Joseph David Azulai (known as the “Hida”), who traveled extensively in the Diaspora—met him one day before he returned to Jerusalem. The Or ha-H.ayyim** gave the young scholar, the “Hida”, a letter and asked him to place it between the sacred stones of the Western Wall. Rabbi Azulai took the letter and sewed it up in his coat. But the sea voyage took so long that by the time he reached the Land of Israel he had totally forgotten about the matter. En route, Rabbi Azulai vowed that when he returned to the Land of Israel he would leave the rabbinate and earn his living by manual labor. Having taken this vow, he fulfilled it: He purchased a donkey and a wagon and began carting clay. This went on for about two years. One day, without warning, his donkey died, leaving Rabbi Azulai without a livelihood. He scrutinized his past actions. Remembering the Or ha-H.ayyim’s letter, he realized that he had been punished for failing to deliver the letter to its destination. At once, he immersed himself in the ritual bath to purify himself and went to the Western Wall, where he left the letter and prayed. When he returned from the Wall his face shone with a celestial radiance . All the men in the synagogue, filled with awe, greeted him and asked what had happened. He told them about the Or ha-H.ayyim’s letter. “I have a strong desire to see this letter,” one of the sages told Rabbi Azulai. “I command that you show me where you placed it among the stones of the Wall.” * A commentary on the Pentateuch. ** In Jewish tradition, it is common to refer to scholars and rabbis by the title of one of their works. 173  174  Folktales of the Jews: Volume 1 Praying at the Western Wall. The two proceeded to the Wall and read the letter: “My sister-bride,* I beg you to help my dear student when he is in distress.” And that is how the people of Jerusalem discovered that Rabbi Azulai was a great man. Without delay, they appointed him rabbi of the Holy City. 24 / A Letter from Morocco  175  *A term for the Divine Presence, from The Song of Songs 5:1  176  Folktales of the Jews: Volume 1 COMMENTARY FOR TALE 24 (IFA 556) Dov Noy recorded this tale from an old Sephardic man in Jerusalem in 1947. Cultural, Historical, and Literary Background H. ayyim Ben Attar (1696–1743) was a Moroccan rabbi and kabbalist who immigrated to Palestine in 1742, after a short sojourn in Leghorn (Livorno), Italy. For more information about him and his position in Jewish folk narrative traditions see the notes to tale IFA 9958 (vol. 3). H. ayyim Joseph David Azulai (1724-1806), known by his Hebrew acronym “HIDA,” was a halakhist, kabbalist, and a bibliographer of Jewish books and manuscripts. The tale has no historical foundation and is an imaginative elaboration about the relations between two great Jewish personalities of the eighteenth century. The HIDA was born in Jerusalem and from his youth distinguished himself as a brilliant student. Being a scion of a prominent Sephardic rabbinical family on his father’s side and, on his mother’s side, a grandson of Joseph Bialer, who immigrated to the Land of Israel in 1700 with Judah Hasid Ha-Levi (1660–1700), he did not experience any period of hardship or anonymity. In 1743, he attended the bet midrash Knesset Yisrael, which was headed by H. ayyim Ben Attar during his only year in Jerusalem. The personality and teachings of Ben Attar had a great effect on the HIDA, who quotes Ben Attar in his later writings more than any other teacher he had. Rabbi Azulai was well connected and highly respected in the Jewish society of Jerusalem in the mid-eighteenth century. He traveled abroad extensively as an emissary of the Hebron community, first from 1753 to 1758, when he visited Italy, Germany, Holland, France, and England. Then from 1764 to...


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