Chazaq Celebrates the Crown of Sephardic Jewry - "Hillulah of the Ben Ish Hai"
“The righteous, even in death are called living … for [they] gather many workers for the sake of the Torah” (Talmud Berakhot 18a-b).
On September 3rd, Chazaq celebrated the life and times of the 19th century scholar from Baghdad, Rabbi Yosef Haim (often called by the title of his treatise, Ben Ish Hai). Chazaq's very own Rabbi Ilan Meirov, author of the commentary Pri Ilan on the sefer (book) Ben Ish Hai, was given the honor of opening up the event. He presented the following to an audience gathered to hear about the spiritual giant. Who was the Ben Ish chai? Simply put, he was a man out of place; someone belonging in a hoarier era. He was a 19th century leader with a comprehension of the Torah closely matching our illustrious earlier commentators from 800 years ago. He was a noted genius even amongst the mightiest men of his time, yet he would attune his teachings to the ‘sheep of his flock'. The night was to celebrate a man past whose teachings resonate until even the present.
When the rabbi was a young boy, he was found face down in a well. His sister's screams attracted the local townspeople who feared the worst for the little child. But against all odds and with clear miracles, he survived. In response, the young Yosef who was a mere seven years old at the time decided to dedicate his life to G-d. With hard work and effort, he eventually became known as the Ben Ish Hai, a peerless leader of the Sephardic generation. His experience teaches us that greatness isn't born, but rather starts with a decision. In commemoration of the Ben Ish Hai's life, Rabbi Ilan asked the crowd to make a decision to improve our ways as we approach the great days of Judgment. If we absorb the right lessons from the life of this great man, then we become eternally bound up with his soul and share in his Purpose. The Talmud teaches us that the righteous are not diminished even in death, rather their accomplishments are amplified beyond their life (Chulin 7b).
Yosef Haim was promptly asked to become the leader of the great community and shoulder his late father's burden. However the young scholar turned down this along with all other positions throughout his life because he knew that with every position includes a boss. In the Ben Ish Hai's life there was only room for One Boss. Yet the Ben Ish Hai did not allow the lack of an official position to get in the way of his responsibility to lead the people. Like his great halachic (legal) works, he was a man capable of resolving seemingly irreconcilable contradictions. In fact, one of his greatest legacies was demonstrating that the practical laws codified by the Shulhan Arukh and the esoteric teachings of the holy Ari are actually complimentary
Stories abound and eyewitnesses abide to the greatness of character, humility and scholarship of the Ben Ish Hai. He dedicated his life to the greatest cause and changed the course of history with the strokes of his pen. His life is no less than a testimony to the wonderful accomplishments possible for the one who sets out with determination to serve G-d for an Ultimate purpose. May we merit see him once more and drink from the wellsprings of sweet water.
Rabbi Ya’aqob Menashe, shlita
Partial view of the crowd who gathered to celebrate the life and times of the 19th century scholar from Baghdad, Rabbi Yosef Haim (often called by the title of his treatise, Ben Ish Hai)
Chazaq’s very own Rabbi Ilan Meirov, author of the commentary Pri Ilan on the sefer (book) Ben Ish Hai, was given the honor of opening up the event.
Rabbi Nir Shalom, shlita