Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Ben Ish Chai

When Rabbi Yosef Chaim was 25 years old, his father, Chacham Eliyahu Chaim, leader of the Jewish community in Baghdad, passed away. Although young, Rabbi Yosef Chaim had already achieved great renown as a scholar. In fact, his Torah knowledge was held in such high esteem that, despite his youth, the Baghdad community selected him to assume his father’s role of Chacham (literally wise man, the leading religious authority of the community).

While Chacham Yosef Chaim wrote many books (over 30), his most successful was Ben Ish Chai, "Son of a Living Man." It was so popular, in fact, that the author became known as the Ben Ish Chai, the name of his book. The book itself was a compilation of two year’s worth of homilies on the weekly Torah portion, each of which contained kabbalistic (mystical) insights and halachic (Jewish law) discussions.

The book, Ben Ish Chai, is found on bookshelves in most religious Sephardi homes, and his halachic rulings are respected throughout both the Sephardi and the Ashkenazi communities.

The Ben Ish Chai was also known for his love of the land of Israel. He even traveled to the Holy Land in 1869, where he was asked to remain as the Rishon L’tzion (Chief Rabbi) which he declined.

The Ben Ish Chai served the community of Baghdad for 50 years, answering their questions, inspiring their hearts and delivering a 3 hour Torah lecture every Shabbat afternoon. Sadly, in 1909, on a pilgrimage to the tomb of the Prophet Ezekiel in western Iran, the Ben Ish Chai was taken ill and died on the 13th of Elul.

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