The name Abuchatzeira has become legendary in fact, story and song among wide circles of modern-day Jews. This is due in no small measure to the impact on the Jewish consciousness of the life of the “Baba Sali,” the “Praying Father” of the Moroccan Jewish Community, who made “Aliyah” to “Eretz Yisrael” in the middle of the twentieth century.
Rav Yisrael Abuchatzeira was the scion of a family of great “Talmidei Chachamim” (Torah Scholars) and “Ba’alei Mofes” (individuals who have the ability through prayer of performing miracles). The name Abuchatzeira comes to the fore in the person of Rav Shmuel Abuchatzeira, who was described by the “Chida” as an “Ish Elokim Kadosh,” a holy man of G-d. Shmuel’s son, Masud (“Moshe” in Arabic), became the Rav in the Moroccan City of Tafelatlech, and was followed in this position by his son, Yaakov, known as the “Abir Yaakov,” Prince of Yaakov. His eldest son, named Masud after his grandfather, was the father of Rav Yisrael, the “Baba Sali,” who soon distinguished himself by his devotion to the study of Torah and service of HaShem. His potential for greatness was recognized by his father, who encouraged him in his studies and, realizing that his son would be given the ability to have his blessings fulfilled, instilled in him the characteristic of “Shemirat HaLashon,” guarding one’s speech to an exceptional degree, as well as “Shemirat HaEynayim,” guarding one’s eyes, to avoid witnessing unholy behavior.
Preceding the instruction of Pirkei Avot (5:24), which advocates marriage by the age of eighteen by two years, Rav Yisrael was married at the age of sixteen to Precha Amsalem, who served as a worthy “Ezer K’negdo,” a soul-mate and helpmate (Bereshit 2:18) throughout their long marriage. One occasion when the “Baba Sali’s” wife participated with him in the performance of a “miracle” was when a non-religious soldier in the Israel Defense Force whose legs were paralyzed during the Yom Kippur war, came to the Rav as a last resort for help. Rav Yisrael ascertained that he neither put on Tefillin nor observed the Shabbat. He told the soldier that HaShem gives us limbs in order to serve Him, and if he would commit himself to becoming observant, he would help him receive a complete recovery. The soldier kissed the hand of the “Baba Sali,” and the Rabbi’s wife urged him to try to stand, and the soldier who had been paralyzed in his legs, stood up and began to walk.
Rav Yisrael was one of the leaders of the “Aliyah” of Moroccan Jewry to “Eretz Yisrael,” which saw the transfer of nearly the entire population of that community to the Holy Land.
The “Baba Sali” settled in Netivot, adjacent to the Yeshivat HaNegev. Because of his great influence, the Negev began to blossom spiritually, and thousands of Jews returned to their roots. The influence of this great Tzaddik extended far beyond Netivot, the Moroccan Jewish Community and “Eretz Yisrael,” and he became a cherished leader of the World Jewish Community. He was “niftar” in “Shevat” of 5744, and was mourned by thousands of Jews, throughout Israel and throughout the world.