Living Legacy: The Ohr Hachaim Hakodosh, zy”a
15 Tammuz (Friday) marks the 278th yohrtzeit of the Rabbeinu Chaim Ibn Attar—a holy light that continues to illuminate with greater intensity, as greater numbers of people, are inspired by his Torah throughout the Jewish world. Although his peirush on chumash is enjoyed by Yidden across communities, among chassidim, it is revered to another level altogether.
Chassidim saw in the peirush Ohr Hachaim—which brings together Kabbalah, pshat, remez, avodah, and so many other facets of Torah—as a light, of holiness and of purity. The Chid”a (a prize talmid of the Ohr Hachaim) wrote about this connection: “We have now heard that in Poland, the peirush is revered and that they have printed it twice. This was spawned by the fact that the holy Ba’al Shem Tov spoke often greatness of the neshamah of the Ohr Hachaim.”
Rabbeinu Chaim was born in the city of Salé, in Northwestern Morocco, in 1696, to his father, Rabi Moshe. In his youth, he learned with his grandfather, Rabi Chaim. At some point in his youth he fled Salé when he was being persecuted by its ruler who sought to spread Islamism. He would give two daily lectures in the shuls of the city.
After 43 years in Morocco, in which he became known as a holy mekubal, Rabbeinu Chaim gathered his family and a group of students, and made his way to Eretz Yisroel.
Here, he established a yeshiva “Knesses Yisroel” in the old city, where he continued to teach Torah, and which continues to exist to this day (with the ascent of the talmidei haGro to Yerushalayim, they purchased the Shul for their use, and this is where this communuity was centered for many years). His most famous talmid from that time was Rabi Chaim Yosef Dovid Azolai, known as the Chid”a, who continued the work of his rebbi after his passing.
Among chassidim, it is said that The Ba’al Shem Tov’s efforts to reach Eretz Yisroel—which were stymied through fierce Heavenly intervention—were solely so that his holy neshamah could meet that of the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh, resulting in the immediate coming of Moshiach. Min Hashomayim, it was not meant to be. The passing of the Ohr Hachaim took place on Shabbos, and the Ba’al Shem Tov, who was in Russia knew of this immediately, during Shalosh seudos. “When I washed my hands, a kavanah was revealed to me which is not revealed to anyone but one special neshamah in the generation. It must be that the Ohr Hachaim passed away.
In more recent times, Rav Shlom’ke of Zvehill visited the Kever of the Ohr Hachaim on Har Hazeisim to daven for the Yidden of Eretz Yisroel to be protected from Hitler, ym”sh, who was famously about to enter the holy land. He saw the holy “Sheim Hashem”, written in fire, hovering over the kever—and thus pronounced that the rashah would not succeed in his evil plan. This resting has since become a major source of tefillah and yeshuos on the yohrtzeit, and throughout the year.
In addition to his monumental peirush on Chumash, he authored Cheifetz Hashem on Gemara, and Pri To’ar on Shulchan Aruch.
In our time, the study of the holy commentary has spread through numerous publications that elucidate and expound upon his holy words, and the Sefer has been printed and reprinted throughout the generations. There are a number of organizations for kiruv (most famously the institution of Rav Reuven Elbaz) and other facets of spreading Yiddishkeit in name of the Ohr Hachaim—perpetuating the holy light that continues to burn brighter, through darker and darker times; the Ohr Hachaim’s, (the light of life), continuing living legacy.