Inspiring Stories & Biographies of Sephardi Hachamim (Reviewed by Moshe Sevi)
“He usually slept on a wooden bench, rather than a proper bed… adhered to a daily quota of fifty-three pages of Zohar… ate only vegetarian foods during the week… and would impose a harsh fine on himself if he ever felt anger in his heart,” explains Yehuda Azoulay. He was Rav Chaim Yosef David Azoulay (1724-1806), better known as the great Sephardic luminary, the Chid”a. But to Yehuda Azoulay, the great sage was also both a direct ancestor and the central subject of a lifelong fascination with Sephardic scholars of old.
Anyone who has been exposed to the rich tradition of Sephardic Torah scholarship has undoubtedly come across household names such as the Or Ha’chaim (Rav Chaim Ben-Atar, 1696-1743), Rav Chaim Palagi (1788-1688), the Kaf Ha’chaim (Rabbi Yaakov Chaim Sofer, 1870-1939) and the Ben Ish Chai (Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Baghdad, 1833-1909). Most of us have probably also heard of the more recent pillars of Sephardic halachah, such as Chacham Ben-Sion Abba Shaul of Jerusalem (1924-1998), Chacham Obadiah Hedaya (1890-1969) and Rav Shalom Messas (1913-2003). Kabbalistic masters such as the Baba Sali (Rav Yisrael Abuchatzera of Morocco, 1890-1984) and Rav Yitzchak Kaduri (1894-2006) have also left an indelible impact upon Jewish tradition.
But how much do we really know about these chachamim, about the qualities and virtues that made them into such great leaders and scholars? How do we ensure that their piety, devotion and diligence continue to guide and inspire future generations of Jews? With these questions in mind, Yehuda Azoulay turned his passion for the history of Sephardic chachamim into a groundbreaking volume.
A Legacy of Leaders is a collection of comprehensive, biographical profiles arranged chronologically, from Rav Chaim Ben Atar through Rav Ben-Sion Abba Shaul. Each entry begins with an overview of the Gadol’s life and achievements, and then presents a series of stories that offer a glimpse into his conduct and virtues, and the respect he received from the Jews he encountered – and, in many instances, the respect shown to him by gentiles, as well.
What is interesting about the book is that the writing style is straightforward, such that even young children can read, enjoy and gain inspiration from these accounts, yet the material is also intriguing for even the most educated and sophisticated adults. In addition, the focus of the book is not stories of mofsim (‘wonders’), (although there are quite a few!), but rather beautiful, inspirational accounts that can inspire a reader to want to emulate the chacham. Beyond simply describing the greatness of these towering figures, it also provides concrete examples of their greatness in a manner with which even ordinary laymen can identify and from which they can learn. The book is adorned with dozens of beautiful photographs of the rabbanim, as well as of numerous colleagues and disciples.
In summation, I agree with the last paragraph on the book’s jacket: “This is a book for the full spectrum of readers: Sephardim and Ashkenazim, young and old, educators and students, parents and children. A Legacy of Leaders is the only book of its kind to date, and it is destined to become a classic – both in the classroom and at home.”
Click HERE to order this book.