|Posted by Sir Knight Nash on September 1, 2013 at 11:30 PM|
By Yerachmiel Tilles
Rabbi Shlomo-Eliezer Alfandri was born in Istanbul, Turkey, in 1820. His greatness was evident even as a youth, and while still a young man, he was appointed to the Spiritual Council of Istanbul. Many of Istanbul's Jews pleaded with him to accept the position of Chacham Bashi (chief rabbi of the city), and to join its rabbinical court; Rabbi Shlomo-Eliezer, however, refused to accept any rabbinical positions, preferring to devote himself to Torah study. He also refused to wear the customary dress of the Torah scholars of Istanbul, which consisted of a turban and a silk robe. When people referred to him as the city's chief rabbi, he would reply, "I am not a rabbi -- just a simple layman."
Appreciating his greatness, Istanbul's Jews founded a yeshiva for him, and many outstanding scholars studied there. One of Rabbi Shlomo-Eliezer's most distinguished students was Rav Chaim Chizkiyahu Medini, author of the encyclopedic Sdei Chemed, who was to become the chief rabbi of Hebron.
Later he served as chief rabbi in Damascus. Then, in 1904, the elderly Rabbi Shlomo-Eliezer Alfandri resigned his post and moved to the Land of Israel. He settled in Haifa, where he studied undisturbed for the next several years. When the sages of Safed learned that Rabbi Shlomo-Eliezer had made aliyah ("ascent" to the Holy Land), they invited him to serve as their city's chief rabbinical judge.
Rabbi Shlomo Eliezer accepted the position, even though he was already nearly 90 years old. And he served in this position for nearly twenty years! He was referred to fondly as Sabba Kadisha, the "holy grandfather," a title he had already acquired before his decades in Safed.
In April of 1914, Rabbi Shlomo-Eliezer, accompanied by many of Safed's residents, went out to bless the new moon. After completing the prayer, he looked upward, clapped his hands and let out a piercing cry. Then he said: "I see that a large-scale war will soon break out."
Four months later, World War I began.
During the war, Safed's residents suffered from a lack of food and water. One time, the Turkish pasha (governor) visited the city. He was perched on a white steed, and was accompanied by an entourage of soldiers. He wore a flashy uniform, and a glossy medallion, which indicated his high rank, hung from his neck.
When Rabbi Shlomo-Eliezer heard of his arrival, he went out to greet him. The pasha was awed by the "holy grandfather"'s majestic appearance, and asked him for a blessing.
Rabbi Shlomo-Eliezer replied, "Only the humble can receive blessings. I will bless you after you come down from your horse."
The pasha got off his horse and lowered his head to receive Rabbi Shlomo-Eliezer's blessing. "May Almighty G-d help you in your efforts to see to the needs of the oppressed Jewish nation," Rabbi Shlomo-Eliezer said.
The pasha was very impressed by Rabbi Shlomo-Eliezer and, as a result of that encounter, he made sure that Safed's residents had sufficient food and water.
In 1930, Rabbi Shlomo-Eliezer passed away, at the age of 110, in Jerusalem.
BY YERACHMIEL TILLES
A master storyteller with hundreds of published stories to his credit, Rabbi Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder of Ascent of Safed, and managing editor of the Ascent and Kabbalah Online websites.
About the artist: Sarah Kranz has been illustrating magazines, webzines and books (including five children’s books) since graduating from the Istituto Europeo di Design, Milan, in 1996. Her clients have included The New York Times and Money Marketing Magazine of London.