The Abuhav Torah Scroll in the Abuhav Shul


(For an article on the Abuhav Shul, click here.)

Encounter with Greatness

by Tova Mordechai

Rabbi Yitzchak Abuhav lived in Toledo, Spain in the 1300s. During his lifetime, this Torah giant wrote a Torah scroll, which is still in use today, over 650 years later. Every time Rabbi Abuhav came to write G-d's holy four-letter name, he immersed in a mikveh twenty-six times corresponding to the numerical value of the Name. It took him thirteen years to complete the project. In 1492 when the Jews were expelled from Spain, this precious Torah scroll was carried with them to Tzefat.

In the 1570's, Rabbi Suleman Ohana, a resident of Tzefat, was the leading expert of his generation in practical kabbalah. One night, Rabbi Yitzchak Abuhav appeared to Rabbi Ohana in a dream. "I went to great lengths to establish my shul in that city of Toledo, Spain," he wept. "Far away from the churches and monasteries, and behold, now they are coming and spreading around my holy shul, desecrating the Name of Heaven with their prayers and bells. Therefore, I have received permission from the higher world to come to you and request that you, together with your colleagues in Kabbalah, should transport my synagogue from the land of profanity to the holy city of Tzefat. Likewise, I and my colleagues in the World of Truth will be at your assistance."

And so tradition has it that the Kabbalists of Tzefat, with Rabbi Suleman Ohana at their head, gathered together at midnight one night, secluding themselves in their Beit Medrash. They immersed in the mikveh and decreed upon themselves a fast until the Divine Presence would be revealed to them. They read holy formations of Hashem's name and secret verses of kabbalah and a wondrous miracle occurred. Suddenly, a fearsome whirlwind came about in Toledo, Spain, and with frightening power ripped up the synagogue from its foundations and set it down in an empty field in Tzefat.

About two hundred years later, in 1759, a major earthquake occurred in Tzefat. Hundreds of homes and shuls were diminished to heaps and ruins. One wall remained upright - the south wall of the Abuhav shul where the Aron Hakodesh (Ark of the Torah) stood. With trembling hands they opened it up, only to find that this incredible Torah scroll was unscathed. After the earthquake it was decided that the Torah scroll should be moved to a larger, different shul. Even though the Rabbis who moved it immersed in the mikveh before transporting it, none of them survived the year.

The shul was rebuilt in its original place according to the Kabalistic design, Then, in the early 1800's, amidst terrible, bloody riots against the Jews by the Arabs, the Rabbis again suggested to protect Rabbi Abuhav's Torah scroll, and so it was transported to a Jewish settlement in Ein Zaitim. However, when the people came to pray and they opened the Aron Hakodesh, they were shocked to find it empty. The Rabbi sent representatives to the Abuhav Shul and sure enough agents found the Torah scroll back in its place in the original Aron Hakodesh! And there it remains until this day.

A second earthquake in 1837 when 4,000 Jews died, more bloody riots by the Arabs in 1838, and the horrendous riots in 1929 have not been able to harm this priceless scroll. No one has ever needed to repair it. It is taken out and used only three times a year: on Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur,


I was privileged to stand before that Torah scroll one Shavuot with some friends and hear the Ten Commandments read from it. As the 650 year old Abuhav Scroll and the 400 year old Ari scroll emerged from the Aron Hakodesh, the shul reverberated with joyous song. A friend who was there with me recalls, "It was beyond amazing! The singing and the rejoicing imbued into each one of us the vibrant knowledge that Torah is alive."

When the scroll was lifted and held high for all to see, we caught our breaths in amazement. Although the parchment had yellowed with age, even from the ladies' balcony it was possible to see the writing clearly. We renewed our commitment to the acceptance of Torah. Generations of deceit and folly and assimilation dissolved before one magnificent Torah scroll and hundreds of pure Jewish souls gathered together in an ancient synagogue: testimony to the faithfulness of the One G-d.

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(Mrs. Tova Mordechai is the editor of "Machon Alte's Chudush", from which this article is adapted, and the author of Playing With Fire, the extraordinary true story of a journey from Christianity to Judaism.)

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