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Rabbi Avraham Dov of Avritch: Love for the Land of Israel

Rabbi Avraham Dov of Avritch, author of the book Bat Ayin, was born in 5520 (1765) to his father, Rabbi David, a maggid in Chemelnik. He married the daughter of Rabbi Nosson Nuta of Avritch, a disciple of the Ba’al Shem Tov. Rabbi Avraham Dov was a disciple of Rabbi Menachem Nachum of Chernobyl, Rabbi Mordechai of Chernobyl and Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev. Regarding Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, Rabbi Avraham Dov said that he was a reincarnation of Rabbi Akiva. After his aliyah to the Land of Israel, he would pray at the grave of Rabbi Akiva whenever he would want to connect in prayer to Rabbi Levi Yitzchak.

Rabbi Avraham Dov was the rabbi of the cities Zhitomer and Avritch. In 5591 (1830) he made aliyah to the Land of Israel. His love of the Land is reflected in his book. When he arrived in Israel, Rabbi Avraham Dov settled in Tzfat, where he became the rabbi of the congregation of chassidim in the city. He remained in Tzfat until the end of his life, despite the immense hardships that he suffered there, which included the Arab riots of 5594 (1833) and of the Druze in 5598 (1837). On the 24th of Tevet 5597 (1836), a great earthquake shook Tzfat and its surroundings, causing many fatalities. At the time of the earthquake, Rabbi Avraham Dov was praying the afternoon services in his synagogue. When the building began to shake, he told the people praying there to lie on the floor around him. The quaking intensified and much of the synagogue collapsed. But the section where all the people had crowded around Rabbi Avraham Dov remained standing and they were all miraculously saved. In 5601 (1840) a plague broke out in Tzfat, killing many people. Rabbi Avraham Dov promised his community that he would be the final victim of the plague. On the 12th of Kislev 5601, he passed away, and the plague ended.

Once Rabbi Avraham Dov visited Rabbi Aharon of Zhitomer, who was ill at the time. Rabbi Aharon told Rabbi Avraham Dov that his doctors had told him that his cure would be to drink water from the Land of Israel. “Because you strongly desire to make aliyah to the Land of Israel, please take a glass with a bit of water, put it in your mouth and then return the water to the glass. I will then drink the water from the mouth of the person who wants to go to the Land of Israel.” Rabbi Avraham Dov obliged and Rabbi Aharon was cured. The “Bat Ayin” (Rabbi Avraham Dov, named for the book that he authored) said that at that point, he had not revealed his thought to make aliyah to the Land of Israel to anyone – and his heart had not even revealed it to his lips. But Rabbi Aharon already knew…

Rabbi Mordechai Chaim of Slonim connected this story to a teaching in Rabbi Avraham Dov’s book, “Bat Ayin.” In his book, the tzaddik explains that the angels of the Land of Israel came to accompany Jacob on his journey to the Land of Israel, even though he had not yet reached its borders. This is how Jacob sent the angels of chutz la’aretz (anywhere outside the Land of Israel) to his brother  Esau, (Rashi explains that Jacob sent actual angels). Rashi explains that because he was already on his way to the Land of Israel, Jacob was likened to someone who had already reached the Land.

This commentary is based on the saying of the Ba’al Shem Tov, “In the place where a person’s will is, there he can be found.” In a different version, the saying is “In the place that a person’s thoughts are, there he can be found. What is the difference between these two related statements?

Thought is an internal power, action that we feel in our brain. Will, on the other hand, is an encompassing energy that can hover above a person’s consciousness without him feeling it. Only when the will strongly awakens, can its preeminence over the power of thought be felt. Then, the ‘run’ will not be able to sit enveloped in thought and it will lead him to take concrete actions that can actualize his will. Thus the Bat Ayin wrote: “As he strengthened himself on the way” – literally. As Rabbi Aharon of Zhitomer sensed, the Bat Ayin had an intense will to make aliyah to the Land of Israel. His will was so strong that it would necessarily transform into action. Thus, from the surrounding powers of his will, which had not yet been revealed even to him, the holiness of the Land of Israel was shining.

Rabbi Avraham Dov liked to participate in the feast of the third day after circumcision. Elijah the Prophet comes to the circumcision itself, he would say. But on the third day, the Holy One Blessed Be He comes, as he came to visit Abraham on the third day after his circumcision. Once, at a third-day post-circumcision feast, the tzaddik drank a bit more wine than usual and was in excellent spirits. Two people had to hold him up to take him home and he jokingly explained the saying of the sages that a bit of wine is satiating, but a large amount of wine drags a person to drink more wine. ("פורתא מסעד סעיד טובא מגרר גריר )   Laughingly he said of himself, “If a person drinks a bit of wine, he needs two people to help him walk. But if drinks a lot of wine, they have to drag him.”

A short time later, the circumcised baby began to bleed from his wound and was in danger. The parents immediately sent someone to rush to the holy rabbi so that he would pray for him. Rabbi Avraham Dov had already recovered from the wine and was steeped in his Torah study. When told about the baby he said, “Right now I was studying a law written by Maimonides and I saved him from the dissent of the Ra’avad. Maimonides came to thank me. In the merit of this deed, the baby will heal. And so it was.

To understand Rabbi Avraham Dov’s affinity for the third-day feast, let us go back to the first time that this third day took place. According to the sages, the story of the angels coming to visit Abraham and giving him the tidings of the future birth of Isaac happened on the third day after his circumcision. This is the day that the pain of the circumcision intensifies and God brought the sun out of its envelope so that travelers would not come and disturb Abraham while he was in pain. And what does Abraham do? He sat and waited for all of those ‘disturbing’ guests and when they finally came, he hosted them with all his heart.

For Abraham, the third day is the climax of what began on the first day. On the first day, Abraham, the symbol of lovingkindness, adopts the attribute of might and circumcises himself. The sharp cutting of the circumcision and the need to overcome the pain that comes in its wake were a vital preparation for the birth of Isaac, whose attribute is might – from Abraham, whose attribute is lovingkindness.

Abraham was able to resolve this paradox because he was the first person to walk “before God.” As opposed to walking “with God,” which keeps in line with what is expected of us, when we walk “before God” we have to take responsibility, to get up before the break of dawn and to ‘lead’ as it were, the leader of the universe. This type of service requires great strength, overcoming our personal nature and the nature of the world. These energies manifest in a regular person when his life is in danger. Abraham strengthened himself like a lion and aroused those energies in himself for the purpose of serving the Creator. As a salute to his service, God turned to him and commanded him to seal that might on his flesh, for all generations to come.

Circumcision, the first commandment that pertains to a Jew’s body, infuses a person with the strength to overcome immense difficulty. Nonetheless, it is not potent enough to perpetuate this strength. Just as the Giving of the Torah shattered in the revelry of the Sin of the Golden Calf, so a spiritual acquisition can diffuse like smoke when it is not internalized and reinforced by its recipient. What is the cause (and the test of) this reinforcement?

Change is internalized only when it hurts. When we persistently choose the right thing to do despite the difficulty, when performing a mitzvah actually creates apparently unwanted results – and we hang on – then the lofty attribute that we previously acquired truly becomes a part of us.

When a person truly feels that he is a part of holiness, he will add more and more holiness– specifically from within painful circumstances.  A mitzvah brings another mitzvah in its wake and might brings more might in its wake. Rabbi Avraham Dov, who cleaved to the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel despite all the difficulties, knew how to appreciate the greatness of the third day. Every person encounters difficult times. It is during those times that he can acquire his entire world and grow.


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