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1408: Va'era 26th of Tevet 5772 21/01/2012

In this week's Torah portion, the Holy One, Blessed be He, promises Moshe, "I will bring you to the land which I swore that I would give to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaacov, and I will give it to you as a heritage..." [Shemot 6:8]. From then on very many Jews throughout the generations have expressed their yearning for Eretz Yisrael. One of the most unique of these men was Rabbi David Ben Shimon, known as "Tzuf Devash." (Tzuf is nectar, and devash, honey, is an abbreviation of the name David Ben Shimon.)


Rabbi David Ben Shimon was born in 5584 (1824) in Rabat, Morocco, the son of Rabbi Moshe. He learned Torah from Rabbi Saadia Marji. He married Rachel, the daughter of Rabbi Masoud Tsabbach. From an early age he was very studious. He taught many students Torah, and they became rabbis, judges, mohels, ritual slaughterers, scribes, and public servants. But his love for Eretz Yisrael overcame his love for his students. In the year 5614 (1854), he decided to leave Morocco and move to Eretz Yisrael, together with his family and some students. Rabbi David tried to remain in the background, but he became famous, and he was very quickly recognized as a righteous and wise man. The arrival of the rabbi brought new life to the community of Moroccans in Jerusalem, called "the community from the west." More families came after him, and the community grew, with Rabbi David Ben Shimon as their leader. First they lived only in the Old City, where the rabbi opened a synagogue that bears his name to this day – The Tzuf Devash Synagogue, on Pelugat Hakotel Street. The rabbi took care of the needs of the community. For example, he provided the people with specially slaughtered meat at a low price. He did not refrain from getting into a dispute with the Sephardi leadership in order to have his own community recognized as an independent community.

Machaneh Yisrael

The community of the westerners grew, and the area of the Old City was too small for all the people. Rabbi David participated in the establishment of the area of Mishkenot Shaananim, the first new neighborhood built outside the city wall. The second neighborhood outside the wall, Machaneh Yisrael, was built in response to his initiative. Rabbi David sent messengers to Morocco to raise money for the purchase of the area of Mamilla. A large effort was needed to build this new neighborhood, and it had synagogues and a Beit Midrash at its center. In addition to his public activities, Rabbi David was involved in Torah study, halachic rulings, judgment according to Torah law, marriage, and divorce. He organized a committee of seven men who helped him guide community affairs.

His Death

Rabbi David's burden of activity was not good for his health. In the beginning of the year 5540 (1879), he became ill. He passed away in the month of Kislev that year at the age of 54. His son, Rabbi Rafael Aharon, who was a famous rabbi in Egypt, lived from 5607 to 5689 (1847 to 1928). Another son of Rabbi David was sent to Morocco to raise money and passed away there. Rabbi David's youngest son Masoud replaced his brother in Egypt.

"Shaar Hachatzer"

Rabbi David's great love for Eretz Yisrael and for Jerusalem found an outlet in his literary works. His plan was to publish a series of books about the land by the name of "Shaarei Tzedek" – the gates of righteousness. The first book, "Shaar Hachatzer," discusses the praise of Eretz Yisrael. This book was published by Rabbi David in 5622 (1862). In his modesty, the author hid his real name and signed the book at the end with a penname "Me'at Devash" – a bit of honey. In 5628 (1868), he published a book with corrections, an index, and some additions, by the name of "Ulam Hashaar." In this book the author gathered 613 praises of Eretz Yisrael from a broad range of sources. A glance at the bibliography in the book reveals a diverse list of source material – books on halacha together with Agadda and Midrash; early and later commentators; Sephardi and Ashkenazi rabbis; representatives of both the Lita'i and the Chassidic sects. He includes issues related to Mussar – ethics – in his lectures. In Chapter 519, he discusses the verse quoted above, "I will give it to you as a heritage" – How is it that the nation of Yisrael obtains possession of the land as an inheritance if the forefathers never had possession of it? His answer is as follows: Since the Holy One, Blessed be He, made a promise His words have the status of action. Our appreciation goes to the Institute for Torah and the Land, formerly of Kefar Darom and now in Ashkelon, who took on the task of publishing a new edition of this wonderful book – in an attractive format, in addition to expanding all the abbreviations, and with lists of sources, notes, and an index.

Other Books

Rabbi David's second book, "Shaar Hamatarah," is about the mitzvot that are related to the land. According to Rabbi David's son, Rabbi Rafael Aharon, his father started to print this book, but the work was stopped, evidently because of a lack of resources and because Rabbi David was very busy with other matters. The third book, "Shaar Hakadim," with introductions about matters pertaining to Eretz Yisrael, was never printed. The fourth book, "Shaar Hamifkad," a collection of halachot and customs practiced in Jerusalem, was edited by the author's son Rabbi Rafael Aharon and was published in Egypt in 5668 (1908). Rabbi David's responsa were included in a book by his son named "Umitzur Devash." The divorce cases in which Rabbi David was involved are summarized in the book "Shem Chadash," written by his son Rabbi Masoud. The poetry written by Rabbi David is included in this book, under the name "Shir Chadash."


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