A Short Tribute

A Short Tribute

Hacham Yaakov Chaim Sofer was born in Baghdad in 1870 to Esther and Rabbi Yitzhak Baruch from the Moussa family. He learned Torah and scribing [sofer stam - religious manuscript writing] from his father, and was educated in the Midrash Zilcah Yeshiva, led by Rosh Yeshiva Sage Abdallah Somech and the Baghdad community Chief Rabbi and rabbinic court judge, Rabbi Elisha Danghoor. He was influenced in his Torah and Kabbalistic studies by Hacham Yosef Haim – known as the Ben Ish Chai – and ordained by him as Moreh Tzedek [Halachic decisor, posek]. He earned a living as a manuscript scribe, hence his family name, Sofer.

Hacham Yaakov Chaim Sofer immigrated to the Land of Israel in 1904 with his colleagues Rabbi Yehezkel Ezra Rachamim and Rabbi Tzedaka Hutsein. He lived in Jerusalem and studied at the Beit-El Kabbalist yeshiva. In 1909, together with several additional rabbis from Baghdad, he established the Shoshana L'David synagogue in the Beit Israel neighborhood, where he would give sermons on the Sabbath and Festivals. He studied and wrote his books in a small attic adjacent to the synagogue. He eventually joined the Kabbalah students at the Rechovot HaNahar yeshiva, where he was a collegial student to Rabbi Haim Shaul Cohen Douek.

Hacham Sofer was renowned for his halachic ruling, and as a sage and kabbalist, principally because of his book on Halacha, Kaf HaChaim, a collection of religious laws on the Shulchan Aruch. His writings include: Kol Yaakov – on Halacha in Scribing, Hukei Chaim – sermons for diverse occasions, Chaim ad Ha'Olam – sermons and clarifications for tractate reading conclusions, Yagel Ya'akov – sermons on the weekly Torah Readings, Yismach Moshe – sermons on the weekly Torah Readings. Additional writings that are still in manuscript form include: Be'er Ma'im Chaim – Responsa, Beit Ya'akov – Sermons on the weekly Torah Readings, Chafetz Chaim – sermons for diverse occasions, 'Edut Ya'akov –sermons for the Four Sabbaths and a commentary of Ethics of Our Fathers, as well as Chezyonot Ya'akov – over 800 of his dreams, visions and revelations that he wrote down.

Hacham Yaakov Chaim Sofer passed away in 1939 at the age of 69 and was eulogized by sixteen Jerusalem rabbis. He is buried in the Hassidic section of the Bavli (Iraqi) community on the Mount of Olives.


Love of Israel
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Love of Israel'
in which he comments on "unity": A person who fulfills a commandment is considered as having fulfilled them all.
It says that the number of positive commandments ["thou shalts"], 248, corresponds to the number of limbs in the human body, and that the 375 negative commandments ["thou shalt nots"] correspond to the number of tissues. When an individual transgresses, he or she harms the corresponding part of the soul; when fulfilling a commandment, a person repairs the part in the soul corresponding to the part in the body.
Our Sages, of blessed memory, did, indeed, ask: How is it possible for a person to fulfill all 248 positive commandments, since there are some that cannot be fulfilled, such as levirate marriage and the like? And there are commandments that do not apply to all People of Israel but only to Cohanim (priests by descent), such as the blessing of Cohanim and the like; there are also commandments that apply only to kings, such as, "Neither shall he multiply wives to himself".
They explained that you may consider that through unity – when the people of Israel are unified in a single society and have love for one another – each and every person fulfilling a commandment is considered as though he or she had fulfilled them all - as it says, "Moses commanded the Torah to us". Should you ask, "How can a person fulfill all 613 commandments?" it says, "a heritage to the community of Jacob". Meaning, like a heritage, it is to be fulfilled by all, by the community of Jacob, and by being as a single community - in a united society.
Yismach Moshe, Sermons on the Torah, part b, pages 369-370, Jerusalem, 1989
Love of Israel
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Love of Israel'
in which he explains why the text enumerates the names of the Children of Israel that descended to Egypt
The reason why they were enumerated here once again seems to be because this is where the text begins to recount the story of the enslavement of Israel - so that a person will not consider saying that it was because they were, heaven forbid, not respectable as a result of the troubles they went through during enslavement. Therefore the text counts them again, to show that they are important and beloved. Their number indicates their importance; one should not think that they were exiled because of their transgressions.
Yismach Moshe, Sermons on the Shemot Torah Reading – Now these are the names, Jerusalem, 1989
Customs of Israel
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Customs of Israel'
Going up to the Torah Reading on the anniversary of a death - the deceased take no pleasure if one goes up quarreling
A person who has yahrzeit [anniversary of a death] or another matter and wishes to pray as the cantor or to be called up to the Torah Reading, and there be others who also have yahrzeit or some other matter, should not quarrel because he seeks to be the one to lead prayer or to go up to the Torah reading, for he creates a lack, heaven forbid. His silence, rather, is his recompense, and honors and pleases his father.
Kaf HaChaim, section 53, paragraph 96
Traditions of the Fathers
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Traditions of the Fathers'
in which he says that the prayers of each tribe rise up through the tribe's own special gateway
There are twelve windows in heaven corresponding to the Twelve Tribes. The prayers of each and every tribe rise up through the one gateway that is unique to it…There is no doubt that were the prayers of all the tribes equal, there would be no need for the twelve windows and gateways. But each gateway has its own approach, as it should, and since their prayers differ, special gateways for each and every tribe are necessary. Prayer resembles the roots and source of its souls, and it is therefore appropriate for each and every person to keep the custom of the order of his prayers, in keeping with the custom of his forefathers.
Kaf HaChaim, section 63
Israel and the Nations
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Israel and the Nations'
in which he teaches that our Teacher Moses sought to grant merit to all people and nations
Moses said before God: Master of the Universe, you have seventy nations, and you command me for Israel alone?" The commentators, of blessed memory, ask: How did it enter our Master Moses' heart to ask the Blessed One to command him concerning the observation of commandments by another nation?!... In my humble opinion, the reason may be, with God's will, that our Teacher Moses, may he rest in peace, sought to grant merit to the nations.
Yismach Moshe, Shemot, weekly portion Tetsaveh, p. 230, Jerusalem 1989
Tzedakah and Healing
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Tzedakah and Healing'
in which he explains the reiteration in "Give to him readily" as giving with a good heart
Some people give charity out of shame, when they see wealthy people offering coins to the poor, for example. The dignity of a person who does not give, however, will be compromised. He gives for this reason, because of shame, so that his dignity not be compromised. Then there are those who give charity to the poor because of their complaints, fearing that the poor might complain to them and curse them… In all such cases, they do not give with a full heart, and because of this it says "Give to him readily", meaning to say – there are two gifts: one from the heart, and one not fully from the heart.
Yismach Moshe, Sermons on the Torah, Part B, p. 293 – 294, Jerusalem 1989
Torah Study
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Torah Study'
in which he explains "increase peace in the world" in that they teach Aggadah to the public
Torah study through Agadah [non-halachic rabbinic lore] has the power of pardoning all transgressions of Israel, and if one adds a kaddish to the Aggadah, even if an adverse sentence has been pronounced for him, the Holy One, Blessed be He, pardons all his sins. This is why it says "And all your children shall be taught of the LORD", meaning to say – If your children will all learn Aggadah and recite the kaddish – which is praise for God – then "great shall be the peace of your children": They will have much peace and even if an adverse sentence has been pronounced for them, it will be annulled.
Chaim ad Ha'Olam, Tractate Berachot conclusion, p. 6-7, Moriah Press, Jerusalem, 1921