Hacham Eliyahu Lavi

5580 - 11 Tevet 5641      

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Hacham Eliyahu Lavi

A Short Tribute

Hakham Eliyahu Lavi, son of Hacham Mordecai, was born in Benghazi, Libya in 1820. He traveled through the cities of Libya, Tunisia and Egypt to have his books published and reached Malta in 1857. In 1862 he was appointed Av Beit Din and leader of the Jewish community in Benghazi.

In 1867, during Passover Hol Hamo'ed, his son David went out to the countryside with three of his friends to recite the Blessing on Trees [Birkat Ha'Ilanot]. While they were enjoying the holiday, they dined and drank wine, and the wine stained the tablecloth on which they were eating. On their way back, they rejoiced and danced, made a sort of cloak out of the tablecloth, and wrapped themselves in it. They encountered a Christian couple on the way, who returned to the townspeople saying that the Jews were mocking them with a blood-stained tablecloth – a reference to the killing of their messiah. At the time, a capitulation regime was in place in the Ottoman Empire that, among other things, afforded consuls of the European powers extraterritorial judiciary jurisdiction over their own nationals residing in the Ottoman Empire. The European countries exercised these rights on Christians residing in the empire as well.


Two of the four men, David Lavi and Nissim Buaron, were British subjects; the other two - Ephraim Goueta and Yoseph Tsror - were Ottoman subjects. The four of them were put in irons and severely beaten, as were thirty notables from the community who had come to their defense. The prisoners were taken out to the city streets on the Hol Hamo'ed Sabbath day and subjected to curses and stones, showered upon them by the passersby. The British consul declared that he would have them burned within four days. Hakham Eliyahu Lavi rushed to the British consul's home and tried to mollify him, but the consul rejected his pleas outright. Some of the Jews fled to the desert, and those remaining shut themselves in behind lock and key.

On the eighth night of Passover, a minyan of men dared leave their homes to attend the evening prayers. Immediately after the prayers had begun, a mob surrounded the synagogue, threatening to burn it down along with the Torah scrolls it held and to kill the worshipers. They were rescued by the town's Turkish governor who, after having received a delegation from the Jewish community, sent the military to protect the city's Jews.

Shaul Lavi, Hakham Eliyahu Lavi's brother, who at the time served as the Austro-Hungarian consul in Tripoli and was also president of the local Kol Israel Haverim branch, turned to the British General Consul and requested his intervention. After some discussion with the consul in Benghazi, an order was issued by the monarchy to release all the Jewish prisoners. The British and French consuls of Benghazi, who had been involved in the reprehensible affair, were dismissed from their positions and left the city.

Hakham Eliyahu Lavi passed away on 11 Tevet, 5640 (1880).

Hakham Eliyahu Lavi authored several books: Menuha LaHaim - in three parts, Orakh Yashar, Geulat Hashem, and a commentary on Ethics of Our Fathers.


A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Tzedakah and Healing' in which he teaches that one should remove strife and quarrels from one's home, and distribute one's charity to the poor covertly.
It is also known that a person needs his surroundings and home to be at peace, otherwise, heaven forbid, his home will become a dwelling place for the sitra akhra [realm of evil] and an angel of poverty will pursue him. This is derived from magid rakhtza [from the Passover seder], for through Torah he removes [motzi] the sparks of Torah and holiness from the sitra akhra - on condition that he is motzi matza [matza also means strife], i.e., that he eliminate strife and quarrels from his home. And greatest is peace, that was given to those who love the Torah, as has been said: "Great peace have they that love Your law", for if not, heaven forbid, then maror karuch [bitterness is involved], for if he is always in conflict then the sitra akhra forever pursues him; this is the meaning of maror korech. And he who fears G-d and whose deeds are all for the sake of heaven is to carefully weigh his ways and also to give charity; furthermore, should his charity be done covertly [tzafun] he will then mend the sparks of holiness…by distributing [alms] to the poor and to Torah scholars, and by supporting the tired knees [barech] of masters, and this is the meaning of shulchan orech tzafun barech: Charity should be done in secret.
Geulat Hashem, Piskei Dinim leShoavei Ma'im, p. 17a, Israel Kushta and Friends, Livorno, 1864
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Torah Study' in which he teaches that the transgressor's repair is through Torah, which distances the evil inclination
Magid Rakhtza suggests that the transgressor's tikun [repair] is done through Torah [law], for "This is the law of the burnt-offering…of the sin-offering" atones all transgressions, and keeps the evil inclination and the sitra akhra away, for "I created an evil inclination and I created Torah as its antidote". This is what is meant by magid, it refers to the Torah, which is rakhtza [washing]: Through Torah one is cleansed from all transgressions.
Geulat Hashem, Piskei Dinim leShoavei Ma'im, p. 17a, Israel Kushta and Friends, Livorno, 1864
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Traditions of the Fathers' in which he teaches to go oneself to draw the water for baking matzah
Even if one is a rabbi, an elder or one of the Israelites' wealthy people, one should not seek to maintain one's esteem by avoiding to go and draw the water oneself. An aged man or somebody with an ailment who is unable to go and draw water on his own, should wait at the entrance of his house, and when seeing people carrying the water for the purpose of the mitzvah, he should run towards them, take some and bring it into his house. This is how many of the Geonim [6th-7th century spiritual leaders] acted: When they would see that water for the mitzvah was being brought, they would run towards the holy mitzvah water, and carry it themselves into the house.
Geulat Hashem, Piskei Dinim leShoavei Ma'im, p. 2b, Israel Kushta and Friends, Livorno, 1864
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Customs of Israel' in which he teaches that men and women differ in giving precedence to blessing over lighting
Whether the blessing is to be recited before lighting or after lighting remains a debate among Halachic adjudicators. I have seen cases in which men light and first recite the blessing, and the women [do so] after lighting; one should follow one's own custom.
Geulat Hashem, Hatavat Hanerot, p. 12b, Israel Kushta and Friends, Livorno, 1864
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Redemption of Israel' in which he teaches that we have not lost hope, and are worthy of redemption because of the hardship of enslavement.
He said to Moses: Tell Israel that they are to be redeemed during this month. At the time, Moses said to the Holy One blessed be He, "Master of the Universe, You told us we would be enslaved four hundred years, and they have not yet passed. He said to him: They have already passed, since it says: For lo, the winter is passed". The righteous ones immediately bared their heads, which were covered, in keeping with the text, "The flowers appear on the earth". This Midrash cried out to me, as if to say, "Seek Me, and you will live". The Rishonim commented on it divinely in the past, and even I, in all modesty, have commented on it elsewhere. I am now directed to innovate.
When the righteous People of Israel found themselves in dire straits, the Tribe of Levi, who are righteous in their own right, seeing the People of Israel undergoing the hardship of enslavement, cried out to G-d, thinking that all hope was lost, heaven forbid. They thought that they had been judged as slaves, G-d forbid, as was written in the name of our master the HA'ARI [Rabbi Isaac Luria Ashkenazi, 1534 – 1572]: Pharaoh knew deep secrets, and so when the Israelites saw that Pharaoh enslaved them with hard labor, they believed he must certainly have been aware that they had been sentenced to slavery. They thought it was a mitzvah to enslave them, in keeping with the saying, 'a king who was angry with his slave'. Had Pharaoh known that the Israelites are to be judged as sons, he would not have enslaved them, fearing the king, the King of the Universe. Therefore, the righteous of Israel and the Tribe of Levi covered their heads, as though in mourning for themselves. They accepted the bitter sentence, believing they were unworthy of being redeemed in the World to Come, and unworthy of the Torah; that the angels had won, as mentioned above and, moreover, that they did not merit the Land… They concluded that they were nearly worthless…But upon hearing that G-d had said that the end of the hardship of enslavement – likened to winter – had passed, they realized that the hardship of enslavement had reached its reckoning, and that they were to be judged as sons. This is the reason that they bared their heads and rejoiced.
Geulat Hashem, p. 14b, Israel Kushta and Friends, Livorno, 1864
A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Love of Israel' in which he teaches that He redeemed them Himself, in His glory, for the People of Israel are unique in their world
Why did the Holy One, blessed be He, need to redeem Israel from Egypt Himself, in His glory, and not by the hand of an angel?..."When the evil Nimrod threw our father, Abraham, into the fiery furnace, Gabriel said before the Holy One, Blessed be He: 'Master of the Universe, I will descend and save the righteous from the fiery furnace'. The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: 'I am unique in my world and he is unique in his world. It is fitting for the unique to save the unique"… The Midrash says, in reference to 'So let the redeemed of the LORD say': "What are they to say? That there is none other than He". What does this mean? Where do they find evidence for this? What reason or explanation do they have for saying, 'There is none other than He'? It therefore concludes by saying, "whom He hath redeemed from the hand of the adversary" - G-d Himself, as a matter of fact, in all His glory. One cannot but say: Since He is unique in His world, and the People of Israel (is unique or the children of Israeli are) unique, He redeemed them Himself, in His glory.
Geulat Hashem, p. 15b, Israel Kushta and Friends, Livorno, 1864