Hacham Yosef Tzarfati

- 4 Cheshvan 5400      

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Hacham Yosef Tzarfati

A Short Tribute

Hacham Yosef Tzarfati, the son of Hacham Haim Tzarfati, was born in Adrianople (now called Edirne) in Thracia, Turkey, on the Greek – Bulgarian border.

He learned Torah principally in his city, Adrianople, where he headed the Sages' yeshiva. He maintained a daily regimen, studying Bible, Mishna, Beraita and Talmud, and grounded his studying within strict Halakhic boundaries. He would indulge in studying and preaching Aggadah only during his times of respite, on the Sabbath Eve and during the Sabbath day. On his way to the Land of Israel, he studied at Hacham Shlomo Ben Yitzhak HaLevy's yeshiva in Salonika. Hacham Haim Comforti, in his book Koreh HaDorot, attests to the fact that he was a wise and righteous sage, who walked to Jerusalem, where he passed away. Hacham Yosef Tzarfati, however, wrote that he was in the Land of Israel and returned to Adrianople.

His writings include Yad Yosef, a collection of his sermons, first published during the author's lifetime in Venice, 1616; a second edition was published in Amsterdam in 1700 after his demise. Some of his additional writings, published before Yad Yosef, are listed in Rabbi Shabtai's book, Siphtei Yesheinim: Rosh Yosef, a commentary on the Torah's literal meaning [pshat], Ben Yosef – sermons on the Torah, and Mateh Yosef – original clarifications of weighty Talmudic issues, RASHI and Tosphot written while the author was in the Land of Israel.

Hacham Yosef Tzarfati passed away on 4 Heshvan, 5400 (1640).

A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Customs of Israel' in which he teaches that a father's blessing will not apply to brothers whose hearts have been estranged
"And Jacob called his sons and said, Come together that I may tell you what is to befall you in days to come. Assemble and hearken, O sons of Jacob; Hearken to Israel your father." This raises a question. Having said "Come together that I may tell you", why does the text repeat itself and say, "Assemble and hearken"? He had already told them to come together. Second, why does it first say, "sons of Jacob" and then repeat, "to Israel your father"? Third, "and hearken", and then "hearken", a second time – why?
When he wanted to bless them, our forefather Jacob, may he rest in peace, did indeed say "Come together that I may tell you". But then he saw that despite their being together in one place, their hearts were not together, that they were estranged, and the blessing could not apply in a situation where there were differences and division. He therefore repeated himself, saying, "Assemble and hearken, O sons of Jacob" – join your hearts together.
"Come together" – You will not be righteous and called "sons of Jacob" and the blessing will apply, for the name Jacob is used when he is not worthy, since it says, "But you have not worshipped Me, O Jacob" but "that you should be weary of Me, O Israel". Our Sages, of blessed memory, said, "Greatest is peace" – even if Israel worships wood and stone, Satan cannot testify against them, since it says, "Ephraim is addicted to images – Let him be." Even if the blessing will apply when you are "sons of Jacob" it is worthy that you be righteous, and "Hearken to Jacob your father" – until the name Israel is applied to you.
Yad Yosef, Hayei Sarah Torah Reading Portion, Third Sermon, p. 29a. Printed by Immanuel son of Yosef Attias, of blessed memory, Amsterdam, 1700