Ish Eshkolot- A man who all is found by him
Few figures of recent generations left a significant imprint on each generation, even after passing.
Rabbi Yosef Chaim, or the Ben Ish Chai, was born in Bagdad on the 27th of Av in 1834, and he passed on the 13th of Elul 1909.
The Ben Ish Chai was one of the greatest Sephardic leaders in recent generations. His influence was felt in all countries, even among Ashkenazi Jews and Chassidic communities.
It is said that Rabbi Yosef Chaim felt a deep soul connection to Benayhu Ben Yehoyada, the general of King Solomon who was called "Ben Ish Chai- a man of life." He named all of his books for the famed general.
Rabbi Yosef Chaim's leadership was not expressed in an official position, but he was the address for any question and knew how to adapt his leadership to all segments of the public.
Leading the assembly of the Kabbalists, through his comprehensive halachic decisions that reached the Jewish communities in Iraq and its surroundings, to his personal guidance for children – Rabbi Yosef Chaim authored more than a hundred scholarly works, some published under different names due to modesty. Most remained unpublished and were lost, but those printed reflect his profound and wide-ranging character.
Alongside deep commentaries on the Bible and the Talmud, he wrote many Kabbalistic books through which his approach of making the inner teachings of the Torah accessible to all who seek God's name is reflected.
His works include sermons on the Torah alongside hundreds of soulful piyutim (liturgical poems). His legal works in halacha and responsa literature fill shelves with books of ethics, morality, stories, and allegories. In addition to Kabbalistic writings and profound prayers, his unique "Kanun al-Nas" stands out, a special book for women containing explanations of Torah and morality in Judeo-Arabic, including popular sayings.
Unique in his generation
An event that occurred in his life at the age of seven. While playing, Yosef Chaim fell into a well in the courtyard and almost drowned. His uncle, who reached the well with a rope, managed to rescue the child. Yosef Chaim vowed to dedicate his life to Torah studies.
At the age of fourteen, he was accepted into the central yeshiva in Baghdad, "Beit Zalka," led by Rabbi Abdallah Somech. His first halachic response, which displayed his scholarly greatness, appeared in the introduction to his book of responsa, "Rav Pe'alim," when he was only sixteen years old.
In matters of halacha, he was once consulted regarding an etrog (citron) with a doubtful status. After Rabbi Eliyahu Chai ruled on the matter, scholars in Jerusalem replied surprisingly, stating that they had already received a response from "your son, the young and wise," who had encompassed all the earlier and later opinions on the matter and reached the same conclusion.
His halachic decisions, often leaning towards matters beyond Kabbalistic concerns, sometimes echoed the decisions of the European Chassidic communities. His commentary on the Talmud brings the debate between the GRA (Vilna Gaon) and the Baal Shem Tov regarding the intention of prayer.
He often quotes the "Shulchan Aruch HaRav" authored by Rabbi Zalman of Liadi, and in his sermons, he cites letters from "Bnei Yissaschar" and Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov.
Likewise, he received admiration from European rabbis and Kabbalists, such as the Ridbaz and the author of "Leshem," Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv (grandfather of the Leshem), and in Chassidut Biala, it is said that the third Rebbe, Rabbi Yissachar Dov, refrained from inscribing "unique in his generation" on his father's tombstone, as long as Yosef Chaim was alive.
On the 7th of Elul, 5699, Rabbi Eliyahu Chai passed away, and on the seventh day of mourning, Rabbi Yosef Chaim addressed thousands of Jews in Baghdad to eulogize his father. His powerful oratory skills were revealed for the first time, and he decided to take over his father's leadership. On that day, Rabbi Yosef Chaim officially began his public role.
He continued to give regular daily lessons, two per day, one after the morning prayer and another after the afternoon prayer, on Shulchan Aruch and Choshen Mishpat, as well as Torah and ethical matters. Many of his written works are based on these lessons and sermons.