Rabbi Amram Ben Diwan

kabbalah tzadikim Sep 05, 2023

By Rabbi Amichai Cohen

Rabbi Amram Ben Diwan was born in the holy city of Jerusalem in the year 1740 (approximately) and was the son of the esteemed Rabbi Ephraim Diwan. According to tradition, his ancestors were born in a small Arab village near the city of Tangier called "Diwan," and all those who hailed from there were known as "Ben Diwan," meaning the sons of the village of Diwan.

Rabbi Amram was named for his grandfather, who came from Morroco to the Holyland, was a rabbi in Hebron and later emigrated to Tzfat, where he became the chief rabbi.

Rabbi Amram learned the straightforward Torah from the sages of Jerusalem. As he grew, he entered the yeshiva of the Kabbalists to study the Kabbalistic Torah, where he began to delve into the esoteric secrets of the Torah. Eventually, he was counted among the great sages of the yeshiva "Naveh Shalom," founded by his uncle, Rabbi Yehuda Diwan. Later, he moved to live in the holy city of Hebron, where he was counted among the geniuses and Kabbalists of the city.

In the year 1863 (תקכ״ג), there was a difficult situation in the Hebron yeshiva, so all the rabbis decided to send the righteous Rabbi Amram to collect funds for their yeshiva in Morocco, known among the rabbis as the "Ma'arav HaPnim" (The Inner West), as there, their love for the land of Israel was truly remarkable. They generously donated their last penny for the sake of Rabbi Amram and his esteemed companion, Matat Achsanya.

Three reasons led to his selection for this mission:

  1. The first reason is that the righteous Rabbi Amram is a descendant of the local residents, as we have mentioned. Therefore, he was given priority to handle the collection. For the generous and wealthy donors in North Africa, it was a great honor and joy to see one of their brethren counted among the Torah greats in the land of Israel. Therefore, they prepared a large fund to satisfy his wishes and fulfill his requests.
  2. The second reason is that he was a great judge in Torah, and it is known that when any senior scholar arrived in Morocco, the rabbis of the yeshivas would invite him to their gatherings and present him with their questions and difficult problems in halakhah and Talmudic interpretations. If he responded to their queries, the rabbis would join him in his fundraising mission and be with him throughout his stay, holding festive meals and parties in the city, celebrating with the rabbis and esteemed guests, and sending him off with joy and delight.
  3. The third reason is that Rabbi Amram was well-known during his lifetime for his miracles and acts of salvation, and his prayers were never in vain; they made an impression in the heavens. Everywhere he went, the inhabitants and the surrounding areas would immediately flock to him to receive his blessings and seek salvation through him. This led to his appointment for the first mission, which lasted about three years in Morocco, after which he returned to his city, Hebron.

When Rabbi Amram was close to his death, he called the head of the Kaddisha Society of the village and asked him in a special manner not to erect any tombstone or monument of any kind on his grave after his passing. However, it was rumored that after Rabbi Amram's burial, he appeared in a dream to the head of the Kaddisha Society and instructed him not to erect any monument on his grave. About thirty years after Rabbi Amram's passing, the Jewish community of the village of Ashjan decided to move to the city of Wazen and reside in the Funduqim Quarter, known as the Malach. As a Jewish community, they were subject to the local Muslim authorities' rules, and Jews were protected as a minority under the jurisdiction of the Sharif.

Before the Jews left the village, they established a group of Jews to guard the cemetery continuously. They would gather around Rabbi Amram's grave daily and recite Psalms, Idra, and Pirkei Avot. Only on Fridays they would return to their homes. Since the passing of the righteous Rabbi Amram, the members of the Kaddisha Society have volunteered to handle all matters related to the deceased and their burial. Rumors then spread about the discovery of the righteous man's grave in the distant village of Ashjan, about nine kilometers from the city of Wazen.

Pilgrimages to the site began to increase, and people flocked there on foot or on animals. People believed that Rabbi Amram's resting place had miraculous powers not only for Jews but also for Arab women who believed in his ability to heal them and their illnesses. Many Jewish couples who had children after years of infertility named their children Amram after the righteous Rabbi.

Those who visit Rabbi Amram's tomb encounter a strange phenomenon where some of the pilgrims brought bottles of water to sanctify them on the grave. They shared that during the Hilula,- the day of his passing in the afternoon when the sun was strong, a dove would come and rest on one of the branches of the olive tree above Rabbi Amram's grave. The people present would become enthusiastic and pray aloud, and the women would be joyful, believing that the dove signaled the presence of Rabbi Amram's soul near his grave.

Throughout the Hilula, women would hang pieces of colored fabric, saying, "Here we ask you to pray for us," as a sign of their devotion to the righteous one who visited the grave. Men would sit around the pile of stones and chant in honor of the righteous man. There were also blind elders who recited the entire book of Idra by heart. The area was filled with people who came from near and far to join the celebrations.

Near the entrance to the cemetery area, rows of tents offered essential goods for sale, including wine, beer, bread, and all necessities for the festive gathering. There were also gas lamps powered by batteries, and many candles were sold. Nearby was a makeshift kitchen area where sheep were brought for slaughter, and the butchers' hands were stained with the blood of the ritual slaughter. There were also temporary toilets for public use and well-provided water for various needs.

The pilgrimage site was filled with private cars and public buses that brought pilgrims from different places. Genderma (traffic police) stayed in nearby military tents to maintain order and guide the traffic of vehicles that brought the celebrants to the holy site.

The Hilula exemplifies the strength of faith that empowers the Jewish people, who endure in a world of hatred and hostility from the Arab population while striving to preserve their traditions and unity.

Why do so many people visit his gravesite if we know so little about the Tzadik. There are no books or words of Torah which we have from him.

The answer lays in the following story.

Rabbi  Yehoshiyahu Pinto recounts that Rabbi Amram entered the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron, where the patriarchs and matriarchs are buried, during a time when Jews were not allowed to enter it. They were only permitted to ascend a few steps outside the structure. Because of his entry, a death sentence was issued against him, and he traveled to Morocco, where he collected funds for the Jews of Hebron.

While he was in Morocco, his young son fell ill. Rabbi Amram turned to the Holy One and said, "Please take my life in place of my son's. Let my son live, and I will die." The next morning, he passed away. This is the story that Rabbi Pinto told.

"This is the only authenticated story we know about Rabbi Amram," said Rabbi Pinto in his lecture. "This is the uniqueness of Rabbi Amram – to visit and pray at the graves of the righteous. Therefore, it is a great deed to visit the grave of Rabbi Amram in Morocco."

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