In last week’s column about the collection Mekabtziel published by Yeshivat Ahavat Shalom of Jerusalem, we noted that the volume contained a number of articles and studies on various subjects. One of the articles featured a biography of Rabbi Raphael Baruch Toledano, rabbi of Meknes, Morocco, written by one of his students, Rabbi Avraham Amar.
The Toledanos are a famous rabbinical family whose forebears lived in Toledo, Spain, as their name indicates. Members of this family have served as rabbis in Jewish communities in various countries, especially in Morocco.
Rabbi Raphael Baruch Toledano was a great rabbi and leader of our people. He was born in Meknes, a city which was for a long time a center of Torah that Morocco’s Jews called Kenessiya Shel Torah. It was also known as the “Jerusalem of Morocco.” His father, Rabbi Yaakov Toledano, served there as rabbi. His mother, Chana, was the daughter of a well-known family.
While very young, Raphael Baruch already excelled in Torah studies and people foretold a great future for him as leader of our people. He was also special in his moral qualities. He was a devoted son and was very careful not to cause any grief to his father. When he was about nine years old he became very sick. He suffered great pain and he groaned constantly. A friend who visited him tried to comfort him, but to no avail. Whenever his father looked into his room, he momentarily stopped groaning but the painful sounds resumed as soon as his father left. He explained to his puzzled friend that when his father looks at him he gathers all his strength to overcome his pain in order not to hurt him.
Once, when he attended a Mitzvah meal celebrating the conclusion of the study of a Talmud tractate, he did not partake of any food. Asked by the person sitting next to him why he was not eating, the boy explained that on the preceding day he had visited his father at the Beth Din. Just as he entered the Beth Din hall, he heard the man his father had found guilty bitterly criticizing his father. He could not restrain himself and reproved the man. But his father was not pleased with his son’s reaction. “One does not insult a person,” he angrily said. To atone for having angered his father, he had decided to fast an entire day.
One of young Raphael Baruch’s teachers was Rabbi Chaim Berdugo, a very learned man who had been the teacher of all the great rabbinic scholars residing in Meknes. Raphael Baruch was a very diligent student. He did not like superficiality and always strove to attain a full and deep understanding of the Sugya they were studying. His fellow students looked up to him. His teacher’s face shone with joy and pride when Raphael Baruch offered comments and solutions of his own on Halakhic matters and problems the class was discussing.
Raphael Baruch was greatly influenced by another teacher, Rabbi Chaim Messas, an extremely pious man who was a Gaon in Torah. Rabbi Messas taught the students Gemara and also talked to them at length about man’s duties to the L-rd and their fellow men. When Rabbi Messas taught Gemara, he addressed his students’ minds, and in his talks he appealed to their hearts. His students treasured his words which found expression in their conduct.
Raphael Baruch was Rabbi Messas’ star pupil. He sought to follow the path of his teacher and to adopt his pious customs. Though young, he rose at night for Tikkun Hatzot. He sat on the ground, prayed and wailed and shed tears over the Shekhinah’sexile and the desolation of Zion.
Many years later Rabbi Raphael Toledano settled in Israel in the Zikhron Meir quarter in Bnei Brak. His neighbors knew that he was rising for Tikkun Hatzot because they would hear the sounds of his wailing and crying during the night. Rabbi Shemuel HaLevi Wosner, the rabbi of Zikhron Meir, mentioned this when he eulogized Rabbi Raphael Baruch Toledano.
The Hazon Ish praised and admired Rabbi Raphael Baruch Toledano. When Rabbi Toledano once visited the Hazon Ish, the Gaon said to one of his students as Rabbi Toledano was leaving: “True fear of the L-rd emanates from this man.”
(To be continued)