Young and old, men and women, observant and secular, Sephardim and Ashkenazim of every stripe, all streamed to the door of the great kabbalist and tzaddik, Baba Sali, in Netivot, seeking his blessing and help. Everyone, without exception, held him in the highest esteem.

Once a man from Holon, Eliyahu, was scheduled to have his legs amputated. He had already spent much time in the hospital, and so was reconciled to his fate. The procedure was to take place on Friday.

Although Eli was not at all observant, he decided to try it anyway, in desperation.

That Thursday, an elderly woman acquaintance suggested that he receive a blessing from Baba Sali before the operation. She said that she knew of someone who had been paralyzed, yet was healed through Baba Sali’s blessing. Although Eli was not at all observant, he decided to try it anyway, in desperation. Maybe, maybe....

It would have been impossible to get permission to leave the hospital the day before the operation, so Eli snuck out. He didn’t even disclose his intention to see Baba Sali to his concerned family.

Eli sat on a chair in the waiting room near the entrance to the tzaddik’s room. After many hours, finally his turn came. The custom was, before anything, to approach Baba Sali on his couch and kiss his hand, but because of the advanced thrombosis of his legs and the crippling pain that accompanied it, Eli was unable even to rise to enter the room.

Following Baba Sali’s instruction, Rabbanit Simi, his wife, approached Eli and asked, "Do you put on tefillin?" Do you keep Shabbat? Do you say blessings?

"No," admitted Eli, and burst into sobs.

Baba Sali seemed to be moved by Eli’s suffering and his sincerity. He said to him, "If you do my will and observe the Shabbat and repent completely, then G‑d, too, will listen to my will."

With great emotion, Eli promptly cried out, "I accept upon myself the obligation to observe the Shabbat in all its details. I also promise to do full teshuvah, to ‘return’ in repentance all the way."

At Baba Sali’s directive, Eli was served tea. After he drank it, the Rabbanit suggested that being that the Rav had blessed him, he should try to get up, in order to go and and kiss the Rav’s hand.

After much effort and pain, Eli managed to rise. He couldn’t believe it -– his legs were obeying him! Shakily, he walked over to Baba Sali and kissed his hand! By then nearly delirious with shock and joy, he began to thank Baba Sali profusely. The Rav interrupted him, saying with a smile, "Don’t thank me. Just say: ‘Blessed are those who sanctify His name publicly!’"

As if in a dream, Eli stumbled out the door and descended the stairs.

As if in a dream, Eli stumbled out the door and descended the stairs. He experimented, walking this way and that. He had to know: Was he really awake? Could this truly be happening? With each step, his legs felt better.

On his "new" legs, he went over to Yeshiva HaNegev, not too far from the home of Baba Sali. When the students realized they were seeing the results of a miracle that had just occurred, they surrounded Eli with happy dancing and singing, and words of praise and gratitude to G‑d.

Rejoicing in his new-found ability to walk, Eli returned to the home of Baba Sali to say goodbye properly and to thank him again. He also expressed his fear that his legs would relapse to their previous weakness and disease. Baba Sali calmed him, saying cheerfully, "Don’t worry. In the merit of your oath to ‘return’ and repent, and especially that you promised to observe Shabbat according to its laws, which is equal to all the commandments, G‑d has done this miracle and nullified the decree against you. Now it is up to you to fulfill your words."

Leaving Baba Sali’s house again, Eli telephoned his wife. "I’m all better!" he shouted, without explanation. His wife figured that fear of the surgery had caused him to loose touch with reality. "Are you coming home?" she asked with concern. "Or will you go straight to the hospital?"

Eli then told his wife what he had promised Baba Sali, the blessing that he had received from the tzaddik, and the miraculous improvement that had already occurred. As soon as he hung up, he called his doctor at Echilov Hospital in Tel Aviv and informed him of his cure. The doctor told Eli to be back at the hospital the following day, and to "stop acting crazy!"

Eli did go to the hospital the next day. The doctor was barely able to accept the evidence of his eyes. After a few days and many tests, Eli was released. The first thing he did was to return to Netivot, to thank Baba Sali again. The Rav requested of his household that a seudat hoda’ah, a meal of thanksgiving to G‑d in honor of the miracle, be prepared and served. At the end of the meal, Baba Sali blessed a bottle of water and told Eli to deliver it to the hospital so that his doctor could drink l’chaim from it. "And tell him," added Baba Sali, "not to be so hasty to cut off legs."

"Believe me, Eliyahu, all I did was tell him ‘Stand up!’"

Baba Sali’s gabbai (attendant) during most of his years in Netivot, Rabbi Eliyahu Alfasi [who witnessed much of the story and heard the rest of the details from Eli of Holon], reports that he once asked Baba Sali how he performed this great miracle. The tzaddik answered him innocently, "Believe me, Eliyahu, all I did was tell him ‘Stand up!’"


Connection: This Shabbat (Jan. 14, 2012) is the yahrzeit of Baba Sali. (Plus, the story mentions tefilin, the subject of the last section of the Weekly Reading.)

Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from "Baba Sali—Rebbeinu HaKadosh", pp. 114-116.

Biographical note:
Rabbi Yisrael Abuhatzira [1890 – 4 Shvat 1984] known as Baba Sali, was born in Tafillalt Morocco to one of Jewry’s most illustrious families. From a young age he was renowned as a sage, miracle maker and master kabbalist. In 1964 he moved to Eretz Yisrael, eventually settling in 1970 in the Southern development town he made famous, Netivot, and where, since 1984, his tomb has become one of Israel's most visited pilgrimage sites. A number of collections of stories featuring him have been published, including two in English.