The Gra saw the energy of spiritual rot of Shabatai Tzvi was subsumed into Hasidut

The excommunication of the Gra  had in it two points that were common to all the different excommunications against.

The Gra saw the energy of spiritual rot of Shabatai Tzvi was subsumed into Jewish cults.

There were many  excommunications, but the two points that come up in all of them was disparaging learning Torah and disparaging Torah scholars. Though cults have been hard at work to deny these two allegations by a parade and show of learning Torah, it is still hard not to see that the Gra was right. I do not mean that this is something you can see looking in from the outside, but rather if you are in the actual world of cults it is hard not to admit that both of these complaints are based on actual attitudes that continue today--very strongly.

Now I don't  know if it is right to excommunicate people for things, even if they would be 100% true, but the Gra did feel that these were serious issues.

The excommunication of the Gra did not treat this as a minor problem. The actual text stated that  one is not allowed to sit in 4 amot [yards] of a chasid, nor talk with a chasid, nor marry the daughter of a chasid etc. It is interesting that this excommunication did not single out secular Jews.
I mean there have always been secular Jews and Jews of various degrees of religiosity. Why not excommunicate Jews that go to Collage? Or other such things? Why specifically Hasidut?

Part of the answer is that the essence of something is what  makes it what it is. That is when we talk about the essence of a thing we mean that something else of the same essence would be put into the same category. When there is a  claim to be of the same essence as the Creator of the Universe and this does not spark outrage in the general world of , then we know something is off.

The problem of the provability of the connection between Shabati Tzvi  with later Jewsih cults was the reason it was not mentioned in the actual text of the excommunication. That was in those days. Today we have lots of evidence of this connection. Cookies that were placed in the writings of the Shatz and Natan from Gaza that you find in all books of Ashkenazic Mysticism. The connection is undeniable. Even if you don't see how that stuff got into Ashkenazic Mysticism never the less it is there.



Speed reading when it comes to Talmud studies does not require much of an explanation.

There are two major kinds of learning in the Talmud. One is the learning of the Sugia [subject]. The other is speed reading. Speed reading when it comes to Talmud studies does not require much of an explanation. It simply means saying the words in order and going on without worrying whether you got it or not.

This type of fast learning I found very helpful when it came to learning Physics at Polytechnic Institute at N.Y.U..

The other kind of learning is called learning the Sugia (subject). This does mean to some degree learning a particular subject with the commentaries. But it also means getting a general feel for the subject. This kind of learning is hard to define.
Two examples may help to describe what I mean. Lets us take the subject (סוגיא) of work done on Shabat not for its own sake. מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופה. This is a subject which you really could not understand by speed reading alone. The reason for this is that the subject itself is spread all over the Talmud  and the particular Tosphots that deal with it are not in Tractate Shabat at all but rather in Yoma page 34 and in  Ketubot and in Bava Kama.

So what I am suggesting is that every subject  has it own peculiarities that make going into one subject completely different than going into another one.

Learning fast helped me also in physics. When I first applied to Polytechnic Institute of NYU, and they accepted me, they gave me one piece of paper of math to see whether to put me in a remedial math program  or to let me into Calculus 101. I had no idea which side of the paper was up. But since I did not have to start there until Chanuka, I had the three month period from Rosh Hashanah   until then to prepare. And during that time I plowed through [read fast saying the words and going on] the pre-Calculus and Calculus books that I had. And amazingly enough it went in!
But I should mention the reading fast part was done from Rosh HaShanah until Hashana Raba and then I started work on problems and doing so I read everything again forwards and backwards. This all worked well except the Calculus book I had {by Bittner} was economics based and so he did not have right-hand sums and left hand sums for Riemanian Integrals. So when I got to that in the actual Calculus class I was totally unprepared. I started saying  the words and going on. And that helped me very much to at least get to basic String Theory, Group Theory, Abstract Algebra, and Algebraic Topology. So even though there is still plenty of stuff I do not understand, still I learned a lot more than if I had gotten stuck on every last detail. And I think other could benefit from this approach also.
[One slight advantage of this is that when philosophy professors or other amateurs start spouting nonsense about physics, at least you can tell they don't know what they are talking about. Just by this fats method at least you get a feel for the subject.]


The major evil that people do is when they think they are doing a mitzvah.

The Satan is disguised  in Mitzvas.
This concept is also mentioned by the Geon from Villna.

The basic idea is that we  find that the evil inclination does not try to seduce a person into sin by openly advertising what his intentions are. Rather he says, "Come, and let's do a mitzvah." But mitzvas are highly dependent on the particular Halacha [Jewish Law] that apply to any given situation.  nowadays we should no longer call the evil inclination by its common names ["Satan", or the "evil inclination" etc.] but rather call it the name of "Dimion"/"imagination". [דמיון] That means to say:  the major evil that people do is when they think they are doing a mitzvah. [If people would settle for being selfish jerks, we would all be better off than having people that are out to save the world.]

The idea that "the Satan dresses himself in Mitzvot"  Also, many times the Satan will come to you and ask you to do some actual mitzvah. This is another case of the Satan being dressed in Mitzvot.

That being said, we all should learn Torah [i.e. the Old Testament, Talmud and its commentaries, the Zohar, Isaac Luria]. That fact is not the issue here.
Rather the issue is sometimes something seems like a mitzvah when it is not. There are an infinite number of factors which can make this happen. For example the situation is not parallel to the situation the Shulchan Aruch or the Rambam is talking about. That is: there is a mistake in the material facts of the case. Or there is a mistake in understanding the actual Halacha.
Reb Joseph Karo made this point in his commentary on the Rambam. He wrote that people dot understand the Rambam because they don't know the sugia in the Talmud from where the Rambam derives his law.  And the same idea was stated by the Maharshal and the Maharsha about the Shulchan Aruch. The Maharsha said it is proper to rebuke people that decide halacha from the Shulchan Aruch without knowing the sources.


Israel Abuchatzeira

Bava Sali [Yisrael Abuchatzeira] did not have any shortcuts to the spiritual realm. Nor did he believe in such things.
His path was as simple as possible: Learn Torah and do God's commandments. [Learning Torah in this context does not include most things people today claim is Torah.  Torah to him meant classical Torah: The Old Testament, the Talmud with the traditional commentaries, the Zohar, writings of Isaac Luria, and the Musar/Ethical works from the Middle Ages.] That is Classical Torah is what he considered to be Authentic Torah. And he was aware of the danger of  fraudulent Torah. All the more so Fraudulent Kabalah.

One interesting point about him was his diet. The most curious thing about his diet was that he did not seem to have one. I was discussing with his daughter once about the importance of having a balanced diet including certain vitamins and minerals. She told me that she did not know about such things, but she knew that when they were living in Morocco, Bava Sali would stay in a tiny attic room for a few weeks at a time and be sitting and learning. She would bring him his meal in the morning and leave it by the small window that led to the attic. When she returned at night the meal was untouched.
In general, laws of nature seemed to be suspended when he was around. I heard from many people their personal problems that were solved once and for all after they went to him.  I forgot most of them. But for sure, I never met a person that went to him that did not have some personal crisis solved. [Everywhere I went in Israel someone had a personal story to tell me about this.] Every person that went to him always had a amazing story to tell me.--everything from healing people, to finding a marriage partner, to the revival of the dead etc. and etc. These are not things that it is very easy to fake.
The fact that Bava Sali is gone definitely created a crisis in Israel. Israel fighter pilots no longer have tzadik (saint) to go to to get a blessing before their missions. Average working Jews no longer have a person to go to to get advice about their personal affairs that they can trust comes from a source of holiness.

 For a few decades already people have gone to any kind of person that seems to have a slight possibility of having something like Bava Sali and are invariably disappointed. The amount of tricksters and fakers is almost infinite. I discussed this problem with the daughter of Bava Sali several  times. Also I was close with Shimon Buso (a grandson of Bava Sali) for several years. He was a Magid Shiur [teacher]  in a in Jerusalem (a branch of Ponovitch) at the time and I was doing my personal kind of kabalistic stuff by Shmuel HaNavi. But when we had time off we would go around Israel on all kinds of interesting kabalist missions. So the subject of the lack of a Bava Sali type of person came up with him also. His general approach is that there is no one to go to today. All one can do is to sit and learn Torah and be the best person one can be and hope for the help of God in ones personal situation.

But Bava Sali could make mistakes. The mistakes mostly have been forgotten. But there was one fellow who was told he would get remarried and it never happened. The failures of Bava Sali were never made public. The miracles I admit were amazing and real. He was after all human. And he made mistakes. And he would have been the first person to say so. When Moshe Buso (his grandson) came to serve him from midnight to dawn (as was the custom for his grandchildren to do) Moshe asked him if he wanted normal ground coffee or Neis Coffee {נס קפה}Instant coffee. But Neis also means miracle in Hebrew. Bava Sali said "no nisim" no miracles. That is he was saying he wanted natural coffee instead of instant coffee, but he put it in such a  way as to suggest he did not want miracles. [Most often he wanted coffee with tea together when he got up for the midnight prayers.] (I should mention midnight prayers are what one says in the middle of the night concerning the Temple that was destroyed in 70 AD). The first part is a few psalms and also the last chapter in the book of Lamentations.   The last part consists of a few more psalms. Altogether it takes about 10 minutes. After that it was his custom to learn Torah until dawn. Once it was completely dark outside and yet he said to Moshe Buso (his grandson) "It is time for the morning prayers." Moshe Buso said he did not understand how that was possible until I showed him how most rishonim/authorities hold the law is like Rabbainu Tam. And that the opinion of Rabbainu Tam applies in the morning just like it does at night.

For the general information I should mention some basic information about Bava Sali. There was a kind of cloud of blessings that followed him. In the morning he would learn Torah but at a certain hour of the day he would open his doors to people that needed a blessing. And what blessings they were! I know people that had all kinds of problems that were solved after they went to him. But most of his life he was known only to a small number or Moroccan Jews. One fellow was a newly religious and had a drivers license. Bava Sali asked him to drive him to Meron. On the way back he wanted to fill the gas tank but Bava Sali said not to bother, and the drove back to Netivot on an empty tank.

In summery: It is good to have a real tzadik around. And it is bad to have fakers. And it is important to be able to tell the difference.

Absent a person like Bava Sali a true Torah scholar is a good option. But in this case also it takes a great deal of perception to be able to tell the difference between the fakers and the real thing. In any case to get a blessing from a real Torah scholar is a very good thing to do. The usual NY rosh yeshiva is in general an authentic Torah scholar--but only if his yeshiva is Lithuanian.

I don't know if there is anyone around who could fill the shoes of Bava Sali. The best one out there is Shimon Buso in Netivot [a grandson of Bava Sali from the side of  Abigail, Bava Sali's daughter.]
There are descendants of David Abuchatzaira, the older brother of Bava Sali, also known as עטרת ראשינו with whom I am impressed with, but they are not public people. Actually neither is Shimon. But still it is worth the time to get a blessing from him.
The whole Buso family I should mention I am impressed with. If that special flow of the ability to bless of Bava Sali went anywhere it is probably to the Buso family. [There is one Moshe Buso in Jerusalem who is I think the oldest son. Still, I think Shimon is the best of the bunch--at least in terms of advice and getting a blessing.]

In any case the descendants of Yaakov Abuchatzaira are around.  And whichever one it is does not seem to matter that much. Any of them are good to go to for a blessing and advice.


It is hard to get over the impression that Reb Israeli Abuchatzeira had something special. [Bava Sali]

But at least I merited to spend a lot of time with his immediate family and learned a little bit of what it was that made him special. I have never heard of a person that went to him to receive a blessing that did not receive some kind of miracle in their life.

His daughter is Avigail Buso [originally Abuchatzeira but then she married a person by the name of David Buso and became Mrs. Buso]. She had a lot of insights about her father. And her children also. One of her children Moshe Buso receives visitors in Jerusalem.

However it does seem that there is a careful guarding of the name Abuchatzeira in such a way that there is great jealously about who gets the name and who gets to be considered as passing on the mantle of greatness.

It is well known that there was a ten year period of rivalry between R. Baruch in Netivot and R. Elazar in Beer Sheva.

First of all, it should be known that although something miraculous was going on in that family for about five generations, it does seemed to have come to a halt. There is no member of the Abuchatzeira family today that you can go to and be guaranteed to come back with a miracle. However some drop of that holiness and special quality does remain in the Buso Family.
 The most basic thing that made Bava Sali special was his personal service towards God. Without that kind of self sacrifice no one can claim the Bava Sali mantle. One does not become a tzadik/saint by reason of birth, but by choice.

In general the path of Bava Sali was what is described by classical Musar books like the Chovot Levavaot [Duties of the Heart]. Its world view is essentially that of Conservative Judaism --Mesorati Judaism.

 Today if someone would want a blessing in their life, my recommendation would to go to Shimon Buso in Netivot. He is the closest thing that I can see to the continuance of the Bava Sali Tradition and Path.

[ that Shimon Buso does not officially receive visitors. Still I think one who wants a blessing would be wise to go to him.]

Bava Sali,  did learn Kabalah. But that was not in any way the thing that stood out by him. His thing was just plain, old, simple service of God. (Just the old, old time religion was his thing.) And service of God was a personal thing for him. It did not include any of the fanaticism of the general Ashkenazi world.

The general approach is that as much of divine service that one can do--all the better. But everyone was accepted by Bava Sali. No one ever came away without a clear and definite miracle. The only exception was when once he visited Jerusalem. And some kabalist wanted to visit him, and he refused to see him. In fact, all kabalists were rigorously eliminated from his list of visitors, according to Bava Sali's daughter, Mrs. Buso.

Mrs Buso also once summed up for me the essence of Bava Sali's path-. But this was understood very differently that the fanatic Ashkenazim understand Shulchan Aruch. For example, Mrs. Buso regularly listened to classical music--including specifically the Hallelujah Chorus of Handel. Moshe Buso asked me on several occasions to play for him the violin concerto of Mendelssohn.

I did spend some time learning the Eitz Chaim of the Ari with Shimon Buso. I was with that family in around 1991 and 1992 and then later I reconnected in around 2000-2003. Then there was a third period around 2009-2010. So I do not know what is going on there today. But from the entire family of Bava Sali and his older brother David Abuchatzeira and their grandfather Rav Yaakov I can say their path was a simple as possible--straight Litvak Torah: Talmud and Musar of Reb Israel Salanter.
The mot interesting thing about that path is not what it does but what it excludes. Any all all frills and extras, all kinds of frumkeit that people want to add were totally missing.


Bava Sali's Path is actually very easy to describe and yet still very mysterious.

Rav Israel [Avuchatzeira].
The last time I was in Israel I was at a pidion haben [the party you make after a first born son is 30 days old] and one fellow started telling me the story of how he got married. It seems he was in a kind of situation in which no one was offering to him a shiduch.[marriage possibilities]
 So he went to Israel Avuchateira in Netivot. It was Friday --a day on which Bava Sali did not accept visitors. But his wife had compassion of this  student and brought him into Bava Sali. He was doing the normal Chok LeIsrael  seder [reading the Bible portion for that week].
He interpreted to start raining blessings on this student in the kind of dialectic that Jews from Morocco used to speak  Within a very short time he found his wife and got married.
I don't know the name but there was apparently a rav in Europe who was the prime  rav there. I think in Antwerp. Once a visitor came to see him and saw in his home pictures of Bava Sali and asked him why does he have pictures from a Sefardi Rav. He answer that once Bava Sali was in France and he this rav came to see him. After the visit he left at 3 PM and a when he arrived at this city it was still 3 PM. [This is called Kephitazt HaDerech]

The son in law of Bava Sali David Buso told me how once in Paris, he and  Bava Sali were waiting for the moon to come out on the last night that Kidush Levana was possible [the blessing on the new moon]. When it seemed apparent that the clouds cover was just too think for the moon to come out on its own, Bava Sali waved his hand and moved the clouds aside.

Once I was praying in Safed a one person came over and told me the story of  how a female relative of his was a secular Jew. From what I remember her husband was slightly sick and she had heard of a rav who had come from Morocco and people were going to him to get blessings. [Even though she was secular she thought, "Why not give it a try?"] She took the long trip from Kiryat Shemona to Netivot [about a six hour drive from the tiptop of Israel to the very bottom].When she arrived she discovered a  disappointing fact,- Bava Sali never saw women or received them as visitors.. She was left with no option but to give her request to the Gabai [the attendant] and he forwarded the request to Bava Sali. He returned and said that Bava Sali asked her to write a check.She did so and in return she received a bottle of water that Bava Sali had blessed. She took it and drove back home.That means she was altogether 12 hours on the road, plus the time she had spend by Bava Sali. When she returned home she put the bottle on the kitchen table and went into the bathroom. By that time she was angry, tired, and frustrated. She opened the faucet in the bathroom and saw the running water and began to think to herself, "Here in my own home I have running water and bottles also! Why did I need to waste a whole day to get an ordinary bottle of water?"
When she returned to the kitchen to her surprise she saw the bottle of water was gone; and in the place where she has set it down was her check.

Sadly today that impressive family line seems to have lost the touch that it had a for at least 5 or more generations.Yet there are still some members of that family that I think still retain some of the holiness. In particular, I am impressed with Shimon Buso --a grandson of Bava Sali who is  in Netivot. From what I can tell he seems to be on the path that Bava Sali himself was on of service of God in the way of learning Torah day and night with self sacrifice.

Bava Sali's path is actually very easy to describe and yet still very mysterious. He learned Torah and kept Mitzvot. Now learning Torah in the Bava Sali way means that he learned Torah, Talmud, Rambam, Zohar, R. Isaac Luria and etc.--all the things that are part of a regular Torah curriculum. It was a path that included learning a little bit of Kabalah, and a lot of Talmud. It included a lot of fasting--from week to week. And it also meant no contact with women unless it was his own immediate family. Also I should mention Bava Sali had a thing about being married. It was kind of a personal law for him not to be without a wife even for a second.

There was once a student in Netivot who used to drive Bava Sali around when  he needed a ride.
Once he drove him to Meron and wanted to fill the gas tank on the way back. Bava Sali told him "Just drive." So they drove the whole five hours from Meron to Netivot on an empty tank of gas.

 He also had zero patience for the so called Kabalists in Israel and thought they were a bunch of fakes. As Bava Sali's daughter once told me:" No kabalist was ever allowed in to see Bava Sali. He never accepted any of them under any circumstances."]

I perhaps should mention the community around Bava Sali was Mesorati [traditional Judaism- not Orthodox] While he was involved in Torah alone the community around him was a working community and he never expressed any disapproval of that. Sefardim in Netivot generally worked and served in the Army and got regular secular Israeli educations. And that is the vast majority of the people that still follow in that tradition.


falling of the generations in their spiritual level

The concept of the falling of the generations in their spiritual level [Yeridat Hadorot] is  mentioned in the Gemara itself concerning Chizkia the teacher of Rabbi Yochanan.
R. Yochanan had answered a hard problem brought up by his teacher and his teacher said "This is no ordinary human being." At that point the Gemara brings up this idea that "If previous generations were like angels, we are like men etc."

However the Rambam disagrees with this idea. He sees no problem in disagreeing with the Geonim [Example in Hilchot Ribit], or the Rif [e.g  in Ketubot] [see in the laws of Mishpatim and the beginning of Mishna Torah where he discuss the rules of deciding Halacha]
Also this idea is clearly in contradiction to the other idea mentioned by the Gemara itself that the law goes by the last Amora [the later Talmudic sage]

Now sometimes the idea of the falling of the generations makes sense. I encounter this all the time when I see the difference between Tosphot and Achronim [later commentaries] that come after the Beit Yoseph.