Rabbi Masoud Refael Alfasi of Tunisia

Leader of the Tunisian Jewish community.

Died: Tunisia, 1774

Rabbi Masoud Refael Alfasi was living in the town of Fez, in the Kingdom of Morocco. One day, Rabbi Alfasi decided to travel to the Holy Land, and he joined a caravan of traders, travelers, and camels, that was leaving Fez for the East and the Holy Land.

After traveling many days through Morocco and through the desert, Rabbi Alfasi noted that the day was the sixth day, Friday, and the Sun was moving lower in the afternoon horizon. The caravan was still in the dry desert wilderness, yet Rabbi Alfasi dismounted from his camel, and announced that he would remain in the desert for the next day so that he would not have to travel on Shabbat.

"What? Are you insane?" cried his fellow travelers. "The desert is no place for you to remain alone. The Sun is hot, the wind is harsh, the land is dry, and there are wild beasts that will tear you apart. There are lions in the wilderness, who will gobble you up in one bite," the caravan members said. "Not even a camel would want to stay."

But Rabbi Alfasi stayed. The caravan members argued with him for an hour, but he would not budge, so regretfully they continued on their way to Tunis, leaving the rabbi to spend the Shabbat alone in the desert.

As the afternoon drew to a close, Rabbi Alfasi took a stick and drew a circle in the sand, circumscribing himself, and there he said his evening prayers and ate a Shabbat meal.

As he completed his meal, he saw a lion running toward him from a distance. But the rabbi did not fear. He began his Grace after Meals, and as the lion approached the circle drawn around the rabbi, it merely stopped, crouched, and sat down. This lion did not arrive to eat the rabbi. Rather he arrived to protect him.

In the morning, the rabbi awoke, prayed the morning prayers, and studied for the Shabbat. The lion kept watch throughout the day. After the Sabbath, the rabbi placed his bags on the lion's back, mounted the lion, and the lion galloped off with the rabbi towards Tunis.

Soon the rabbi and his bags arrived in Tunis. Rabbi Alfasi came riding into the city on the back of a lion. The Tunisians were shocked and frightened, and many ran for their homes and barricaded their doors. "Do not fear." Rabbi Alfasi told the people. "This lion is a good lion. No harm will come to you." Rabbi Alfasi dismounted the lion and checked into an inn. He thanked the lion, and the lion galloped away, out of the city, and back into the wilderness.

Several days later, the caravan entered the city, and they were not only surprised to see that Rabbi Alfasi had survived the desert, but that he had beat them to Tunis by several days.

"Come join us as we continue on to the Holy Land," the caravan leaders told the rabbi.

But Rabbi Alfasi did not join them. During the past few days in Tunis, he had met the Jewish community and saw that they had a need for a new teacher. Therefore, Rabbi Masoud Refael Alfasi stayed in Tunis and built a famous academy. And that is how Rabbi Alfasi came to become a leader of the Tunisian Jewish community.

May the merit of the tzaddik  Rabbi Masoud Refael Alfasi of Tunisia  protect us all, Amen.

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