Rabbi Yisrael Abuhatzeira was born on Rosh Hashanah 5650 (1889) and grew up in a home permeated with Torah study and holy behavior. His family lived on a large estate which included a yeshiva where young scholars studied night and day. The beit din (rabbinical court) of his father, Rabbi Mas'ud, was also located on the premises. His older brother, Rabbi David, studied by himself in an attic. On the rare times that Rabbi Mas'ud traveled, he would cover his eyes with his cape to avoid seeing inappropriate sights.
As a child, Yisrael was a diligent Torah scholar, studying day and night. At the age of 12, he began to fast during the six weeks of Shovavim. Knowing his parents would not let him continue, he hid his fasting from them, but his brother, David, noticed how weak and pale he was. Though David urged him to stop, Yisrael continued his fasting.
After his bar mitzvah, he entered his family's yeshiva, where the students rose at midnight for Tikkun Chatzot and then studied Kabbalistic works until dawn, when they would go to the mikveh, pray the morning service, and eat breakfast. This was followed by in-depth Gemara study, the afternoon prayers, and a shiur in Shulchan Aruch.
The Power of Prayer
A story of the Baba Sali as heard from Rabbi Moshe Aharon Stern, of Jerusalem
There was once a simple Israeli worker from Jerusalem, who, though he had been married a long time, had never been blessed with children. He had been to all the specialists, but to no avail. "Hair will grow on the palm of your hand before you see a child," the doctors had told him. After years of hope and despair, he had almost given up. Then he heard about the great miracles wrought by the prayers of Rabbi Yisrael Abuchatzira, the great Sefardi tzaddik known as the Baba Sali, of blessed memory.
With an expectant heart, the man traveled several hours from Jerusalem to Netivot, to the home of the Baba Sali. When he arrived, he found a long line of petitioners already ahead of him, and had to wait hours before entering to receive a blessing. Finally, his turn arrived. He entered the tzaddik's room, nervous, eyes downcast, clutching a small piece of paper on which he had written his only request: Children! He sat down and placed the paper on the table before the Baba Sali. The tzaddik opened it, then put it down. "Matzav avud," was all he said. "A lost case." Before he could open his mouth, the man had been whisked out of the chamber by the attendants to make room for the next petitioner. Shocked, brokenhearted, he returned to his home.
The next day, however, when the people began lining up for blessings, there he was again. Again he waited several hours. Again he entered, put his slip of paper on the table, and again he heard the same terrible answer -- "a lost case." Yet, when the next day arrived, there he was again, and the next day again! Every single day, as long as the Baba Sali was receiving people for blessings, the man would be there in line, at times waiting hours. And always he would hear the same sad answer, "a lost case."
Finally, after almost a year, the family of the Baba Sali took pity on this man and approached the great saint with their request. "Rabbeinu Yisrael," they said, "this poor man has been coming to you for a year straight now, and every time you give him the same answer. Can't you tell him to stop coming already? It's much too heartbreaking to continue." "How long has it been?" Rabbi Abuchatzira inquired. "We've counted, today is his two hundredth visit." The Baba Sali agreed to talk with him.
That afternoon, the man entered the room as usual and placed his slip of paper on the table before the Baba Sali. This time, the tzaddik did not even pick it up.
"Listen, my friend," he said gently. "You have been coming to me every day for a very long time. Haven't I already told you that it is a lost case. Go home, why do you insist on coming to me?"
The man lifted his eyes. "I come to you every day, and I will keep coming to you every day, because I believe in the power of prayer, and I believe that G-d listens to your prayers, and that you are the only one in the world who can help me."
"Do you really believe that?" the Baba Sali responded. "If so . . ." he rose from chair, "go out right now and buy a baby carriage!" (i.e. he blessed him in the merit of his great faith in torah sages)
The man gave a start. He jumped up and ran out of the room. "I got a blessing! I got a blessing!" he cried. That night he presented his wife with a beautiful new baby carriage. Nine months later, they had a child.