Some 200 years ago, the legend of Chacham Rabbi Yaakov Bensabbat ZT”L, was born. He acquired the name “Bensabbat” following an amazing incident. He was once on a journey with a caravan of Jews, who were riding on donkeys. It was late Friday afternoon, and R’ Yaakov did not know what to do. As Shabbat was about to start, R’ Yaakov turned to his companions and said, “Shabbat will soon begin, and we cannot ride on Shabbat. We must stop here in the forest until tomorrow night. We can then continue on our journey.”
However, his traveling companions refused to listen saying, “This place is dangerous! We have to continue moving because of the wild animals here.” Hence the group journeyed on, leaving R’ Yaakov behind, and all alone.
R’ Yaakov, who was infused with powerful faith, took some stones and laid them in a circle around him. He tied his donkey to a tree, lit two candles for Shabbat, and began to pray. He was deeply immersed in his prayers and did not see the approach of a huge lion, before it was too late! (It was well known that lions roamed the Moroccan wilderness some 200 years ago). R’ Yaakov was afraid, and so he raised his hands to heaven and beseeched the Almighty to save him. Suddenly, he saw an old man standing before him, and he said, “My son, do not fear!”
R’ Yaakov continued to pray, and then he ate the Shabbat meal with a content heart. During all this time, the lion was standing outside the circle of stones, carefully watching him.
With his great faith, R’ Yaakov went to sleep that night, and all through the next day, the lion remained, eyeing him the entire time. At the end of Shabbat, R’ Yaakov saddled his donkey and prepared to continue his journey. Just then, the lion made his move and ran up to the terrified man. But as he approached, the lowered its back, as if to say, “Climb up on me.” R’ Yaakov understood and climbed upon the lion’s back. He placed all his things upon the lion and the lion began to run at full speed. A journey that should have taken days, took the lion only a few short hours. Soon, R’ Yaakov came to his destination.
When they saw R’ Yaakov, the residents of the town immediately accused him of desecrating the Shabbat, by embarking on his journey the holy day had ended. However, when they saw him riding on the back of a huge lion, and he recounted everything that had happened to him since parting ways with the caravan on the eve of Shabbat, they believed him. This incredible story quickly became the focus of conversation in town. As it turned out, the other members of the caravan who had continued their journey on Shabbat never even made it to the town and were attacked by a pack of ravenous lions. Only R’ Yaakov survived from the original caravan, and they realized that he was a very special and unique Torah scholar. From that day on, people began to call him R’ Yaakov ben Shabbat, which was later conjoined to become “Bensabbat.” May the Holy One, blessed be He, also perform miracles and wonders for us!
By Rabbi Dovid Hoffman