The Torah world enthusiastically welcomes a unique new masterpiece by Oz Vehadar:

The “Yagel Yaakov” Annotated Piyutim Book – an Astounding Torah- and Research-Based Masterpiece

Yisrael Lipel

“Yagel Yaakov,” the result of many years of research, exposes some of the deep secrets behind many of the piyutim that are commonly recited in prayer or at joyous events. The literal translation, along with the distinctive annotation and elucidation sections, present the reader with the piyutim at their very best, precisely defined and clarified. Unique introductory chapters written by the Oz Vehadar editorial team highlight the marvels of the piyutim and the holiness of their composers. Some of the piyutim were composed through a miraculous turn of events, others were written by composers at an incredibly young age, or as a result of a wondrous dream. The new book is published in time to mark the hilulah of the holy Abir Yaakov on 20 Teves.

Perfection is a result of the totality of all the details; the kind that results in the ideal final product. When the word “perfect” was used to describe the Yagel Yaakov piyut book, it was not merely a figure of speech or a marketing slogan. It is the absolute, incredibly precise truth, which appropriately defines the innovative masterwork, “The Yagel Yaakov Annotated Piyutim Book” – an astoundingly comprehensive Torah work unlike anything ever produced before.

Zemirot (songs) and piyutim (liturgical poems) are an inseparable part of Jewish life. At the Shabbos or yom tov meal, funeral or bris milah, during prayer and at the family table, on yamim tovim and the highest spiritual moments of the year, it is always these snatches of song that will express the burst of emotions, contain the tears, and convey them all in an appropriate, elevated expression. That is the power of the song – and the power of the rhymed piyut, springing from the very depths of the heart to adequately express that which the lips cannot; to verbalize the stirring words comprised from the very letters of the heart - - -  

 

A Treasure Trove of Holy Piyutim

“Yagel Yaakov” is an extensive compilation of holy piyutim, most of them authored by the Abir Yaakov zy”a and his descendants, the rabbanim of the distinguished Abihazira family. The piyutim are replete with Kabbalistic secrets, expressed in brilliant allusions and prose. Their essence is praise to Hashem, the avodah of tefillah and observance of the mitzvos, the virtues and holiness of the Torah, love and awe of Hashem, holiness and purity, the holy avodah of Shabbos and yamim tovim, chizzuk and mussar regarding avodas Hashem, or eulogies of earlier tzaddikim. Most of all, vividly depicted in most of the piyutim is the tremendous longing for closeness to Hashem and a yearning for the final geulah.  The introductions before each piyut define its precise nature and intent and assist the reader in understanding each and every word in the piyut.

After the illuminations of the books authored by the Abir Yaakov were beautifully prepared and published, with much siyata d’Shmaya, one precious goal remained: to prepare and publish these holy, exalted piyutim in a similarly magnificent and precise work, with each piyut elucidated and explained in a clear and easy-to-understand manner, as befitting these holy piyutim.

Readers and paytanim will discover one of the most magnificent creations in the world of Torah literature - a work that delves exactingly into the depths of the piyutim, researches the final wording, clarifies the phrasing and offers broad explanations of the subject of each piyut and its sources.   “There is no comparison,” paytanim will say, “between one who writes a vague and enigmatic rhyme to someone who composes a piyut with true wisdom and complete understanding of the intricacies of the piyut, its composition and rhyming, its allusions and its intents.” And they will be absolutely right. 

The “Yagel Yaakov Annotated Piyutim Book” was created with the close guidance of Rav David Chai Abuhazira shlit”a, who heads the “Ohr Layesharim Institute” in Nahariya. The Ohr Layesharim Institute is run by Yeshivas Abir Yaakov in conjunction with the Oz Vehadar Torah Empire, in which the editing of this sefer was conducted over many years and through whom dozens of other sefarim written by the Abir Yaakov zy”a were newly compiled and adapted so that readers of all ages and levels will be able to partake of this great tzaddik’s Torah and to draw chizzuk in their avodas Hashem and yiras Shamayim.

The team that accomplished this tremendous venture are part of the hardworking team of the Oz Vehadar Torah Empire, founded and headed by the great tzaddik, Rav Yehoshua Leifer shlit”a, av beis din of the Be’er Moshe community in Monsey. The editors worked tirelessly to arrange the elucidations in a clear and easy-to-understand manner, guided and directed from beginning to end by the gaon Rav Menachem Mendel Pomerantz shlit”a, reish mesivta of Oz Vehadar.

Editing the notations was carefully and skillfully carried out by the distinguished editors, headed by the gaon Rav David Busso hy”v, along with his brother, the gaon Rav Meir Shalom hy”v – descendants of the Baba Sali zy”a all the way back until the Abir Yaakov zy”a. With tremendous reverence, they toiled to perfect the work so that it will help bring Jewish hearts closer to the Torah of the rishonim.

 

Like the Maaseh Merkavah – Compiling the Exalted Piyutim

The holy piyutim, composed by tzaddikim in tremendous kedushah and purity, are not mere “beautiful songs.” They are lofty, holy compositions, laden with allusions and secrets of the Torah, the product of the works of the greatest kedoshim, composed in exalted holiness, purity and reverence. One such example is the piyut “A’ufa Eshkona,” expressing longing for avodas Hashem and yearning the geulah, which was composed by Rav Yitzchak Abihazira zy”a when he was but twelve (!) years old.

At that time, Rav Yitzchak was learning with his great father, the Abir Yaakov zy”a. One day, young Rav Yitzchak did not come on time to his regular learning session with his father. Rav Yaakov sent one of his students to bring his son. The student found Rav Yitzchak holed up in his room, absorbed in his writing. When Rav Yitzchak heard that his father was calling him, he immediately finished writing and went to his father. His father rebuked him, “Why did you not come on time to your learning session?” In response, Rav Yitzchak showed him the piyut he wrote; “A’ufa Eshkona.” Rav Yaakov zy”a studied the piyut and, extremely impressed, greatly praised its sanctity and virtue. He told his students that everything that had learned that day does not come close to the holiness of this piyut.

The composers of the piyutim – the tzaddikim of the Abihazira family – imbibed their works with exalted kedushah along with astounding humility and modesty. An example of this can be learned from the story of the birth of the piyut “Mizmor Shir Leyom HaShabbos,” describing Shabbos and its kavanos according to the teachings of the Arizal. This piyut was composed by Rav Mas’ud Abihazira zy”a when he was but a young boy, in the home of his holy father – the Abir Yaakov zy”a.

After he composed the piyut, Rav Mas’ud was unsure whether it will find favor in the eyes of his great father. He was afraid to show it to him and instead, waited for an appropriate opportunity. The opportunity arose when a distinguished talmid chacham from Eretz Yisrael was visiting their home for a while. When Shabbos came, the young Rav Mas’ud approached the guest and showed him the piyut that he had composed. The guest was very impressed, and asked him to show it to his great father. Rav Mas’ud explained his hesitation to the guest and asked him whether he would be willing to sing it during the Shabbos meal so that he may be able to see if his father liked the piyut. The guest agreed. At the Friday night meal, he asked Rav Yaakov for permission to sing a new piyut that would be unfamiliar to Rav Yaakov. Upon receiving permission, the guest began to sing Rav Mas’ud’s piyut.

Rav Yaakov zy”a  was extremely impressed by the piyut he was hearing. As the guest sang the words, Rav Yaakov noticed that it was of acrostic form, forming the name “Mas’ud,” and asked his guest whether this new piyut was composed by Rav Mas’ud Arwah tz”l. The guest responded that he will discover the name of the composer shortly, as the acrostic piyut continued. When the guest rav concluded singing the lines revealing the second part of the composer’s name, “Abuhazira,” Rav Yaakov understood that it was his own great son who had composed this incredible piyut, and he became filled with joy. He praised the piyut in a most incredible manner, and from then on, he always sang it at his Shabbos table.

 

The Dream That Led to the Composition of a Holy Piyut

The piyut “Mizmor Shir Velamenatzeach,” which expounds on the greatness of the neshamos of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his disciples, was composed by the Baba Sali zy”a after Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai appeared in a dream to one of his household members. The particulars of this story were verified and heard from the person to whom it happened – Rav Yichye Yiluz z”l, who had served the Baba Sali for a full year.

In 5720, while the Baba Sali was staying in the village of Rissani, residence of the Abir Yaakov zy”a, young Yichye Yiluz – then a young boy – served as his meshamesh (assistant). One day, young Yichye dreamt that he as standing in the home of his rav when the sound of knocking on the door was heard. He went over to open the door and found a venerable-looking rabbi standing at the doorstep. Young Yichye asked the man who he was, and the man responded that he was the tanna Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, and that he had come to speak to the Baba Sali. Yichye responded that the tzaddik was not home, since he had gone to wash the wheat. In response, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai told him that he will find him already - - -

The boy woke up, shaken and excited. He was unsure whether the dream was true or not, and did not dare tell his rav, the Baba Sali, about the strange dream. As his mind was occupied by thoughts of his dream, the Baba Sali suddenly entered his room and asked him how he was doing. Yichye was surprised, but did not share the dream with the Baba Sali, simply responding that he was feeling good, baruch Hashem. After a while, the tzaddik once again entered his room and asked him how he was doing, but once again Yichye did not gather the courage to share his dream with the tzaddik. Finally, the Baba Sali entered the young boy’s room for the third time and told him, “Yichye, many other greater people have dreamt dreams and came to tell them to me. You, too, tell me what you dreamt now.” The boy immediately shared the story of his dream, including all the details he could remember. The Baba Sali, who knew about the dream on his own, recognized that this was a true dream. Understanding its meaning and purpose, the Baba Sali was extremely joyous. The Baba Sali then sat down and composed the deep, wondrous piyut, “Mizmor Shir Velamenatzeach,” which expresses and praises the greatness of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s holy neshamah.

Indeed, these are the exalted, deep piyutim in the sefer Yagel Yaakov, now arranged and edited for the first time, just in time for the hilulah of the holy Abir Yaakov zy”a, and sold at a special introductory price.

 

The New Edition: Elucidation, Supplementary, and Introductory Sections

The piyutim written by these tzaddikim and kedoshim are full of divrei Torah eloquently interwoven into the prose. These include chiddushim in pshat, remez, drash and sod – all alluded briefly in the prose with astounding brilliance, culled from all parts of the Torah; Neviim, Kesuvim, Shas and midrashim, Bavli, Yerushalmi, rishonim and acharonim, the holy Zohar and the writings of the Arizal.

The rabbanim of the Abuhazira family were known to hold a special appreciation and affection for these piyutim. Even the last generation, which had had the zchus to see and know the Baba Sali zy”a and his son, Baba Meir zy”a, could see their special regard for the holy piyutim, which they would sing at their tables with tremendous exultation, in incredible dveikus and with deep intent. They, who fully understood the depth of the words and the many allusions hidden within, realized the true, wondrous value of the piyutim and praised them in a manner so great that it is difficult to describe.

Once, while the Baba Sali zy”a was sitting at his table, one of the guests became uncomfortable as he watched the Baba Sali sing one piyut after the other without stopping to share some words of divrei Torah at the table. He quietly turned to Rav David Yehudayoff zt”l, son-in-law of the Baba Sali, and whispered, “Why are there no chiddushim or divrei Torah shared at the table?!” The Baba Sali noticed this exchange and asked Rav David, “What did this man ask you?” His son-in-law explained that the man was wondering why there were no words of Torah discussed at this holy table. In response, the Baba Sali said, “Our piyutim are culled from all parts of the Torah – pshat, remez, drash and sod. If someone does not understand them – let him learn…”

 

True, we are far removed from these tzaddikim’s far-reaching understanding and grasp, and require in-depth study in order to understand the piyutim.  A person who does not study the piyutim in depth will find it extremely difficult to properly understand them and comprehend the esoteric allusions within them. Such accurate interpretation is sorely lacking for those who seek to know and understand the piyutim they sing.

Indescribable effort was invested into the proper arrangement of the piyutim and their interpretations, performed with reverence and in-depth study so that with Hashem’s help, we were zocheh to finally complete the Yagel Yaakov Annotated Piyutim Book with a clear, easily-comprehensible elucidation incorporated into the words of each piyut along with sources and commentary expanding on the content, sources, and introductions for anyone wishing to delve deeper in order to properly understand them. The explanations and illuminations shed light on this wondrous compilation that our holy rabbis zy”a had left us, revealing some of its rich, deep content.

 Furthermore, tremendous work was done on all parts of the sefer: meticulous proofreading and comparison to ancient manuscripts and publications (including exclusive handwritten manuscripts made available to the editors), a number of piyutim that had never been published before were now excerpted from the original, handwritten manuscripts and added to the sefer, and in addition, an extensive introduction was included before each piyut, describing its author, the structure of the piyut, and the order of its paragraphs. Additional information such as the source of the piyut and the year it was printed, and the tune to which this particular piyut was generally sung, was included as well. Finally, the acrostics, usually alluding to the name of the composer, were provided as well.

You can buy the book here