The Bas Ayin, Harav Avraham Dov Auerbach of Ovritch was born in in 5525/1765 in the Ukrainian town of Chmielnik.
He was a fascinating and important figure in the early Chassidic era. While not much is known about his early life, we know his father was a saintly man who was a close confidante of the Baal HaTanya, he was orphaned at the age of 9 and lived with his grandfather until marriage.
He became a talmid of the Meor Einayim, Harav Nachum of Chernobyl, zy”a, whom he considered the main influence in his life. Additionally, he was very close with Reb Zusha of Anipoli and Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev. For many years he desired to move to Eretz Yisrael, finally at the advanced age of 70, despite resistance from his Rebbi, Harav Avraham Dov decided the time was ripe to leave all his Chassidim and begin life anew in Eretz Yisrael. There are many tales of miracles surrounding this voyage, which took him all of 16 days to complete, in an era where the journey usually took several months.
The Sefer Bas Ayin, was completed whilst the Rav was still living in Zhitomir, however he wanted the manuscript to feel the air of Eretz Yisrael before actually printing it. The sefer is known as a very difficult sefer to understand, it was initially published in Yerushalayim in 1847, and republished in Zhitomir in 1850 with various addendums and changes. After 80 years and 2 world wars the seforim were out of print and difficult to find, the sefer was reprinted in 1959 in Yerushalayim with the printer working to combine the 2 versions together. This inadvertently caused it to become even more difficult to understand. The current edition is based off of many of the original manuscripts which have been found and many errors have been resolved along with a general edit to make for a smoother read. The current edition also includes an extensive index and biography.
After his arrival in Eretz Yisrael, he was approached by various communities to be their Rav before becoming the leader of the Chassidim in Tzfat. He led the community through some of their worst ordeals including the plunder of the city by the Druze & the famous earthquake of 1837,which he miraculously survived. He was instrumental in working to rehabilitate the city and worked to set up a proper Chevra Kadisha. He developed a correspondence with Sir Moses Montefiore and his staff to help the inhabitants of Tzfat economically. According to some scholars, this led to the beginning of modern Jewish agricultural settlement in Israel.
The Midrash tells us a cryptic story that when Shlomo Hamelech completed the Beis Hamikdash he overheard two birds talking and one of them said ‘I can destroy this building easily’. Shlomo asked the bird how it can do so, to which the bird responded “ What does it matter to you, I am just trying to show off to my wife”
The Bas Ayin explains that the bird is the Yetzer Hara who was saying I can ensure that the Shechina will never rest in the Beis Hamikdash, rendering it meaningless. Shlomo asked how can that be, I already kicked you out of here with my Teshuva and Maasim Tovim. The bird explained, of course regarding the Aveiros of Gashmius (i.e eating non kosher food) I cannot argue, but regarding the small averios – if you would proudly tell your wife that you built this bayis, and that leads you to haughtiness, will prevent the Shechina from resting here.
This beautiful pshat embodies the essence of the Bas Ayin that one should live their lives with Hachna’ah, a subjugation to God and lowering themselves in their everyday actions and Avodas Hashem.
In 1840, a terrible plague broke out in Tzfat. When Harav Avraham Dov fell ill, he announced that his petirah would be an atonement for the town; he would be the plague’s last victim and there would be no more disasters or plagues in Tzfat thereafter. Rav Avraham Dov was niftar on 12 Kislev 1840, and as he had predicted, the plague stopped immediately. He was buried in a me’arah of great Chassidic leaders that lies not far from the kevarim of the Beis Yosef and the Alshich. The entrance to the cave requires one to stoop into it, tradition has it that this is in line with his main teaching in life that one should always be making oneself lower and by doing so, you thereby open yourself up to miracles.