America mentioned in Ben Ish Hai

Hacham Yosef Hayyim, the Ben Ish Hai, was a mystic and Torah scholar in Baghdad, 1834-1909. His genius was first discovered when, as a child, he responded (via post) to a halachic question that had been sent to his father, also a respected Torah scholar. Anyways, his most famous work is the Ben Ish Hai which is a collection of his drashot over two years on the weekly parashah. His drashot included a review of important Halachot along with an introductory mystical explanation of the weekly parashah. (and usually its relevance to the Halachot he then discussed)

I noticed that in Year 1 of the Ben Ish Hai on parashat Shemoth, he makes mention of America. He talks about the brachoth preceding Shema and how they make mention of night during the day, and day during the night. He says, it is such that during the day we need to be reminded that God is also responsible for night, and vice versa, as opposed to other beliefs that might attribute one creator to night, and a separate one to day.

He also brings the Beit Yosef, Rav Yosef Karo of Safed, who explains that night always bears the essence of day within it and day always has night in it. The Ben Ish Hai then brings an example of this, that there are places where night starts later than others, there are even places, like that which was discovered by a non-Jewish wiseman in the employ of the King of Spain, which is called America after it's discoverer, where night is experienced while it is day here. The Zohar hints at a knowledge of this, he says, because they speak of a settlement where our night is their day and their night is our day.

It's always exciting to read things like this out of a sefer, even though it's obvious America was known to the Ben Ish Hai who was born almost sixty years after the declaration of independence, even if he did live in Iraq.


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