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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
by Shalem Shabazi is a mystical interpretation o f the Pentateuch
which is influenced by the
Midrash Ha-Gadol
mentioned above. In
this midrashic work we find teachings o f the sages along with in­
terpretations and commentaries by Maimonides, Nahmanides
and Ibn Ezra. The primary source for the Midrash
Hemdat
Yamim,
however, is the Zohar which the au thor has drawn upon
far more than from the sources listed above. For many years the
authorship o f the midrash
Hemdat Yamim
was in dispute, but now
the work is definitely credited to Shalem Shabazi o f the 17th
century, one o f the leading figures in Yemenite poetry who was
born in 1619. In the book itself the au thor identifies himself as
“Shalem, son o f my master Yosef, son of my master Avigad, son
of my master Halfon (blessed be his memory), called by my sur­
name and family name al-Mashta and by the name o f my town
al-Shabazi.”6 The book was written in his youth and therefore
shows no trace o f the Lurianic Kabbalah o f Safed. In his in terp re­
tation o f the weekly portion o f Balak7 he inserts a short chronicle
describing the famine and its a ttendant suffering which occurred
between 1626 and 1627. He concludes by saying, “And, behold,
we reach the year 1646 and we are yet awaiting the coming o f the
Messiah.” In the introduction, which Shabazi wrote himself, it is
stated that he collected all the interpretations which he found
into one book and arranged them so as to make the work accepta­
ble to the people of his day. Tha t is to say, he takes credit for the
eclectic labors involved in producing the work and not for actu­
ally presenting new interpretations.
A second notable work which is also a commentary on the
M id­
rash ha-Gadol
is the
Segulat Yisrael
by Yisrael Ha-Kohen. In it we
find mostly allegorical interpretations and there are also portions
which serve to complement the
Midrash Ha-Gadol.
On examina­
tion this Midrash is also seen to exhibit kabbalistic influence. The
au tho r quotes extensively from the Zohar, from Menahem
Recanati, Nahmanides and
Sha’arei Orah,
a book by Joseph
Gikatilla. In his introduction to the book, Yisrael Ha-Kohen re­
fers to Gikatilla as “He who enlightens our eyes to the wisdom of
the Kabbalah.” The midrashic literature had a respected place in
the lives of the Yemenite Jews and all community events began
and ended with the recital o f the words o f the sages.
6
Sefer Hemdat Yamim,
Jerusalem, 1966, 4, 447.
7 Ibid., 447.