The New Artscroll Ohr HaChaim:  Seforim in Review


By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for the Five Towns Jewish Times

Once, long ago, before there was Schottenstein, there were people who posed the following question: Why do we need an ArtScroll translation of the Talmud, when there is the Soncino?

There really is no need, of course, to provide an answer.  The proliferation of so many volumes of the Schottenstein Talmud in every Jewish community in the world explains it all.  One might have thought to pose the same question to the new Ohr HaChaim translation, now available on Parshios Shmos through Yisro.  However, after one sees the translation, the expanded table of contents, the small introductions within the elucidated text, and the footnotes – there is no need to explain further.


ArtScroll has done a fabulous job with the new Ohr HaChaim translation – of that there is no question.  They have made this classical meforash – fully accessible.  The expanded table of contents of what the Ohr HaChaim is discussing alone is very worthwhile.

Many a wife has told her husband, “I work very hard preparing the foods for the Shabbos meals – Please prepare good and effective Divrei Torah.”  This Sefer is the answer for these husbands.  And for many others too.


The Artscroll insertions – explaining what the Ohr HaChaim’s question was – allow any Ben Torah or Baal HaBayis to really understand the Ohr HaChaim’s intent.  In Shmos 6:9, the Posuk says that Klal Yisroel did not listen to Moshe from Kotzer Ruach and from the hard work.  The insertion explains that one would have thought that the posuk would say that they were depressed – because of the hard work.

The Ohr HaChaim thus explains that depression and hard work are two separate feelings, but that they feed off each other.  It was the despair that was combined with the hard work that caused them not to listen to Moshe Rabbeinu.

One reading just the Hebrew text of the Ohr HaChaim, or even the other translation by Rabbi Munk – might have missed the entire meaning and intent of the Ohr HaChaim.  A powerful lesson in the nature of depression would also have been lost.


The fact that the editors chose to place the footnotes not just in the elucidated translated text, but also in the Hebrew only section is both thoughtful and fantastic because it saves the reader necessary time.  The footnotes themselves compare and contrast the Ohr HaChaim’s explanations with those of other Meforshim too.


There is a footnote in this week’s parsha that one could take issue with, however.  The Ohr HaChaim (7:21) says that the illusion of the changing of water to blood merely occurs in the eyes of those seeing it.  The footnote (#49 on page 231), however, reinterprets the words of the Ohr HaChaim based upon the supercommentary of the Ohr Bahir to fit into the Gemorah in Sanhedrin 67a.  However, there are other super-commentaries such as the ner LaMaor who understands the Ohr HaChaim in the plain sense that it is providing an alternative pshat to the Gemorah in Sanhedrin.  We find this idea in the Tosfos Yom Tov in Meseches Nazir  5:5.  It is plausible that the Ohr HaChaim is doing just that.  We must also realize that there is a fundamental debate between the Rambam and the Ramban as to the efficacy of sorcery in general.  Alhough most of the classical commentaries sided with the Ramban on this issue, it is not unreasonable for the Ohr HaChaim to be in the Rambam camp.

This author is curious as to what a future footnote might look like on the Ohr HaChaim in their eventual Bereishis volume on the verse (Bereishis 37:21), “Vayatzilahu miyadam” regarding Reuvain saving Yosef from the hands of those who have free choice – the brothers.


This first introductory volume has 727 pages.  It also has a full haftorah section as well as the brachos for Kriyas HaTorah.  All this is very revealing in that the publishers are well aware that this sefer will be a favorite to actually be using in Shul each Shabbos morning.  The Sefer is available at local Seforim stores.


The Ohr HaChaim was the Rebbe of the Chida. His name was Chaim Ben Moshe ibn Attar (1696-1743). He was born in Meknes, Morocco, and was niftar in Yerushalayim. In 1733, he decided to leave his native country Morocco and settle in Eretz Yisroel then under the Ottoman Empire. He is buried on Har HaZaisim.


This Artscroll Sefer is not just for the Baal HaBayis or general Ben Torah.  It is also for Talmidei Chachomim and those who wish to fully master the Ohr haChaim.  It is also for the Bias Yaakov student and seminary girl who are assigned difficult Ohr HaChaims and or Chumash projects. There is no question that this will be a classic, but this author predicts that every Shul library, every Yeshiva, and every Bais Yaakov High School will certainly purchase it.

The reviewer can be reached at [email protected]



  1. Good comment about the choice of the Ohr HaBahir over other super-meforshim. That shita about the makas dam being an illiusion, or just temporary, or that the makah was really the smell from the dead fish, is held by many Rishonim. Maybe Artscroll could have cited the Ohr Bahir and then added “for other views, see….”.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here