Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

5 Adar 5761 - February 28, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







The Chidoh
In Honor of his Yahrtzeit, 11th Adar

HaRav Chaim Yosef Dovid Azulai, zt"l, was born in Yerushalayim in Sivan 5484 (1724) within the old city walls where his father, R' Yitzchok Zerachiah Azulai lived. At six years, his toiling in Torah had already begun. He learned with his Rebbi, R' Yisroel Mizrahi in the beis medrash Beis Yaakov with his uncle R' Yonah Navon, zt"l and with the chazzan Nachum, zt"l.

He married the Rabbanit Rochel, daughter of Rabbi Nissim Bracha, zt"l, one of the dayanim in Yerushalayim.

With the ascent of the Ohr Hachaim Hakodesh to Yerushalayim (5502-1742), the Chidoh acquainted himself with him, becoming his closest and most devoted follower. However, those sublime days were cut short when, after less than a year, the Ohr Hachaim passed away leaving his close talmid following in his footsteps, continuing in his customs and derech in Torah that he had learned in this short period of time.

After finishing all he could learn in the revealed part of Torah he turned to learning its mystical secrets of Kabalah with R' Sholom Sharabi.

The Chidoh was sent by the rabbonim to travel and raise funds for the Jews living in Chevron and his travels took him as far as Spain, France and Germany. He toured many libraries for their Jewish literature and upon finding various handwritten manuscripts of the Rishonim, he deciphered their writings and later printed them in his seforim.

In 5524 (1764) he accepted rabbonus in Egypt. In keeping with the dictum, "And hate the Rabbonus," the Chidoh looked forward to finishing the five years he had agreed upon and then he returned to Eretz Yisroel, where he settled in Chevron.

In 5535 (1775) he once again set out to travel into golus on behalf of the Jews of Chevron and, upon completing his mission, he settled for a time in Livorno (Leghorn) so that he could print his seforim there. He spread Torah and gave droshos from a yeshiva and beis medrash that a wealthy philanthropist placed for his use.

The local Jews tried to persuade him to be their official rov but the Chidoh refused, conceding only to speak on four Shabbosim of the year - Shabbos Hagodol, Shabbos Shuvoh, Shabbos Zochor and Shabbos lifnei Shavuos. However, in practice, he was the spiritual leader of Italy's Jews and particularly so in Livorno. Requests were repeatedly made to the Chidoh from various communities all over that he be their rov, from Amsterdam, Tzfas, and, after the petirah of the Rishon Letzion, from Jerusalem. The answer was always the same, for the Chidoh truly "hated the rabbonus."

His yearning to return to the Holy Land never abated and on various occasions he prepared himself and his family for the long journey home. In 5547 (1787) they were actually ready to leave when they received a message that a terrible plague was rampant in Eretz Yisroel, canceling their trip.

When his son R' Avrohom left for Eretz Yisroel in 5543 (1783), the Chidoh also wanted to join him but was prevented from doing so; many are the thoughts in the heart of man, but Hashem's plan prevails and the Chidoh remained in Livorno.

On Friday night, Parshas Zochor, 11th Adar, the Chidoh returned his pure soul to his maker, bringing a heavy pall of mourning over Livorno. The rabbonim made an announcement that all Purim festivities that were in preparation should be halted due to the somber news, and fixed a takonoh that each year they would mourn the passing of the Chidoh.

His many works, spread over 85 seforim on all areas of Torah -- halacha, aggodoh, drush, sheilos uteshuvos, chiddushei masechtos, chidushei Shulchan Oruch, Seder Hadoros, and more. Sixty of these seforim went to print and the rest remained in manuscripts that apparently have been lost to us over the years.

It is of interest to note that the Noam Elimelech, R' Elimelech of Lizhensk remarked that Hashem always keeps things equal. At the time that Mendelssohn came and wrote his heretical explanations on the Chumash, Hashem sent the Chidoh to counteract, with his holy seforim, strengthening our basic beliefs in Hashem.


In the yeshiva of the mekubalim in Yerushalayim Beis El sat the holy mekubal HaRav Sholom Sharabi better known as the Rashash. Drinking his words of Torah were the future giants of Kabalah: Rabbeinu Yom Tov Algazi, the Chidoh, and more.

Once they had learned their fill of the Torah as we see it, they listened as their rov delved into the depths of the secrets of Kabalah. These exalted men formed a pact together, working on themselves and taking on certain takonos. One of the most prestigious members of these holy groups was the Chidoh.

One day word spread that the Chidoh had taken upon himself to separate from the group and go out into the great world outside Eretz Yisroel to collect funds for the poor and needy of Chevron. The reason too soon became known.

Rabbeinu R' Shalom Sharabi felt that the time was now a favorable one in heaven to daven and try to hasten the final redemption. Under his instructions all the members of his holy group cut themselves off from all worldly matters, afflicting themselves in various ways after which they sanctified their bodies with a fast of 3 days without a break. However, the time was not yet ripe and after the three-day fast was over they heard a heavenly voice calling out to them, "My dear sons, my time for the redemption is not yet ripe. You have no right to hasten it by force. Besides one of you will have to suffer the trials of going out into golus."

Since there was no mention of who would be the one, they drew lots, the Chidoh being the one picked out. When the men of Chevron asked the Chidoh soon after this if he could travel abroad to collect funds, they were pleasantly surprised at his quick agreement. They had planned to ask him, for his great name and personality and powerful oratory would cause people to contribute handsomely to their worthy cause but they hadn't been prepared for him to accede so easily to their request.

The Chidoh immediately left by way of Egypt and then on to other countries to persuade Jews in foreign lands to donate their money for the poor of Eretz Yisroel. His travels led him to Livorno, the greater part of Italy and over to the German states.

Early on in his wanderings, he was warmly greeted and given great honor, for his name and greatness had preceded him, the rabbonim already learnt from his seforim and some of the laymen knew who he was.

In contrast, in the greater part of Europe the name of the Chidoh had not yet spread, causing the people to ask him wherever he went for his letter of proof and approbation. Somewhere along the tiring journey, the Chidoh lost all his documents. Upon arriving at the next city, he went to the rov and introduced himself. However he had no proof to present showing that this was indeed the Chidoh and not an imposter out to trick the people.

Seeing that he had no documents, the rov demanded that he say some chiddushim that are written in the seforim of the Chidoh. If he knew them really well that would be adequate proof.

Hearing this, the Chidoh refused to speak. His aide the Chacham Shmuel Ben Chaim tried to persuade him to talk for if the locals would not see his greatness they would drive him out in shame and disgrace and no money would be collected for the poor. Moreover in Italy and all the other places the Chidoh had spoken at great lengths teaching Torah wherever he went, and just here he would be struck dumb.

The Chidoh was obstinate, however, insisting he cannot say divrei Torah to these people. Degraded and scoffed at by the people, the Chidoh saw he was getting nowhere and had no choice but to write a letter to Chevron suggesting that they quickly send new papers to replace the last once, proving that he was in fact the Chidoh.

As soon as the awaited letter arrived, the elders of the community apologized profusely to the Chidoh, begging him to give public speeches and discussed Torah subjects with him as students to their rabbi. Puzzled, they asked the Chidoh, "Why did Rabbeinu not tell us his Torah earlier, thus saving himself all the humiliation. Had we heard a few words out of your holy mouth we would have realized that there stands before us a Godol Hador of unique caliber."

"In a place where people know me and ask me to speak the words of Hashem or to stir their hearts and bring them close to our Father in heaven, I do not refuse," replied the Chidoh. "For this is the purpose of man -- to glorify the Torah. But to gain personal honor and fame through divrei Torah I cannot do. You wanted, through Torah, to test me and discover who I am, forcing me to use the Torah to show my personality and strength which is not allowed. I preferred, therefore, the humiliation of being suspected as a deceiver and a cheat to using the crown of Torah for my personal gain."

The residents who heard his words were extremely impressed and rushed to do his bidding, collecting a large amount of money towards his cause. How great is the Torah of a man who refuses to be personally glorified by it, at the cost of his own dignity.


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