Updated: Sep 8, 2020
Rabbi Chaim David Azulai, called the great Chida (as his names initials spell out) was one of the most beloved figures in Sephardi tradition. Famous for his broad knowledge in all areas of Torah, the Chida was truly a mystery, as his nickname implies. He wrote wonderful works in Halacha, Kabbalah, Mussar, and a commentary on the Torah.
The Chida was born in Jerusalem, to a distinguished family of Torah scholar. His ancestor and great-great-grandfather, Rabbi Avraham Azulai was a renowned Kabbalist in his own right. His teachers included none less than Rabbi Shalom Sharabi (the Rashash), Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar (the Orach Chaim) and Rabbi Isaac HaKohen Rapapport. Even at an early age, the Chida astonished his teachers with his deep understanding of the Talmud, Halacha and Kabbalah.
In 1755 the Chida was chosen to be an emissary on behalf of the Jews of the Holy Land to collect Tzeddaka in Europe. This was a position reserved only for great Tzaddikim, but the Chida remained humble, always acting modestly and nevertheless causing a deep positive impression on all those that met him. He left the Land of Israel 3 times and legend has it that he even met the Vilna Gaon in Lithuania.
A famous story tells of a secret meeting between the Chida, the Rashash and Rabbi Chaim de la Rosa, whose purpose was to forcefully bring Mashiach. The three sages fasted, purified themselves to the utmost and secluded in an attic to perform Yichudim (mystical meditative unifications) and bring the Redemption. During the ritual, a harsh wind blew over their faces enveloping them in a myst. To everyone’s dismay, a voice called out from Heaven and declared “The time of Redemption hasn’t come yet and you are not permitted to hasten it! It is decreed the three of you will never be together again! One of you will die this year, one will be exiled and the third will be in Israel, but not in Jerusalem.” After drawing lots, the three rabbis found out the Chida would go to exile. That year, Rabbi Shalom Sharabi passed away and Rabbi Chaim de la Roza remained in Israel.
The Chida is known for his magnum opus, Shem HaGedolim (names of the greats), a monumental biography on almost all of the great Jewish rabbis until his time. This is one of his most popular works, which obviously required someone of his calibre to compose it. He was able to do it thanks to his fantastic memory and dedication as he collected the information from the many libraries he passed by during his trips.
He passed away in Livorno, on the 11th of Adar, 1806. It was a Shabbat night, one of the most propitious times to pass away according to the Arizal since the Beit Din (court of justice) in Heaven is “on leave”.
A terrifying event occurred when, in 1956 the Jewish leaders of Jerusalem began their attempts to reinter the Chida on the Holy Land. At their head was the Sephardi Rishon Le’Tzion Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu who was knowledgeable in all of the Chida’s works. This was not an easy undertaking and could not have been performed by anyone. Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu purified himself and went to meet the Chida’s coffin in the airport. To his surprise, the Chida’s bones had been put in a small box, which was obviously an affront to his honor (since his bones were not in place). To everyone’s astonishment, when they began unscrewing the box, a loud screech was heard from inside it. Yet, no one wished to put them back in place. Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu uttered a prayer to Hashem and then asked the Chida to put his bones back together when he’s put his hand inside. To everyone’s astonishment, when Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu did that, a loud noise ensued. When they opened the coffin, the Chida’s bones had returned to their place and he was given a royal buriel in Har HaZeitim, where next to him would be the resting place of Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu.
The Chida also composed many prayers for a variety of occasions. We bring one for good health here:
Master of the universe, by your compassion bring us strength and health and enough ability and power and vigor in our organs, and sinews and bodies to withstand our duty. And there should not come to us any ailment, weakness or pain, so that we should be happy and good and healthy for your service. And save us from all evil and give us length of days and pleasant years, and add long life in our years for your work. And cover us under your wing and save us and all our household, from all harsh and bad decrees so that we should be calm and relaxed and fresh to serve you!
May the merit of the Chida protect us and his life inspire us in our Avodat Hashem!
This article was written and published in the zechut of all Emuna Builder Partners. May they have complete emuna and continue spreading emuna!