Shabbat B' Shabbato
1447: Va'yera Translated by Moshe Goldberg - 5773 18th of Cheshvan 03/11/2012
|Something about books|
|Rabbi Chaim Chizkiyahu Medini / Avishai Elboim|
"A good name is better than good oil" [Kohellet 7:1]. "How far does good oil go? From the bedroom to the lounge. But a good name goes from one end of the world to the other." [Shemot Rabba Vayakhel 48:1].
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Our Patriarch Avraham was commanded to go from the center of the ancient world, in the Fertile Crescent, to the Land of Canaan, an unknown land. He was given the blessing, "I will make your name great" [Bereishit 12:2], that his name would be famous throughout the world. His descendents are blessed with the same unique trait – even when they dwell in far corners of the globe, away from population centers, their fame spreads far and wide.
One figure that is very interesting to me and that I have wanted to write about for a long time is the author of the book "Sdei Chemed," Rabbi Chaim Chizkiyahu Medini (known as Chacham). He was an absolute genius and very knowledgeable, who lived for most of his life in a faraway community in the peninsula of Crimea, in the Black Sea. He was famous for writing Sedai Chemed, which is a broad-based encyclopedia of halacha.
"The Edge of the World"
Rabbi Medini was born in Jerusalem in the year 5595 (1835). He went abroad because of financial difficulties, and he studied with the Torah scholars of the city of Istanbul. In 5627 (1867), he accepted an offer to serve as the rabbi of Krasov, in Crimea. The low spiritual status of the local community did not deter him. In a letter that he sent to Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan of Kovno he describes the state of the Jews when he arrived. "When I came I saw that they had forgotten the oral Torah, and that the written Torah would also soon disappear." Since he knew the Turkish language, he was able to speak to the local Jews in the language of the Tatars, which was similar.
By teaching the youth Torah, the rabbi was able to raise a generation of new Torah scholars. At the same time, the rabbi wrote his monumental work, discussing the general principles of the Talmud and halachic decision making, and including a collection of recent rulings by Sephardim and Ashkenazim. During a period of many years, about ten large volumes were printed with the help of local philanthropists who supported the rabbi. In Sdei Chemed, not only does he list his sources and give exact quotes from many books, he also analyzes the material in great depth. His writing is clear and orderly, as is to be expected from a Sephardi scholar.
1700 Responsa in One Year
Rabbi Medini had regular correspondence with wise men all over the world. Sephardim and Ashkenazim from all over the globe sent him questions and answers. In the index of Sdei Chemed there are writers from Istanbul and Jerba as well as Warsaw and Kalish. In an "open letter" that he published when he made Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael, he wrote that while he lived in Krasov he answered more than 1700 letters in a single year! He had the help of a dedicated staff of students, who would copy his replies from Spanish letters (as was the custom of the Sephardim) into a Rashi font, so that those who received the letters, most of whom were Ashkenazim, would understand. He paid for all the expenses of the mail. When he moved alone to Eretz Yisrael, without any students, he announced in his "open letter" that he had decided not to answer any more letters.
In the Holy Community of Chevron
After serving in a place faraway from mainstream Judaism for thirty-three years and after he became very famous, Rabbi Medini returned to Eretz Yisrael, his birthplace, as a successful and well known rabbi. He chose to live in a small community in the City of the Fathers, Chevron, so that he would not be disturbed in his Torah study and in his writing. His home was near the Romano House, and it exists to this day in the area of Yeshivat Shavei Chevron. His extensive library was donated to the Misgav Ladach Hospital in Jerusalem. Rabbi Chaim Chizkiyahu Medini passed away in 5665 (1905), and he is buried in the section set aside for rabbis in the ancient cemetery in Chevron.
As an added note, I will quote the words of Rabbi Yaacov Chaim Sofer, the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Kaf Hachaim in Jerusalem. In an article, "Thirty-two Comments on the Book Sdei Chemed" (Nezer HaTorah Volume 20, 5769), Rabbi Sofer writes that he will discuss "comments and clarifications about the holy words of our great rabbi, who knew all the secrets, a powerful genius, Rabbi Chaim Chizkiyahu Medini, Of Blessed Memory, author of the remarkable book Sdei Chemed." In the article, Rabbi Sofer adds new sources that are not given in the original edition of the book. In my humble opinion, with Rabbi Sofer's extraordinary knowledge and his many Torah works he continues in the path of the author of Sdei Chemed.
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