A Spotlight on Rabbi Chaim Chizkiyahu Medini zt"l
By Rabbi Michoel Stern
This article first appeared in the Lift Magazine, a journal of Torah thoughts written by the Rabbis and students of Kollel Menachem Lubavitch, Melbourne Australia. Design, typesetting & layout by Creative Chinuch. Read it inside here.
The Sedei Chemed
Rabbi Chaim Chizkiyahu Medini (also known as the Chacha”m or the Sdei Chemed) was born in Yerushalayim on the seventh of Marcheshvan, 1832. From a very young age his fine attributes were evident, and he stood out for his tremendous talent, diligence and wondrous knowledge. In his youth he studied under famous Rabbonim such as the Rishon L’tzion Yitzchak Kubu and Yosef Nisim Borla, Raavad of Yerushalayim.
In 1853 his father Rav Refael Eliyahu died and he was left alone to support his wife Rivka, his mother and two younger sisters. He took the advice of the local chachomim and moved to Kushta Turkey, where he had wealthy relatives who could support him in his endeavours.
Over time, the community in Kushta recognised his greatness and eventually offered him the position of Dayan. He refused this position as it would interfere with his diligent study. There he learned day and night “filling his stomach” with Shas and Poskim, Rishonim and Acharonim, including Kabbala and Nistar.
In 1865 his first Sefer: Michtav Lechizkiyahu was printed. This included Chiddushim on Shas, as well as Sheilos U’Teshuvos, demonstrating his fluency in all areas of Torah. This momentous work also served to provide him a name amongst the Chachmei Turkiya- sages of Turkey.
After thirteen years in Kushta, the stresses associated with living in a large city wore him down. He acquiesced to the request of a visiting wealthy Jew from Crimea, (then south Russia) to move there. The community promised him Parnassa with peace of mind and spirit.
The Chacha’m accepted the offer and at the age of 33 moved to Crimea in 1867, settling in the city Krazbazar. In those days, the Jews of Crimea were like a flock without a shepherd and his arrival precipitated great joy and honour. He was indeed a faithful shepherd for his flock and for 33 years dedicated himself to the community of Krazbazar.
His Middos, humility and righteousness are a chapter of their own. His Tzavah (directive) printed at the end of the Sedei Chemed gives us a glimpse of this. His three daughters married great Talmidei Chachomim who were also involved in business. The first a sandler, second a tailor and third a hat maker. In 1868 his only son died, and he wrote the Sefer Oir Li in his memory.
Eventually he undertook writing the tremendous work that he had always yearned for: The Halachic encyclopedia Sedei Chemed. Most volumes were printed during his lifetime beginning in 1891 while the rest were done posthumously. The author’s objective was to present every Din and Halacha from their source in Talmud all the way down to the latest Acharonim.
Also included was the back and forth in addition to sources from where the Psak Din is derived. The Sefer Sedei Chemed became world famous, and the author was soon inundated with questions from around the globe seeking his opinion. Wealthy Russian Jews supplied him with the best of their Seforim, knowing that he would not accept monetary gifts. In 1899 he decided to return to his homeland and settled in Yerushalayim where he was greeted with joy and honour. Shortly afterward he moved to Chevron and was appointed to head the Beis Din. His first endeavour was to establish a Yeshiva, in which he also delivered shiurim. He also fought fiercely to prevent the establishment of a school with secular studies by the Kol Yisroel Chaveirim society. He passed away Erev Chanuka 1904 and is buried in Chevron.
STORIES OF THE SDEI CHEMED
A Poilisher Chosid wanted to acquire the Sedei Chemed for his Rebbe, but did not have the means to pay. He wrote to the author: “My Rebbe is a gutter yid (good Jew) therefore I request that you please send your Seforim as a gift. The Sedei Chemed wrote back: regarding what you wrote that your Rebbe is a Gutte Yid, I don’t understand what you mean, to my mind, all Jews are good. Regarding the Seforim, it appears that because he does not have the means to pay therefore I will send them, provided they are learnt from.
When the sefer Sedei Chemed was printed in 1891 the “Divrei Bina” -Biala Rebbe was overjoyed and sent someone to buy the sefer. He spent considerable time learning it. He then explained, since the time of the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash and the exile of the Jewish people from their land, the Shechina too is in exile. The Torah is also in Golus as the Torah and Shechina are one. It is impossible to find one Inyan in Torah all in the same place, instead concepts and halachos scattered all over the world in a state of disunity and golus. Once he saw how the Sedei Chemed had gathered and organised concepts dispersed throughout the Talmud, Rishonim and Acharonim, he stated that the sefer is clearly hastening the Geula and a preparation for the coming of Moshiach.
R’ Chaim Naeh had a close relationship with the Sedei Chemed as a young boy growing up in Chevron. He wrote, “I remember when I was a child, I saw that the Sedei Chemed smell the smoke from the Havdalah candle after Havdalah and would say Ach, Ach in a very loud voice until all those standing around would laugh from the simcha.”
The Sedei Chemed gave R’ Chaim permission to use his library in order to prepare his bar mitzvah drasha. As he was preparing the drasha he noticed that each time someone entered the library, the Sedei Chemed would turn around and only then, greet the one entering. Reb Chaim asked his father why this occurred, but his father did not know the reason for this practice. Shortly after, the Sedei Chemed fell ill and R’ Chaim Naeh’s father would assist him. During this time, he saw written behind the Sedei Chemed’s chair “greet every person with a sever ponim yafos” (cheerful face).
The Sedei Chemed once visited Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Lublin (the Toras Chesed) in his home and out of humility expressed the sentiment that surely the Toras Chesed did not refer to his sefer as, “acharon sheb’acharonim.” The Toras Chesed responded that indeed he did “look” into the sefer, proceeding to recite entire sections from the Sedei Chemed verbatim.
Rav Shlomo Hacohen of Vilna wrote to the Sedei Chemed regarding his sefer, that it was of greater use to Rabbonim than even the Pischei Teshuvah. Rav Shlomo wrote the following comments in a letter: the Pischei Teshuvah wrote in a very abbreviated way and only brings the practical halachic outcome from the Teshuva. Therefore, it is easy to make a mistake without looking into the original sefer. The Sdei Chemed however, quotes the teshuva at length with proofs and opinions. Rav Shlomo concluded, “Without a doubt your sefer will be accepted by the Rabbinic scholars.”
Sedei Chemed & Chabad
Rebbe Rashab blessed the author that he should merit to be mezakei horabim with his illustrious sefarim. In 1894 the Rebbe Rashab asked that tens of sets be sent to Lubavitch and he would help sell them.
At the end of 1940’s Kehos publishers began printing the Sedei Chemed. In the introduction to the first volume the Rebbe writes, “according to the directives of my saintly father-in-law Shlit’a we are printing the Sedei Chemed, which has not been available for years. Its benefit and necessity are known by those involved in rabbinical literature. It is specifically relevant to those that are more hora’ah l’amitosa (making halachic directives) based upon the Torah of the gedolei Yisroel of the past generations. This is especially true in present times, since on the one hand, tens of thousands of copies of sifrei halacha and hora’ah have been destroyed (in the holocaust) and on the other hand learning for the purpose of explaining halachic outcomes with reasons is dwindling.” In other words, the Friedeker Rebbe felt this would be the most beneficial sefer to help rabbonim poskin considering the shortage of sefarim. At the same time printing this was also a response to the lack of importance given to learning halacha.
After receiving the directive from the Friediker Rebbe in Shevat-Adar 5708 (1948) to print the Sedei Chemed, the Rebbe personally undertook this project. In a letter from Adar Sheini of that year the Rebbe writes to Rav Dovid Braveman, (Kehos’ head of printing) in Europe: “the Rebbe wants to print Sedei Chemed with the best paper and binding. Please inquire regarding the availability and price (approximately four and a half thousand pages).” Kehos received the exclusive printing rights from the Shmotkin family which had a printing press in Warsaw and printed the set 1939-1940.
The Rebbe invested a tremendous amount of energy in bringing this project to fruition. From reorganising the subjects, making an index and raising the funds. In a letter to Rav Shlomo Zevin 1951 the Rebbe writes, “you are surely aware that I am involved in printing the Sedei Chemed based upon the directives of my Father-in-law. Thank G-d after tremendous expenses and difficulties we have printed nine volumes…”
While Kehos was in the middle of printing Sedei Chemed the Rebbe was informed that there were others printing Sedei Chemed in Displaced Persons (DP) camps in Germany in the previous format. The Rebbe was very distressed and commented to Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Groner that he had invested his “shvitz un blut” (sweat and blood) in this. Years later the Sedei Chemed was again printed without permission. In response to a suggestion to take legal action the Rebbe wrote “l’daati, ain kedei” (it is not advisable).
Rosh Chodesh Sivan the Rebbe made a farbrengen marking the completion of paying off the mortgage of 770. When Mr. Josef Robinson, a wealthy benefactor, accompanied the Rebbe to the Ohel the day before, Rabbi Yisroel Jacobson suggested that in addition to paying off the mortgage, he also commits to sponsoring completing the printing of the Sedei Chemed. During the farbrengen, Mr Robinson sat next to the Rebbe and asked that he explain a concept in the Sedei Chemed. The Rebbe responded that the printing of the Sedei Chemed alone warrants a farbrengen and asked that a volume be brought from his room. The Rebbe opened up a section on dalet minim linking the text to a custom of the Freirdike Rebbe.
In conclusion the great emphasis the Rebbe has put on the Sdei Chemed’s monumental work should encourage everyone of us to procure a copy and integrate it into our learning.
This article first appeared in the Lift Magazine, a journal of Torah thoughts written by the Rabbis and students of Kollel Menachem Lubavitch in Melbourne, Australia. Design, typesetting & layout by Creative Chinuch. Read it inside here.