Weekly Chasidic Story #708 (s5771-42 / 18 Sivan 5771)

Only One Did Not Faint

He commissioned the then 31-year-old Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, known to be intimately familiar with the Chida's writings, to head a team of esteemed Sephardic rabbis.

Connection: Seasonal -- first yahrzeit of Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, former chief rabbi of Israel


Only One Did Not Faint

One of Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu's early predecessors as Rishon L'Zion, Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, was Rabbi Yitzchak Nissim, who had a special appreciation and admiration for the CHIDA (Rabbi Chaim-Yosef-David Azulai - see below). One of Rabbi Nissim's friends was Dr. Shlomo Umberto Nachon, a native of Livorno (Leghorn), where the Chida lived the end of his life and was buried.

In the late 1950s, Dr. Nachon learned that the Italian authorities wished to build a highway through the Jewish cemetery of Livorno. He quickly informed Chief Rabbi Nissim and, understanding the urgency of the situation, they decided it was time to move the Chida to Eretz Yisrael. Dr. Nachon made the arrangements with the authorities in Livorno, and in 1960 Rav Nissim commissioned, after much coaxing, the then 31-year-old Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, who was known to be intimately familiar with the Chida's writings, to head a team of esteemed Sephardic rabbis (which included Rabbi Yisrael Abuhatzeira, the Baba Sali, and his brother the Baba Haki, Rabbi Yitzchak Abuhatzeira, chief rabbi in the city of Ramle, who was an expert in Jewish burials in his native Morocco) for the reinterring of the bones of the Chida in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Eliyahu related that when he arrived at Lod Airport with the other rabbis, he met with the agency representative who had brought the bones of the Chida in a small wooden coffin. When the Rav saw it, he was appalled "What is this?" he asked. "The bones of the Chida are rolling around in a miniature coffin? How can such a thing be?"

He asked that a larger coffin be brought, so that the bones could transferred to it and be laid out properly for an honorable burial. Then he requested that the Baba Haki's driver go with his driver, and that they immerse in a mikva [ritual bath], and afterwards buy a Phillips screwdriver to open the coffin.

When they returned, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu made a large hole in the bottom of the new large coffin so that there would be no barrier between the bones and the soil upon burial, but temporarily closed the hole with a stopper. Then the small coffin was inserted into the larger one.

Rabbi Eliyahu had the small coffin opened, whereupon he put his hand in to arrange the bones. But after a few moments he trembled and closed his eyes. Saying in a broken voice that he had no power to do it , he asked pleadingly that the Chida himself put his own bones in order!

Immediately a powerful, almost explosive sound was heard, the coffin began to shake, and a rattling sound -- made by the Chida 's remains striking the coffin's walls -- was heard. All the other rabbis fainted on the spot. Rav Mordechai did not faint, explaining afterwards that his absorption in the mitzva helped him remain conscious.

It was beyon belief! The banging and shaking continued until, bone by bone, until the entire skeleton was arranged perfectly -- in the merit of the holy rabbi, the Chida!

"G-d will grant you special Providence, and bring my remains out of this place." [Gen. 50:25]

"He said to me, 'Can these bones live?'…As I prophesied, there was a roaring sound, and the bones came together and joined one another…. 'I am going to open your graves; I will take you out of your graves, My People, and bring you to the Land of Israel.'" [Ezek. 37:3, 7, 12]

Thousands accompanied the funeral procession from the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sanhedria to the cemetery at Har HaMenuchos. At the burial, Rav Eliyahu described the events that had taken place as "Nisei nissim--absolute miracles."

At a later date Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu announced that whoever needs personal salvation can go to pray at the grave of the Chida (just like at other great holy sites -ed.).

It is no wonder that when Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu passed on to his heavenly great reward fifty years later that he was buried near the Chida on Har HaMenuchos!
Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from //heichalhanegina.blogspot.com/2010/06/rav-mordechai-eliyahu-ztvkl-and-chida.html . There Yitz explains that his main source is the version of RME himself, with supplementary details supplied from other versions. He also considerately supplies links to other sources.

Connection: First yahrzeit of Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu on 25 Sivan (Monday June 27).

Biographical notes:
Rabbi Mordechai-Tzemach (ben Suliman) Eliyahu (1929-25 Sivan 2010), the former Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel, was born in Iraq. A noted sage in all areas of Torah study, as well as a significant kabbalist, he was considered to be one of the leading authorities on Jewish law in Israel. His son, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, is currently the Chief Rabbi of Tsfat.


Rabbi Chaim-Yosef-David Azulai (circa 5484-5566; 1724-1806), better known as the "Chida," which are the initials of his name, is a highly respected Halachist, Kabbalist, historian and bibliographer. Born in Jerusalem, his teachers included Rav Shalom Sharabi [the Rashash], and Rav Chaim ben-Atar (the Ohr HaChaim). Eventually he wrote and published 71 works! His Shem HaGedolim is one of the most important source books of Jewish literature and history. Several times he traveled abroad for periods of over five years each, usually as an emissary of the communities of the Holy Land, and once to serve as the Rav of Cairo. He lived the last third of his life in Livorno (Leghorn), Italy, where he wrote most of his major works and where he passed away at age 82 and was buried.


Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor of this website (and of KabbalaOnline.org). He has hundreds of published stories to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells them live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.

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