A shadar is a sh’lucha d’rabbanan – a rabbinic emissary, who is sent by the rabbanim of poor communities to raise much needed funds on their behalf. One of the most famous emissaries, as well as one of the greatest Sephardic sages of his time, was the holy Chida, Chacham Chaim Yosef David Azulai zt”l. He was born and raised in Jerusalem, but spent more than 50 years of his life traveling abroad on various missions. In 1753 (5413), at the age of 29, he traveled to Europe as an emissary of the communities of Eretz Yisrael, and again in 1772 on behalf of the city of Chevron. Each trip lasted in excess of five years. He completed his second trip in Livorno, Italy, where he remained for the rest of his life.
Despite the honor he was accorded abroad, he always yearned to return to the Holy Land. His reasons for remaining in Livorno until his death are unclear. It is believed that he was worried that the Jews in Eretz Yisrael wanted to appoint him to the position of Sephardic chief rabbi, which, in his humility, he did not want to accept.
The Chida, who suffered from many ailments throughout his life, passed away on the 11 Adar 5466 (1806), at the age of 83. His death was mourned by Jews all over the world. In Livorno, hespeidim were delivered by the Italian geonim, Rav Yaakov d’Medina zt”l and Rav Chayim Shlomo Abulafia zt”l. Additional hespeidim were given by the greatest sages of the generation in Turkey, North Africa, Germany, Poland, Tunisia, France, Syria, and Eretz Yisrael.
More than a century and a half after the Chida was buried in Livorno, plans were made to exhume his remains and bring them to the Land of Israel, where he was to be reburied on Har HaMenuchos. In 1960, arrangements were made by the Sephardic Chief Rabbi Chacham Yitzchak Nissim zt”l to transfer the Chida’s casket to Eretz Yisrael and re-inter his remains in a new plot in a different cemetery, because the local Italian authorities in Livorno planned to convert the cemetery in which he was buried into a public park, with a nearby highway passing directly through it.
With great care and as delicately as possible, members of the agency charged with exhuming the holy Chida’s mortal remains had them brought from the cemetery and loaded onto a plane headed for Israel. It was not an uneventful flight, as turbulence caused the plane to shake violently, dipping and climbing steeply on a number of occasions. When the plane bearing the aron finally landed in Lod International Airport, the rabbanim who had come to escort it to Jerusalem learned that during the flight, the casket had fallen twice, and each time that it was picked up, it was turned upside down.
One of the rabbinic escorts meeting the plane was Chacham Mordechai Eliyahu zt”l, who later served as Israel’s Sephardic chief rabbi. After the necessary arrangements for bringing the aron to Jerusalem were made, Rav Eliyahu told them to wait. “The bones must be in terrible disarray,” he said. “We must open it up and properly arrange the Chida’s remains.”
The other rabbanim were unsure; however, Rav Mordechai insisted that it wasn’t respectful to bury the Chida in such a state. Then, fearfully yet courageously, he lifted the casket’s lid slightly and said, “Rabbeinu HaChida, please forgive me if in any way I am not fulfilling this mitzvah properly.” He reached inside and began to rearrange the contents.
After a few moments, though, he trembled and closed his eyes. Whispering in a broken voice that he did not possess the ability to complete the task, he asked pleadingly, “Rabbeinu, please do this task by yourselves, lest I err.”
Immediately, a powerful, almost explosive sound was heard; the aron began to shake, and a terrifying rattling caused by the tzadik’s bones striking the inner walls of the casket was heard. All the other rabbis fainted on the spot. Rav Eliyahu did not faint, explaining afterwards that his absorption in the mitzvah helped him remain conscious. It was beyond belief! The banging and shaking continued until, bone by bone, the entire skeleton rearranged itself perfectly.
From Lod, the aron was brought to Jerusalem. There it was met by tens of thousands of Jews, who escorted it to Har HaMenuchos, where hespeidim were conducted before the reburial. The Chida had finally come home.