Rabbi Chaim Chizkiyahu was born on 17 Cheshvan 5595/1834 in
Yerushalayim. His father was HaRav Refoel Asher Eliyahu.
His Torah teachers were Rabbi Yitzchok Kobu zt"l, and Rabbi
Yosef Nissim Burolah zt"l, both of the holy city.
He threw himself totally into his Torah studies and everything he
learned became instantly stored in his phenomenal memory, rendering
him a true "pit that doesn't lose a drop."
He was left orphaned of his father at the age of eighteen with no
financial support, and was advised by his rabbis and mentors to travel
to his wealthy relatives in Constantinople.
It did not take long for the boy's praise to be on everyone's lips as
he started teaching Torah in the local yeshiva.
Despite the constant urging of the townspeople, Rabbi Chaim Chizkiyahu
refused to become dayan of the city.
In the year 5627/1867, the Sdei Chemed was appointed rav of Kovsender
in the Caribbean Islands, a position he held for thirty-three years,
devoting himself entirely to Torah, avodoh and the needs of the
townspeople, rich and poor alike. He built and strengthened the
kehilla, over the many years, teaching many talmidim in
the famous yeshiva.
Soon after his return to Yerushalayim in 5659/1899, the city's leaders
wanted to crown him Rishon Letzion — Chief Rabbi. He
therefore fled to a quieter corner in Chevron in 5661/1901 and settled
there. It was in Chevron that he re-established his yeshiva and when
the rav, HaRav Rachamim Chaim Franco zt"l was niftar, he
could no longer resist the constant pressure of the roshei
hakehilloh and he agreed to fill his place.
The Sdei Chemed is famed in the Torah world for his 18 volume sefer
Sdei Chemed, a treasury of chiddushim and facts set out in
order of the alef- beis, and used constantly in yeshiva halls
to this day.
He also wrote novellae on Shas and Shulchan Oruch in his
seforim, Or Li, Bircas Hachamoh and Megillas
Sefer, and a sefer of prayers and piyutim under the
name, Ne'im Zmiros.
The Sdei Chemed was niftar on 25 Kislev, the first day of
Chanukah, and was buried in Chevron.
HaRav Moshe Blau zt"l writes in his sefer an awesome
fact that took place about one-and-a-half years after the passing of
the Sdei Chemed.
A great hue and cry was raised in Chevron that someone had been
digging around the kever of the Sdei Chemed. The city was in an
uproar and all its inhabitants rushed out to the cemetery. There they
were shocked and dismayed to see that the ground around the holy
kever had been dug up and the body of the Sdei Chemed had been
tampered with. It appeared that the vandals had been discovered in the
middle of their work and had fled.
However, everyone present could clearly see that the sacred body of
the Sdei Chemed was still completely intact and even the
tachrichim he was wrapped in were snow white. Decay and
destruction had no power over the tzaddik. Upon seeing this, a
day of fasting and prayers was announced in Chevron.
"I once merited to be in the presence of the Sdei Chemed," recounted
R' Yossel Lomzher, zt"l, the melamed mumcheh in Eitz
Chaim Yeshiva Yerushalayim about sixty years ago.
"I saw that he was deep in thought and, not wanting to disturb him, I
stood and waited until he would finish concentrating.
"Suddenly, Rabbeinu realized that I was there and, seeing my curiosity
as to his deep meditation, he told me an awe- inspiring story in which
he took part."
As a young man, the Sdei Chemed learned in a kollel in
Constantinople that was supported by a local philanthropist. Day and
night he sat and learned in the company of the cream of
avreichim and talmidei chachomim of the city. Seeing his
greatness and hasmodoh, the kollel's supporter held the
Sdei Chemed in high esteem, a fact that considerably disturbed another
young talmid chochom of the same group. He saw no reason why
the rich man should value the Sdei Chemed so much more than he and the
feeling of envy gnawing at his heart gave him no rest until he came up
with a wicked scheme.
The woman who cleaned the beis medrash and kollel was
destitute and worked hard to earn her meager wage. She was not too
difficult to persuade when the avreich offered her a bribe in
exchange for helping him to degrade the Sdei Chemed in public. His
plan was that she should enter the beis medrash during learning
time and loudly accuse the Sdei Chemed of indecent advances to her.
The kol Torah reverberated in the beis medrash, its
pleasant hum spreading echoes even outside its walls. Inside, a group
of distinguished talmidei chachomim swam the sea of Talmud,
riding its waves with pleasure.
All at once the waving of a broomstick disturbed the peace. In stormed
the cleaning lady, shouting in a shrill voice and pointing her
broomstick in accusation towards the Sdei Chemed, "What have you done
to me, an innocent woman," she screamed, and continued shouting abuse
and hurling insults at the young man.
So shocked were the other avreichim that it took a few long
seconds for the tumult to break out. The philanthropist admirer of the
Sdei Chemed came rushing to see what the commotion was all about, as
all the beis medrash steamed and raged. One figure remained
calm and tranquil amidst the stir. Rabbeinu the Sdei Chemed continued
learning as usual without reacting at all to this disgraceful and
Seeing his great self-control, the rich man immediately waved aside
the accusations of the cleaning lady and dismissed her from her job
without hesitation. As though he had heard and felt nothing,
Rabbeinu's learning continued uninterrupted.
"This can only be an Ish Elokim," remarked the gvir in
increased admiration for the Sdei Chemed, and the storm that had
erupted only minutes before abated, and was forgotten.
In the early hours of the morning a few days after the incident, the
Sdei Chemed was alone in the beis medrash preparing to
daven, when in walked the old cleaning lady. Bursting into
tears, she begged Rabbeinu's forgiveness, disclosing to him that it
was the other young man who paid her to do this base deed. In her
poverty, the large sum of money he offered made her acquiesce, but now
she had lost her job and had no source of livelihood.
"I beseech you master, please forgive me and ask the boss to reemploy
me. I am ready to announce in public that the whole accusation was a
farce, a libel that the young man plotted."
Rov Yossel Lomzher stood transfixed as the Sdei Chemed paused, and
At the revelation of the cleaning lady, an argument began to swirl in
the mind of the Sdei Chemed. Perhaps it would be worth his while to
make the woman stand up and admit her guilt and that of the
avreich and his name would no longer be besmirched. On the
other hand, perhaps she should keep quiet and avoiding shaming the
"After a few moments, my decision was made," declared Rabbeinu. "I
came to the conclusion that nothing positive would result from
announcing the truth. On the contrary, the avreich would be
immensely shamed and a chilul Hashem would ensue when people
see that a talmid chochom who learns Torah can resort to so low
"I forgive you," I answered the poor woman, "on condition that you
never reveal the young man's scheme." I then promised that I would do
all I could to reinstate her to her former job and source of
Continued the Sdei Chemed, "Today I sat here and wondered why Heaven
allowed me the merit of bringing so many chiddushim to the
world. Perhaps my self-restraint and refraining from shaming a fellow
Jew is the zchus in which my sefer Sdei Chemed has been
lovingly accepted by the Jews the world over. Perhaps because I
prevented a chilul Hashem I was granted to be the tool through
which kvod Shomayim has been strengthened and glorified."