The Hida *

Rabbi Haim Yosef David Azulai *

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By the grace of G-d 
Copyright © 1998 Nathaniel Segal 

During the year of 5538 (1778) Rabbi Azulai was in Paris twice.  From his diary of the trip, under the entry for 6 Tammuz * (July) we read (in my own free translation from the Hebrew):

Monsieur Fabré came and led me to his relative's house where he entertained me for four hours.  He and his family treated me very graciously and asked me to dine there with them.  I told them that I only eat baked eggs which I would make myself, and they were satisfied.

I asked this particular Gentile what he believes in.  He answered me that he believes in the G-d of Israel.  I investigated this, and it appears to me to be indeed so.

So I said to him, "If so, then say the verse 'Hear, O Israel' (Shma‘ Yisrael *) [Deuteronomy 6:4] every morning and evening, fulfill the Seven Commandments, and be careful of any form of what we call sheetoof * [explanation below].  Be careful to observe a faith in absolutely One G-d, the G-d of Israel."

He agreed, and said that he would only pray to G-d Himself. . . .

Rejecting Sheetoof * — No Intermediaries

From time to time, people have prayed to a person or a thing but still had in mind the Creator of heaven and earth.  These people considered that the person or thing who they worshiped was an intermediary between them and the One G-d – a sort of "junior partner."  A Hebrew word for this idea of partnership is sheetoof.  Pure monotheism rejects the belief that G-d needs or has a partner or that we cannot pray directly to G-d Himself.  On the other hand, non-Jews are not accused of idol worship if they use a person or a thing as an intermediary since they have in mind the One G-d, Creator of heaven and earth.

However, this idea of sheetoof is incompatible with the monotheism of the Hebrew Scriptures.  Jews are forbidden to do or say anything that suggests that G-d has an intermediary or any kind of partner.  The Jewish people experienced how G-d extended "a strong Hand and an outstretched Arm" to rescue them from slavery in Egypt.  "I will pass through the land of Egypt . . .  I am the L-rd" (Exodus 12:12).  They reached the climax at the revelation at Mount Sinai when every man, woman, and child heard G-d say, "I am the L-rd your G-d who took you out of the land of Egypt . . ."  (Exodus 20:2).  It is an act of supreme disloyalty and unfaithfulness to G-d to worship a person or thing even while having G-d Himself in mind.

In fact, the entire human race experienced rescue and deliverance at the time of the Great Flood.  "I, yes I, am bringing the Deluge . . . and I will establish my Covenant with you . . ." (Genesis 6:17-8).  Noah and Na'amah, his wife, and their sons and daughters-in-law entered the ark that they built in order to endure the year of the Great Flood some 4,100 years ago.  It is sad but true that Noah's great-grandchildren, especially Nimrod,* invented the cult that raised human kings to the level of false divinity to challenge the authority of G-d's Covenant with Noah and his decendants.  Most of humanity quickly slid down slippery slopes, seduced by human snakes to follow the will of these despots.  The only so-called gift that these human snakes bestowed upon humanity was a program of idolatry and depravity that has taken more than four thousand years to renounce and overcome.

Clearly, it is an act of disloyalty and unfaithfulness to G-d for any human being to worship an intermediary.  However, when we have evidence that the person has good intentions, that they they have in mind the One G-d, Creator of heaven and earth, we do not accuse them of idolatry.  We try to teach them that true belief in G-d involves a firm rejection of acknowledging intermediaries between us and G-d.  It is proper to pray to Him, and to Him alone.

In the case mentioned above, Rabbi Azulai saw that Monsieur Fabré was already a true believer.  Rabbi Azulai taught him to further express his faith, as vividly as the Israelites did at Mount Sinai.  When G-d said, "I am the L-rd your G-d," the Israelites spontaneously responded, "the L-rd is our G-d."  When G-d then said, "You shall have no other gods before Me," the Israelites responded, "the L-rd is One" (Midrash Rabbah *).  Later, these words were fused into the verse in Deuteronomy (6:4): "Hear, O Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One."  Perhaps we can say by way of paraphrase: Hear, O Israel (as you heard at Mount Sinai, and then how you yourselves said:) the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One.

Rabbi Haim Yosef David Azulai *

Rabbi Haim Yosef David Azulai (1724-1806), was born in Jerusalem and lived his early life in the Holy Land.  He is generally referred to by the Hebrew initials of his name — Hida. *

Around the years 1777-8, he was sent to North Africa and Europe on behalf of his brethren in the Holy Land, especially the community of Hebron, where he then lived.  As befitting his dignity and abilities, he gave the people whom he met blessings and shared his Torah knowledge.

He recorded incidents of his mission in a diary.  A portion of a diary entry from the time he spent in Paris appears above.

On numerous occasions, Gentiles as well as Jews requested his blessings.  He records how, "On my first visit to Paris [winter 1777-8], Señor Avraham Vidal requested that I pray for the Queen to become pregnant.  Now [summer] they tell me that she is four months pregnant.  Monsieur Fabré said to me, 'See how your prayer bore fruit!'  I answered him, 'It is not in my merit but in the merit of my forefathers of blessed memory.'"

Apparently, Rabbi Azulai was a widower at the time of the mission, because he records in his diary his gratitude to the Almighty on the occasion of his marriage to the honorable Miss Rachel, 7 Cheshvan * 5539 (fall 1778, about five weeks after Rosh Hashana) in Pisa, Italy.

In the course of his missions to raise funds to support the impoverished Jews of the Holy Land, Rabbi Azulai sought out manuscripts of early Torah scholarship.  He copied and published many Torah compositions that had disappeared from sight during the long centuries of exile.  For example, in his time the French Royal Bibliotheque had five thousand Hebrew manuscripts!  We owe him a great debt of gratitude for restoring a part of the Jewish legacy to its people.

Rabbi Azulai died in 1806 (11 Adar 5566, the Shabbat before Purim) in Leghorn (Livorno), Italy, where he had spent the last years of his life.  Besides publishing lost manuscripts, he was the author of several books on Torah subjects – Halacha, Kabbala, history, bibliography, and more.


Pronunciation and Notes:

Hida - khee DAH, khee DAW

Haim - KHY im

Yosef - YOH sehff

Azulai - ah ZOO lye

Tammuz - TAH mooz

Shma Yisrael - "Hear, O Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One."  SHMAH yiss rah AYL

sheetoof - shee TOOF (shee TO͞OF),  SHIH toof (SHĬ to͞of)

Nimrod - Some say that he was Hammurabi.  We can see in this name the name of Nimrod's grandfather, Ham.  In Semitic languages, abi means 'father' or 'my father'.  Joined together, Hammurabi means something like "Ham is (was) my father."  A regular feature of a Semitic language, as we see in Hebrew, is that a grandfather is also called a father.  (Nimrod's father was Cush, son of Ham.)

Hammurabi, in distant antiquity, issued an impressive code of law.  Some of the laws are unaltered Noahide laws.  Some are innovations.  And some are in opposition to the Noahide laws.  When Nimrod called himself "Ham is my father," he was demanding obedience to himself based on his alleged tutelage by Noah through Noah's son Ham.  Hammurabi's real intention was an unabashed challenge to the authority of G-d's Covenant with Noah.

If a law in Hammurabi's code was identical to a Noahide law, Hammurabi was insisting that his subjects not obey G-d Almighty.  He was insisting that they obey his own law.  After all, it was demonstrably the same as what Noah had been teaching.  One thing leads to another.  People who listened to Hammurabi when his law was a Noahide law fell into the trap of listening to Hammurabi's innovations.  Sooner or later, Hammurabi's subjects began to actually violate Noahide laws, the ones that were altered.  His subjects became confused when they pledged loyalty to Hammurabi.  They began to follow laws that permitted the forbidden and forbade the permissible.

The Bible calls him "Nimrod" which means "let us rebel."  I've described Hammurabi's strategy to rebel and how his subjects inadvertently also rebelled against G-d.  The Bible's description is:  "Nimrod . . . began to become powerful in the land [in the very land of Noah and his sons].  He became a predatory power [and spiteful] to the [very] face of the L-rd.  [Since then] it is therefore said [about anyone who knows G-d but intentionally rebels against Him, that he is] like Nimrod, a predatory power to the face of the L-rd [directly in His face].

My expanded translation is based on a sensible reading of the Hebrew, on a traditional Aramaic translation, and on traditional sources which describe Nimrod as anything but a great hunter, except as a great hunter of men.  Ordinary translations are suitable as Bible stories for children.  Even so, a clever child will ask, "Who cares if he was a great hunter?  Considering all the uncles and cousins that he had, is the Bible telling us that none of them had yet become effective hunters?  Could this be about Nimrod winning a simple hunting competition?  So why should we care?"

Midrash Rabbah - MID rahsh RAH buh

Cheshvan - KHESH vahn

No Intermediaries

About Rabbi Azulai ~ Pronunciation Notes

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