Rabbi Ovadia Yosef poster 370.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
It is not just for the passing of the giant among giants that we cry today, but
for what we could have still learned from him and now never will.
hand writes, but the heart refuses to believe. The passing of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef
– among the Jewish nation’s spiritual giants of all time – is a difficult loss;
not only for the thousands of his students and those who listened to his
lessons, but for the entire Jewish world.
I was privileged to visit Rabbi
Yosef, may the memory of the righteous be a blessing, hundreds of times. Along
with the most senior figures in the State of Israel and abroad, we discussed
issues of great consequence, dealing with Am Yisrael, Torat Yisrael and Eretz
Yisrael. Time after time, I saw how the rabbi surprised his interlocutors with
the pleasantness of his expressions and mannerisms, with his love of man and his
outstanding comprehension of the issues at hand – irrespective of them being
issues of a public-halachic nature, or matters of state, finance, or
It is no coincidence Rabbi Yosef merited the title “Maran” (an
Aramaic term meaning “our master”) in his lifetime; a title conferred on very
few, among them Maran Rabbi Yosef Karo, the author of the Shulchan Aruch and the
Beit Yosef and the rabbi of the residents of the Land of Israel.
halachic authority was indisputable. He was extraordinary in his tremendous
power as a posek, arbiter of Jewish law; in his phenomenal knowledge of any
field he touched in or out of the Jewish world; and in his unshakable
Maran was attentive to reality, attentive to renewal in the
world and to feelings of the public, while at the same time, no one was more
loyal than he to the Jewish legal traditions of Spanish, or Sephardi,
This inspired his authority to teach, without fear, based on the
needs of the generation. I asked myself many times what the secret was to the
greatness of Rabbi Yosef. I think it was based on his incredible ability to see
both the private individual and the entirety of the nation with extraordinary
clarity and lucidity, and pave a consistent and moderate halachic path that the
entire public could keep to without deviation.
This greatness was crucial
to Rabbi Yosef when he reestablished the glory of the heritage of Sephardi
Jewry, which had been trampled during the first years of the state. The Sephardi
Jews, immigrants from Babylon and Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt, saw in Maran a
halachic and spiritual lighthouse guiding them back to their forefathers’
Just like King David, “Adino Ha’Etzni,” who when he would
sit and learn Torah would make himself small like a worm, and when he would go
out to war would become hard like wood, the rabbi was kind to every person,
while risking his own life in the battle for Torah, its unity and its
Throughout his life, the rabbi criss-crossed the country to
spread Torah. It did not matter to him if he was speaking before a crowd of
thousands or before a small group of poor Jews in a local synagogue. “This is
Torah – and I must teach.”
With unfathomable strength, one man
single-handedly returned the crown to its previous glory and founded an entire
world of Torah.
In Tractate Sanhedrin, the Talmud tells of the passing of
Rabbi Eliezer ben Hurcanus, among the giants of the tana’im, the Mishnaic sages:
“He took both his arms and rested them on his heart and said, ‘Woe to you my two
arms which are like two Torah scrolls being rolled... I learned much Torah, and
I did not miss [the words of] my rabbis even like a dog licks the water of the
sea. I taught much Torah, and my students did not miss me but were like a
paintbrush in a paint tube.”
It is not just for the passing of the giant
among giants that we cry today, but for what we could have still learned from
him and now never will. We are not crying just for him, but also for
Our generation merited, and we all merited, standing in the
shade of one of the Jewish nation’s greatest of all time. May it be that we
merit to walk in his path. Maran Rav Ovadia, my teacher and rabbi, rest in peace
and sleep in peace until the arrival of the Comforter heralding peace. His merit
will protect us and all of Israel.
The writer is rabbi of the Western
Wall and Holy Sites.