Today is the anniversary of death of Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l. The twelve months of Maran’s mourning had concluded on this past Third of Tishrei since Maran passed away during a leap year; thus, thirteen months have elapsed since his passing. Indeed, the Poskim discuss which day is more significant, the conclusion of the twelfth or thirteenth month. Nevertheless, regarding Maran zt”l whose memory we perpetuate because of his greatness and piety, it seems that it is more incumbent upon us to commemorate this day, the Third of Marcheshvan, which marks the day he passed on, for on this day, a special light emanates from his soul and his soul goes from one level to another in Upper Realms based on the words of the Mekubalim. It is only appropriate that we, who try to follow in his paths and gather some remnants of his holy memory, speak some of the praises of this righteous man on this solemn day.
Maran zt”l was like an angel of Hashem sent to our generation in order to raise the Torah up from the dirt. Even in his youth, sparks of public responsibility, amid holiness and purity, were clearly evident. In one of the discourses he delivered when he was but a young lad of sixteen, he spoke passionately about this idea: “Gentlemen! We have a holy mission, each of us, young and old, to bring merit to the public. If we see children that we can influence to join our group, we must all try to do so, without the motivation of being rewarded!”
Those were the words of the Man of G-d who felt a responsibility from his youngest years to care for the spiritual well-being of the Jewish nation and to ascend ever upward to greatness and leadership.
Indeed, Hagaon Harav Natan Salem zt”l, one of Maran’s rabbis at Talmud Torah Benei Zion, once recounted that when Maran was a child of six years old, extreme poverty struck Jerusalem and Birkat Hamazon pamphlets (Benchers) were fairly uncommon. The young Maran would therefore gather any spare pieces of paper he could get his hands on and write the entire text of Birkat Hamazon on them in impeccable hand-writing in order to distribute them to his friends. In this way, he would urge his friends to recite Birkat Hamazon from the text he had written for them.
Let us now recount an incident of how Maran would give his entire being for the Jewish nation even when he stood at the gates of death and he nevertheless would not think of anything but the welfare of his flock:
Every year during the month of Elul and the Ten Days of Repentance, Maran zt”l would travel all over Israel to spread Torah and hold mass Teshuva gatherings in every city. A helicopter was therefore hired to take Maran from place to place.
In the year 5765 (2005), Maran travelled to the northern Israeli cities of Acco and Nahariya and the flight took approximately one hour. When the helicopter landed in Nahariya, tens of respected officials and other individuals waited to greet Maran on the helipad and were informed that they would receive his blessing there as well. Among these people was a relative of one of the well-known rabbis of the city.
After blessing every individual calmly and sincerely and everyone had left, Maran turned to his trusted helper and right-hand man, Rabbi Tzvi Hakak Shlit”a, and asked him to call an ambulance because he felt ill. When Rabbi Hakak heard this, he became frightened for Maran’s health. He quickly called an ambulance and Maran was transported to a hospital in the city. Upon arrival, the medical staff determined that Maran was suffering from a blocked artery in the heart which required immediate catheterization. When Maran felt somewhat stronger after the procedure, Rabbi Hakak asked him, “When did the rabbi begin to feel unwell?” Maran replied, “Approximately ten minutes after takeoff.” Rabbi Hakak asked alarmingly, “So why did the rabbi not utter a word sooner? We could have turned around and landed at a much closer hospital almost immediately!” Maran replied, “Thousands of people stood for hours in order to see me and hear me speak words of Torah, how could I disappoint them? Thus, in spite of my pain, I wanted to go and bring them joy and not leave them empty-handed.”
This was the character of our saintly leader, Maran zt”l, who dedicated his entire life, from his youth to his old age, to the Jewish nation. Unfortunately now we have lost this great treasure and we remain like a flock without a shepherd.
We cannot possibly fully encompass Maran’s life and character even in many books, let alone in one article. Nevertheless, the very essence of his life was to toil tireless in Torah while growing in fear of Heaven, to increase Torah learning and purity among the Jewish nation, to raise the banner of Torah, to return Sephardic glory to its rightful place, and to blow new life into the Jewish nation.
All of Maran’s accomplishments are still among us today, including his Torah institutions, his religious parties and movements, and his amazing works on halachic literature, among many other tremendous accomplishments which are with us for eternity.
We can revive the pure soul of this holy man who has left us by studying his holy Torah works through increasing our drive for Torah study, increasing the amount of people who study Torah, being more meticulous with our observance of Halacha, and by educating our children in the footsteps of Maran’s vision. Doing so will ensure that Maran’s memory will be everlasting and shall serve as a merit for us and our children. In the past, we have quoted the words of the great Ben Ish Hai that when a Torah luminary who led his generation passes away, a remnant of his soul remains with that generation until the last member of that generation departs this world. Indeed, our Sages (Sanhedrin 92a) expound the verse, “For he who has mercy upon them shall lead them and on brooks of water shall he guide them,” Rabbi Elazar said: Any leader who leads the public calmly shall merit leading them in the World to Come.
Furthermore, the Chassidic works state that “the original sanctity is not nullified,” meaning that the power a righteous man had to lead his generation will never leave him, even after his passing. It is therefore especially auspicious to pray at the grave of such a righteous man who lived within our generation. May Maran’s Torah stand as a merit for us and our children forever and may we merit experiencing the arrival of our righteous Mashiach and the Resurrection of the Dead, speedily and in our days, Amen.
We would like to once again remind the public and request from whoever is able to urge others and register friends and family to receive the “Halacha Yomit” every day. G-d-willing this will cause the wisdom of Torah to spread throughout. In this merit, may the merit of Maran zt”l protect you in the World to Come and may you merit all things good, Amen.