Tonight, Thursday night, the Third of Marcheshvan, marks the anniversary of the passing of Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l . We will therefore discuss some related matters (based on actual eulogies Maran zt”l had delivered himself).
Before Hashem destroyed the city of Sedom, the Torah states, “And Hashem said: Shall I hide from Avraham that which I am doing? Avraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation and all of the nations of the world shall be blessed through him. For I have known him to the end that he may command his children and his household after him that they may keep the way of Hashem to do righteousness and justice.”
This means that when Hashem chooses to detail what was so unique about Avraham Avinu, he does not extol his virtues, his righteousness, or his wisdom. Rather, Hashem found it appropriate to extol Avraham about this specific aspect, i.e. that Avraham commanded his children and household after him to keep the path of Hashem.
Why did Hashem find no other positive trait to praise Avraham Avinu, pillar of the world, the epitome of loving-kindness, about besides for what He states, “For I have known him to the end that he may command his children and his household after him”?!
The Torah likewise states regarding Avraham Avinu, “And he planted a tamarisk tree in Be’er Sheva and he called there in the name of Hashem, the everlasting G-d.” Our Sages (Sotah 10a) derived from this verse that Avraham Avinu placed the name of Hashem in the mouth of all passersby. He brought merit to the entire world and ingrained within people the belief in Hashem. We see from the above that Avraham’s trait of helping others to come closer to their Creator was so precious in the eyes of Hashem, Hashem considered it the crown jewel of Avraham Avinu’s virtues, even greater than any of his other character traits.
Maran zt”l would frequently ask: What is the benefit in delivering a eulogy? Are we trying to present the deceased with an award? Rather, the main purpose of a eulogy is to awaken those listening to repent and try to emulate some of the deceased’s wonderful virtues. This causes the deceased great satisfaction and causes him to ascend higher and higher in the Heavenly worlds.
Maran zt”l had so many amazing and unique character traits. He was a true Torah genius, sharp and proficient in any and every area of the Torah. He was devoted to Torah study with every fiber of his being and the Torah, in turn, sanctified him, similar to the sages in generations gone by. Anyone who knew him knew how hard it was to distract him from Torah study, even for a moment.
Nevertheless, Maran zt”l made it his priority all his life to travel all over the world to bring merit to the public. Even in his youth, he would travel every Wednesday to cities all over Israel, such as Ashkelon, Ashdod, Nahariya, and the like and he and the individual accompanying him would enter random synagogues and the accompanying individual would announce, “There is a Torah scholar here and he would like to say some words of Torah between Mincha and Arvit? Would you be interested in hearing?” The congregations, usually Sephardic and Middle Eastern Jews who loved Torah would immediately reply in the affirmative and Maran would then stand before them and speak words of wisdom and Mussar, offer them reassuring words, and encourage them to preserve their observance of Torah and Mitzvot by sending their children to religious, Torah institutions. He would take time out of his Torah study all his life for this purpose amid boundless love for his brethren, the Jewish nation. Countless Jews had changed for the better in the Torah observance because of Maran’s influence and personality, for he was like a magnet that drew people closer to their Father in Heaven.
We must remember the sweetness with which Maran zt”l regarded the Torah, especially in our generation when materialism and physical pursuits evolve ever so quickly and spirituality becomes an idea which people barely deal with. Sometimes, it is difficult for one to truly appreciate the value of our holy Torah and the great spiritual levels one can attain through Judaism. It is specifically during this period of time that we must remind ourselves of the behavior of the great Torah luminaries who have already passed on. We must always remember Maran zt”l’s great sacrifices already in his youth to be able to study Torah amid terrible poverty and many a sleepless night. Only in this way will we be able to educate our children so that they too will remember these glorious personalities who spread Torah to the entire Jewish nation. Indeed, the Torah promises, “For it shall not be forgotten from their offspring,” meaning that in spite of all of the powerful waves of materialism washing over the world, the Torah shall always continue to illuminate the hearts of the Jewish people.
Hagaon Harav David Yosef Shlit”a once recounted that he was learning a certain topic in Masechet Yevamot with Maran zt”l. For a moment, Maran zt”l paused and shivered, like someone who had caught a bad cold. Harav David asked, “Father, what is wrong?” Maran replied, “I just remembered the first time I studied this topic in depth. I was sitting in the Shoshanim Le’David synagogue all night long and it was extremely cold and water was dripping from the ceiling. When I fell asleep in my chair, I put a blanket on top of my head and the water was dripping on my head from the ceiling and I caught a cold. I just experienced the same feeling as I encountered this topic again.”
This is what sacrifices for Torah study look like. We must never forget how fortunate we are to have the great vessel filled with blessing that Hashem has bestowed upon us. We must hold on to the laws of our holy Torah with all our might, as Maran zt”l did.
Maran zt”l likewise merited glorifying the face of Sephardic Jewry. Only one generation ago it seemed as if this glory was nearly gone and then, Hashem sent Maran zt”l to raise our banner proudly once again by spreading Torah already in his youth and in his great intellect, he managed to set forth a clear system of halachic rulings and imbedded it into the hearts and minds of tens of thousands of his students. This is the man who implored Jews all over the world to return to their Father in Heaven and encouraged others to establish countless Torah institutions. Over the years he collected millions of dollars to support the “Chinuch Atzma’i” religious education system in Israel so that Jewish children all over Israel would have a proper framework where they could receive a proper Jewish education based on Torah and fear of Heaven.
Everything Maran did was for the sake of Heaven; he never derived any personal benefit from anything he did. Just as Maran felt a true calling for the sake of the Jewish nation and our holy Torah, he would empower others to do the same by spreading Torah and its beautiful path anywhere you can! Educate your children in the path of the Torah! And to Yeshiva boys and Kollel men everywhere he would say, “Devote yourselves to your Torah study so that the Jewish nation does not become like a flock of sheep without a shepherd.”
May Maran’s memory and merits protect us all and may we soon see him again through the Resurrection of the Dead sitting at the helm of circle that Hashem will soon make for the righteous, Amen!