Tonight marks the sixth Yahrzeit of our leader, glory of the generation, Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l. Let us therefore dedicate the following words to his memory.
One of the greatest sages approximately two-hundred years ago was named Hagaon Harav Aryeh Leib Tzuntz zt”l, the Gaon of Plotzk, who was quite close to another one of the generation’s luminaries, the great Gaon Harav Yechezkel Landau zt”l, author of the Noda Bi’huda and other great works. When the Noda Bi’huda passed away, the Plotzker Gaon eulogized him. He began by quoting the words of the Gemara (Eruvin 13b), “Rabbi Yehudah Ha’Nassi said: The reason I merited being sharper than my peers is because I saw Rabbi Meir from behind, as I sat behind him. If I would have seen him from the front, I would have been even sharper.” The Plotzker Gaon explained that what Rabbi Yehuda Ha’Nassi meant by seeing Rabbi Meir from behind as opposed to from the front is that he only merited seeing Rabbi Meir in his old age when the latter was already elderly and frail. However, if he would have seen him in his youth when he was in his prime, he would have been even sharper.
When one wishes to discuss the greatness of Maran zt”l, everyone knows that his genius in Torah was unmatched, his dedication to the Jewish nation unsurpassed and as a result, he merited what not many others in the generation have: Illuminating the entire world, especially Sephardic Jewry, with his Torah. The things became known to the world in Maran’s older age. What is less well-known are the details of his life which allowed him to reach such lofty heights and which helped one man achieve what one-hundred other rabbis could not. How was this possible?
An answer to this question can be found in a notebook with Torah novella written by a young Maran zt”l of twelve years old. Below is a short transcript of a lecture he gave in front of a group of friends who would gather every Shabbat to hear words of Torah from one another:
“My friends! It is our holy duty, every one of us, young and old, to bring merit to others. If we see another child whom we can convince to enter our group, we must do so, for no other purpose than the sake of Heaven!”
Maran zt”l was a wonder child. When he was six years old, he would study Tanach for hours on end with the commentary of Torah Temimah. At seven years old, he was reading the entire Tanach with its cantillation notes. One year later, most of his time was occupied by Gemara study. Shortly before the age of fourteen, he finished the entire Talmud and at the age of fifteen, he was an expert in it.
A child like this could have tried to show others how smart he was. Naturally, he would not want to do things that would elevate his peers to the same plateau he had reached.
However, from his youth, Maran zt”l was extremely generous and all he wished was to rise above his own self-interests. The only agenda that meant anything to him was to perform the will of Hashem. That is when he began planting seeds so that one day, he could restore the crown of Sephardic Jewry. To return the soul of the Jewish nation.
When Maran zt”l was approximately six years old, Jerusalem was ravaged by poverty and not everyone had the text of Birkat Hamazon available. Maran therefore gathered scraps of paper from wherever he could find them and wrote down the text of Birkat Hamazon in beautiful print to distribute to his friends. He would thus urge them to recite Birkat Hamazon in this manner.
When Maran zt”l was young, several children were jealous of his success and his evident future for greatness. Once, as a practical joke, one of these boys entered Maran’s room and filled his shoes with water and mud so that he would not be able to go to the Bet Midrash. When Maran zt”l woke up and noticed the state of his shoes, this did not deter him in the least and quickly put on multiple pairs of dry socks and made his way to the Bet Midrash.
Even when things were bleak and difficult, Maran zt”l never let things dampen his iron spirit and he always focused solely on his goal of learning and disseminating Torah and fear of Hashem. During his last few months as Head of the Cairo rabbinical court when he had to seek refuge at home as a result of being harassed by enemies and with the realization that he could do nothing more to improve the spiritual state of the Jewish community in Cairo, Maran zt”l studied the entire tractate of Ketubot in-depth. At times when he was weak and ill, Maran tried with all his might to teach even more Torah to the masses. Once, at the end of one his lectures, amid shortness of breath, Maran exclaimed, “I need all my strength just in order to speak.”
Not long ago, during the High Holiday prayers, we stated: “And may they all form one unit to perform your will with a full heart.” The wish of every Jew should be that other Jews should also join the unit of those who are performing the will of Hashem. Let us all remember Maran’s leadership and how much he went out of his way to bring straying Jews back to their Father in Heaven. In spite of his greatness and diligence in Torah study, Maran zt”l always made it his business to help the Jewish nation and to improve their physical and spiritual states.
We must know that the reason we all loved Maran zt”l so much, his messages touched so many people, and close to one million people mourned him at his funeral is not because of any materialistic reason. Rather, it is because the souls of the Jewish nation are naturally drawn to goodness and blessing, to the holy Torah. That is why Maran zt”l, who loved his people so much and was so filled with Torah and good deeds, was so beloved by his flock. Approximately one month before his passing, Maran zt”l turned to us and said, “The love that you have for me is the love of the holy Torah.” We replied, “And this love is completely unconditional.” Maran said, “That is true.”
Maran’s Torah continues to protect us. We must continue to disseminate his Torah and rulings which he held so dear, continue his legacy, to educate our children in the path of the Torah, and to never forget the true goal which is to fulfill the will of our Father in Heaven.
May Maran zt”l’s great deeds be a merit for us all and may we merit seeing him through the Resurrection of the Dead, speedily in our days, Amen.