(HaRav HaGaon Rav Yaakov Sasson Shlit”a, a grandson and pupil of Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l)
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
Reflecting on How Maran zt”l Gave Selflessly to Others in so Many Caring Ways, Both to Am Yisrael as a Whole and to Individuals. How His Ground-Breaking Halachot Were Woven with Compassion and Kindness in Practice. His Encyclopaedic Knowledge of Torah was Unparalleled Since the Time of Rabbi Akivah Eiger zt”l. And When a Stance Against Those Who Were Against the Torah Was Necessary He was Unapologetically Forceful - A True Gadol HaDor!
First let us preface that even though it is forbidden to give hespeidim on Shabbat, nevertheless, it is permitted to praise tzaddikim, and it is actually considered a mitzvah to do so, even on Shabbat. The Maharit z”l (Rav Yosef di Trani 1568–1639) wrote more than this in his Derushim, that in Constantinople (Istanbul) they had a custom that even during the seven days of shiva of a chacham they would eulogise him in the city’s biggest Bet Knesset, because it was a delight for the tzibbur to hear about the chacham’s qualities, since they were all saddened by his passing, and so through this they found comfort that they were inspired to follow the path of the great chacham. This is especially so regarding Maran zt”l, who was a father for all of Klal Yisrael, he was our shepherd until Mashiach Tzidkkeinu will come. And now, as we already said, his yahrtzeit falls of Shabbat.
It states in the Parashat HaShavuah, “These are the chronicles of Noach: Noach was a righteous man, faultless in his generation. Noach walked with Hashem” (Bereishit 6:9).
Maran HaGaon Rav Yehudah Tzadkah zt”l (1910-1991) meticulously observed that really one would have expected the passuk to state, “These are the chronicles of Noach: He was a righteous man, faultless in his generation.” Why does the passuk repeat [his name] “These are the chronicles of Noach: Noach was a righteous man”? One may also analyse that also at the end of the passuk it writes again [his name] that “Noach walked with Hashem”, why is it necessary to again repeat his name?
This is explained as follows. It is well-known that which our chachamim said, that a person should be well-liked by Heaven and well-liked by people [see Avot 3:10], meaning that every person should be meticulous in observing the Torah both matters between man and Hashem and matters between man and his fellow. And more than this, a person has to be literally “well-liked” by Heaven and “well-liked” by people, meaning over and above [what may be expected]. He should be charming with people and empathic with others [see Ketubot 17a]. And this is how Noach was. He was well-liked by Heaven and by people. And for this reason his name is repeated [at the beginning of the passuk] “These are the chronicles of Noach: Noach”, thereby teaching us that he was well-liked by both Heaven and people.
However, at times the two principles conflict. If for example he wants to be well-liked by Heaven then perforce he won’t be well-liked by people. And if he wishes to be well-liked by people, then perforce he won’t be well-liked by Heaven. For example, a person who is mixing with people who are a bad influence and behave badly and he wants to be associated with them and give them honour and so he stays within their group and doesn’t raise anything at all with them [regarding their behaviour]. He is indeed well-liked by people but he is not well-liked by Heaven. And should he motivate himself to leave these group of people, then he will be well-liked by Heaven but not well-liked by people.
It goes without saying that in such a situation he must first and foremost be well-liked by Heaven, since this is the most important thing. Because other people must also ensure that their actions are well-liked by Heaven. And regarding this the passuk [concludes] “Noach walked with Hashem”. Meaning that even though Noach was well-liked by Heaven and by people, nevertheless when these two were at loggerheads, “Noach walked with Hashem”! He clung to the Torah and mitzvot and did not bother himself with the thoughts of unsuitable people.
We need not talk at length about that which is well-known about Maran Saba, Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l as to how well-liked he was by Heaven. For literally all his years, from his youth until his end of days, he toiled in Torah with unbelievable and unparalleled diligence. To the extent that when he was still young and before he had turned thirty years old, he had already compiled phenomenal responsa dealing with the most complex areas of halachah. Permitting agunot (“chained-women”), civil law, all with clarity and sharpness of mind. Especially his phenomenal encyclopaedic knowledge to the extent that we may say without exaggeration that in the last few hundred years there had been nothing like this. Indeed we have brought in the Sefer Abir HaRoim - “Beit HaMidot”, that the Gaon Rav Yechezkel Abramsky zt”l [1886-1976, the former Av Bet Din, London, and author of the classic work Chazon Yechezkel on the Tosefta], who was a giant amongst giants, many times heard Maran zt”l via the radio and he said to those close to him (including the Rosh Kollel of Lomza who was recently niftar), that he was literally astounded by him, that since the time of Rabbeinu Akivah Eiger z”l (1761-1837) there was no one with such a wide breadth of knowledge.
On the other hand, Maran zt”l from a young age already, was able to be well-liked by people. He went out of his comfort zone, despite being totally absorbed in Torah-study, nevertheless, he dedicated a few hours each day from his precious time in order to merit others. He learnt how the tzibbur functions and found a pathway to their hearts, until he blossomed the desolate landscape in a way that perhaps since the time of Chizkiyah Melech Yehudah had not been experienced. He merited the many and literally established tens and tens of thousands of Am Yisrael within the rays of [Torah] light. He encouraged parents to bond with children and children to bond with parents [through Torah and mitzvot].
Already some forty years ago, the Gaon Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach zt”l (1910-1995) expressed [his feelings] as follows, do you know why Rav Ovadia Yosef merited in a way that is unique to him, in a way that we don’t find with others? This is because Rav Ovadia knew how to close the sefer when necessary and he went and spread Torah in Am Yisrael and therefore he merited that no mishap occurred through him.
Like a compassionate father, Maran zt”l gave selflessly for Am Yisrael. We saw with our eyes, how much each individual’s suffering pained him as if they were a member of his own household. We are able to compile complete thick fat works that explain more and more of his tremendous, good qualities. How much he nurtured shalom between a man and his wife, how much kindness he did to the poor of Yisrael, how much tzedakah he distributed to tens of thousands. Not just when he was famous in the world - when he achieved a great amount through the movement “Shas” and he activated his great influence in ways that suited those times - but even already in his youth, included in his good deeds he would collect money for new immigrants from Iraq and Morocco and he would travel to the absorption camps to persuade the parents not to send their children to secular schools. So he would wear out his feet going from place to place. He brought many back from sinful lives and saved them from wasting their lives and falling into the abyss.
When he sat as a Dayan in the Bet Din, he would endeavour to ensure everything was for the betterment of the parties. Even in the afternoon of Erev Pesach he would hurry to the Bet Din in order to complete a get should there have been an urgent need to do so. Entire nights he would go without sleep in order to find a solution to assist women who were agunot (“chained-women”) and people who [prior to his involvement] were considered pasul (not-suitable) to marry [the person they wished to].
I will mention two situations that I brought in my work Abir HaRoim (that was recently published) which testify to his self-sacrifice:
It happened with two young men whose children studied in Children’s Town in Yerushalayim, that whilst rowing as kids do, one child hit another and pushed him breaking his expensive glasses. The fathers argued amongst themselves if he is liable to pay. They came before Maran zt”l to decide the outcome. The Rav replied according to the letter of the law [that he is exempt] but immediately he continued and asked how much are the glasses, and gave the money to the father whose child’s glasses were broken.
A further [more lengthy] incident occurred in the Bet Din in Petach Tikvah [mainly in the year] 5718 (1958). Two people came before Maran and the Bet Din, a man and woman who had been married in 5709 (1949), and the woman was bright and young, yet the man was old and of a bad nature. The man was called Moshe, and the woman, Moshe’s niece, was called Mazal. Moshe had been previously married to a woman in Yemen and she had passed away. The he married his new wife and then married a further wife which was Mazal, as previously mentioned. Due to his second marriage to Mazal the first wife left him, leaving just Mazal married to Moshe who had three children from his first marriage, one of which was older by a number a years than Mazal and the youngest of the three was her age.
Indeed from already a young age, of just twelve, Mazal’s father wanted to force her to marry his brother, Moshe. This happened in the city of Sharav in south-east Yemen. When Mazal heard about this she fled as far as her body would let her to another city where her brother lived. After two years Mazal and her brother were invited to the marriage celebration of her younger brother (who married a woman aged thirteen years old).
When they arrived at the wedding, whilst the chatan and kallah were still under the chuppah, Mazal’s father and her brothers approached her and began threatening her forcing her to immediately enter the chuppah and marry her uncle Moshe. He father said, that if she won’t agree to marry Moshe, then he will grab her and beat her with a leather strap made from donkey hide. Due to her great fear, Mazal conceded and married Moshe. All her crying and pleading was to no avail because her father and her brothers were harsh and cruel masters, the type of sinful ignorant people to treat a daughter of Israel, their own flesh and blood, in an abusive way.
As soon as Mazal married Moshe he began to treat her cruelly and with a stiff heart. As such, Mazal detested him and ran away to her the mountains away from her husband and father, until she managed to hide in her brother’s home who had compassion on her and provided her with a safe haven.
After all this, Moshe and Mazal made Aliyah and then they had no contact between each other. So Mazal turned to the Bet Din in Petach Tikvah and requested a get from her husband, which would enable her to marry someone else. Since the husband disputed part of the woman’s allegation, the Bet Din ruled that the husband must issue a get for his wife. However, they added that they do not have to authority to force him. This ruling was also confirmed by the Supreme Court in Yerushalayim. However the husband remained steadfast in his refusal, and all the efforts of the Bet Din and appeals to the husband to release his wife from the shackles of being chained were fruitless.
And so the matters continued for sometime until the end of the year 5717 (1957), the woman presented at the Bet Din at which Maran my grandfather zt”l was also present. She cried and pleaded for herself that the Bet Din assist her to escape her bleak situation, to save her from her elderly hateful husband to whom she was married. Maran my grandfather zt”l who was exceptional amongst geonim, came up with a brilliant idea to save this poor person. He invested of himself to help her and wrote a long responsum. In it he quoted many chachamim who are of the opinion that if a young woman is forced, then the husband [too] may be forced to give a get. Moreover, the Yemenites accepted all Rambam’s rulings who is more lenient in the principle of forcing a get. To quote the words of Maran zt”l:
“Despite huge efforts to reconcile with financial incentives, and pleading and continued repeated requests so many times loosing count, asking ‘husband answer us!’ And there is no sound, and no response, and no attention given, and ‘with words the servant will not be disciplined’ [see Mishlei 29:19]. And so combined with all the above ideas we have ruled with the good authority of the Bet Din, both in halachah and in practice to compel the husband to divorce until he states I want to. This has been also agreed by the Head of our Bet Din the Gaon and great Rav Reuven Katz Shlit”a [z”l] (1880-1963). However, since the husband has stiffened his neck and hardened his heart and doesn’t wish to divorce even after the Bet Din’s ruling, he shall be imprisoned by the authorities in order to force him to listen to the Bet Din. After he languished in prison for some time, he agreed to divorce his wife and the get was arranged by ourselves b’siyyata diShmaya on the first of Menachem Av 5719 (1959) here in Petach Tikvah after all the required statements prior to presenting a get, and the woman is allowed to marry to anyone as she wishes with the exception of a cohen.” Here end the words of his holy writing.
Now I will reveal what happened that day in the Bet Din. Maran my grandfather zt”l didn’t issue his ruling until it was with the agreement of the Gaon Rav Reuven Katz, but he didn’t mention the name of the third Dayan until his concluding words. And this is what transpired:
When Maran my grandfather arrived at the Bet Din with his ruling, Rav Reuven examined it and despite the fact that the matter in discussion was of the utmost severity, nevertheless, when he saw the strength of Maran’s words zt”l and his true logic, he agreed halachah l’ma’aseh (in practical halachah) to his ruling and perforce the third Dayan had to concede. This was the Gaon Rav Shimshon Karelitz [1910-1999?] to join their decision, for the principle is employed “that the majority is followed” [see Shemot 23:2]. However, in his heart he was deeply agitated, for in his opinion there was not enough reason based on what was submitted to the Bet Din to force the husband to issue the get. And all his arguments were to no avail, because the Gaon Rav Katz stood steadfast with all his strength with the responsum of Maran zt”l, stating that the ruling was as he had argued.
However, when the husband came from the prison to divorce his wife, Rav Karelitz was unable to restrain his feelings and he turned to Maran my grandfather and whispered in his ear, “A married woman! A married woman!” Maran heard and remained silent. When the husband stood before the court at the time of arranging the get, Maran zt”l said to him. Do you give the get willingly? The husband replied in a week voice and a heavy head, yes, yes. Maran said to him, see you are a poor destitute person and I am prepared to give you a lot of money, will you agree to give the get with a complete heart with no connection to the coercion I have made you endure? The husband replied, yes I agree to this.
That day was payment day for the Bet Din and by then the wage of the Dayanim was now on a par with the judges in the secular courts and it was indeed considerable. Maran my grandfather zt”l took his wage and said to the husband I am placing in your hand all my wage, but truthfully assure me that you are doing everything with a willing heart so that there will be no question against the kashrut of this get. Do you agree? This husband, despite being a stubborn person, nevertheless was a Jew, and was very taken aback by the Rav’s generous offer and he considered it a form of tzedakah. He immediately assured the rabbanim that he truly gives the get entirely from his own good will because of the Rav has been kind to him. Rav Karelitz saw and also remained silent. [Only] love truth and peace [see Zechariyah 8:19].
Now give some thought! Maran zt”l was in no way obligated to put in such great effort such as this, only that in order to ensure that the get was according to all opinions and for the betterment of the situation he was prepared to forgo his entire [monthly] wage and all in order to bring the matter to the most successful conclusion!
Despite this, when Mara zt”l saw it fit to knock down on the heads of those who did wicked things he wasn’t short of words. As is known that many times he expressed in his shiurim his clear Da’at Torah. For our Torah is a true Torah and we do not flatter any person.
It happened in 5760 (2000), at a time when the Education Minister confronted us and attacked those who study Torah and the way of the Torah. Then the Rav delivered his derahsha in the Bet HaMidrash Tiferet Yerushalayim in the Yazdim Kehillah, and it was Purim time. The Rav shouted as follows: Hashem has brought upon us a test to test us, this is the Education Minister, the sitra achra [lit. other side i.e. dark side of evil], this is the Satan. We may no longer remain silent. How much can we suffer? My Hashem uproot him! As he uprooted Amalek so may He uproot him! And when you say cursed is Haman so shall you also say cursed is the Education Minister! These are the words of Maran zt”l.
Then various media outlets arose and began speaking contemptuously about Maran’s words. How can a Rav behave with such a lack or respect? And similar words as they so commonly state in their idiocy. The Ministry of Justice and the State Attorney’s Office wanted to have him brought to court, for he had [in their opinion] been disrespectful towards an honourable member of the government. HaGaon Rav Pinchas Scheinberg zt”l (1910-2012) heard about this and said, This is the Gadol HaDor! This is the Gadol HaDor! One who dares and speaks the truth in this way, this is a true Gadol HaDor!
May we go in his light, with Torah-study, with educating children, meriting others, and may his merit be a shield and a buckler for us!