On Sunday evening, November 3, a large crowd gathered at the Young Israel of Briarwood to commemorate the sixth yahrzeit of Maran HaRav Ovadia Yosef zt”l.
Rabbi Simantov Yanetz, rav of the Bukharian shul of the Young Israel of Briarwood, greeted everyone and stated: “We spoke the whole Shabbat about Rabbi Ovadia and his legacy and his mission in life.” He then welcomed Rabbi David Shelby, a talmid of Rav Ovadia.
Rabbi Shelby shared how Rav Ovadia was busy 24/7, and everything he did reflected how he cared about people in the world, no matter who they were. “Rav Ovadia Yosef was the Moshe Rabbeinu of our generation.” There are many incredible stories about Rav Ovadia. “He learned Torah all day long, so he was connected to Hashem.”
Rabbi Shelby then shared a story that illustrated this strong connection that Rav Ovadia had to Hashem. Rav Ovadia lived in an apartment in Israel and there was a meeting with the people who lived in the building. His wife went to the meeting as he was busy learning Torah. The woman in charge of the meeting said that she refused to move and continue the meeting unless the Rav came down to the meeting. At that moment, she was struck with paralysis and she could not move her legs. They asked Rav Ovadia to come downstairs because of what happened. He would always come if someone needed his help. He felt terrible that this happened because of him. She cried and begged his forgiveness. He forgave her and prayed on her behalf and miraculously she was able to move again.
Rabbi Shelby then shared a personal story that happened to him. He prefaced the story with the fact that a very high tzadik will be able to see the mitzvah that someone performed written on that person’s forehead. One night, Rabbi Shelby was asked to give tz’dakah late at night, and he gave a large amount to help someone he knew. He then felt sure that Rav Ovadia would see the mitzvah he performed written on his forehead, and he would ask him to sit near him by the bimah during davening. In fact, Rabbi Shelby ended up coming late to the minyan the next morning and he sat in the back. Rav Ovadia motioned to him and then asked him to come up front and sit by the Rav.
Another time, there was a bar mitzvah boy who made a lot of mistakes in his leining and he became discouraged. Rav Ovadia saw this and so he proceeded to lead Musaf and he purposely made many mistakes. He did this hoping that the boy would see that even Rav Ovadia made mistakes and that he still became a talmid chacham, so the boy would realize that he, too, can overcome these mistakes.
Eight years before he was niftar, he was very sick in the hospital over Yom Kippur and Rabbi Shelby was there with him. He recalled that the only thing that comforted the Rav was hearing stories about people being saved.
Rav Ovadia went into the battlefield during the Yom Kippur War. There are photos of him right there handing out little T’hilim books to the soldiers. He told the soldiers to keep this sefer with them. He had written inside: “Know that I’m with you” and signed Ovadia Yosef.
When he died, his housekeeper was sobbing. She said he would never eat until he knew that she had eaten before him. He was Chief Rabbi from 1973 to 1983 and he was sad when his tenure ended – not because of the honor but because he wouldn’t be able to help people in the same way. While he was Chief Rabbi, he made a heter removing the agunah status for 900 women who had been declared agunos as a result of the Yom Kippur War. When he went to sleep, he said the Beis Yosef came to him in a dream and told him that he had done it all according to halachah. Also, there was a woman who was an agunah and the rabbis couldn’t find a heter for her to be able to get married. Rav Ovadia stayed up the entire night and then, on Friday morning, he made a mini-beis din and allowed her to get married. Rav Ovadia said, “Who will help these women if I’m not Chief Rabbi?”
In addition, Rav Ovadia wrote proofs to show that Ethiopian Jews were Jewish. “He had a heart bigger than the entire universe.” He always forgave people because, for him, everything was always about the other people, and not about him. “From age eight until age 93, he never lost his passion for learning Torah. For him, learning Torah was oxygen.” He had tens of thousands of books and he knew where they all were.
Rabbi Shelby concluded that we have to keep his legacy alive and learn from what he did. “We need to tell the world to forgive and to tell the world to care.” He loved everyone and he didn’t put himself before anyone. We should attend more Torah classes. We have so many ways to learn Torah. He also taught us that no matter how hard life may be, we should never give up. He had a dream of becoming the Chief Rabbi from the time he was a little boy. “In life, we have to know that if we keep striving after what we want to achieve, then Hashem will give us brachah.”
Following this, the Chief Bukharian Rabbi, Rav Yitzchak Yisraeli, spoke. “It’s hard to speak of Rav Ovadia in the past tense. I can still hear his voice. He’s still alive in front of our eyes. We have to follow in his footsteps.” His mind was quick, like the speed of light. He knew Torah by heart. At a young age he wanted to teach others. “He taught Torah for the benefit of the people. He could have been teaching in a university, but instead he was teaching the level of kindergarten to people who never learned Torah because he wanted them to learn Torah. He gave his life for others to learn Torah.” He was a person who did good things for people even if they spoke against him or acted against him. There was once a rosh yeshivah who spoke against Rav Ovadia in public, and this person needed money for his yeshivah. Rav Ovadia’s response was that he would donate to the yeshivah. He explained that it’s about Hashem. By donating money to the yeshivah, we will have more students learning. He ignored the fact that the rosh yeshivah had spoken against him. He never spoke about his enemies. He just continued to learn more and more Torah.
At the end of the night, Rabbi Yisraeli blessed the community that the community will continue to grow spiritually, and he said: “This year is 5780, meaning T’hei sh’nas p’dus l’am Yisrael.
This beautiful event can be viewed on www.TorahAnytime.com.