On Sunday, a vast atzeres hesped was arranged to mark the end of the shivah.
Visitors during the shivah came from every spectrum of Israeli society. Among the menachamim were former Sefardic Chief Rabbi Rav Shlomo Amar, the Gerrer Rebbe, the Vizhnitzer Rebbe, Rav Meir Mazuz, Rav Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron, Rav Rafael Abuchatzeira, Rav David Abuchatzeira, the Sanzer Rebbe, and Rav Mordechai Neugroschel. Political figures included President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, former Prime Ministers Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak, US Ambassador Dan Shapiro, and British Ambassador Matthew Gold.
Many projects were begun to honor Rav Ovadiah’s memory. In one Yerushalayim neighborhood, a kollel where avreichim will study and be tested on Rav Ovadiahh’s sefer Yabia Omer was established. Yeshivat Hamekubalim Ohr Rashbi organized a Siyum Hashas every day of the shivah. To achieve this, at least 2,711 people agreed to learn a daf a day and finish Shas between them all. Rav Ovadiah’s son, Rav David, requested all secular admirers of Rav Ovadiahto persuade their friends to observe at least one Shabbos in his honor.
On the physical plane, Minister of Transport Yisroel Katz said he would commemorate Rav Ovadiah’s by naming a new highway running into Yerushalayim in his memory.
“I have decided to name the new entrance road to Yerushalayim for the late Rav Ovadiah Yosef,” he said. “Rav Yosef was a great figure for the people of Israel and a great figure in Yerushalayim. This road will run from Mevasseret and pass by the neighborhood of Har Nof, where the rav lived.”
There are also plans to name Rechov Hakablan, where Rav Ovadiah lived, after him. Similarly, the Netanya town council plans to rename a major street in his honor. In Beitar Eilit, the city council decided to name a large square near the town entrance “The Rav Ovadiah Yosef Square.” Shas decided to rename the Maayan Hachinuch network, which has drawn thousands of children to Torah, “Bnei Yosef” in memory of Rav Ovadiah, who was moser nefesh for the chinuch of Jewish children.
Thousands visited Rav Ovadiah’s kever during the shivah, surrounding it with myriad yahrtzeit candles. On Motzoei Shabbos, four of Rav Ovadiah’s sons jointly delivered their father’s famous Motzoei Shabbos shiur from the mourning tent.
During the shivah, people close to Rav Ovadiah related stories showing how his greatness always embodied deep humility and warmth.
Rav Tzvika Chakak, Rav Ovadiah’s personal attendant for the past twenty years, shared some reminiscences.
He related that there was a bochur who was very ill. He sent Rav Ovadiah a letter saying that because of heart disease, he could only go to yeshiva in Petach Tikvah, where he lived.
“He had two options. He could either to go to Ohr Yisroel, which was a very good yeshiva but he didn’t think he’d be accepted, or to a different yeshiva,which might also not accept him, and if it did, he didn’t know if he would reach his full potential there. He asked what to do. I left the letter on the table.
“A day or two later after Shacharit, the rav called in Eli Yishai, took the letter from his pocket, and read it out to him.
“‘Do you see what the bochur writes?’ he said to him. ‘There’s a good yeshiva in his town that he’s not even dreaming of. I want him to learn there. But I don’t know the people there. You’re a minister. There’s no such thing as people not knowing you. I want him to learn there. I ask you – don’t come back to me until the bochur is in the yeshiva.’
“After investing all his efforts into the case, Eli Yishai came back and said that the bochur was accepted. There were many incidents like that.
“Sometimes Rav Ovadiah would read the paper and see a small notice about a widow with seven children. He would call us in, ask for the woman’s address, and immediately send her enough money to be able to provide for the coming Shabbat. And then he would contact chessed organizations and get them on the case.
“He would say, ‘If the talmid chacham wants to know something, he’ll learn and find an answer on his own. But if a simple person sends me a shailah, he may have no other way to get an answer to his question. Even if the answer seems simple, to this person it is of great benefit for me to provide it.’
“When it came to seeing people, the rule for most years was to let in regular people first. Orphans and widows were almost always permitted to see him. But as the years went on and his time became more limited, he would say that he needed to devote more time to writing his seforim. He said, ‘I need to devote all my time to writing my seforim. There’s not much time. The seforim will remain for future generations.’”
Rav Chakak described the time a woman came to Rav Ovadiah and asked him to be mesader kiddushin at her son’s wedding.
“She explained: ‘Twenty years ago, the doctors said he would be born with severe defects… I came to you and you promised that he would be born perfectly healthy. How can you not be at his wedding?’ He agreed.”
Rav Chakak discussed Rav Ovadiah’s reluctance to be known as a baal mofeis.
“He didn’t want people to speak about his mofsim. When someone brought a sefer he had written about Rav Ovadiah in which he depicted mofsim, Rav Ovadiah said, ‘Are you digging my grave while I’m still alive?’ When another person brought such a sefer, he told him to put it into shaimos. He always warned us not to repeat things we had seen. When people came and related a mofeis from him, he would say, ‘Was it from me? We must praise Hashem! See what He did and how great He is!’ He held nothing of himself.”
Rav Chakak repeated one unusual story.
“When we were bochurim in yeshiva, a bochur went to Tzefas before his wedding to daven at kivrei tzaddikim. On the way there, the car overturned. He was very badly injured.
“Rav Ovadiah came to speak at our yeshiva. After the drashah, as he was going to his car, I asked him for a brachah for the bochur. He thought a bit and then said, ‘There is nothing to bless him for. He has finished his purpose in the world. There is nothing for him to do here.’ An hour or two later, it was announced that the bochur passed away.”
Rav Chakak discussed how Rav Ovadiah maintained his humility amidst the trappings of greatness.
“Everyone is used to seeing him as a king, as a kohein gadol,” he said. “But when he put on his rabbinical robe he used to say, ‘These are my work clothes.’ That’s how he regarded them, nothing more. When we sat at meetings and everyone was shouting and singing, the rav would sit and murmur pesukim such as, ‘Bring me not to pride.’ I heard him saying them all the time. Often, he shut his eyes. People thought he was tired. Actually, he did this purposely in order to avoid seeing the honor. He despised kavod. Sometimes, if he didn’t want to put on a tie or something like that and people said it wasn’t mechubad, he would say, ‘Mah ichpat li kavod?(What do I care for honor).’”
Rav Chakak spoke about Rav Ovadiah’s unique hasmadah.
“Almost every time we came to him, we found him awake and learning,” he said. “Sometimes he’d be taking a rest. Even at night, he’d only rest. It’s a mistake to think he had a ‘bedroom.’ The bedroom was a room to rest in, perhaps. He used to say, ‘Leave this for me to look at in my study room; leave this for me to look at in the bedroom. For him, the bedroom was a workroom.
“As a rule, he generally learned until at least two in the morning. Often, he would tell me to leave all sorts of teshuvot and pesakim people brought him in the bedroom. These were long teshuvot that a normal person would take at least a half-hour or hour just to go through, never mind to answer with sources. At six in the morning, the rav would tell me, ‘Quick! I want you to send this p’sak before the tefillah.’Ten minutes later, he’d ask, ‘Did you send it already? I don’t want them to wait.’ This is what he did in his bedroom between two and six in the morning. The rav barely slept at night. In the afternoon, he rested an hour or two. Like an angel of Hashem.
“When we came back late at night from a meeting in Chaifa or wherever it was, exhausted and worn out, at three in the morning, he was a thousand times more tired than me. Yet, I don’t remember one occasion in all these years that we came home and he didn’t sit down and learn.
“Food never interested him. You always had to call him in to eat; sometimes you had to plead with him to eat. ‘I’ll come in ten minutes,’ he would say. The ten minutes would turn into half an hour. After half an hour, he’d say, ‘Yes, I’m coming in ten minutes.’ This would turn into another half hour, another quarter hour. Sometimes, (his son) Rav Moshe would force him to come and eat. When something was in his head, you couldn’t break him away.”
What was the message Rav Ovadiah tried to transmit?
“Torah,” says Rav Chakak. “If you ask me what was his main message, he always imbued in us and his whole life centered around this, that the main thing is utilizing time and the value of Torah. The rav constantly said that everything is in the zechut of the Torah. If there’s no Torah, there’s nothing.
“If someone wanted a tikkun, he would say, ‘If your sin relates to Shabbat, increase your observance and learn hilchot Shabbat.’ If the person’s problem was purity, he would say, ‘Improve your observance of purity and learn the halachot of taharah. Everything revolved around halachah and Torah.’
“His purpose and what pressured him in his last years was to give generations the pure flour of Torah without machloket, true halachah. Sometimes, he cites minor authors whom no one heard of. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘but if I don’t mention him, people will say that if I had seen that question, I would surely have changed my mind. I don’t want people to say that I didn’t see and didn’t know.’ His last wish was that people should learn his seforim. He wrote them not for fame as an author, but to provide pure flour for generations.”
RAV ADDAS TRIED TO DISSUADE RAV OVADIAH FROM ENTERING POLITICS
During a hesped in his yeshiva, Rav Yaakov Addas, rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Kol Yaakov, spoke of his close bond with Rav Ovadiah and related how he tried to persuade Rav Ovadiah to keep away from the world of politics.
“When Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach’s wife passed away, I went to be menachem him,” he said. “Rav Shach was also there and wanted to speak to me. Afterwards,I went into Rav Shach’s car and he suggested I set up a moetzet of Sefardi roshei yeshiva for the purpose of establishing a party. I asked him if this was an order, and when he said it wasn’t, I told him I didn’t want to do this, because it would disturb my learning.
“Then Rav Shach went to Maran with the suggestion, and Maran agreed in order to be mekadeish Sheim Shomayim. After Rav Ovadiah consented, he came to me soliciting my help, saying, ‘You are a mavenin these matters.’ I told him that Rav Shach has asked me and I had refused. I added that if someone like myself, who was a maven,refused, how much more so does this apply to you, who is completely Torah. I even traveled to Rav Shach and said to him, ‘Rav Ovadiah is completely Torah. He has nothing in the world except learning.’ But he considered it as the saving of the generation and didn’t listen to me.”
Military affair reporter Yisroel Katzover recalled how senior army personnel went to Rav Ovadiah for advice.
“Senior army officials once presented him with a question that was military related (as far as they were concerned), but purely halachic (from his point of view),” he said. “The question was whether to do something connected with the possibility of freeing Gilad Shalit. Rav Yoseflooked at the officers and began asking questions that wouldn’t shame a general on the battlefield. He raised difficulties concerning their intelligence information and its reliability, and about the dangers posed not only for the soldier they wanted to rescue, but also for those trying to save him. The officers explained the dangers in detail. Then he gave them his definitive p’sak.
“When the officers were about to leave, he told them, ‘I can promise you that in the merit of asking daas Torah, Gilad Shalit will return home in peace and unharmed.’ Gilad Shalit’s father, who knew about everything and felt how Rav Ovadiah’sheart ached for his son, took his rescued son a few days after he returned and brought him to the rav for a bracha.’”
Decades ago, the rov of Yerushalayim, Rav Betzalel Zolty, told Rav Ovadiah that although a new mikvah had been built in the Neveh Yaakov neighborhood at the northern tip of Yerushalayim, it wasn’t being put to much use.
“Would you be agreeable to come with me and visit the neighborhood?” Rav Zolti asked him. That night, the two went knocking door to door. People were amazed to see the Rishon LeTzion and the city’s rov asking if they could come in for a chat. The mikvah was soon working at full capacity.
For Rav Ovadiah, studying halacha was of the essence. He opposed people spending too much time on other areas of learning. He once turned to an elderly Jew who was a big donor to Torah causes and gently asked him, “Do you set aside time for learning Torah?”
“Yes,” he answered, explaining that he attended a shiur given by a well-known rov in Tel Aviv.
“And what’s he teaching you?”
“Moreh Nevuchim,” came the reply.
“It would be better if he taught you halacha, the ways of life,” said Rav Ovadiah.
MK Meshulam Nahari of Shas recalled how Rav Ovadiah shed tears when he heard that pure Jewish chinuch might be in danger.
“In 1999, on Erev Tisha B’Av,at 5 o’clock in the afternoon, I heard that there was a danger that the Ma’ayan Hachinuch Hatorani was in danger of being closed. This was because of a bad report from the Ne’eman Committee. In the evening, after I returned from shul, I was told that Maran wanted me to pray Shacharit with him at the Yechaveh Da’at shul where he prayed in those days. At the beginning of Kinnot, the rav told me, ‘Follow me.’ He was extremely bothered by something. I went to his home and he said to me, ‘I heard of the report. There is danger the network might close. I didn’t sleep the whole night. I sat and wept. I want to know – how did get to reach such a stage?’ He began weeping again.
“I explained the significance of the report to him and said that with a recovery program in place, everything would be all right. But the rav was adamant. He sternly told me, ‘Get up now, leave everything, and go update Rav Badani [of the Moetzet] about the report. Afterwards, go to Rav Maya [the head of the network] and update him. Speak to them and let me know what course of action was decided at Minchah.’
“I returned and he still wasn’t at ease. ‘Chas vechalilah, where will these children go?’ he said. ‘Who will save them? What will happen to them?’”
To mark the end of the shivah of Rav Ovadiah, an estimated 120,000 people gathered on the streets of Yerushalayim for a massive atzeres hesped.
A 180-seat dais located at the corner of Rechov Shmuel Hanovi and Rechov Bar Ilan was graced by prominent rabbonim.
Speakers at the gathering included Rav Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron, former Sefardic chief rabbi of Israel; Rav Dovid Lau, Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel; Rav Binayahu Shmueli; Rav Berel Povarsky, rosh yeshiva of Ponovezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak; Rav Boruch Mordechai Ezrachi, rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Ateres Yisroel; Rav Moshe Tzadka, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Porat Yosef; the Belzer Rebbe; Rav Shalom Cohen, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Porat Yosef and senior member of Shas’ Moetzet Chachmei HaTorah; the Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe; Rav Shlomo Amar, former Sefardic chief rabbi of Israel; Rav Yaakov Tufik, rov of Beitar Illit; Rav Reuven Elbaz, rosh yeshiva of Mosdos Ohr Hachaim; and Rav Dovid Yosef, son of Rav Ovadiah. The final speaker was Shas Chairman Aryeh Deri.
Roads around the Sanhedria cemetery and dozens of surrounding treets were closed to traffic. Bus shelters were removed to prevent people from climbing on them.
Rav Ovadiah’s sons sat at the center of the large stage surrounded by members of the Shas Moetzetand dozens of roshei yeshiva and rabbonim.
Behind the stage was a giant portrait of Rav Ovadiah bearing the caption, “We are orphans with no father.” Thousands of yahrtzeit candles bearing the Shas slogan “To his light we’ll walk” were distributed.
During the event, Rav Dovid Yosef, Rav Ovadiah’s son, was added to the Shas Moetzet, which until now had three members, Rav Shimon Badani, Rav Shalom Cohen and Rav Moshe Maya. Aryeh Deri’s leadership of Shas was reaffirmed.
Rav Boruch Mordechai Ezrachi spoke of the last part of Rav Ovadiah’s life.
“Look at what he was concerned about,” he said. “Two things bothered him. First, the honor of the Torah. He was concerned that there should not be one Jew deprived of the chance to grow in Torah, boys and girls, the entire Klal Yisroel. Earlier, he was bothered to a huge extent by something else: the terrible decree of enlistment and other gezeiros. They want to break chareidim from being chareidi. We will not budge from our place. We will build more Torah and more yeshivas; this was what he wanted, morai verabbosai. He is surely sitting in heaven and praying on our behalf: Why break the Jews from their chareidi heritage! He is sitting and praying for us in shomayim. We must help him by cleaving to the devar Hashem.”
Rav Moshe Tzadka told the crowd to learn from Rav Ovadiah to be uninfluenced by passing trends.
“Suddenly, the sun has set and we are in darkness,” he said. “What do we do after the sun sets? We light candles. It helps somewhat. Our candles are to walk in the ways of the rav and his hatmadah.
“He never ceased for a moment. He was involved in Torah all the time. Don’t say this was because he was a great person. Not so. Every person according to his potential. Each person should accept upon himself to at least have set times for Torah study.
“Every generation has a special yeitzer hara. Once it was for idolatry. Today, it’s for impure electronic devices. The internet has destroyed families even in the chareidi camp. Don’t be impressed by fashion! Don’t be impressed by the street!…We, too, should not learn from the world’s nations…”
The Belzer Rebbe said that Rav Ovadiah was the Moshe Rabbeinu of the generation.
“The Torah of the great, revered Rabbeinu was a source of life that gave us life. As the Vilna Gaon explains in his sefer on Tikkunei Zohar, just as the sun rays bring light to the world, so, in every generation, a ray shines from Moshe Rabbeinu and one person in the generation provides light to all the talmidei chachomim of his generation. Just as sometimes the sun and stars shine, but black clouds cover their light so that people need to use candles, so do the wicked cover the sun’s light. Therefore, bnei Torah and talmidei chachomim must illuminate the world with candles so that we can learn the pages of Gemara, Shulchan Aruch, poskim, Rishonim and Acharonim. Then will be fulfilled the posuk which states, ‘All the horns of the wicked I will cut off, but the horns of the righteous I will lift up’(Tehillim 75:11).”
Rav Shalom Cohen burst into tears in the middle of his drashah and couldn’t speak for a few moments. He said, “He was the face of the sun. Who are we? But we must continue his way. Chas vechalilah, no Talmud Torah director should budge from the correct path. The rav left behind him a strong man, Rav Aryeh Deri. He relied upon him and believed in him, and gave him strength to do all he needed to do. We are the members of the Moetzet Chachmei Hatorah, may Hashem let us continue. Maran left sons after him, the Rishon LeTzion and talmidei chachamim. With Hashem’s help, we heard from him that he wanted his son, Rav David, to join the Moetzet Chachmei Hatorah.”
Rav Shlomo Amar spoke of his personal sorrow over Rav Ovadiah’s passing.
“Maran raised the generation with his two hands,” he said. “If not for him, Torah would have been forgotten from Yisroel. I can testify that even old rabbonim turned to him with shailot. He felt an obligation to answer every shailah that came before him. We think it was easy for him to give a halachic ruling. People didn’t see him toiling over every shailah, looking at the words of all the poskim. The reason he answered so many shailot was that he gave his eyes no sleep and never took vacations.
“I am sitting and weeping the whole week. When people come with shailot, to whom will we turn? There is no one in the world with shoulders as wide as his. We only ask that Moshiach come and redeem us.”
The Sanzer Rebbe said, “Maran returned the crown to its glory and raised the crown and glory of Yisroel not only for Sefardi Jewry, but for the whole Jewish world. Maran was unique in the past generation. Every second of his life was precious to him, yet he was Shmuel Hanovi who went out to the people to strengthen them.”
Rav David Yosef, newly crowned member of the Moetzet, promised to continue his father’s legacy.
“We will continue in Abba’s path,” he said. “We will rule according to his path and go according to the rulings of the Shulchan Aruch. Please pray on our behalf. We will strive to have much love, brotherhood, peace, and friendship. On the other hand, I call upon the tzibbur to unite under the leadership of the Moetzet Chachmei HaTorah. With Hashem’s help, we, the members of the Moetzet, will continue in Abba’s path.”
Rav Berel Povarsky spoke of Rav Ovadiah’s incredible love for Torah and the unending toil he invested plumbing its depths, describing him as the manhig of all of Yahadus Seforad in our day. He said, “Each generation has its dorshim, chachomim and manhigim. Rav Ovadiah was all three, the doresh hador, manhig hador and from the chachmei hador.”
Rav Dovid Lau said that Rav Ovadiah was a shining example for generations and unique in his ability to share his tremendous Torah knowledge with Klal Yisroel.
Aryeh Deri spoke of Shas’ past achievements and announced that the Ma’ayan Hachinuch network would be named after Rav Ovadiah.
“Look what happened in the past few decades. Today, the Sefardim of eighth grade outnumber the Litvishe and chassidim combined. Look at the pride he instilled in us. The great admorim and roshei yeshivot said of him in their hespeidim that he was ‘the warrior of Torah and shield of the yeshivot.’ Who believed this would happen…
“He gave hundreds and thousands of bnei Torah confidence to open yeshivot and kollelim, to become dayanim, and to lead kehilot in Eretz Yisroel and worldwide… Let us not forget that when Maran was in hospital, he asked for two things: to continue Judaism and to stand at the side of the poor. How many tears he shed at the annulment of stipends [for bnei Torah]. He cried out, ‘Where will they get bread?’ We must continue this will to disseminate Torah and to continue standing at the side of poor families. If there is no flour, there is no Torah. If there is no shalom bayit, there is no chinuch of children.
“Rabbotai, after speaking to the Moetzet and with Maran’s children, we thought of the least we could do to memorialize Maran and do something in that direction. We thought that the most important thing to Maran was chinuch of Jewish children. How he wept during the past months over all the difficulties. From his sickbed, he spoke with senior officials and begged them to have mercy of Jewish children. Therefore, we decided that the Ma’ayan Hachinuch Hatorani will now also be known as Bnei Yosef. May the Maayan Hachinuch Hatorani-Bnei Yosef network go on to new successes.”
A simple mazteivah was placed on the kever Monday morning.
It has been decided that Rav Ovadiah’s private shul will continue to function under the leadership of his son, Rav Yitzchok, the new Sefardic chief rabbi, who will continue the tradition of Rav Ovadiah’s daily shiur. He will also pasken shailos and deliver his father’s famous internationally-broadcast Motzoei Shabbos shiur.