“PLEASE HAVE MERCY ON ME”
Rav Ovadiah has been suffering from ill health since he fell two months ago and broke a vertebra. He was in and out of the hospital a few times since then with severe back pain. Because of his fragile health, doctors ordered his family to refrain from telling him of the passing of his younger brother, Naim Ovadiah, on the first day of Sukkos at the age of 92.
Nonetheless, for Rav Ovadiah, Sukkos was set to be a joyful chag. On the 12th of Tishrei, he celebrated his 93rd birthday and participated in the official appointment of his son, Rav Yitzchok Yosef, as Sefardi chief rabbi of Israel and saw him don the traditional silver embroidered robe and turban of Sefardi chief rabbis.
Despite suffering pain on the first day of Sukkos, it seemed that Rav Ovadiah was to celebrate the Yom Tov as usual together with his children and grandchildren. During the first seudah,he sang nigugnim and shared divrei Torah spiced with parables and stories. After the seudah,he blessed a daughter-in-law who helped prepare the meal with a traditional Syrian-Arabic bracha, “Salam idchi (May your hands be blessed).” During Chol Hamoed, hundreds came to daven at the shul located in the building in which he resides in Har Nof, Yerushalayim.
By the morning of Shabbos Chol Hamoed,Rav Ovadiah was suffering from intense pain and terrible weakness. Tefillos were held at his home with a small minyan. At one point during the day, he was administered oxygen. On Motzoei Shabbos,his personal doctor decided to hospitalize him at Hadassah Ein Kerem Medical Center due to dehydration that led to dangerously low blood pressure.
“Tonight, Rav Ovadiah Yosef was hospitalized again based on advice of his personal doctor due to his test results,” a hospital spokesperson announced. “The rov is undergoing therapy and observation in the intensive care wing.”
Rav Ovadiah’s family appealed for people to say Tehillim on his behalf. All over Eretz Yisroel, Yidden interrupted their Simchas Bais Hasho’eivah celebrationsto daven for his refuah.
On Sunday evening, Rav Ovadiah was implanted with a temporary pacemaker. His ailing heart was causing a breakdown of kidney function and threatened multiple failures of his body systems.
“Rav Ovadiah Yosef has successfully received a temporary pacemaker implanted due to irregularities in his heartbeat,” a spokesman announced. “The rov is fully conscious, his condition is stable. At the end of the procedure, he was returned for a continuation of therapy and observation in the intensive care unit.”
Tension spread. Special tefillah gatheringswere organized at the Kosel and at Rav Ovadiah’s bais medrash in Har Nof. Chief Rabbi Rav Yitzchok Yosef told people to stop visiting him in his sukkah and to say Tehillim instead.
Hearing that many people were davening for his zechus, Rav Ovadiah said, “Ashreichem Yisroel. How much they love me. Please have mercy on me and continue davening.”
DIALYSIS AND RESPIRATOR
On Monday of Chol Hamoed, Rav Ovadiah’s doctors determined that the pacemaker had not improved his kidney function and he was put on dialysis. During the long procedure, Rav Ovadiah said a bracha over the Arba Minim in the presence of his anxious family. In the afternoon, fluid collecting in his lungs made breathing difficult and doctors anaesthetized him and hooked him up to a respirator.
“The reason for the respirator is due to a deterioration in the rov’s breathing, which has become difficult for him,” a doctor explained at the time. “The respirator is not because of massive deterioration or in order to resuscitate him, but as a preventive measure to keep his condition stable. The rov’s condition is completely stable. His blood pressure is reasonable and he has a normal pulse.”
Nonetheless, upon hearing that their father had been sedated, Rav Ovadiah’s sons left a massive tefillah rally at the Kosel and rushed to the hospital to be at his side. Hundreds of concerned Jews showing up the hospital were told to leave.
At the suggestion of several prominent Sefardi rabbonim,including Rav Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron, Rav Shlomo Amar and Rav Reuven Elbaz, Rav Yosef’s son, Rav Yitzchok, decided to add Chaim to Rav Ovadiah’s name. From now on, people were told, they should daven for the refuah sheleimah of Rav Chaim Ovadiah Yosef ben Georgia.
“The doctors have done all they can,” Shas leader Aryeh Deri announced from the hospital. “We hope that with Hashem’s help, he will regain his health, but it depends very much on our tefillos. We must literally tear open the heavens and scream. He is the father of us all. He has dedicated his whole life to us. Now is the time to call out to Hashem with all our hearts, with crying and tears.”
Hundreds of children gathered in Yerushalayim’s Mussaioff Shul to daven for Rav Ovadiah’s refuah sheleimah. An official Simchas Bais Hasho’eivah and the Central Conference of Shas in Yerushalayim were canceled.
“How can we dance and rejoice when the rov is suffering?” said Eli Simchayoff, head of Shas in Yerushalayim. “Instead, we ask the tzibbur to come and cry out in prayer at the remnant of our Bais Hamikdosh, the Kosel,in a mass tefillah gathering to be held at 4 o’clock with the participation of gedolei Torah.”
Thousands heeded his call. Gedolei Yisroel of all kehillos called upon their followers to recite Tehillim. Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman asked for a Sefer Tehillim and began davening in tears, telling the people with him to do the same. Rav Chaim Kanievsky recited Tehillim and the Vizhnitzer Rebbe told his followers to remain after Maariv for Tehillim. The Belzer Rebbe recited Tehillim together with his chassidim and the Sanzer Rebbe instructed all the children, bochurim and avreichim of his institutions to daven on Rav Ovadiah’s behalf. Rav Shmuel Auerbach sat down to say Tehillim and canceled his participation in a Simchas Bais Hasho’eivah and hachnosas Sefer Torah he was due to attend.
“He is a once-in-a-generation personage,” said Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Rav Dovid Lau. “I ask every man and woman to momentarily set aside their Yom Tov celebrations and recite a perek of Tehillim for his recovery.”
Late Monday night, Rav Ovadiah showed signs of slight improvement and his family and associates were told they could leave. This news was followed by a slight worsening of his condition on Tuesday due to an infection in his lungs. News of Rav Ovadiah’s condition made the headlines that morning. Even the secular Yediot Acharonot devoted its first two pages to his condition under the heading, “Concern About Maran.”
“Our assessment at present is that his condition is severe,” said Dr. Dan Gilon, head of the hospital’s cardiology wing. “One of the manifestations of this is that we need to use a medication to maintain his blood pressure. Usually, that is not a good sign. An even worse sign in such an elderly man is the damage he has sustained in multiple organs: in the rav’s case, his kidneys, lungs and heart.
“The combination of requiring such drug therapy on an old patient, especially when his systems, including his kidneys and heart, are failing, is a bad sign,” he added.
Public tefillos never let up. Followers of Rav Ovadiah went to the kever of his wife, Rabbanit Margalit, to daven. At a bris where he was sandek, Rav Chaim Kanievsky said a special mi shebeirach. The Rebbe of Erloi said special Selichos on his behalf. In Bnei Brak, tefillos were recited at the kevorim of the Chazon Ish, the Steipler Gaon, and Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach.
The Moetzes Chachmei Hatorahof Shas requested for people “to dedicate the night of Hoshanah Rabbah, the night of the sealing of Heavenly decree, to learning and davening for the refuah of Maran.” About 1,200 Jews visiting Yosef Hatzaddik’s kever in the Arab city of Sh’chem to celebrate the day of his ushpizin and say special tefillos for Rav Ovadiah. Roshei yeshiva of the yeshivos of Ponovezh and Chevron told bochurim to say Tehillim.
WAITING FOR A MIRACLE
On Wednesday, Hoshanah Rabbah, Rav Yitzchok Yosef spoke at a huge prayer gathering and urged the thousands there to daven with tears.
“When we see the tremendous mesirut nefesh the rav has for the Sefardi public and how he restored its glory, and when we see his present condition in the hospital, how can we remain apathetic? How can we not tear open the heavens with tears and pleadings to leave him with us for many more years? I asked one of the big professors at Hadassah, ‘Tell me the truth: What’s the situation?’ He responded, ‘According to medical statistics, it is very severe. Most don’t get out of this. But by you religious Jews, I don’t know statistics. You have prayer. I don’t know what will happen.’
“Rabbotai! This is the only thing we can rely upon – your tefillos and those of the whole Klal Yisroel, and your kabbalot. Every person must pray and cry out. How he devoted himself to us. The time has come for us to devote ourselves. Each one must tear the heavens, pray with tears, and not be indifferent. May Hashem grant him good and long life so that we may enjoy the light of his Torah.”
“We are going through very difficult days,” said another son, Rav Dovid Yosef. “As for us, the family, these have been difficult months. Since our father fell [and broke a vertebra two months ago], watching his daily, indescribable torment has been heartbreaking. We need him; we don’t have anyone who can continue his path. When we asked him questions or for advice, within a minute it would be as if he had just studied the issue. He would analyze, bring forward sources, and make decisions about Jewish law. There is hope, but there is also a chance that it will take time. Therefore, we mustn’t stop. We must continue to pray.”
On Simchas Torah, Shas leaders and Rav Ovadiah’s family stayed in a room normally used by hospital staff in order to remain close by. The hospital announced that out of respect for Rav Ovadiah, it would issue no medical updates over the coming days ofYom Tov. His condition remained unchanged over Simchas Torah, but doctors said that there was hope he would recover. It would not be in a day or two and it would take time, but there was hope.
Over Shabbos, doctors reduced Rav Ovadiah’s blood pressure medicine and anesthesia and his condition improved slightly. He spent time breathing without a ventilator and family members said that he pressed their hands.
“A quiet Shabbos passed,” said Dr. Gilon. “In general, we would define his condition as severe to very severe, but there are several indications that indicate a trend of improvement. I say this with caution. There is a trend of improvement in several areas, most importantly his awakening after his anesthesia. Other indications show a drop in the extent of infection, and the dosage of medicine to keep his blood pressure raised has been reduced.”
At 8 p.m. Sunday night, yet another huge tefillah gathering was held at the Kosel. Over 350 busses brought thousands of Jews from all over the country to join the myriads pleading for Rav Ovadiah’s full recovery. Tens of thousands filled the entire area from the entrance to the Kosel itself.