Translation by Yehoshua Siskin
Today marks seven years since the passing of Rav Ovadia Yosef. Here are a few stories about him and his legacy:
• When he would get up to speak, thousands would stand on their feet to cheer and applaud. For many long minutes they would sing and dance in his honor. His close aides would relate that as he strode to the podium to speak, he would whisper to himself: “Ovadia is dust and ashes, Ovadia is dust and ashes.” A constant reminder not to be blinded by honor, praise, and fame.
• With my own eyes I once saw him cry in front of a crowd of thousands. “A million Jewish children in Israel and throughout the world do not know how to say Shema Yisrael,” he said tearfully. The fact that this basic knowledge was not the inheritance of everyone was painful to him. Therefore the purpose of his life was not only personal study, but to make accessible what he learned to everyone. He saw in this the explanation for his success in learning: “If I was privileged to learn something in the Torah it was only because I worked hard in order that others would understand the Torah that I learned.”
• A story from one of his children: “On the first night he spent in the hospital, we saw that he was very upset. We asked him what was wrong and he answered, ‘I have no books.’ We ran to bring him a few volumes of Talmud so that he would feel better.”
• His funeral was the largest public event in the history of modern Israel. I saw half a million people in the streets and I heard the explanation for this afterwards from his daughter Rivka: “As children we would argue with each other in whispers in order not to disturb father from learning Torah. Despite this, there was one thing to which he was more devoted than Torah — the public. And so the public returned the love he had given them for 93 years. He cried with barren women, encouraged the hard up and unemployed, blessed with deep concern children who struggled in their studies. This will sound exaggerated, but we once tried to calculate how many people he personally advised and encouraged throughout his life and concluded that the number was in the hundreds of thousands.”
In his memory.