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Years of Absence: Rav Ovadia Yosef and His Many Facets

Published on Friday November 20th, 2020

On the occasion of the yahrzeit (anniversary of passing) of our teacher Rav Ovadia Yosef, the Torah-Box team is happy to take you on a short journey into the fascinating life of one our greatest intellectuals. Whoever speaks of the Tzaddik on the day of his Hillula will be mentioned in his prayers. Light a candle and say "Lichvod haRav Ovadia, zechuto taguen aleinu" then pray. May his merit protect all of Klal Israel, Amen!

It may well be that the most incredible aspect of Maran Rav Ovadia Yosef's multifaceted personality was his extraordinary ability to manifest totally opposite traits. A rare skill that few people over generations have been endowed with.

On the one hand, he could be absorbed in his Limud (study) in an unparalleled way, even to the point of not noticing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his delegation entering the room; at the same time he could frequent the necessary political assemblies. One could say he had his feet on the ground and his mind devoted to Heaven.

Like Reed ... or Steel

Rav Ovadia was a man of inherent duality. He could, on the one hand, be flexible like reed with each and every one, and, on the other hand, be hard as steel when it came to the holiness of his people. He would be sensitive to a baby’s cries and at the same time, remain unfazed when faced with the threat of a rebellious butcher. He was able to write a profound answer to an Aguna (wife whose husband disappeared), as well as sit with a little orphan and chuckle with him. He could invest in Kiruv (rapprochement to Judaism) for hundreds of thousands of people, while at the same time being fully focused on the Teshuvah of a single Jew; visit a Ba'al Teshuva on his way back from a lecture to a large audience, while encouraging his wife to take the television out of the house.

He was fit to be present as Gadol Hador for the Rabbanim and those who were dedicated solely to the study of the Torah, while being a true guide for the ba'alei batim and the simpler people. Rav Ovadia also wrote various progressive and enlightened books - such as the Yabi'a Omer, addressed to the "Koulo Torah" (people who study the Torah throughout the day), as well as more accessible texts available to everyone, such as the crystal-clear Yechaveh Da'at. It was hard to believe at first, that it was the same author who tackled so many subjects and addressed them to all kinds of many people.

In theory, general knowledge of a subject is acquired at the expense of deeper understanding. But this was not the case in Maran's books. He combined an unprecedented knowledge with a profound and sharp understanding.

The Truth Only

Our teacher knew how to weave his way through the uncompromising limits of Halakha and be flexible at the same time. If he saw that one could not give permission on a specific subject, he would publish the prohibition everywhere.

Rav Yechezkel Avramski in his eulogy to the Gaon Rav Chaim of Brisk mentioned his character traits: "Anyone who knew the Gaon knows that it was impossible to define his temperament. One could not define - as one can for most human beings - whether he was merciful or cruel, miserly or generous, patient or angry, etc. Why was he so impossible to describe? He behaved as the Torah demands: in a manner appropriate to each situation, and therefore each time differently!"

This is exactly what Rav Ovadia personality was like as well. Even if it was contrary to his mood, he could still control his feelings and become whatever his Creator wanted him to be, and what his people needed him to be.

It seems that it was this gift of "transformation" that made him able to lead Am Israel with such brilliance.

In his book dedicated to Rav Ouziel (Meor Israel Drouchim, page 290), Rav Ovadia wanted to take it as an example, and with his golden pen, he wrote: "A great leader whom Hachem wants to honor is He who knows how to manage himself in all the circles of his people. He, who when surrounded by Bnei Torah and Talmidei Chachamim, knows how to find Hidushim (novelties in Torah) and converse at their level; by circling around the most humble and simple, one can fly his little ones out the nest like an eagle, telling them stories that would soften their hearts. This is how he would find a way to their hearts, communicating to each one in his own way, like a father who seeks the good of his child." Rav Ovadia embodied these words as we can see in the way he would conduct himself throughout his life.

May his merit protect us.

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