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The Last Rosh Hashanah of Rav Ovadia Yosef: Drenched in Suffering ...

Published on Tuesday December 10th, 2019

A brown armchair. This is what you will find at the entrance of the office of Rav Moshe Klein, Rav of the Hadassah Hospitals in Jerusalem.

"You know who sat in this armchair here?" Rav Klein asks emotionally. It served a prominent person. This is the chair which Maran Rav Ovadia Yosef sat on when he studied Torah during his stay at the hospital. It was exclusively his. After his death, the hospital did not want to give this seat to anyone else and it was placed here".

It's been a few years since Maran’s light has died out and left us orphaned. Sadness and shock still torment our souls. For the Rav of the Hadassah hospitals, in which Maran stayed until the twilight of his illustrious life, Maran's sorrow and memories are still present, as if it had happened yesterday. Today, for the first time, he opens up his heart and tells us about Maran's behaviour in the last stages of his illness, including the most painful ones.

The Spirit of the 8th Floor
"Whenever I go to the intensive care room on the eighth floor in which Maran "Yabia Omer" passed away, I always say when opening the door that I may still find him in the room," says Rabbi Klein.

"Sometimes, you could see that his whole body was suffering; he would bite his lips and groan in pain. But I also saw that even though his body was being tortured, anguished and weakened, his mind remained strong and powerful.

“I can testify that even though the pain was unbearable, he did not at any time forsake his Limud Torah. Sometimes we would enter his room and it was like he wouldn’t even detect our presence. He was completely absorbed in his Gemara. He did not see at all what was going on besides his study, even if you were making noise in the room."

Is it safe to say that Maran was as much connected to the words of Rabbah and Rabbi Zirah (of the Talmud Sages) as to his infusion?

"I would even say a little more than his infusion, corrects Rav Klein. An infusion can detach and become useless. In Maran’s case, the situation was permanent, the connection was resolutely inseparable. He sat on that chair and studied endlessly.

Even when he was very weak physically, and the pain would attack him relentlessly, he held his Gemara with his right hand raised and continued to study while bedridden. Every time I went into his room, he would tell me, "Rabbi Moshe, pray for me. "Were not Your Torah my occupation, then I would have perished in my affliction.” (Tehillim 119,92) With all the ills that afflict me, only the Torah is keeping me afloat." Upon hearing those words exiting his mouth, I started shaking ...

I remember hearing Maran describe one of our greatest wise men today as a "monument of Oraita" (Aramaic term for Torah). Upon seeing Maran immersed in his study at the hospital, I thought, so was he!

I'm not ready to forget the day after the last fast of Guedalia of his life. The Rav thanked me for what I did for him on Rosh Hashanah. We had monopolized the doctor's office and a meeting room to turn them into a makeshift synagogue. After the Shofar was blown, Maran gave a magnificent religious sermon, which lasted more than an hour. He felt great gratitude for the organization of this extraordinary tefila; so, the day after the holidays, he hugged me and even kissed the back of my hand, before I had time to kiss his own. I left his room and burst into tears."

The voice of the Rav is broken by sobs. It seems that it is difficult for him to speak. The continued absence he feels is still intense.

"Tell the Doctors to Let Me Go”

"What I am about to tell here, I saw with my own eyes. On the eve of Maran's last Rosh Hashanah, he was suffering severely. However, he did not want to stay in the hospital. He asked me almost beggingly to ‘tell the doctors to release me because it would be a great joy for the people of Israel." This was obviously out of the question. His illness was at its peak. But all that mattered to him then was not his person or his bitter sufferings; he was only concerned with the feelings of his people. He wanted people to celebrate the holiday with joy and bliss.

After Maran fully realized that the state of his health would force him to spend the holiday in the hospital, he urged life to continue its normal course and the joy of the holiday not to be diminished because of his illness. At that same moment, Maran ordered all his relatives to return home to undergo the necessary preparations for the holiday, so that it does not miss anything of the traditional signs for the New Year. This is how he also ordered the great Paytan (liturgical singer), Rabbi Moshe Chabusha, to conduct the prayers in his Beth Hamidrash, as he does every year.

As we are talking about his last Rosh Hashanah, I will mention another point in this regard: "Please, pass me Bennett on the phone.” he asked me urgently the day before the Day of Judgment. “We are on the eve of the New Year, and perhaps now, he will have the guts to do something about the draft enactment decree of Bahourei Yeshiva, I would like to say a few words to him." This is what Maran was preoccupied with, at the peak of his grave illness, just hours away from the Jewish New Year."

"Thank You Very Much" - For Every Injection

Did you gather any specific impressions from Hadassah’s non-religious doctors?

"I'll tell you: a lot of the doctors at Hadassah Hospital do not wear a kippa, but some of them do study Torah. They all really show great dedication to save and heal patients, no matter what. Because of this, we must praise them at every moment. Some even engaged in a dialogue with Maran. They were always amazed at his nobility, his wisdom, his intelligence, and the exhilarating expression that emanated from his face. He smiled often. They often received from him his famous little affectionate pats. They understood very well that he was an exceptional man of our generation.

The doctors treated him with great professionalism, but also with infinite respect. And with a keen sense of the heavy responsibility that weighed on them to heal one of the spiritual leaders of Am Israel.

At the end of the orthopaedic surgery that Maran underwent a few months before his death, an emotional nurse came to me stating that "I had never seen a person of such greatness. We have prepared Maran for his operation, and everyone, of course, would feel uncomfortable in such a compromising situation. But him, no, not at all." With each injection, he would thank us in a very cordial, yet at the same time warm manner. ‘God bless you!’ is how he would react to them." The nurse did not really know the depth of Maran's teachings. He just recognized his human behaviour, constant, simple. Maran had a deep appreciation for the people who were good to him. "

The Enthronement of a Cancelled Sefer Torah

Rav Klein adds: "If only your readers would have any idea of how much Maran suffered, and groaned in pain, while simultaneously making immense efforts to study Torah. Not even the most imaginative mind could come up with this.”

There must have been dilemmas and questions regarding medical ethics at the hospital. Did you ask him what his opinion was on these issues?

"Of course, there were often dilemmas. Countless questions on topics such as respect for the Shabbat, a dead person's impurity (for the Kohanim), halachic determination of the moment of death, nurses going to work on Shabbat and wishing to return home, and so on, occurred during his stay at the hospital. Moreover, even for himself, the question arose as to whether he could return home on the second day of Rosh Hashanah as he wished. You probably know that it takes a whole library to get the answer. But that's exactly what he was.

Out of respect for Maran, I will not quote him entirely, but of course, there were many questions. That being the case, I cannot broadcast his answers in the public domain. First of all, because I know his answers take place in a context in which the circumstances may vary from case to case. Each subject must, therefore, be cautiously contemplated.

The very day that Maran passed away, there was supposed to be an inauguration of a Sefer Torah at the hospital. For obvious reasons, the ceremony was however cancelled. Instead of inaugurating a new one, we returned a Sefer Torah to his last resting home.”

The Torah-Box Team - © Torah-Box

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