By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
Although reportedly more than 800,000 people attended the funeral of Rav Ovadia Yosef, zt’l, we have not yet felt the impact of the loss. Each Motzaei Shabbat he would give a shiur both in the parashat ha’shavua and in halachah at the Yazdi Shul in the Bucharian section of Jerusalem.
This author went to him a handful of times. If he liked you, he would slap you. It has been said that the more he liked you, the harder he slapped. Others say that this is not true, however.
The atmosphere was one of a loving rosh yeshiva among his students. There was warmth, love, and the imparting of both hashkafah and halachah. The love and respect was intense and palpable.
Many attending the shiur had been doing so for decades. Most of these had originally come to Eretz Yisrael from the Kabbalistic city of Yazd in Iran. Many were descendants and relatives of the Ohr Shraga. Others had come just recently. Some came from the United States. In later years, however, the Motzaei Shabbat shiur was marred by a journalist or two bent upon putting Rav Ovadia in the worst light possible.
As he passed by, they kissed his hand in the manner that Sephardim do.
Aside from sharing his knowledge of halachah, the entire oeuvre of the responsa literature, and Shas, Rav Ovadia would weave midrashim into his review of the parashah. It was a beautiful tapestry, where the listener would become engrossed in the events of the parashah as if they had happened just yesterday.
A number of years ago, Rav Ovadia spoke about Parashat Vayeira. At this particular shiur, one could see Rav Ovadia’s love of people and his utter and complete dedication to the mitzvah of kiruv rechokim.
He asked, “And why did Avraham Avinu seek advice from Mamreh in regard to the b’ris milah? He actually sought from all three of his friends, Ener, Eshkol, and Mamreh.”
He answered: Our rabbis explained that certainly he wanted to perform the b’ris milah. But he was wondering whether to do it privately or publicly. Ener advised him to do it privately. Otherwise, people would say that it is a mitzvah of pain and agony. Thus, he was named Ener—inui nefesh ra.
Eshkol told Avraham that he had made many enemies—the four kings and many others had died in battle. Their kin would seek revenge. “When they hear that you are now physically weak, they will come after you. Avraham, my dear brother, you’ve got for yourself intense enemies.” In Hebrew this is achi, sonim kabirim lecha. Thus he was called Eshkol.
Mamreh advised him as follows: “Do the b’ris publicly and Hashem will heal you quickly. He commanded you to do it. He will heal you.” And so it was. Hashem healed him. Mamreh stands for mol (do the b’ris), maher refoecha Kel.
Rav Ovadia continued, explaining how Avraham Avinu begged Hashem for more guests in order to influence them and bring them to avodas Hashem. Avraham Avinu had certainly grown. Early in his kiruv rechokim career, he had lost patience with a 90-year-old man who would not give up his avodah zarah. Hashem had chastised Avraham Avinu. He said, “I had waited for him for 90 years. You cannot wait a few minutes?” Avraham Avinu improved himself and invited the person back. He apologized to him and admitted that he had not treated him well.
We see, from these two incidents, Avraham Avinu’s greatness. Avraham was mezakeh es ha’rabim—he would bring merit to the masses.
Rav Ovadia continued that there are kollel men who dedicate themselves to enlisting students in yeshivot and they go from house to house and bring people back to do teshuvah. “They get their strength from our forefather Avraham Avinu and there is no better thing than this. Their reward is very, very great and we should all strive to reach this level.” v
The author can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com.