A Glimpse Into The Incredible Life Of Maran Harav Ovadia Yosef Zt”l

Rabbi's Thoughts
  • Smaller Small Medium Big Bigger
  • Default Helvetica Segoe Georgia Times

Greatness is the word that comes to mind when reflecting upon the incredibly impactful life of Chacham Ovadia Yosef, zt”l. His passionate love for Torah and deep compassion and sensitivity for every single Jew left us with a void that we can never fill.

In the 1950s, many were throwing off Torah and mitzvot. Jewish families were pulling their children out of Torah schools; however, Rav Ovadia was determined to bring every neshamah back. The gadol set his mind to offer a Torah education to as many Sephardic Jews as he could reach. This led him to launch the Maayan HaChinuch HaTorani, a network of 650 schools throughout Eretz Yisrael providing a Torah education. In 2010, there were over 50,000 boys and girls enrolled in these yeshivot. Yet, this was not enough for the rav as he found many teens on the streets involved in drugs and crime. Rav Ovadia opened El Hamayan as a program to help the struggling youth by creating social activities, after school programs, day camps, and of course Torah learning opportunities to be able to save these special neshamot.

One time, there were a few boys on a Shabbat morning playing soccer in the field. One boy kicked the ball so hard that it traveled all the way to the shul right next door. As Rav Ovadia was exiting, the ball hit the rav in the head knocking off his hat. The boys started laughing at the rabbi, but Rav Ovadia put a smile on his face, went over to the boy and said, “You look hungry, do you want to come over to my home for the Shabbat meal?” While the boy was a little cynical, he replied, “You know, I really am hungry,” and he proceeded to accept the invite. That night, with nowhere to sleep, Rav Ovadia and his rebbetzin offered the youth warmth and shelter. This care and concern went on day in and day out until finally the Yosefs ended up marrying off the once struggling youngster. Touched by the generosity, the boy was inspired to start learning Torah eventually becoming a dayan in Yerushalayim. 12 other boys in similar situations were shown incredible care by Rav Ovadia and his wife impacting their lives tremendously as they slowly etched back onto Hashem’s path.

Chacham Ovadia’s love for every Jew took on another aspect. In 1973, during the Yom Kippur War, there were close to a thousand Israeli soldiers whose bodies were not found or who were unidentifiable. This left their young wives as agunot, women who cannot re-wed. Rav Ovadia took on his shoulders the extraordinary task of trying to find a heter to allow each one of these young ladies to remarry. For a person with so much sensitivity and love for another Jew, every single case was extremely difficult for the revered rav. According to his family, Rav Ovadia would often be seen crying uncontrollably while sifting through photographs attempting to locate a solitary piece of evidence that could allow an agunah to marry again.

Freeing agunot became Rav Oviadia’s life mission. Approximately 14 years before his petirah, Rav Ovadia suffered a heart attack requiring an emergency surgery. Before going under anesthesia, the rav insisted on returning to his home for three hours. When asked for an explanation, the rav responded, “I am in the middle of writing a teshuvah (halachic responsa) to free an agunah. What will happen if the surgery fails, and I do not make it? Who will have mercy on this woman and allow her to remarry?” The doctor acquiesced and the operation ensued thereafter.

With all of Rav Ovadia’s remarkable love for klal Yisrael and the immense responsibilities as Chief Rabbi, his passion for Torah learning was foremost, reportedly studying 18-hours daily as his days neared their end.

“You need to stop reading from the books for a few months and then your eyes will be much better,” were the doctor’s order when complications with Rav Ovadia’s eyes persisted. The aging sage looked pointedly at the physician and powerfully uttered, “I do not think I can accept your recommendation. What would you do if a doctor told you to stop breathing for several months due to lung issues? To me, Torah is just like breathing!”

Sadly, on the third of Cheshvan 5774 the Torah world lost Chacham Ovadia Yosef. Over 850,000 people packed the streets of Yerushalayim to pay their final respects. Astonishingly, secular Jews were seen crying hysterically over the immeasurable loss.

Rav Ovadia was responsible for the phenomenal growth of today’s flourishing Sephardic community, with tens of thousands of Torah families observing Torah and mitzvot. Let us always remember the spectacular life of the Chacham, his great commitment to Torah study, and his dedication to the growth of klal Yisrael. Take a moment to ask yourself, “What can I do to be a little more like Chacham Ovadia Yosef, zt”l.

Rabbi Yaakov Moskowitz is a motivational speaker who has inspired Jews around the world through his engaging lectures and videos on a wide array of practical Jewish topics. To receive Rabbi Moskowitz’s short clips, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..