Empowering Greatness

(Torah Portion Lech Lecha) Empowering Greatness!

How does one merit having close to a million people attend his funeral in just a few hours’ notice?

The world renowned Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, a Sefardic Talmudic scholar, authority on Jewish law and spiritual leader, passed away this past Monday and almost a million people paid their respects to him. The funeral of this great man was attended by almost one sixth of the Jewish population in Israel!

What is it that brings such popularity and recognition to a person? Some might say that it was his political involvement in the Shas party that he formed many years ago. But based on the broad cross-section of people who attended his funeral, it is obvious that he was respected by Jews of every affiliation.

In truth, this man did not stop studying Torah, day and night. He published works expounding on his encyclopedic knowledge of Torah, and every Saturday night he broadcast a Halachic presentation that was listened to by the masses, all Jews.

Torah is our most unifying bond.

Rabbi Ovadia encouraged and led Sefardic Jewry throughout his adult life and saw the stunning results of his efforts. He would cajole the people to study Torah and to send their children to schools to study Torah. He would declare, “Taste it, and you will see that it is good.”

A story regarding Rebbe Ovadia’s destiny which is always dear to my heart:

As a teenager Ovadia studied at the Yeshiva Porat Yosef, where he quickly advanced to the highest class taught by the Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Ezra Attiya (1885-1970), one of the greatest 20th century teachers of Torah in the Sephardic Jewish world. The diligent, brilliant, budding scholar, Ovadia, suddenly stopped coming to Yeshiva. After several days, his teacher Rabbi Attiya became concerned and paid a visit to his home. He was shocked by the poverty he saw there.

Ovadia’s father explained that he ran a small grocery and needed the boy to work for him. Rabbi Attiya attempted to convince the father of the importance of Torah study, but to no avail.

The next morning, when Ovadia’s father entered his store, he was shocked to find Rabbi Attiya, the Rosh Hayeshiva standing there, wearing a work apron and waiting on customers.

Ovadia’s father couldn’t understand why he was there. Rabbi Attiya explained to him that he had come to the store to to replace Ovadia so that he could return to Yeshiva. “Your son’s learning Torah is more important than my time!” the Rosh Yeshiva told the father. Ovadia’s father realized the importance and value of the matter and allowed his son to continue his studies.

It has been a few years since I read this story and I often wonder what if Rabbi Attiya wouldn’t have gone to check up on Ovadia or had given up after his father told him that he needed him.

Now I wonder, had he not been given the opportunity to return to his studies, if almost a million people would have paid respects at his funeral.

It is the Torah that he studied and disseminated that brought him his fame.

In this week’s Parsha, G-d instructed our forefather Avraham to leave his homeland, promising him many blessings. One of the blessings was, “I will make your name greater.”

Rashi, our foremost commentator on Torah, explains that G-d gave Avraham this blessing because usually when people are in flux, busy traveling and settling in a new land, the effectiveness of their influence and reputation is diminished. G-d assured Avraham that his travels will not weaken the success of spreading the Monotheistic belief of G-d to the masses.

Another explanation of “I will make your name greater,” is that Avraham’s original name was Avram, which connotes that he was the ‘Father of the country of Aram.” G-d was now alluding that He was going to extend Avram’s name by adding a letter Hey – thus it will be Avraham – which means the father to all nations of the world who will believe in the Almighty.

G-d promised our forefather Avraham that his great name will live on for eternity and in fact we see it continue within our prayers and our study of his exemplary life. By the same token, our great Torah Sages’ names continue to live on through their teachings, writings, righteous examples and deeds.

Wishing you a restful, peaceful
and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks