By Baruch Gordon
In 1995, I attended the funeral of the great Torah sage of Israel Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. An estimated 300,000 attended. I thought there would never be another funeral like it.
Tonight, I participated in the funeral of the great Sephardic Torah sage Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef. Police estimate that 600,000 people attended. Can you imagine one tenth of the population of a country attending a funeral? One tenth of Israel’s Jews made their way to Jerusalem to pay respects to one of the greatest Torah sages of the generation.
Rav Ovadya Yosef
Rabbi Auerbach was a Rabbi of yeshivas, of learners of Torah. Rabbi Ovadiah touched the common man - the working class. While his Torah writings and halachic decisions are studied in every yeshiva in the world, he spoke to “amcha” – the people on the street.
That’s why amcha came out this evening to attend his funeral alongside all the yeshivas which emptied out to honor Rabbi Ovadiah’s last journey to his final place of rest.
One of his sons told the following story:
“When Abba (Dad) was 79-years-old, he suffered his first heart attack. We rushed him to the hospital and, upon arrival, the doctors determined that he needed urgent bypass surgery. Abba asked to first go home for three hours, and then do the surgery. We pleaded with him, ‘Abba, don’t postpone it. What possible reason could there be to justify postponing an urgent bypass operation?’
“Abba answered that he was in the middle of writing a response to permit an agunah to re-marry. He said, ‘When I go into the hospital for heart surgery, I don’t know how and when I will come out. But if I don’t grant this agunah a permit to marry, who will do so in my place? Who will guarantee that she will be set free? Who will care for her situation?”
To the doctors utter shock, the Rabbi returned home for three hours to sum up in his responsa all the Jewish legal reasons that this women is no longer bound to her husband. Only then did he return to the hospital and undergo surgery.
I think that is the most insane story I have heard about love of a fellow Jew.
May his memory be for a blessing, despite the strong political disagreements…