Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef and the Tears of the Oppressed
Yesterday, Rabbi Benny Lau wrote on Facebook a very moving post about Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef. The Israel Democracy Institute has translated the post and it is well worth reading. Below is an excerpt that gives a taste of what Rabbi Lau witnessed one day at Rav Ovadiah’s home.
The place: The home of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef on Hakablan Street in the Har Nof neighborhood of Jerusalem. The time: An afternoon in the year 2000. Rav Ovadia gets up from his afternoon nap, while I am waiting for another hour of guidance on the work that I have written about his teachings. In those days, I was fortunate to find favor in the eyes of all the members of his household. His daughter-in-law Yehudit, who was entrusted with his wellbeing and privacy, opened the door for me. The house was quiet and calm. Rav Ovadia came in from his bedroom and sat down in his chair.
Suddenly, there was a great commotion. Dozens of members of a family from a city in the South poured into the room. They crowded in and stood there with great excitement. I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about, until Rav Ovadia’s assistant, Zvi Hakak, explained the situation:
That morning, Rav Ovadia had decided the family’s fate. The family matriarch, a woman of about 80, had immigrated to Israel from France as a widow from World War II. Here in Israel, she remarried and built a large tribe that was a source of pride and joy—a family of children and grandchildren who engaged in Torah study and work; a family that was known for its admirable values and acts of kindness. Suddenly, it emerged that the evidence that the woman’s first husband had died during the war was unfounded; the “dead man himself had appeared.” A scenario that seemingly could only exist in Agnon’s story “And the Crooked Shall be Made Straight” was actually happening here in Israel. Following this revelation, all of the woman’s children and descendants were considered to have the status of “mamzer” according to Jewish law, as they were born of forbidden relations. A terrible tragedy. Rav Ovadia plunged into the thick of it, and after an intense process of inquiry and investigation that involved hearing testimony and cross-checking information, he liberated the family from their forbidden status. (This is not the place to describe how he freed them and the nature of their liberation from the status.)
Read the entire post in order to find out why Rabbi Lau concluded his post with the following:
It was a rare moment. A once in a lifetime experience. I was holding the hand of a man who felt, with all his being, the responsibility for those people who could be sentenced to a life of Gehinnom by the law of the Torah, when he was drawing on his sense of responsibility and intensity and was undertaking to be their protector and aid. This was the man, and this is his legacy. May his soul find rest and be bound up in the bond of eternal life.