Jerusalem – In a special and rare interview in honor of the 90th birthday of R’ Ovadia Yosef, R’ Shlomo Amar, the Rishon L’Tzion and Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel told Israeli news source B’chadrei Chareidim that “Hakadosh Baruch Hu saw the sins of our generation and sent us R’ Ovadia Yosef, a neshama so lofty and unique, to bring merit to our generation with his glory and splendor.”
R’ Amar spoke eloquently about his mentor, who is credited with uplifting Sefardic Jews of this generation, choosing his words with care.
B’Chadrei Chareidim: What is the main thing that makes his views unique?
R’ Amar: Over the years, Sefardic Jewry grew estranged from the ways of the Shulchan Aruch, adopting various customs. Maran waged war successfully against this and in his merit, practices in which people had become lax over the years, are now being upheld. He strengthens and encourages the youth as well, enforcing the ways of old.
B’Chadrei Chareidim: What is the main thing you learned from Rav Yosef?
R’ Amar: The greatness of Rav Yosef is such that one cannot even hope to be like him. His greatness is unique in our generation and there is simply no one else like him. What I did learn from him is to try to bring our people closer, to go out in public and to speak, to give over the words of Torah with great love, something Rav Yosef has constantly encouraged me to do.
I also learned from him not to worry about what people will say but to think about the truth and to do everything l’shem shomayim. We need only need to concern ourselves with what the HaKadosh Baruch Hu will think of our words and actions.
B’Chadrei Chareidim: Can you share with us a special story about Rav Yosef?
R’ Amar: Quite a few years ago, when I served as an Av Beis Din in Petach Tikva, I would go every day to give shiurim and inspirational sermons in Shuls and Yeshivos. I spent so much time on this that my own learning suffered, which pained me deeply. One Shabbos I was in Yerushalayim and during mincha I picked up a new sefer written by R’ Yonasan Eibshitz. I opened it up and on that page, R’ Eibshitz wrote “with all my learning and all the piskei din that I write, there is no time as valuable as the time spent offering words of inspiration to strengthen the tzibur. This is equal in importance to all my learning.”
I was quite surprised and I marveled at the fact that I opened up the sefer to this exact page at a time when I was feeling so despondent about this exact matter. After Shabbos I traveled with Rav Yosef and I told him what happened. He told me “I also feel great pain about this exact thing. There is so much time that I am not learning Torah because I am devoting so much time to inspiring the public.” In fact Rav Yosef wrote in his sefer that the Ben Ish Chai came to him in a dream and told him that educating the public makes a great impression in the heavens and is very dear to Hashem. The Ben Ish Chai commanded Rav Yosef to continue his holy work of inspiring the public.
R’ Amar also spoke about the tempestuous nature of some of Rav Yosef’s words.
“When Rav Yosef says that if you are michalel Shabbos this and this will happen, he is not cursing anyone who is michalel Shabbos. He is warning people, just as a father who sees his son playing with electrical wires admonishes him that what he is doing is dangerous.”
In an interview with Ynet, Rav Amar gave another explanation for Rav Yosef’s fiery words.
“Anyone who understands the mentality of elderly Iraqi Jews understands that Rav Yosef is not cursing anyone who does not heed his words. It is difficult for people of another culture to understand, but the Rav knows his audience well. Sometimes he might say not to follow a particular custom and it is taken in a very sharp way, which was not intended. But why out of an entire address do they focus on just those words? From thousands and thousands of words of Torah, these are the only words they find important?”
For a photo display of the many years of Rav Ovadia’s life click here