Our community, the entire Sephardic community and world Jewry have all sustained a monumental loss. Most will agree that Hacham Ovadia zt”l is irreplaceable. He was yahid bedoro (unique in his generation). The Rabbi’s ability to marshal sources and solve complex halachic issues simply and straightforwardly was a rare talent indeed. But truth to tell, his towering personality transcends even his great halachic accomplishments.
Yes, those who mourn still have his halachic works to comfort them. These volumes will serve as a source of inspiration for the next generation and generations thereafter. The talmid hacham who studies Hacham Ovadia’s works will be on-goingly, overawed by the erudition and scholarship.
More significantly, as the rabbis study more and more, Hacham Ovadia’s philosophy of pesak halachot will emerge. Fundamental questions will be asked and answered: how did he approach a halachic question, the same as Rav Moshe Feinstein or differently? How did he choose his sources? What were the underlying values upon which he based his teshuba (rulings)? Rabbi Binyamin Lau, Rabbi of the Ramban Synagogue in Jerusalem, has been analyzing these questions for the past 15 years in close collaboration with Hacham Ovadia zt”l. His efforts and those of others will further crystallize and solidify Hacham Ovadia zt”l as the eminent posek hador.
However, for those who do not have access to the Rabbi’s great scholarship, for those who cannot easily peruse his work, the loss is felt, in some sense, all the more profoundly. Having no sefarim to comfort, most of the millions who mourn him only have the memories and recollections of when they were fortunate enough to hear him speak. His dignity, eloquence, and words of Torah deeply impressed the listener, providing those in attendance an unforgettable experience.
Hacham Ovadia zt”l visited our synagogue on a number of occasions. Each occasion was a memorable event. Each dibrei Torah represented a pearl of musar wisdom that inspired us to become better people and better Jews. Amazing for me, as Rabbi of the synagogue, was to see how he connected on that level to the average Jew. It was a rare gift, indeed.
More so, this desire to connect with “amcha,” was one of Hacham Ovadia’s primary motivating factors. The will to bond with people energized him. He not only labored arduously to write numerous halachic works but also committed himself to the concerns of the millions of Jews whose bond to Judaism had been weakened. Hacham Ovadia zt”l studied with talmedi hachamim and furthered halachic scholarship by leaps and bounds, but he also maintained a close relationship with Am Israel. Note well, how many secular Jews, unaffiliated Jews, millions, attended the levaya and hespedim. They, too, became part of his inner Torah circle.
Hacham Ovadia zt”l translated this ability into a political movement, known as the Shas Party, an effort that unified and galvanized Sephardim throughout Israel and the world. He gave status and stature to millions of Sephardim. Having this personality and the uncommon instinct to be able to relate to so many different people, in effect, transformed the political and social landscape of Israel. None can deny Hacham Ovadia’s impact in these arenas. For a gadol hador to connect so intimately with the emunah temima Jew is rare among gedole olam.
As we mourn the loss of Hacham Ovadia zt”l, we are comforted in knowing that we still have his sefarim. Each one of us should commit to study some element or aspect of halacha through the eyes of Hacham Ovadia zt”l, if not on our own, then with a rabbi or havruta. And we are also comforted to know how much good he did for Sephardim in Israel and for the Jewish people worldwide. We thank Bore Olam for the rare treasure He lent us these past ninety-three years. Yehi zichrono baruch.