Monday, October 7, 2013

Rav Ovadia's Greatness Is Still With Us

By: Shayna Chana Hulkower

I had a chance to see Rav Ovadia and I never took advantage of it. And now, it's too late.

I'll admit, for an Ashkenazi baales teshuva from Long Island, my fascination with Rav Ovadia was rather unexpected for most people. At first, I thought he was cool for purely superficial reasons: the gold-trimmed robe and turban, the sunglasses at all times of the day and night (and even indoors). I could tell that Michael Jackson stole his look from the Rav. As I learned more and more about him, and his teachings, I was really impressed. Regardless of how things he said were portrayed in the media (and usually taken out of context to be inflammatory), he was truly a genius when it came to halacha. Rabbis from around the world would come to him with their impossible to answer questions. He was well-known for ruling on issues in ways different from most other Rabbis. For example - while riding a bicycle on Shabbat is generally not allowed, the typical reason given is the same one as for why we don't play instruments on Shabbat - because it might break, and we will fix it, and THAT is an aveira. Rav Ovadia ruled differently - he said that on Shabbat we are supposed to conduct ourselves differently than we do during the week. So, if most of the world rides their bike during the week (whether for commuting or exercise), then it's only right to davka not ride a bike on Shabbat, because your manner of travel should be different.

In fact, he has many famous rulings, such as: finding a way for women whose husbands were killed but missing in the Yom Kippur war to remarry without finding their bodies; and was well known for being lenient to ensure as many Jews were keeping the mitzvot properly as possible. He quoted Rabbi Yosef Karo, the writer of the Shulchan Aruch, who said that we should not be more stringent than necessary when keeping laws, because then we are adding to the Torah given to us by Moshe at Har Sinai, which is an aveira.

When I first came to Israel I lived in Har Nof. One of my favorite parts of living there, is every day on my way to school, I would walk past Rav Ovadia's house. There was a shorter route, but I felt that there was something special walking past the tzaddik's home on HaKablan. Almost every morning I would tell myself, next week I should wake up a little earlier, and daven at the shul below his home. Anyone could go, and from what friends of mine who had davened there told me, there was always space on the women's side, and maybe I could get a bracha from the holy Rav. I'm sure you can see where this story is going: despite living in Har Nof for 7 months, I never made it to his shul. Once I moved to Nachlaot, I would sometimes float the idea of going super early for shul, but mostly I was regretting not going when it was easier.

And here we are today - when the option to go has been taken away from me. The only person who is to blame is myself. How often do we put things off until tomorrow that we could really do today? Whether it's saving money, going to bed earlier, starting a diet, whatever - when we're actually in a situation to make the choice that will set us on the path to success, we postpone it until tomorrow. The problem is that when tomorrow comes, how often do we wish we had done it yesterday?

I'll never have another chance to be in the same room as HaMaran Ovadia, but that doesn't mean I can't learn from this mistake. The next time I have the opportunity to put my money where my mouth is and actually start doing the thing I really want to put off I won't. There is an idea that when a tzaddik dies, the middot that person excelled at are released into the world, and available for you and me to grab on to and incorporate into ourselves. If there is one thing that can be said about Rav Ovadia, he was prolific. I'm sure that some of his productive energy is there, and waiting for me to chop it. Let's keep the things that made him great with us. A tzaddik never dies as long as we keep being motivated by his greatness. Even though I can never see him again, I can keep his greatness with me at all times.