In the summer of 2006, my son and I had the zechus and privilege to have a brief audience with Harav Ovadiah Yosef, zt”l, in the office next to his beis medrash in the Har Nof section of Yerushalayim, after Minchah-Arbit.
One recollection that shall forever remain etched in my memory is the demonstration of kvod haTorah that took place when the door to the Rav’s office opened and he entered the shul. While of course everyone respectfully rose to their feet, one could have heard a pin drop. Needless to say, the tefillos themselves were conducted with great decorum.
Our reason for being there, in addition to utilizing an opportunity to daven with this Gadol Hador, was to receive his blessing as well. In recent years, due to security concerns, while all were welcome to daven with the Rav’s minyan, the private audiences that took place afterwards were pre-arranged. An audience was made possible for us through the efforts of Mrs. Ruth Lichtenstein, publisher of Hamodia.
Interestingly, there were exceptions to this rule. While waiting on line to enter the Rav’s presence, I met an American avreich who told me he lived nearby and, known to the Rav’s gabba’im, would regularly be granted access to the Rav to pose questions that arose in the course of his learning.
After waiting on line with the others, it was with a bit of trepidation that we entered the Rav’s room. The gabbai instructed each of us in turn to remove our hats, after which the Rav placed his hand on each of our heads, offered a long, heartfelt brachah and gave his famous gentle brush on the face. To my regret, I was not able to understand much of the contents due to the Chacham’s heavy Sephardic pronunciation. My son says that the Chacham told him “Atah bachur tov — you are a fine bachur,” or something to that effect. I told the gabbai that I had a kvittel someone had asked me to bring in with me and he indicated that I should place it on a pile of kvitlach that were on the desk.
Someone who entered after us and who was due to begin a new teaching position was awestruck, as he related to me later, that without telling Harav Ovadiah anything about this new job, the Chacham invoked the passuk: “Yafutzu maynosecha chutzah — may your wellsprings spread outward (Mishlei 5:16)” — essentially a brachah that he merit success in transmitting Torah.
On my next trip to Eretz Yisrael, five years later, we again made our way to Harav Ovadiah’s building in Har Nof where his beis medrash is located and had the opportunity to daven with him. Unfortunately, on that occasion the Rav, already more advanced in age, was unable to see anyone that evening and left immediately after the tefillah.
We have lost several Gedolei Hador in the last couple of years. It should behoove us to recall their greatness and study their lives, which should inspire us to emulate their example to whatever extent we can, in areas such as Torah, yiras Shamayim and middos tovos.