A Legacy of Chinuch

“Whoever flees honor, honor pursues him, and whoever pursues honor, honor flees from him.”

In his sefer Anaf Eitz Avos, Hagaon Harav Ovadiah Yosef, zt”l, relates that the Chafetz Chaim was once asked about this saying. One is fleeing from honor and from the other one honor flees, but neither actually have the honor. So in this case, what real difference is there between the two?

The difference, the Chafetz Chaim replied, is revealed after one passes away. He who pursued honor can no longer do so, and the honor has fled from him. He who fled from honor can also no longer flee, but the honor at last catches up with him.

At the levayah for Harav Ovadiah Yosef on Monday, Klal Yisrael witnessed an unparalleled outpouring of kvod haniftar and kvod haTorah. At last, some of the honor that this Torah giant so richly deserved caught up with him, when close to a million mourners escorted the mitah to its final resting place.

Klal Yisrael throughout the world weeps over the irreplaceable loss of a living sefer Torah. His vast, legendary, encyclopedic knowledge spanned every part of the sea of Torah. Shas and poskim, Rishonim and Achronim, mussar, Chassidus and Kaballah.

In an exhibition of remarkable humility, in his numerous sefarim he never hesitated to quote contemporary authors decades younger than himself. He even referred to rulings he had issued and published in an earlier volume — and then promptly listed all the later sefarim who disagreed with his view, as well.

As expanded on in the special supplement included in this issue, throughout his entire life, Harav Yosef was moser nefesh for learning Torah and spreading Torah. He dedicated enormous amounts of time — tearing himself away from his beloved sefarim — to convince parents to send their children to Torah mosdos and to give their children a true chinuch.

He put an enormous emphasis on education and even set up an entire network of Torah institutions for Sephardic Jewry. The Rav taught that chinuch begins at a very early age, and his tireless efforts bore fruit: Countless families are now shomrei Torah u’mitzvos because of him

Our generation no longer has the merit that this great beacon of inspiration should light our lives on this temporal world, but his teachings — and personal example — will continue to inspire generations to come.

A recently released comprehensive survey by the Pew Research Center underscores just how pivotal and important Jewish education is.

We learn that 93% of American Jews born between 1914 and 1927 identified themselves as Jewish on the basis of religion and just 7% described themselves as having no religion. By contrast, among Jews born after 1980, only 68% identify as Jews by religion, while 32% describe themselves as having no religion and identify as Jewish on the basis of ancestry, ethnicity or culture.

The study showed that intermarriage rates seem to have risen substantially over the last five decades.

Among Jewish respondents who have gotten married since 2000, nearly six in ten have a non-Jewish spouse. Among those who got married in the 1980s, roughly four in ten have a non-Jewish spouse. And among Jews who got married before 1970, just 17% have a non-Jewish spouse.

The primary reason for these tragic, devastating statistics is woeful ignorance among the youth about our glorious heritage.

One of the most fitting tributes to Hagaon Harav Ovadiah Yosef, zt”l, would be for American Jewry to undertake a comprehensive and earnest campaign to make a Torah chinuch available to all our brethren, and to explain to them that education is the key to our people’s continuity.