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Forever My Rebbi

Rabbi Yehuda Heimowitz

Rav Reuven Elbaz was just a bochur the first time he heard a shiur from Rav Ovadiah Yosef, but even then he knew he’d found his rebbi for life. Later, Rav Ovadiah would go out of his way to help his prized talmid — even traveling abroad to fundraise for Rav Elbaz’s yeshivah. Because for Rav Ovadiah, there was no hierarchy: it was all about more Jews learning Torah. With the approach of Rav Ovadiah’s first yahrtzeit on 3 Cheshvan, Rav Elbaz reveals little-known details of that most cherished relationship.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

In  hindsight, it’s quite auspicious that the first encounter between two of the most influential figures in leading Sephardic Jewry back to its roots took place on Shabbat Shuvah. Reuven Elbaz, then a young teenager learning in an Ashkenazic yeshivah in Haifa, thirsted for a genuine yeshivah tefillah for Rosh Hashanah. Most of his peers went home and davened in their local shuls during the Yamim Noraim, but he wanted to experience the electrified atmosphere of a yeshivah during the holiest days of the year. His rosh yeshivah suggested that he daven in the Chevron Yeshivah in Geula, and arranged a seat and a place for him to sleep. The yeshivish davening did not let down. Some 55 years later, Rav Elbaz still vividly recounts the legendary Mussaf of the maggid Rav Sholom Schwadron and the sight of people davening Shemoneh Esreh for upward of an hour without peeking out of their machzor for a second. The next year, Reuven arranged to be in Chevron once again, and during Rosh Hashanah, which fell on a Thursday and Friday, he struck up a conversation with another Sephardic young man. “You want to see something really amazing?” the other fellow asked. “Go to such-and-such beit knesset tomorrow for the Shabbat Shuvah derashah.” Intrigued, Reuven walked to the beit knesset in the Beit Yisrael neighborhood the next day. “The rav, a youthful man in his 30s with a trimmed black beard, spoke about the halachot of chalak [glatt kosher meat],” he recalled at a hesped several days after Rav Ovadiah passed away. “He did not have as much as a single sefer or a note in front of him, yet his shiur, laden with sources from hundreds of seforim, poured from his lips as though from a script. “I watched in awe as he went from one point to another, his words coming in torrents, without a pause for breath or to consider what to say next. “I decided that come what may, this would be my rebbi.” Reuven returned to Haifa after Succos to resume his studies, but a few short years later, when he joined a yeshivah gedolah in Yerushalayim, he was able to realize his dream, regularly attending the shiurim of Rav Ovadiah Yosef, soon growing close to the man who would serve as his mentor and beloved partner in many kiruv ventures over the next five decades.

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