I have a confession: I didn’t pray for Rav Ovadia Yosef’s recovery.
When I saw articles about his illness, I shrugged my shoulders and scrolled on.
After hearing the tearful pleas for our prayers, and reading about the concern that the son of the dying rabbi had for the future of the Jewish people, I rolled my eyes and continued with my prior business.
I guess I associated Rav Ovadia with everything that bothered me about charedim—with Shas politics, with draft dodgers, and with Yeshiva students who would rather sit around and learn than contribute to Israeli society. I was frustrated with Shas and everything it stood for, and I made dangerous assumptions about its spiritual leader. Subconsciously, I may have seen Rav Ovadia, who dressed more like Hassan Rouhani than the type of Jew that I’m familiar with, as another worthless charedi contributing to the demise of Israeli society. Or worse—something along the lines of ‘Grand Supreme Leader Worthless Charedi.’
It took a funeral with approximately 850,000 people—over one seventh of the Jewish population in Israel—to make me see how wrong I was. The largest funeral in Israeli history didn’t only bring out sefardi charedim. Rather, it saw the tears of secular and religious, sefardim and ashkenazim. An entire nation came together in the eternal capital of the Jewish people to mourn the loss of a great Torah leader in an incredible show of Jewish unity that might be unparalleled in my lifetime.
Politicians from all parts of the political spectrum released statements of condolence. Shimon Peres said his greatness “was felt as a spiritual wind in every corner, lighting up the darkness in unexpected places.” Binyamin Netanyahu said that “He was imbued with a love of Torah and his people.” From Chadash to Yehedut HaTorah, from the ultra-left to the ultra-right, in Israel and America, Jewish and non-Jewish leaders have expressed sorrow in the loss of this giant.
Hopefully my ignorance has led to growth. By examining my passive reaction to the suffering of someone who I saw as too religious, too right wing, or simply too different, I learned not to be so quick to judge those who are different from myself. Rav Ovadia may have led a party who I more often than not disagree with, but just as he opened his heart to every Jew, I’ve learned to be more open to those on my right or left. I’ll try not to dismiss someone because they dress differently or preach different rhetoric.
If there’s one lesson that we can all learn from Rav Ovadia’s life and death, it’s that our differences may be strong, but our similarities are stronger.