Over 800,000 people attended the funeral of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (zatzal) on October 7, and 300,000 are expected to attend his memorial service today, the same number of people who turned up for the funeral of Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach in 1995. Rabbi Yosef was a genius, by all accounts.
Once upon a time, before I lived in Efrat, before my present job as a writer at Kars for Kids, I felt a prickle in my foot. It happened as I made a phone call while sitting at my dining room table in my home on a hilltop settlement high in the clouds. I looked down and saw something straw-colored, peeking out from the bottom of my long skirt. I thought it was a piece of bramble that had somehow got caught inside my clothes, a not unusual occurrence in that part of the Judean Desert.
I reached down to pull it out of my skirt and as my hand neared what I thought was a bramble, it twitched in the other direction. OMG. Something was under my SKIRT. Something ALIVE.
I jumped up, the prickling feeling having turned fiery and piercing. I shook out my skirt and a scorpion, a big yellow one, fell out.
Rav Ovadia was a man of the people, plain spoken and not the type to mince words. He spoke to the people and not to anyone’s invented standard of political correctness. He was not my rabbi, because I am Ashkenazi and he was Sephardi, but I was always interested to hear what he had to say about issues having to do with Jewish law.
It tried to scurry away but I was fast. I lifted the dining room chair I’d been sitting on and slammed the leg of it down on the scorpion while yelling out, “I’ve been stung by a scorpion. HALLLLLLLP!”
I had two kids home with me plus the friend of one of my kids. The friend yelled, “I’ll run get the nurse,” while my daughter yelled, “I’ll run get Abba (Dad).”
Meantime, my son Aharon tried to take over the job of killing the scorpion pinned as it was under the leg of the chair. We wrestled with the chair, him wanting to do the deed, me afraid to let up the pressure that was holding the darned thing down. We were never sure, in fact, just who managed the task at hand. But we killed that thing DAID.
(It never occurred to me how bony they are. Not soft and squishy like a bee or a mosquito, for instance.)
The nurse came to take my blood pressure and after consulting with a physician, told my husband (who by now had been summoned home, arriving breathless and freaked) what to watch for, but that as long as things stayed as they were, I didn’t have to go to the ER.
It was predictable. After the death of Rav Ovadia, many rushed to tweet their nasty thoughts about him, while still others published blogs and articles that depicted Rabbi Yosef in a negative light. They didn’t realize that in so doing, they were not being brave or forthright, but merely speaking ill of the dead.
My best friend at the time heard the news and came to keep me company during that long evening. At the same time, one of the men came to keep my husband company during his vigil, and thoughtfully brought with him some sifrei kodesh (holy books) that talked about scorpion stings.
I tried not to listen, because it was bad enough that my pain was increasing minute by minute. It was like that. It went from a mere prickling sensation, to a burning sensation that every time I thought it couldn’t get worse, got far worse until I was in a near delirium with pain.
But what the books said, what I didn’t want to hear was that scorpion stings are due to disrespecting the rabbis. Ouch. It was bad enough this horrible thing had to happen to me, but did it have to mean I DESERVED it? That I was a BAD PERSON?
I have no mystical or wondrous stories to share about Rabbi Yosef. He was not my rabbi and I didn’t know him. I never spoke to him. But even his worst detractors spoke of the rabbi’s creative genius in finding humane solutions to difficult questions of Jewish law.
I recovered and went to shul to bentch goimel—said the blessing on being saved from a dangerous situation in the presence of a quorum, in synagogue. But I thought I still felt something in that foot for almost a year. Not the initial pain, but something. A reminder, maybe.
I no longer feel any lingering pain or tingling. Nor is there any mark to see or demarcate the site of my earlier trauma. But every time I am tempted to say something bad about a rabbi, I can’t help but glance at that exact spot on my foot and remember the pain.
In retrospect, I think the scorpion sting I experienced so long ago served and still serves to protect my tongue from speaking ill of the chachamim (wise men). The accepted term for this type of disrespect is “zilzul” or “to cheapen.”
Perhaps I paid up front?