The holy Zohar says that the redemption is postponed by the study of the Torah for the wrong reasons. Rabbi Ya’akov Yosef was one of those who constantly study the Torah for the right reasons: to fulfill the commandments and to know God’s will. He announced the conclusions of his Torah study without any fear of flesh and blood, despite the pressures that were brought to bear on him. He forewent the perquisites of power that were offered to him as a Knesset member just so as not to forego the truth of the Torah.
Rabbi Eliyahu continued:
With my own eyes I saw this genius, who had the entire Torah, all its subjects, all its parts, organized amazingly in his head, organizing books in the library of the hall where circumcisions are held in the Cave of the Patriarchs. I saw him cleaning benches before Kiddush on Shabbat morning at the grave of Shimon the Righteous. He would pray routinely at sunrise at the Western Wall, because [as the tradition states] God’s presence never left there. He also used to pray at the grave of Shimon the Righteous, not far from his home.
And here his what Rabbi Ya’akov Yosef said last Elul in one of his classes:
I don’t know what sort of repentance can be done by religious people who voted for Shas and caused the death of over a thousand people who were killed because of their support for the Oslo Accords. Someone who caused the death of one person—I don’t know what sort of repentance he can do. What can those who caused so many killings possibly do? What sort of repentance can be done by those who gave weapons to the enemies of Israel who rise up against God and his chosen ones and say, ‘Come, let us annihilate them as a nation so that the name of Israel will be remembered no longer’ (Psalm 83:5)?
The family estrangement worsened as the years went by. When the mother, Margalit, passed away in 1994, Rabbi Ya’akov observed the shiva period in his own home, far away from all the others. At a massive prayer rally for his health held two days before he passed away, none of his brothers was to be seen.
His son, Yehonatan, said:
What didn’t they do to him? They humiliated him, they degraded him, but he wouldn’t give in. He would always quote to us Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, who said that you ought to pay people to humiliate you: ‘If you knew what the reward is for being humiliated, you would run to be humiliated,’ he would tell us. He had a great talent for explaining a complicated topic with simple, clear language that was appropriate both for high-level scholars and for simple people. He would teach about forty classes every week, and he would call his students friends—for instance, ‘We learned with our friends,’ ‘My friends certainly remember’ … He would share family celebrations with his students, and he distributed invitations to his children’s weddings at his classes.
Only recently, in his very last days, did Rabbi Ya’akov and his father become closer. A few days before he was hospitalized for the last time, Rabbi Ya’akov went to his father’s house in Har Nof to ask for a blessing, generating much excitement on the Haredi street.
“You are a source of merit to the masses. The merit of the Torah will protect you,” the elder rabbi said, then affectionately gave his son one of his trademark slaps.
Originally published in Makor Rishon, April 19, 2013. Translated from Hebrew by David Greenberg.