I had the privilege of being present in Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's hospital room during the final moments of his life. He was surrounded by all the members of his family, Shas Knesset members, rabbis, students and many Jews who came from all over the country to be by their leader's side.
When the doctors announced that it was time to say goodbye, all those present began to weep and call out "Shema Yisrael" and the rest of the prayers that are recited when one's soul leaves the world. The prayers were recited again and again for about 10 minutes until the sad moment arrived: Rabbi Ovadia passed away.
I was observing this painful display of prayers, pleads, cries and the traditional tearing of the shirt, when suddenly I saw - among all those rabbis, MKs and worshippers - a number of children who were not related to the rabbi. They were in tears, sitting beside their father and reading from Psalms. These children were not the rabbi's students and may have never even seen him before, but to them he was "Rabbi Yosef."
A secular person cannot understand it. It is difficult to explain the level of admiration the haredi public has for its religious leaders. I remember how when I was a child my father took me to receive the blessing of Rabbi Shach, the leader of the Lithuanian public, at his home in Bnei Brak. More than 20 years later, I can still feel his handshake and stroke on my cheek. I also took my children to receive a blessing from Rabbi Elyashiv and Rabbi Shteinman.
Every haredi man takes his children to the rabbi, the leader, at different stations in their lives. Not to learn anything – it is enough that they see him. The haredi street's admiration for these great men gives the child or teenager a purpose in life and allows him to come face to face with the big dream: To become a rabbi in Israel who studies and teaches Torah day and night.
When the monitor attached to Rabbi Yosef showed that his pulse had dropped to zero, then rose to 50 and back to zero again, the hearts of all the people in the room, as well as hundreds of thousands of Jews worldwide, trembled. A great religious leader passed away.
I am not a Shas man and I did not have the privilege of studying Rabbi Yosef's doctrine, but the death of a spiritual and religious leader of such stature in Israel is not only a loss for his family and students. A spiritual leader is a leader of the entire Jewish nation, and yesterday we lost one of the greatest leaders we have had here in recent generations.