Only moments ago we received the heart-breaking news that a leader of our generation, former Chief Sephardi Rabbi HaRav Mordechai Eliyahu has passed away. A guiding light for the generation, a hopeful comforting voice for those who are so weary, worried and frightened by world events and constant turmoils in Israel, HaRav Mordechai Eliyahu was foremost a voice of confidence and strength for those lovers of Eretz Yisrael and Torat Yisrael.
He supported and spoke out for those who devoted their lives to their country. He was not afraid to issue rabbinical rulings that would anger those in power. During the terrible days of Gush Katif's Expulsion, HaRav Mordechai Eliyahu told soldiers to say they cannot expel Jews from their home (not that they wouldn't, but they couldn't).
I had the opportunitiy to take the photo at the left when HaRav Mordechai Eliyahu spoke years ago in my own community of Efrat.
But more than anything else, I will remember a private visit that my husband, eldest son and I paid to the Rishon LeZion. Our son was about to go into the Army. It was the beginning of the Second Intifada, a tense and terrible time (when hasn't it been?) and since this was my first child entering the IDF, I was frightened. Arab terrorism was exploding everywhere. I was adamant that my son would not enter the Army without getting a bracha (blessing) from HaRav Mordechai Eliyahu.
It was impossible to get a meeting. The lists of people who wanted to see the Rav for a problem or a bracha were very very long. We absolutely couldn't get in.
A few days after his induction into the Army, my son was sent home (like the rest of the new enlistees for his first Shabbat as a soldier). I wasted no more time, and hurried both my husband and son into the car to see HaRav Mordechai Eliyahu.
The shul was filled with people everywhere. Their burdens were palpable. The time was growing short and we were still not called. It seemed like the rabbi's session would end, and suddenly the gabbai said, "Send the soldier in."
We walked in to his office, and he lovingly embraced my son. He kissed my son's head, held his hand, and I started to cry. I just wanted my son to serve his nation and come home safe and sound. The rabbi blessed him that Hashem would protect him always.
That blessing kept me going through the war in 2001. It gave me strength when my son was posted in Pesagot (where the war started) and in Ramallah (which became his unit's home turf). It was foremost in my mind when days passed without any communication with my son. It strengthened me during Operation Defensive Shield and every miluim (reserve duty) since. It still gives me courage every time my son is called back to his reserve unit.
As he blessed my son, so his blessings were constantly on every soldier and every Jew.
During the last war, Operation Cast Lead, in Gaza, though weak and ailing, HaRav Mordechai Eliyahu made a supreme effort, and left his hospital bed to travel to Beit Lechem to pray for the safety of our soldiers. I am sure everyone still remembers the miracle story of the old woman who guided Jewish soldiers to safety in Gaza. HaRav Mordechai Eliyahu told his son that she was Rachel Emainu, and he had called her to help her children.
Knowing that HaRav Mordechai Eliyahu was in the world gave me faith that all would work out in the end. Now that the rabbi is on High, advocating for the Jewish people and the Land of Israel in these perilous times, I have emunah (faith) anew.
May his memory be for a blessing. May we and our children follow always in his path.