Rav Mordechai Eliyahu and my brush with greatness

The former Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael (know as the Rishon l’Tzion) Rav Mordechai Eliyahu was niftar on Monday, June 7th (yesterday).  I’m not Sephardic, but he was a true Talmud Chacham and an Adom Gadol.
I was zoche to have not only met him once, but daven with him (well, in the same shul) and even had a lunch on Sukkos with him.  In 1989/90 I spent my first year learning (if you could call it that) in E”Y.  A close friend of mine came in for Sukkos and we stayed in his apartment, which was several flights above the Rishon l’Tzion’s in Kiryat Moshe.

My friend, who is Sephardic, and his family were actually very close with Rav Eliyahu and we were invited to come downstairs to his sukkah for lunch (on what was my first day of Yom Tov).  Throughout the meal he welcomed guest after guest, it was non-stop.  He was friendly and truly “received everyone cheerfully”.  For me it was a fairly quite meail, since I wasn’t fluent in Hebrew.  Rav Eliyahu’s wife offered me a side-dish, I think it might have been some type of spicy carrots and I thought I would be super-slick and decided that I only wanted “a little”, so I proudly said:  Katan, b’vakasha.
She smiled, realizing that I REALLY didn’t know Hebrew and she attempted to explain to me that I should have used the word “ktzat” instead of “katan“.  I sort of got the drift of what she was teaching me, but more importantly, I wasn’t embarassed or made to feel like I knew nothing.

After lunch Rav Eliyahu had someone go into his living room and bring out a beautiful book with amazing photos of different shuls in E”Y. The Rishon L’Tzion then had me sit next to him and he spent about 20 minutes going through the book with me and telling me the locations of each shul.  I felt so honored that he would invite me into his sukkah, let alone spend his precious time with me.  Despite the language barrier between us, the sensitivity and creative way he used to engage me as stayed with me over the years.  My oldest child knows this story, not because his abba once had a meal with the “Chief Sephardic Rabbi”, but because it illustrates true Gadlus in how to interact with a person and make them feel special.  That, to me, is one of the traits of a true Adom Gadol.

(A summary of this post was originally left as a comment here)

7 thoughts on “Rav Mordechai Eliyahu and my brush with greatness

  1. Loren Spigelman

    I had no interaction with R’ Eliyahu ever, but my son and I went to the levaya anyway. Now as I read more stories like this one, I am given a glimpse of his greatness. Thanks Neil.

    P.S. Hello Srully Epstein!

  2. Anonymous

    My father used to meet (10 years ago?) a Sephardic Chief rabbi in the elevator of Heichal Shlomo and used to tell me what a snob he was (as opposed to Rabbi Shapira). I can’t say for sure who it was though.


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