When Rav Ovadiah Yosef zt’l, the beloved leader of the worldwide Sephardic community, passed away, a void was left. To whom would they turn now? Who would answer their questions, encourage them, instruct them and bless them?
Rav Ovadiah, of course, is irreplaceable. Yet, many have taken solace in knowing that another great rabbi is there for them. Thousands and thousands of Jews from all walks of life have discovered an address for their needs – someone who will listen to them, feel for them, advise them, and bless them. Rav Reuven Elbaz shlita has become the “Abba” of the Sephardic community and beyond. From 6:00 am until 2:30 the next morning, Rav Elbaz is available to help Jews from all over. At the expense of his personal privacy and rest, Rav Elbaz devotes his entire life to assisting Jews and making their lives more pleasant.
Born in 1944 in Fez, Morocco, when Rav Reuven was eleven years old, he made aliya with his family to a kibbutz in northern Israel. For the first two years that he lived in Eretz Yisrael, he attended a public school, which he later said gave him the opportunity to get to know the wider Jewish world.
At a young age, Rav Reuven was already recognized for his outstanding intelligence and sterling character. He felt the pain of his fellow Jews and poured out his heart in prayer for those in need. With time, he became known for his great knowledge, particularly in Kabbalah – Jewish mysticism. Seeped in Torah wisdom, this great rabbi was slowly discovered, and soon people began flocking towards the Rav, whose warmth and charisma have melted the hearts of so many needy Jews. The name Rav Reuven Elbaz has become a household word, and masses stream to him daily – all in search of a caring ear and concerned advice. In light of the many broken souls who have come pouring their hearts out to him, Rav Elbaz has been deemed, “The Kotel of Am Yisrael.”
Today, Rav Elbaz heads the Ohr HaChaim Institutions, which are based in central Jerusalem and have around 350 branches all over Israel. These institutions include day care centers, yeshivas, synagogues, batei midrashot, schools, rehabilitation centers, professional training seminars, soup kitchens, gemachim, programs for prisons, nursing homes and hospitals, and a crisis hotline. Ohr Hachaim also offers medical advice and referrals. And Rav Elbaz’s son, Rav David Elbaz, founded a yeshiva for studying Kabbalah.
In addition, Rav Elbaz speaks weekly on the radio, and addresses massive audiences as well. With his charisma, Rav Elbaz arouses audiences and inspires them to come closer to Judaism and to Hashem.
Around twenty years ago, at a gathering of 60,000 people in France, Rav Elbaz got up to speak, and soon, the audience was standing on their seats, clapping and whistling, out of enthusiasm that the rabbi instilled in them. It was a powerful, unforgettable experience for those fortunate enough to attend.
Many famous personalities have come to visit the Rav, from distinguished rabbis to well-known politicians. Some come for advice, others for a bracha, and some come simply to meet this famous figure. Dr. Michael Zalefsky, an American oncologist and professor associated with Sloan-Kettering Hospital in Manhattan, came to see Rav Elbaz after hearing so much about him. After meeting the Rav, the doctor expressed his admiration for him, for his love of Klal Yisrael and his ability to offer encouragement and assistance to so many needy people.
Despite the great honor Rav Elbaz has had of meeting with renowned public figures and of speaking to massive audiences, the Rav’s greatest pleasure is in helping individuals. He feels that he is in this world to assist the unfortunate and to bring a smile to the face of the downtrodden. He uses his dynamic personality to make the sad happy, to rebuild the broken and to help the ill regain good health.
Once, a woman was in the throes of a difficult labor. The doctors were perplexed about how to deal with all the complications. She suddenly asked to see Rav Elbaz, and the Rav was summoned. After a two-hour ride, he came into the hospital and began offering the woman encouragement. Just hearing the Rav’s voice gave her strength, and soon the labor progressed nicely, to the amazement of the doctors.
The Rav was once brought into a seemingly impossible case. A couple was having such severe marital problems that they were on the brink of divorce. Rav Elbaz sat talking to this couple for two hours, giving hands-on guidance, teaching them step-by-step how to treat each other and regain Shalom Bayit. After that visit, the couple patched things back together and are happily married today.
These are the episodes that Rav Elbaz “lives for.” True, he speaks to huge audiences and famous personalities, but it’s the little interactions that define his purpose. He visits hospitals to encourage the sick and their families. He takes boys from dysfunctional homes and puts them in his yeshiva. He builds them up and then teaches them to go out and do the same to others. He performs countless brit milahs and serves as mesader kedushin regularly. In fact, on average he attends thirty occasions a day. Thousands come to the Rav weekly, and he knows and cares deeply about each one. Each one is like his own child. Because his heart has enough room for all of Klal Yisrael.
When Rav Elbaz saw the neediness of his fellows Jews and the vast numbers who turn to him, he realized that the world is thirsting for spiritual leaders. He decided to train his own talmidim to become rabbanim, teachers and social workers. The Rav teaches them to follow his ways – chinuch through love and reaching out with warmth. And, in fact, many of his talmidim now serve in these fields and reach both children and adults, helping them physically, emotionally and spiritually.
The main building of the Ohr HaChaim Institutions is located in the heart of Jerusalem, and has a rooftop view of the Kotel. The impressive building is about 16,000 meters and can hold around 20,000 people. Besides the yeshiva of 1000 students, the building is also home to an organization that provides medical advice, an organization for children with diabetes, and many other projects. Once the building is completely finished, Rav Elbaz will be even more capable of providing for the needs of Klal Yisrael.
It has been many years since Rav Elbaz last visited the States. With so many depending on him in Eretz Yisrael, he is hesitant to leave. Nonetheless, with the passing of Rav Ovadiah zt’l, many American Jews begged him to make a trip in order to encourage the masses who are searching for words of chizuk and inspiration. Rav Elbaz is scheduled to speak between July 16 – 30 in thirty-five places, including Monsey, Manhattan, Washington, Baltimore, Queens, Deal, Long Island and Lakewood. In these difficult days, when Klal Yisrael is in a state of both physical and spiritual danger, the communities are excitedly anticipating the Rav’s appearance, which will surely leave an impression on the locals, steer their attitudes, and inspire them. Donations for the Ohr HaChaim institutions are welcome.
When Dr. Zalefsky heard that Rav Elbaz will be visiting, he begged him to come visit his patients. He feels that the Rav’s charisma and Ahavat Yisrael will bring them hope and joy and will affect them even more than medical treatments can.
American Jewry eagerly await the arrival of the great Rav Reuven Elbaz – the Kotel of Am Yisrael.