Rav Mordechai Eliyahu Z”tl

Jerusalem – Rabbi Shmuel Zaafrani, Rabbi Eliyahu’s longtime assistant, found an important, 53-year-old note in the rabbi’s wallet, just two hours before the late Chief Rabbi was buried last night in one of the largest funerals ever held in Jerusalem. Estimates of 100,000 people on Monday night were reported by Israel TV on Tuesday as having been revised to over 200,000.

Rabbi Zaafrani told Israel National News that Rabbi Eliyahu was the youngest dayan (rabbinical court judge) ever elected, at the age of 28. “He therefore felt very strongly,” Rabbi Zaafrani said, “the heavy responsibility that weighed upon him, and so he composed a prayer that he would recite every day before entering the courtroom. The thing is, we never knew the wording of the prayer – until just two hours before the burial, when I found a note in his wallet with the prayer.” See below to read the prayer.

Rabbi Zaafrani then told the story of an amazing “rescue” performed by Rabbi Eliyahu – which the latter attributed to the power of prayer, both his own and that of others. This is the story:

When Rabbi Eliyahu first became a dayan in Be’er Sheva, in 1957, his was the only rabbinical court in the entire south, between Eilat and Be’er Sheva. On his first day on the job, he saw a woman standing outside, praying from a small Book of Psalms. She remained outside all day. The next day, the rabbi saw the same thing, and the next day again, and so on. Finally, he asked the court secretary to ask her to come in. He asked her why she stood outside and prayed all day, and she related in all innocence: ‘I came on Aliyah [immigration to Israel] from Morocco by myself, and they sent me to Be’er Sheva. I asked where the closest rabbinical court was, I was told it was here, and so here I am.’

He asked her, “What are you praying for?” and the woman said, “My husband in Morocco was a taxi driver, and a week after we were married, at the end of the Sheva Brachot [the seven days of wedding festivities], he crashed – and his body was never found… After a while, I went to the rabbis to be declared a widow so that I could remarry, but they said that without a body, they could not be certain that he was dead – and so I remained a ‘chained woman’ [aguna, unable to marry]. But when I came to Israel, I had faith that what the rabbinical courts in Morocco could not accomplish [in permitting me to remarry], the courts in Israel would be able to do.” Rabbi Eliyahu asked, “So why did you remain outside the court? Why didn’t you come in to the dayanim?”

The woman said, “Who are you? I pray to G-d, not to you!”

Rabbi Eliyahu immediately took up her case. He took all her papers and went to the Baba Sali, who told him of his brother, the Baba Haki, a leading rabbi in the Israeli city of Ramle who was familiar with all those engaged in Jewish burials in Morocco. Rabbi Eliyahu traveled to Ramle, where the Baba Haki told him, “There were only two Jewish kavranim [people engaged in burials] in Morocco, and both have since come to Israel. One lives in Dimona and one lives in Kiryat Ata [near Haifa].”

Rabbi Eliyahu said, “I live in the south, so I might as well try Dimona.” He went to the exact address supplied to him by the Baba Haki – only to find that the man’s family was sitting shiva for him; he had died just a few days earlier.

Quite disappointed, Rabbi Eliyahu went in anyway, shared some words of Torah and solace with the mourning family and friends, and explained why he was there. Immediately, a man jumped up and said, “I am the other kavran, and I know that story! I was the one who buried the taxi driver!” Rabbi Eliyahu asked him to accompany come him to other rabbis, who questioned him and determined that his testimony was acceptable. Rabbi Eliyahu convened the rabbinical court, and the woman was declared “unchained” and permitted to remarry.

“This is the power of prayer,” Rabbi Eliyahu later said, “both hers and mine.”

Testimony of David Vazana

David Vazana, a neighbor of the Eliyahu family and the head of the Bank of Israel Employees Union, said that Rabbi Eliyahu’s death “is simply a terrible loss for Am [the Nation of] Yisrael. As a neighbor, I saw how people would come to his home at all hours of the day, from all walks of life and of all different types, with questions and requests and problems – and he would receive all of them happily and graciously…”

“There were so many incidents in which we saw the fulfillment of the Talmud’s words, ‘the righteous man decrees and G-d fulfills.’ Once, the son of one of the employees at Bank of Israel was critically hurt in a car accident, and was unconscious in Hadassah Ein Kerem. We came to the Rabbi, telling him that the doctors said he has only a few hours left. The Rabbi waved his hand in dismissal and said to do a kaparah [atonement] with money for charity, and that if he still doesn’t open his eyes, then to do the same with a chicken. We did the first, and the boy started to move his arms and legs. The doctors happened to be there and said, ‘It’s nothing, just his last-minute palpitations before death.’ We went back to the Rabbi and he said we must immediately do the kaparah with a chicken. We did that, and the boy opened his eyes the next day… He later made a full recovery and was even able to enlist in the IDF… There were many other stories like this as well.”

Free translation of the prayer composed and recited daily by Rabbi Eliyahu before entering the rabbinical courtroom:

“Master of the Universe, it is revealed and known before You that it was not my idea to stand and serve Your holy nation, to judge and teach. I well know my small worth. I did not seek to do what is beyond me, but my rabbis instructed me to take this path, and this is how You arranged matters� Your wisdom has decreed that I serve the holy nation, teaching and judging� But trembling has overtaken me, fear and shaking have come over me, regarding the terrible danger that faces me and the vast abyss that is open before me…

“I have trust in Your vast mercies… for You are He Who hears prayer. Please G-d, have compassion on all those who sit in justice, and especially upon me, your servant, son of your handmaid, Mordechai ben Mazal. Have mercy on me and give me a heart that hears, as well as knowledge to understand and judge Your people…

“Grant us wisdom, and let us not rule ‘impure’ that which is ‘pure,’ nor on that which is ‘permitted’ shall we say ‘forbidden,’ nor shall we deem guilty he who is innocent – and vice versa. Save us from all errors, and let my heart be strong, and allow me to rebuke those who oppress others; let us not be tempted to ignore injustice, and give us the merit to correct that which needs to be corrected, institute new regulations and directives when necessary, and to teach Torah, so that the Name of Heaven be sanctified by us. Let the people respect and fear us, and let us remain far from arrogance, anger and pettiness…”

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