Chacham Shalom HaKohein Cohen ztz”l was a true chacham
the age-old history of Sephardic Jewry, the title “Chacham” was always only bestowed on a leader who was at once wise, humble, and full of love.
Chacham Shalom HaKohein Cohen ztz”l was a true chacham. He served as the rosh yeshivah of Porat Yosef, and was the Rosh Moetzet Chachmei HaTorah. These two roles are distinct in nature. A rosh yeshivah chooses select disciples to train in his unique mehalech. A rav, on the other hand, is a man of the people. He must meet each person exactly where he is holding, and, from that place, guide, assist, educate, and, ultimately, elevate.
The roles that Chacham Shalom played personified this duality. He was a great rosh yeshivah, who honed and molded thousands of the finest bnei Torah. But he was also the leading Sephardic rabbi in Israel, charged with the responsibility of relating to tens of thousands of Jews, at every and any stage of Judaism.
Nothing was too difficult and nothing was too trivial.
That’s a true chacham.
The recent government’s attempts to undermine Torah Judaism caused him tremendous anguish. As giyur and kashrus came under attack, Chacham Shalom launched a valiant counter-offensive, not by passing malicious laws but through his deep, heartfelt derashot, and his endless tefillot on behalf of Am Yisrael.
There were times when the Chacham’s words were misunderstood by the public, and this caused him much pain. But it never caused him resentment. As a Kohein, he would say Bircat Kohanim each day, reciting the brachah “l’varech et amo Yisrael b’ahavah — to bless His nation Yisrael with love.” The Chacham used to say that if he didn’t feel true love for every Jewish person, he wouldn’t be able to recite the blessing.
On the eve of the passage of the Basic Law, “Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish People,” I sat in Chacham Shalom’s home for a long time and introduced him to the bill’s various versions. With the clarity and precision of the most learned legal scholar, he defined the exact meaning of each word and contemplated its potential implications. He then instructed us to change certain words and phrases, which we did.
It was a display of the truest chochmah. And, for those who knew him, the secret to this chochmah was obvious. Ein chochmah k’chochmat haTorah. Chacham Shalom’s whole world was Torah. He loved it and cherished every moment of its study.
We have lost a true chacham.
Rabbi Moshe Arbel is a Shas MK.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 929)
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