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Rav Kook's Journals
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The Land of Israel
The Land of Israel
The land of Israel is not some external entity.
It is not merely an external acquisition for the Jewish people.
It is not merely a means of uniting the populace.
It is not merely a means of strengthening our physical existence.
It is not even merely a means of strengthening our spiritual existence.
Rather, the land of Israel has an intrinsic meaning.
It is connected to the Jewish people with the knot of life.
Its very being is suffused with extraordinary qualities.
The extraordinary qualities of the land of Israel and the extraordinary qualities of the Jewish people are two halves of a whole.
Eretz Cheifetz I
Exile and Mediocrity
We experience exile and mediocrity because we do not proclaim the value and wisdom of the land of Israel.
We have not rectified the sin of the biblical spies who slandered the land. And so we must do the opposite of what they did: we must tell and proclaim to the entire world the land’s glory and its beauty, its holiness and its honor.
Then, after all these praises, let us hope that we have expressed at least one ten-thousandth of the loveliness of that lovely land: the beauty of the light of its Torah, the exalted nature of the light of its wisdom, and the holy spirit that seethes within it.
The Letters of Our Soul
In the land of Israel,
Grow the letters of our soul.
They reveal illumination.
They draw down mighty life
From the blaze of life
Of the Congregation of Israel.
Eretz Cheifetz, p. 24
The Land of Israel
The more difficult you find it to tolerate the atmosphere outside the Holy Land and the more you are aware of the unclean spirit of an unclean land, then the more have you intimately absorbed the holiness of the Land of Israel.
Eretz Cheifetz (Orot, Eretz Yisroel 6)
Lucid and Clear
The imaginative faculty of the land of Israel is lucid and clear, clean and pure, and suitable for the appearance of divine truth...
On the other hand, the imaginative faculty in the lands of the nations is turbid, mixed with darkness, in the shadows of impurity and corruption.
Eretz Cheifetz (Orot, Eretz Yisroel, 5)
Our Love for the Beloved Land
We have a great obligation to awaken the ancient love of Zion: a love that is eternal and burns in a flame of holy fire within the hearts of the Jewish people wherever they may be.
We must fight with all our strength against any hatred of our holy land—which has begun to affect some of us. With a mighty arm of the spirit and with the eternal holiness of the beloved land, we must destroy the contamination of the spies, a contamination which began to spread at the very point of the possible redemption.
“The word of our God will stand forever.”
The holiness of the land and its loveliness has never changed and will never change. All the bitter circumstances, physical and spiritual, which have affected the Holy Land will not overcome it.
Just as no physical destruction can destroy our love for the beloved land, so can no spiritual desolation reduce our holy and profound love of that land of life.
The deep connection between the soul of the Jew and Zion, with all that takes place there, stands firm forever. And the light of that love will increase seven-fold.
It will enflame every heart and exalt every spirit, sanctifying and encouraging everyone.
Moadei Harayah, pp. 419-20
The Wisdom of the Land of Israel
Exile and degradation are drawn into the world because we do not proclaim the worth and wisdom of the land of Israel. We do not rectify the sin of the spies who slandered the land. Measure for measure, we must tell and proclaim, across the entire world, its splendor and magnificence, its holiness and glory.
If we are worthy, after our most extravagant praises, we might express one ten-thousandths of the desirability of that desirable land, the magnificent light of its Torah, the glorious light of its wisdom, and the holy spirit effervescent within it.
Eretz Cheifetz, p. 38
The Sense of Being a Stranger
There is a sense of being a stranger that you may feel outside the land of Israel.
That sense connects the entire inner desire of your spirit ever more strongly to the land of Israel and its holiness. Your hope to see it grows. The impression, the inner image, of the holy structure of that land upon which God always gazes grows increasingly deeper.
There is a depth of holy yearning for beloved Zion, a recollection of that entirely desirable land. When that grows in even a single soul, the wellspring flows for everyone: for tens of thousands of souls connected to that soul.
Eretz Cheifetz (quoting Orot), p. 48
A Powerful and Ancient Nation
The basis of keeping all the commandments, from the aspect of their inner and ultimate being, can take place only in the land of Israel.
Those commandments not specifically related to the land of Israel, which apply as well outside the land, are not intended to attain to their ultimate purpose outside the land.
Rather, they bring the Jewish people to the land; they guard our holiness, so that when we return, we will not need to begin from nothing, like a young nation which only recently has come to the altar of life. They will ensure that our path in life—eternal and temporal—will be firm before us, as is proper for a powerful and ancient nation, whose sources are primal, from the beginning of the world.
Eretz Cheifetz, p. 31
The Life of the Jewish Nation
The encompassing, spiritual, inner revelation in the depths of the Jewish soul sets before us the inner form of all of the practical Torah: a form that is ideal, and which contains all the practical Torah’s details.
The entire sweep of the oral Torah with its tributaries flowing as one is the life of the Jewish nation, as it flows from a supernal source, united as a solid element.
From the impression left by this soulful revelation, we come to a more exalted uplifting. We increasingly rise, and the supernal levels of the holy spirit continue to be revealed.
All this is in accordance with our diligence in learning Torah, performing good deeds and elevating our character, and the illumination that comes from clinging to God in a spirit of supernal consciousness.
Orot Hatorah 11:1
The Source of Delight
In the land of Israel, it is possible to draw the joy of holiness from the site of joy itself. Outside the land, however, it is impossible to draw down this joy, because of the opposition and wrath of the powers of judgement outside the land. We can draw down this joy only by drawing it from the source of delight, where neither obstacle nor damage reach. This is why, in consequence of the destruction of the temple, “joy” is halachically forbidden, but those things called “delight” are allowed.
When we delight in love from the delights of the source of holiness, there descends a pure joy, enriched with delight, which draws the atmosphere of the land of Israel—to some degree—outside the land, to revive the spirit of those who hope for the mercies of God, who yearn to see it and to rejoice in its joy.
“Recall me, Hashem, when you desire your nation, visit me with Your salvation...to rejoice in the joy of your nation, to take pride in Your inheritance” (Tehillim 106:4-5).
Orot Hakodesh III, p. 187
The Unique Quality
The unique quality of the land of Israel and the unique quality of the nation of Israel are complementary. The nation of Israel has the unique ability to come to a divine elevation in the depths of its life-force. Correspondingly, the land of Israel—which is the land of God—improves the Jewish nation that dwells upon it as its eternal inheritance, an inheritance sealed with a covenant, a vow and a promise. The Jewish people’s eternal nature is founded upon the divine nature permanent in the imprint of this wondrous desirable land, which is united with the people whom God has chosen as His special ones. Together, the soul of the people and the land bring to the fore the foundation of their being. They demand their goal: to bring their holy yearning to fruition.
Eretz Cheifetz, p. 7
The Gold of That Land Was Good
“‘And the gold of that land was good’—this teaches that there is no Torah like the Torah of the land of Israel” (Bereishis Rabbah 16:7).
In every generation, it is fitting to have great love for the Torah of the land of Israel. This is particularly true now. We must give our generation the life-giving medicine of the Torah of the land of Israel. We must show this generation the greatness of truth and clarity found within our Godly treasure, in the ideas and insights of the true Torah, in the beauty and exalted nature of its mitzvos, and in its overall view of life. This can be achieved only via the light of the Torah of the land of Israel, via its depth and breadth. Only that connects all one’s awareness and ideas so that one can completely experience it and, more, transfer that experience to others. All of this is possible only via the light of the Torah of the land of Israel.
Our generation is ready. It must be influenced by ideas that have a fresh life and greatness. Shriveled, small matters can no longer capture its heart. Its communal nature has grown exceedingly. We must give everything to this generation in an inclusive fashion: a stream of the flow of life of the entire nation.
This brings us to the essential difference between the Torah of the land of Israel and the Torah of chutz la’aretz (outside the land of Israel). Whatever is small and individual (whether in the general context of spiritual ideas or, more particularly, of those ideas that deal with the great breadth of Torah and faith) when viewed from the perspective of the Torah of chutz la’aretz becomes great and inclusive as soon as it draws to itself the atmosphere of the land of Israel.
The Torah of chutz la’aretz is only aware of how to care for the individual, for his spiritual and physical completion, his temporal as well as eternal condition. But the Torah of the land of Israel is concerned with the totality, with the nation: with its soul and energy, its body and spirit, its total present, its total future, and the living imprint of its past—simultaneously. All details enter it and are subsumed in its exalted state. This is the inner renewal, deep and broad, of the Torah of the land of Israel. It declares that all individual thoughts and ideas proceeding in an impoverished and scattered state—the atmosphere of the land of other nations—must form one bundle, must clothe themselves in one general intent related to the life of the entire nation, under the influence of the land of Israel.
Chevyon Oz, quoted in Moadei Harayah, pp. 157-8
Where are We Going?
by Simcha Raz
As a child, Avraham Yitzchak Kook thought up a unique game to amuse himself and his fellow cheder-pupils. During recess, the small children would line up in rows with their bags over their shoulders, as though they were about to go on a long journey. Little Avramele would lead them. They would ask each other: “Where are we going?,” and he would reply: “To the land of Israel!”
Malachim Kivnei Adam
The writer, Avraham Rivlin, tells:
When Rav Kook was in Berlin, he stayed in our house on August Street. I was then a small child, but I remember that Rav Kook spent most of his time in a room that had been set aside for him in our house, and that many people came to visit him there. Afterwards, I heard from my father that the wealthy Jewish community in Berlin tried to persuade Rav Kook to move to a kosher, first-class hotel at the community’s expense. But Rav Kook replied to the community leaders that he preferred to stay in the house of a Jew from the land of Israel.
Likutei Harayah, p. 71
The Mountains of the Land of Israel
by Haim Lifshitz
Rav Yitzchak Hutner told:
I once took a walk with Rav Kook and another man amidst the mountains of the land of Israel.
Rav Kook told how impressed he was by the landscape.
The other man asked him, “But you were in the Alps. What is so special about these mountains?”
Rav Kook replied, “The Alps didn’t speak to me.”
Shivchei Harayah, p. 195
by Haim Lifshitz
Someone once told Rav Kook, “God willing, we will move to the land of Israel.”
Rav Kook replied, “God is certainly willing. What counts is that you be willing.”
Shivchei Harayah, p. 208
The Dirt of the Holy Land
by Simcha Raz
Yigdal Gal-Ezer (a brother-in-law of the author) was a government official who used to visit Rav Kook at his home. On one of his visits, as Rav Kook was submerged in the study of a Talmudic passage, there was a hesitant knock at the door. The door opened slightly, and a short Yemenite, his hair and beard grizzled white, stepped into the room. He closed the door behind him and remained standing in the doorway, his face to the ground, as though he were afraid to look at Rav Kook.
Rav Kook looked up and told the man in a pleasant tone, “Come closer, my son.”
Slowly, the man stepped toward Rav Kook’s desk, his face still to the ground.
“What is troubling you?” Rav Kook asked him.
“Honored rabbi,” the man said hesitantly, “I have come to ask an important question.”
“For twenty-five years,” the man said, “I have worked hard, morning to evening, uprooting weeds from orchards, planting saplings, digging up rocks, and excavating to build houses. But after all that, I still barely make enough money to support my family. I would like to ask: Would I be allowed to leave the Holy Land and move to America? Perhaps I will be more fortunate there, and I will be able to support my family more honorably.”
For a few seconds, Rav Kook sat quietly, thinking. Then he stood up, pointed at his chair and told the man: “Sit!”
The man began trembling, and stammered: “Honored rabbi, no one else may sit upon your chair!”
But Rav Kook again commanded him: “Sit!”
With small, hesitant steps, the man circled the desk and sat down on Rav Kook’s chair, still trembling. And as soon as he sat down, his head drooped onto Rav Kook’s desk and he fell asleep.
A short while later, he awoke, seeming very moved.
“What happened when you fell asleep?” Rav Kook asked him.
The Yemenite Jew replied: “I dreamed that I was leaving this world. When my soul rose up to heaven, an angel at the gates of heaven directed me to the heavenly court. At the front of the court were the scales of justice.
“Suddenly, horse-drawn carriages rode up, filled with all sorts of packages—small, medium-sized and large—and angels began to put them onto one side of the scale, which dipped down lower and lower, until it almost touched the floor.
“I asked the angel who was standing at my side, ‘What are these packages?’
“The angel replied, ‘These are the sins that you committed on earth. In the end, everything is taken into account.’ I was shaken.
“Then, other horse-drawn carriages rode up, heavily laden with clumps of earth, stones, boulders and sand. And now the angels loaded all of these onto the other side of the scale, which began dipping down.
“‘And what are those packages?’ I asked the angel.
“He answered, ‘Those are the stones, boulders and dirt that you removed from the Holy Land. They will defend you regarding the part that you have taken in building the land.’
“Trembling, I stood and gazed at the side of the scales where my merits were being placed. The scale went down little by little, until it was only a tiny bit higher than the scale of guilt.”
When the man finished speaking, Rav Kook replied, “You see, my son, your question has received an answer from heaven.” And Rav Kook said no more.
Malachim Kivnei Adam
by Simcha Raz
An American Jew, who came to the land of Israel due to the influence of Rav Kook, initially intending to settle there, reconsidered and decided to leave, and came to Rav Kook to take his leave.
Rav Kook asked him, “Why are you leaving?”
“Rabbi, I am tired of the life here in the land of Israel. I can’t stand the irreligiosity, desecration of the Sabbath and of the religion that has spread through the pioneers and the different groups. And that is why I have decided to leave the land of Israel and return to America.”
These words, that came from the mouth of a sincere Jew in the midst of his turmoil, deeply upset the heartstrings of Rav Kook. But he held himself back, and with a smile asked him where he lived in America.
“I live in Denver, Colorado,” the American Jew replied. And with a patriotic pride, he began to describe the city and its beauty to Rav Kook: “It is surrounded by mountains, its atmosphere is clear and pure.” He added, “There are no little, dirty streets, as there are here in Jerusalem. There the streets are broad, the houses are large and beautiful, electric lights light up the whole city....” And he continued speaking about the natural beauty that surrounds the city of Denver.
Rav Kook interrupted him and said: “It seems to me that in Denver there are many people who suffer from tuberculosis. I heard from someone who recently returned from there, that he himself, when he was in Denver, met many people with chronic, serious disease, without any hope of a cure. And if, as you say, Denver has such a healthy atmosphere, why does it have so many sick people?”
The American Jew replied, “Does the rav believe that those sick people are natives of Denver? They come from other cities that doesn’t have a good atmosphere, where they grew ill, and on doctors’s orders, they came to Denver to breathe its air and get better. Obviously, some of those who come have long[-standing diseases, because they had delayed coming to Denver. Their lungs are already badly damaged and they are practically beyond hope. When it comes to such sick people, it must be, that Jew you spoke to met on the streets of Denver, and he simply thought by accident that the city is responsible for their chronic diseases. That simple person didn’t know that that city, with its healthful atmosphere, has healed thousands of people who came there from across the country.”
Rav Kook replied to the man, “Listen to what you yourself are saying! The atmosphere of our holy land also gives wisdom and heals, and to it have come and continue to come poor Jews from all the lands of the exile, whose atmosphere influenced their souls badly, poisoned their souls, and they might have, heaven forbid to assimilate amidst the gentiles and to die a spiritual death in a foreign land. But the Healer of the sick of the nation of Israel made the cure before the disease, and breathed into them the breath of life and love and yearning for the land of Israel, and they come to this place of health and breathe the atmosphere; and if you see so many ill people, spiritually ill in our holy land, they were born outside, and if they hadn’t come here sooner, they would have assimilated there. They are seriously ill, but with their coming here, we must treat them, just as people with tuberculosis are treated in Denver. And I completely believe that the air of the land of Israel will influence many of them to good and to blessing, and to the health of their body and soul.”
Malachim Kivnei Adam, pp. 400-01
by Rabbi Shmuel Aharon Shazuri
Rabbi Shmuel Aharon Shazuri (Weber), secretary of the chief rabbinate, tells:
After the pogroms of 1920 [5680-81], the Arab rioters were given light sentences. At the same time, new restrictions were placed on Jewish immigration.
When Herbert Samuel, the British chief representative, asked Rav Kook for his opinion, he replied, “Why does the Torah only fine a thief double payment, in contrast to man-made laws, which are stricter? The reason is that the thief endangers his life: he knows that if he will be found breaking into a house, he is liable to be killed. Nevertheless, this does not deter him. And so, if the Torah were to threaten him with an equivalent punishment, he would not be deterred from robbing a second time. But he does take a monetary punishment seriously, because that endangers his purpose.
“Therefore,” Rav Kook continued, “what upsets me is not that the Arab rioters are given light sentences, but that they gain political profit from their actions. In my opinion, the sole punishment that can deter them is a political loss, for that would endanger their purpose.”
Malachim Kivnei Adam, p. 155
United to Do Your Will
by Avraham Kav
After Yom Kippur of 1928, when the British Mandate government interfered with the prayers at the Kotel, Rav Kook stated, “Come and learn how we relate to the nations of the world and how they respond to us. On the Days of Awe, we pray, ‘Place Your awe on all Your beings...May all beings fear You and all creatures bow before You, and all be united to do Your will with a full heart.’ And at that moment, when we pray that the entire world will recognize God, the gentiles come and interfere with our prayers, which are being recited on their behalf.”
Malachim Kivnei Adam, p. 167
A Divine Right
by Simcha Raz
In 1929, the Arabs, supported by the British authorities in the land of Israel, were attempting to deny Jews the right to pray before the Western Wall.
When Rabbi Kook appeared before a commission set up to deal with the matter, he turned to the head of the commission and said in a trembling voice:
“What do you mean by saying that this commission will decide who has ownership over the Western Wall? Does this commission or the league of nations control the Wall? From whom have you received permission to decide who owns it? The entire world is the possession of the Holy One, blessed be He, the Creator of the world. And the Holy One, blessed be He, gave the nation of Israel possession of the entire land of Israel, including the Western Wall. No power in the world, no League of Nations and not this commission can suspend this divine right.”
The commission head commented that almost two thousand years had passed since the Jews had possessed the land of Israel, including the Western Wall. To this, Rav Kook replied quietly and calmly:
“In Jewish law, there is a concept of an owner’s giving up his right to his property—including his land. But when a person’s land was stolen from him, and he protested and continues to protest, his rights never expire.”
Malachim Kivnei Adam, p. 179
The City of Hebron
by Simcha Raz
In the major essay of Haheid (Adar 5690), the author-editor, R. Binyomin (under the pseudonym, Y. Ish-Sadeh), described an assembly of public mourning in Jerusalem half a year after the Hebron pogroms. He reported the trembling speeches, and in particular the exalted words of Rav Kook:
It was the twentieth of Shevat, exactly a half year since the burial of the martyrs of Hebron. But the Yeshurun Synagogue was completely filled. People crowded the seats and stood between the seats. Outside, masses stood on the sidewalk in front of the synagogue....
Amidst the crowd were refugees of Hebron, those mourners before whose eyes the murders had taken place. And all this strengthened the feeling of pain and sorrow.
Rabbi Yosef Halevi led the afternoon prayer in a low voice. When he came to the mourners’ kaddish, the refugees of Hebron stood and cried in voice that pierced the heart: “Yitgadel veyitkadesh shmei rabbah....”
Rabbi Slonim of Hebron, who had lost his beloved son, daughter-in-law and all their children save one, stood up. In measured words filled with sorrow, he opened the meeting in the name of the refugees of Hebron. A half a year had not healed the wound. The murder and destruction had not yet been rectified. Neither the government nor the leaders of the Jewish community had done anything to restore Hebron. This gathering must report the outcry of Hebron to all Jews....
Then Rav Kook spoke: The martyrs of Hebron do not need a eulogy. Neither we nor the entire Jewish people can forget the supernal, pure martyrs, shining like the brightness of the sky, who were murdered and killed by unclean murderers and criminals. But we are obligated at this time to recall, and to announce to the people of Israel that we will not forget the city of our forefathers and that we will understand what it means to us.
“The acts of the forefathers are a sign for the children.” When the weak-hearted spies came to Hebron, they were afraid because of the strong nation dwelling in the land. Then, “Yehoshua silenced...and said: Let us go up and inherit it, for we can surely overcome it” (B’midbar 13:30). We too, despite the terrible disaster that occurred to us in Hebron, proclaim openly to all that as our strength was then, so is it now. We will not be moved from our place and from our ideals. With greater might and greater strength, we will return to Hebron, for there are we rooted. It is the city of our forefathers, the city of the Machpelah, the city of Dovid, the cradle of our kingdom, one of the refuge cities.
We say, “He hangs the earth upon nothingness.” The foundation of [seeming] nothingness is the strongest element—”not like our Rock is their rock.” Certainly, we are obligated to weigh our actions with intelligence and thoughtfulness, in a careful and orderly manner. We can assume that the activists who are dedicated to the idea of the rebuilding of Hebron know what lies before them.
And whoever weakens the hands of the builders with the claims that they have no foundation, whoever mocks and says, “What are these pitiful Jews doing?,” whoever does not help rebuild Hebron is damaging the root of our nation and will have to give an accounting. Now that criminals and evil men have repaid us evil for good, we have but one unassailable reply: the Jewish community of Hebron will be rebuilt, with God’s help, in honor and beauty!
Despite the terrible disaster that was poured out upon the Jewish community in Hebron, we must proclaim as Calev ben Yefuneh proclaimed in his day: “Let us go up and inherit it, for we can surely overcome it” (B’midbar 13:30).
The inner character of Hebron is: strength and awakening in the might of the Eternal One of Israel.
And just as that strong Jew, Yehoshua, proclaimed years later: “I am still strong today—as my strength was then, so is it now” (Yehoshua 14:11), so must we rise and proclaim openly to all that as our strength was then, so is it now. We must rebuild Hebron even more, with greater strength, out of a concern for the peace and security of every single Jew. With the help of God, we will merit to see Hebron rebuilt upon its site, quickly and in our days.
To Visit His Palace
by Simcha Raz
In the 1920s, the Arabs were attempting to prevent Jewish access to the Western Wall, and the Mandate Government instituted temporary restrictions. The Jewish Investigatory Committee proposed that Jews ceased going to the Western Wall until its status would be resolved. Rav Kook published a strong response to this proposal:
“I do not agree to a cessation of visits to the Western Wall, even temporarily. It is impossible that the testimony to the holiness of the Wall that is made by our visits, and prayers and tears there, since the destruction of the Temple, be interrupted. Until now, the Arabs and other nations who had controlled the Land have recognized our right to the Wall, which is carved from the depth of our souls, and they have not dared interrupt visits and prayers at this holy site. Even a temporary cessation of visitation may be turned in the hands of our opponents into a false proof against us before the present authorities. Heaven forbid that he show weakness in regard to the sanctity of the Wall, in opposition to the true reality that the holy, eternal love and inheritance of our forefathers to the sanctity of the remnant of our Temple is carved forever like a seal upon our hearts.”
Malachim Kivnei Adam, pp. 180-81
If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem
by Simcha Raz
Yosef Sharvit tells that during the controversy in at the end of the 1920s over control of the Western Wall, the judge, Mordecai Elias, presented the question of possession in an ambiguous form. On the one hand, the Jewish community does not demand control of the Western Wall, only free access to pray next to it. On the other hand, the terms of ownership and control do not apply to a holy place such as the Wall. This approach was based on appeasing the non-Jews without denying the rights of the Jewish people....
But when Rav Kook learned of this, he protested and opposed it with all his strength. “Heaven forbid! We have no right to do so. The nation of Israel has not given us the authority to give up the Western Wall in its name. Our possession of the Wall is a divine possession. It is with that right that we come to pray there.”
Malachim Kivnei Adam, p. 178
by Simcha Raz
My nephew, Rabbi Shlomo Kook, tells:
In the summer of 5690 (1930), the Arabs demanded that the Jews withdraw any claim of rights to the Western Wall. They threatened that if not, they would resume their riots and pogroms. Rav Kook sat at a meeting with the heads of the various Jewish communities, among them Zalman Rovshov (who would change his name to Shazar and later become President of the State of Israel).
They discussed issuing a proclamation regarding the sanctity of the Wall and its uniqueness to the Jewish people. Zalman Rovshov-Shazar proposed that two proclamations be issued: one from the religious circles and one from the more general populace.
Rav Kook said nothing.
Later, he was brought a proposed version of proclamation for the religious circles. Only then did he say to Zalman Rovshov-Shazar that he wants only one proclamation, one version, in the name of all the Jewish people. He said, “There are people who are musically gifted—some have a musical education and others do not. But even those who have not been musically trained feel echoes in the depths of their hearts when they hear certain tunes. Our relationship to the Western Wall is one of the Jewish motifs that arouses the heart of every Jew, whoever he might be. And therefore, the proclamation must be one.”
Malachim Kivnei Adam
RAV KOOK AND THE KOTEL
by Prof. Haim Lipschitz
In the summer of 6690 (1930), the Arabs demanded that the Jews give up their rights to the Western Wall, the Kotel. They threatened that if the Jews did not acquiesce, they would continue carrying out pogroms.
The Zionist Committee, the Jewish Agency and the National Committee all favored giving up Jewish rights, and they attempted to persuade Rav Kook to agree to this, to his sorrow.
At that time, Rav Kook and his family were on vacation in Kiryat Moshe, which was then a suburb of Jerusalem. A Jew from England, who had a large house in the neighborhood, had lent it to Rav Kook’s family.
Together with Rav Kook was his shammash, Rabbi Meir Dovid, a Karliner Hasid who served Rav Kook like a Hasid serving his rebbe. There was also a talented young man from Germany who was drawn to the teachings of Rav Kook and who wanted to translate Orot Hateshuvah into German.
One day, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah, the son of Rav Kook, sat in a room studying Orot Hateshuvah with this young man. Following the morning prayers, Rav Kook had lain in the bedroom the entire day, in weakness and sorrow, due to the troubling situation.
Suddenly, Rabbi Meir Dovid broke into the room where Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah was sitting with the young man and said, “Doesn’t it bother you? You know what is happening here, what is going on here! And now So-and-so (one of the community leaders) is here and he is bothering Rav Kook regarding the Kotel. Don’t you know the sorrow that this is causing the Rav?”
That leader, accompanied by another well-known man, was sitting with Rav Kook and attempting to persuade him that it was correct to give up the Jews’ rights. But Rav Kook stayed firm.
When they left the Rav with nothing, Rav Tzvi Yehudah turned to them emotionally and said, “This is murder! You know how much pain this causes the Rav!”
One of the men was insulted, and he responded, “I have never murdered anyone.” Rav Tzvi Yehudah answered, “I did not call you a murderer, but this behavior has something of murder in it.”
After the men left, Rav Tzvi Yehudah returned to learn Orot Hateshuvah with the young man. But soon afterwards, Rabbi Meir Dovid again burst in and announced that one of the men had returned in order to persuade Rav Kook to take part in a meeting of the National Committee regarding the Kotel, and that the man had already gone out to telephone the National Committee office.
Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah ran to the house that had the only telephone in the neighborhood, where he found the man standing at the telephone. Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah yelled at him, “It will never be! The Rav will not go with you to a meeting about the Kotel.”
The man was taken aback, and over the phone he told the National Committee that there would be no meeting, because Rav Kook’s family was not allowing him to participate.
Because Rav Kook did not go to the National Committee, a few National Committee members came to him and argued that it was standard British government practice to obtain the Chief Rabbi’s signature in such a matter, and that the well-being of the Jewish community depended on giving in, for the Arab mufti was threatening further pogroms.
They argued with Rav Kook for hours, constantly repeating, “The existence of the Jewish community depends on this!” But Rav Kook stood firm. He explained that from the most basic practical point of view, giving up our rights would not help the situation.
Rav Kook was filled with sorrow and worry, and his health was affected. But he did not move from his position.
After a day or two, another known community leader came to plead with Rav Kook. How could Rav Kook be so cruel when the very existence of the community was at stake? But this too did not influence Rav Kook. The next day, another well-known leader came and asked Rav Kook to have pity on the community and reconsider the situation. But he too did not persuade Rav Kook.
And another leader came and said, “There is no choice, the entire life of the community depends on this.” And one leader proposed various types of compromise—but with no result. Rav Kook did not change his position: we do not cede rights to the Kotel!
Shivchei Harayah, pp. 238-40
by Simcha Raz
In Av, 5689 (1929), the Sixteenth Zionist Congress convened in Zurich. At that time, there broke out the bloody pogroms in the land of Israel—while the majority of the Jewish leaders were absent....During these events, hundreds of Jews were killed and injured by Arab rioters, particularly in the community of Chevron.....
At a meeting between the British Secretary, Lock, and Rav Kook, Lord Lock told Rav Kook, “You Jews may defend yourselves, but do not attack others.”
Rav Kook replied, “You who violate the commandment ‘do not murder,’ do not teach us ethics! The Talmud teaches, ‘he who comes to kill you, rise up and kill him.’”
This proud stance made a great impression on the entire Jewish world. Avigdor Hemeiri testifies: “If not for this one man, completely unique, who stood at the post of our national and individual honor, then we would also have been mourning the death of our self-respect.”
The news of Rav Kook’s response spread quickly throughout the Jewish community and aroused a stir. While many praised the passionate and proud response, others criticized Rav Kook, particularly out of fear that Lock would take revenge on the Jewish community, which depended to a great degree on his mercy. Whenever Rav Kook appeared somewhere, immediately two camps formed, arguing loudly for and against Rav Kook.
Soon after this event, Rav Kook was invited to a circumcision and a heated argument over this matter broke out. When Rav Kook saw this, he signaled to his shamash, Rabbi Meir Dovid Shotland, who was a smart and learned Jew, to calm the people down.
Rabbi Meir Dovid stood up and called out, “People! Very soon the new-born infant will be brought in and we will all greet him by standing up and saying, Boruch Haba: Welcome is he who comes. I have two questions regarding this. First of all, why do we not greet a bar mitzvah boy or a bridegroom, who can understand what we are saying, with the same greeting? And secondly, why is it that after the circumcision, we do not take leave of the baby by saying ‘Blessed is he who leaves’?”
Silence fell over the group. Rabbi Meir Dovid continued: “Now I will answer these two questions. To our sorrow and humiliation, Jews are impressed by every uncircumcised non-Jew and show him honor at every opportunity, whether or not he deserves it. That is why we rise to greet the child—for he is not yet circumcised, not yet brought into the Jewish covenant. But once he is circumcised and becomes a Jew, we no longer treat him with any particular respect. And thus we do not say ‘Blessed is he who leaves.’”
Malachim Kivnei Adam