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Beit Midrash Series Harav Tzvi Yehuda Hacohen Kook

Our Mentor, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaCohen Kook zt”l

R' Tzvi Yehuda taught us that the State of Israel is not just some formal body designed to preserve the nation. Rather, the very existence of the State has divine worth; it embodies a significant stage in the redemption as envisioned by the Prophets.
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As of late, we are again asking ourselves the question, how is it possible to educate toward the territorial integrity of the land of Israel on the one hand and the complete unity of the nation of Israel on the other? After all, it would seem that the stance which expresses absolute unwillingness to hand over even a modicum of the land of Israel to another people is itself to blame for the great rift in the nation!

What's more, how is it possible to educate the public to fulfill the Torah and its commandments flawlessly, without compromise and without concession, major and minor commandments alike, while at the same time educating toward a love of the entire Jewish people, a love that encompasses every single Jew, even those estranged from the Torah and its precepts? Is not such an education inherently self-contradicting?

We further ask ourselves, painfully, how can we hold the State of Israel in such high esteem - regarding it as the "first flowering of our redemption" and even the "foundation of God's throne in the world" - when, not only does it comprise--- many who are far-removed from the Torah and the commandments, but it is even led and directed by individuals who have disavowed the Torah?

Yet, our mentor and teacher, the late Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook zt"l, indeed strove to achieve such an "impossible" goal. R' Tzvi Yehuda proved that it is possible to educate towards all of these values simultaneously. Even more than this, he taught that this is the only way to educate. R' Tzvi Yehuda taught his students to recognize the fact that the Torah, the nation, and the land are mutually interdependent. Without Torah the nation of Israel cannot exist, and without the nation of Israel the Torah cannot exist. Likewise, the nation of Israel and the Torah cannot exist without the land of Israel, and there can be no land of Israel without the Torah and the nation of Israel. The integrity of the Torah is contingent upon that of the nation and the land.

Our mentor's love for the land of Israel was uncompromising and it permitted no land concession whatsoever. This love stemmed from a clear recognition of the fact that relinquishing parts of the land of Israel is tantamount to relinquishing the Torah or the nation. This is because, as noted, the land, the nation, and the Torah are one, and a blow to even one of these values constitutes a blow to all of them.

R' Tzvi Yehuda's love for the entire nation of Israel, observant Jews and nonobservant Jews alike, did not stem from human kindness alone. Neither was it the expression of some superficial nationalistic doctrine. This love of his emanated from the recognition that every Jew, even one who abandons the Torah, possesses a pure and divine soul. This soul constitutes the Jew's true essence, and therefore, in the future, it will overcome all outer, transitory weaknesses.

R' Tzvi Yehuda's love for the collective Jewish nation stemmed from the recognition that the entire Jewish people is like a single living body. Even if part of the body is infected and sickly, it remains one of our own organs, our own flesh and blood. Even if that element denies being part of the collective body of Israel, such a disavowal is itself part of his and our sickness. We cannot simply dismember the parts of a single living organism. Therefore, we must aim at rectifying the body as a whole. This "holistic" approach, love of the entire Jewish people, does not take away, heaven forbid, from the love of the Torah, for it itself emanates from the Torah.

In this regard, R' Tzvi Yehuda was accustomed to citing the Talmud (Megila 28a): Rabi asked asked R' Yehoshua ben Korcha, "How have you managed to live to such a ripe old age?" to which Rabi quipped, "Do you begrudge my life [that you ask me such a question?]"

R' Yehoshua ben Korcha understands that Rabi's question contains a hint of criticism. R' Yehoshua ben Korcha was a student and adherent of Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Akiva, as is well known, was Bar Kochba's arms bearer, and he supported the Bar Kochba uprising as much as he possibly could. In short, Rabbi Akiva identified with the nationalists, the activists, the Zionists of his generation. Therefore, Rabi's question contains underlying implied question: having banded together with the nationalists, the irreligious Zionists, you have probably been negatively influenced by them. This being so, how is it that you have managed to live to such a ripe age?

R' Yehoshua ben Korcha then answered: "As long as I have lived, I have never gazed upon the face of an evil person." In other words, though in my life I have dealt with many people who are far-removed from the Torah and its commandments, not only has this not effected me negatively, to the contrary, by virtue of this I have merited long life.

Our beloved mentor was the extremest of the extremists when it came to the question of Israel's territorial integrity, the extremest of the extremists when it came to the love of the Torah, and the extremest of the extremists when it came to the love of the nation. When an individual displays a tenancy to emphasize a certain aspect of his outlook or way of life, he is generally labeled an extremist. However, one who has a tendency to emphasize all of the sides together, to be an extremest in all - such an individual is not an extremest, he is a giant.

Our teacher and mentor, R' Tzvi Yehuda, reared many students and in so doing proved that this great aspiration - the aspiration to cherish the Torah, the nation, and the land, without conceding any one of these values for the sake of another - is not the private property of a select few. Rather, it is a path fit for the masses. R' Tzvi Yehuda proved that the aspiration to love the nation does not have to take away from our complete devotion to the Torah. Similarly, our complete devotion to the Torah need not harm our efforts to achieve the land's wholeness. All of these values are one.

Our mentor, R' Tzvi Yehuda, established many students, but not because of frequent television appearances or radio interviews. He wrote few newspaper articles and what he did write was not easily read. Still, he established many students - from Kiryat Shmonah in the north to Eilat in the south, from Gaza to the Golan.

The secret of R' Tzvi Yehuda's success as an educator was the fact that he refused to live his life according to the accepted rules, and instead lived according to the rules of the Torah and the words of the Sages. The Sages teach us that "the words of one who possess fear of Heaven are received favorably," and these words were like a light to his path. R' Tzvi Yehuda possessed large quantity of fear of Heaven, and therefore his words were received favorably.

R' Tzvi Yehuda probed and explained the deep meaning of the words of the Sages, teaching us that the words of one who possesses fear of Heaven are received favorably - first and foremost by himself. In other words, the fear of Heaven in a person allows him to achieve a level of self-discipline, activating his practical tools and channeling them to fulfill his inner desire, his fear of Heaven. And to the extent that a person listens to himself, this quality of self-discipline spreads to others as well, causing others to listen to him.

R' Tzvi Yehuda instilled this principle in others and remained true to it his entire life: whatever R' Tzvi Yehuda demanded of others he first demanded of himself. And because he himself was true to his own inner fear of Heaven, others also received his words favorably. He demanded of himself limitless self-sacrifice for the Torah. He immersed and applied himself diligently to the world of Torah, drinking thirstily its every word. He drank thirstily and without respite from the Torah of his father, Rabbi Kook zt"l. And he "infected" his many students with this same quality. He radiated courage and strength in his struggle for Israel's territorial integrity, recognizing the spiritual value of the land. R' Tzvi Yehuda's students were imbued with his devotion to the land, and this devotion was what generated the mighty spirit that propelled the settlement movement throughout Judea, Samaria, and Gaza.

R' Tzvi Yehuda taught us that the State of Israel is not just some formal, technical framework designed to preserve the nation; it is not just some body possessing no inherent value. He taught us that the very existence of the State bears divine purpose. He educated us such that we not make the mistake of thinking that the value of the State is measured according to the actions of the government. We should not think that when a government acts in a fitting manner, the State possesses worth, and when a government does not act in a fitting manner, the State lacks value. The very existence of the State has spiritual value, divine worth, for it is a significant stage in the course of the redemption as envisioned by the Prophets.

The ingathering of exiles, the settlement of the land of Israel, the liberation of the land from foreign occupation, the return of the land to the sanctity of Israel, the liberation of Jews from the subjugation of the nations - all of these matters, bound up as they are with the very essence of the State of Israel, are stages in the divine redemption. The return of the people of Israel to their land and to a state of sovereignty is causing, and will continue to cause, the return of Israel to its divine Torah.

Due to his great love for the State of Israel and his recognition of its divine value, R' Tzvi Yehuda was shaken to the depths of his soul by the establishment of a minority government in Israel which leaned upon the votes of non-Jews.

At that time, R' Tzvi Yehuda came out in unprecedentedly strong protest, declaring that this was a great desecration of God's name, "a desecration of the sacred name of the Creator of the Universe, conductor of its history, and creator of its borders - both the borders of the nations of the world and those of His own personal nation. This is the tragic comedy of our nation's and State's disgrace, brought about through the grafting of this minority government upon our State." R' Tzvi Yehuda referred to this act as a "terrible crime, the disgrace of which - the shame and the humiliation of this appalling tragic comedy - will be remembered forever in the history of the nation of Israel, the Eternal People."

Elsewhere, R' Tzvi Yehuda wrote that "before all else, this government is for the nation, not the nation for the government, and when the government betrays the nation, its land and its life, the living and feeling nation becomes all the more removed from this government...and we are commanded to settle the land, and we shall do so. We shall settle the length and breath of our homeland and life-source, and we do this with the blessing of God, our Redeemer, the conductor of our history, a blessing which continues to appear in full force in all aspects of our salvation."

R' Tzvi Yehuda's strong criticism of the government did not reduce in the slightest his cognition of the value of the State. He made a very clear distinction between our relation to the government, which is to be judged according to its actions, and our relation to the State, which is holy. Governments come and governments go. "We are commanded by the Torah, not the government. The Torah comes before the government. The Torah is undying, and this betraying government will pass and disappear."

In sum, R' Tzvi Yehuda was not alarmed by obstacles which appeared to stand in the way of the redemption. He considered such "obstructions" part of the redemptive process, a process which includes crises along the way. He educated us to have faith and to perceive God's salvation, to perceive the acts of God. He taught us to act together with God, a lesson which we learn from the words of the Jerusalem Talmud: "R' Yermiyah said: In the future, a Heavenly voice will burst forth in the tents of the righteous, saying, 'Whoever worked together with God, let him come and receive his reward.'"

Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed
Rosh Yeshiva of the Bet El Yeshiva, was the head of the Yesha rabbis board and rabbi of Bet-El, founder and head of Arutz 7.
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