Beit Midrash

  • Series
  • Harav Tzvi Yehuda Hacohen Kook
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated to the full recovery of

Yehudah ben Hadasah Hinde Malkah

"Your People, They Are All Righteous"

What stood out in Rabbi Kook's thought that could not be found in the thought of his contemporaries was a clarification of the issue of the unique chosenness of the Jewish people, a broad and deep examination of the profundity of the Nation of Israel.


Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed

1. A Complete Acquisition
2. We Are All One Soul
3. National Revival
4. A Poor Comparison
A Complete Acquisition
When discussing our beloved mentor, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook zt"l, we must begin by pointing out that he was the foremost disciple of his father, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook zt"l. This was his greatness and his uniqueness. When Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah passed away, Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli said, "Until now Rabbi Kook was continued by his son, our beloved mentor, and now it is as if Rabbi Kook himself has died."

Even though Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah was a distinctly independent personality, the teachings of his father were his own. He had made a complete acquisition of them.

It is impossible to confine Rabbi Kook's thought to clear boundaries, for what made his philosophy unique was the fact that it encompassed the entire Torah in all of its nuances. He was, according to the Gerrer Rebbe, an "ish eshkolot" Torah scholar par excellence, his being was all-encompassing. Rabbi Kook contained the entire Torah, both its hidden and revealed aspects. No secret escaped him. He was familiar with all approaches to Kabbalistic wisdom. He contained all that related to the various ways of understanding and presenting the Torah. But he also possessed that which others did not.

What stood out in Rabbi Kook's thought that could not be found in others of his generation was a clarification of the issue of the unique chosenness of the Jewish people, a broad and deep examination of the profundity of the Jewish people. And based upon this, Rabbi Kook approached and understood the events taking place in the generation of national rebirth, the generation that had awakened to return to the land of Israel.

And this is not just one more aspect among the other aspects of the Torah. It is the very foundation of the entire Torah. This is precisely what we say in the blessing over the Torah: "Who chose us from among all of the nations and gave us His Torah." God's giving us the Torah was preceded by His choosing us.

At Mount Sinai, too, the Almighty began by saying: "I am the Lord your God who took you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage." In other words, the basis of Jewish faith is believing in the God Who chose us and took us out of Egypt to be his nation. This divine election is everlasting and unchanging, and it is not dependent upon our actions. No matter what happens, we are called "God's children."

And what is the fundamental nature of our chosenness? What is the content of this unique quality?

In choosing the Jewish people God instilled in us a divine soul that clings to Him, a sublime soul deep within of us, deeper than the intellect and deeper than emotion and other overt mental faculties. The intellect and emotion are just tools by virtue of which the soul can be revealed. When the intellect is engaged in Torah and religious faith, and the emotion is ignited with fear and love of God, the divine soul within us is finding expression.

And, as a rule, the divine soul always manifests itself through the Jewish people as a whole, sometimes through more of them and sometimes through less, but there are always those who reveal the fact that the Jewish people are God's people. The divine soul is not always revealed in individuals, for in order for the soul to become discernible, it must overcome obstacles and impediments. Therefore, we are witness to situations in which a person does not behave in accordance with the callings of his soul.

However, in each and every Jew, even those who are distant from the Torah and its commandments, there is a divine soul. In the case of the far removed it is merely concealed by thick layers. But this condition is temporary and unnatural, and eventually the nature of the soul will overcome all of the obstacles. All Jews will return to God, and the divine soul in each Jew will reveal itself in its full glory. This is the vision of the future that we anxiously await and that we are steadily approaching.

We Are All One Soul
This premise, that the Jews are God's chosen people, and that every single Jew possesses a divine soul, leads to a recognition of the great value of virtuous deeds and Torah commandments. They are an expression of our divine soul and therefore possess divine force. Conversely, negative actions stem from a person's material and base side and therefore have lesser significance. This is reflected in the words of the sages: "A virtuous deed is five hundred times greater than a calamitous one." And one commentator says that a virtuous deed is not only five hundred times greater - it is infinitely greater! This is because such a deed stems from a lofty source, from the divine soul.

From the premise that every Jew possesses a divine uniqueness, a divine soul, and that this is his definitive being, stems the recognition that we are all one nation and that our lofty shared traits are great and prominent while our differences in behavior are superficial and trivial, and that we are all "surety for each other" (Shavuot 39a). We all possess a single, common, divine soul. Therefore, there is no room for divisiveness in the people of Israel. The common element is eternal and fixed, and any phenomenon of estrangement from the Torah and its commandments is transient.

In light of this, we are obligated to love every Jew, even those who are distant from the Torah, to love the divine soul hidden within him. (This love, however, does not blur our criticism of external shortcomings. To the contrary, by recognizing the greatness of the inner soul, the gravity of the shortcomings becomes more pronounced. But, as said, the definitive element of a Jew is his divine soul).

We find, then, that recognizing Israel's purpose causes a person to view reality differently. It leads to a different assessment of merits and shortcomings. According to this manner of viewing things, the Jewish people are a righteous nation, "Your people, they are all righteous" (Isaiah 60:21). And because they are righteous, God scrutinizes them to the hairbreadth, more so than other nations. The extreme punishment of exile does not imply that the Jewish people are the worst of the nations. To the contrary, the Jewish people are by far the loftiest of all nations. Therefore, a high level of perfection is expected of them. Every shortcoming for Israel stands out and is severe. And all this stems from their greatness.

The fact that the Jewish people were chosen by God to be His people and to relate His glory became known to the entire world via the Egyptian exodus. Since that event, God's name is bound up with the nation of Israel, and God's honor is connected to the honor of Israel, as Ramchal writes at the end of chapter nineteen of "Messilat Yesharim" (The Path of the Just).

Therefore, when, after the sin of the spies, God said to Moses, "How long will this people provoke me? And how long will it be before they believe me? . . . I will make of you a greater nation and mightier than they!" Moses responded, "Now if you shall kill all this people as one man, then the nations . . . will speak, saying, 'Because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land which he swore to them, therefore he has slain them in the wilderness.' "

Ezekiel the Prophet likewise says that when Israel is exiled due to their sins, God's name is desecrated: "These people are God's nation, yet they have been displaced from their land" (36:20), and the commentators explain that the nations claim that God lacks the strength, as it were, to protect the Jewish people from their enemies. The prophet therefore says that the Almighty will redeem the Jewish people not because of their merits but so that God's name not be defamed among the nations: "Thus says the Lord God: I do not do this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for my holy name’s sake . . . And I will sanctify my great name . . . For I will take you from among the nations, and gather you from all countries, and will bring you into your own land" (22-24).

Hence, everything that happens to Israel, good or bad, is connected to the Almighty. This understanding affects our attitude toward the movement for national revival. Ostensibly, the only objective of this revival is to strengthen the people from a national standpoint, to save the nation from the tribulations of exile, not to enhance the nation's spiritual content.

However, because whatever happens to the nation of Israel is bound up with the Almighty, the revival of Israel itself, on any level, brings honor to God; the ingathering of exiles and reclamation of the land by Israel sanctifies God's name, as the prophet says, and hence there is no question that this awakening is a divine process for the sake of God.

When we grasp this fact, that Israel has been bestowed with the role of relating God's glory and that this is the inner essence of each individual Jew and of the Jewish people as a whole, we understand that the Jewish people will without a doubt return to their source, to their God. This process, therefore, certainly possesses inner sanctity, for it is this that lies deepest in the heart of Israel.

National Revival
According to this outlook it also appears that the Zionist movement is giving rise to a process of return to faith and Torah. All backslidings and infirmities are temporary. They are actually part of an overall process of spiritual elevation, for "a person cannot grasp the words of the Torah unless he first errs in them" (Gittin 43a). This is the nature of progress; it involves obstacles and setbacks.

If one takes a cursory look at things without penetrating the true depth of the nature of the Jewish people, one is likely to conclude that the mass return to Torah that began with the establishment of the state of Israel runs counter to Zionism and the movement for national revival, that these are two opposing processes. However, a penetrating view of things reveals that this is a single divinely driven process. It is the national revival that has triggered the ever-growing spiritual revival.

Here, in the land of Israel, the spiritual crisis that haunted Israel in recent generations came to a halt, and it was here that a desire to return to Torah began awaken. After the liberation of the Temple Mount, the Old City, and large portions of the land of Israel, the return to Torah surged to dimensions that continue to grow. And all of this is the result of the establishment of the state of Israel, and its victories.

In sum, when one grasps the purpose of the Jewish people, the singularity of Israel, one deepens his outlook on reality. The weight of virtuous actions and Torah commandments is great and eternal while the weight of moral weakness is small and transient. The condition of Israel is seen in a different light. The positive triumphs. The Jewish people are ever advancing. The good in every Jew is great while the shortcomings are incidental. We are in the midst of a great ascent despite all of the transgression and all of the corruption. Despite all of the downfalls along the way, we continue to march forward, toward our complete redemption.

We are not ignoring all those matters that call for improvement. This is not some hallucination detached from reality. It is not naivete. It is the profound and accurate view of reality. Actually, through this view of things, the shortcomings, which are a minority, stand out all the more, and their rectification is even more pressing.

Our beloved mentor, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook, repeatedly taught us to view reality in this manner. This approach has the status of a Torah lesson which "if you let your eyes close before it, it will disappear" (Proverbs 23:5). If one takes his mind off of this lofty outlook for even a moment, one loses the divine Torah that is higher than man. Only one who clings to it with all his might merits attaining it.

A Poor Comparison
Indeed, this fundamental concept of Israel's singularity is presently in the midst of a difficult battle with the democratic school of thought, which proclaims complete equality between individuals, nations, races, and religions. Democracy demands equality for all and opposes all discrimination. It permits complete personal freedom of thought and opinion. Ostensibly, democracy comes in the name of morality and justice, proclaiming, "What gives you the right to force your opinion and faith on others?"

Such claims appear impressive. However, just as it is immoral to discriminate against those who are equal, and any such discrimination is corrupt evil, so too one may not equate those who are different, and any such equation is evil. Any blurring of levels destroys the natural order of things. This, in fact, was Korach's claim: "The entire community is holy, and God is in their midst. So why do you place yourselves above God's congregation?" (Numbers 16:3)

Korach wished to uproot the recognition that Israel's Priesthood has a unique status. Korach and his followers were punished in an unprecedented manner: The earth "opened up its mouth" and swallowed them up. The purpose of this punishment was to make it known that Israel's singularity consists of a hierarchy of Priests, Levites, and Israelites. There is Israel and there are the other nations. The nation of Israel is a "kingdom of priests and a holy nation." The people of Israel are a unique people, a people chosen by God.

Not unlike Korach's claim regarding Israel is the claim that all nations are equal, that Israel is no different than any other nation. We, though, thank God each day because He "chose us from among the nations and gave us His Torah."

Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah taught us that when we are confronted with an opposing opinion, we should not attack it head-on. Rather, we should rise up above it, embrace the positive points hidden therein, those which are in keeping with our view, and then the opinion will naturally fall to the wayside. This must be our approach to the democratic worldview.

The aspiration for freedom of opinion also has a positive side. Personal freedom liberates a person from external pressure and permits him to build his faith within him. In this manner one's faith in God can reveal itself from new, inner depths, something which hitherto has not been possible. True, freedom also involves the danger that values will be thrown out, that people will be drawn after their base desires. However, we should not do battle with the aspiration for freedom per se, for it is a healthy drive at its source. Rather, we must fight the negative ramifications that are liable to be caused by freedom.

In a similar manner, the desire to achieve equality between equals is justified and moral, and it corrects the injustices of the past. It disqualifies discrimination against equals and prevents the strong from taking advantage of the weak. However, it is not right that this drive for equality should lead to equality of the unequal, for this destroys the natural order of things. Therefore, we must not blur the difference between Israel and the nations. This difference is as substantial as the difference between light and darkness.

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