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Beit Midrash Series Harav Avraham Yitzchak Hacohen Kook

A Love that does not Corrupt

Rabbi Kook's love for the Jewish people was not the product of mere human compassion. Rabbi Kook's love for the Jewish people was the result of penetrating and divine insight into this people's true essence.
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Once, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook zt"l related to me a personal story. He had participated in a memorial service for Rabbi Chaim Ozer who was once the Rabbi of Vilna. One of the Rabbis at the service delivered an oration lamenting the loss of the great Rabbi Ozer. He praised Rabbi Ozer and said that he possessed a "proper" love for the Jewish people, the sort that did not lead to "corruption." It was possible to discern that the speaker was hinting that Rabbi Chaim Ozer was not like his contemporary, Rabbi Avraham Isaac Kook. Rabbi Kook, because of his great love for the Jews, did not see them for what they were; he tended to judge favorably those who were not actually deserving. Love for the Jewish people "corrupted," as it were, Rabbi Kook.

Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah was very pained by the fact that in a memorial oration whose purpose it was to honor one great individual, hinted criticism was voiced concerning Rabbi Kook. Moreover, who dare criticize Rabbi Kook?! This happened a short time before the third of Elul - the date of Rabbi Kook's death. When the third of Elul arrived - Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah spoke about his deceased father, Rabbi Kook, and made reference to this matter.

It states in the weekly Torah portion: "If you come upon a bird's nest... chase away the mother" (Deuteronomy 22:6). The Mishna teaches that "one who says: 'Your lovingkindness extends to the bird's nest… must be silenced." That is, if a person says: "Your lovingkindness extends to the bird's nest" - i.e., Just as You, God, have given us this commandment which embodies Your attribute of lovingkindness, so too display lovingkindness towards us - he must be silenced. The Talmud explains the reason for this: One who says this assigns to God's ways the attribute of lovingkindness, when, in fact, God's ways are "decrees." That is, the ways of God are not governed by "lovingkindness" in the human sense of the word. They are, in fact, divine "decrees" - beyond our comprehension.

Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah continued, explaining that the lovingkindness of one who follows the ways of the Almighty, is not the result of human weakness. Such a person's lovingkindness is similar to divine decree. This, in fact, is Torah! The lovingkindness, love for the Jewish people, and entire outlook of Rabbi Kook were not ruled by mere human compassion. They were motivated by divine decree. Rabbi Kook's love for the Jewish people was the result of penetrating and divine insight into the true essence of the Jewish people. "And one who speaks in such a manner regarding Rabbi Kook must be silenced!" shouted Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah.

Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah told all of this to me incidentally. In fact, he merely wished to explain to me why the family of the Rabbi who had spoken in honor of Rabbi Chaim Ozer was upset with him. Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah believed that it was because of his having said in response to words of that Rabbi that he "must be silenced." The impact of Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah's demand was felt.

This is a deep concept. The ways of God are not governed by anything even resembling human lovingkindness. They are ruled by divine wisdom. They are absolute decrees. Such was the nature of Rabbi Kook's love for the Jewish people. I later came across this concept in Rabbi Kook's seminal work, "Orot" (Orot Yisrael, chpt. 4).

We are the torchbearers of Rabbi Kook's profound approach, an approach which went misunderstood in the Rabbi's own day. Indeed, it continues to be somewhat misunderstood by many - and perhaps to the majority - of Israel's Torah scholars today. They were unable to fully grasp his teachings in his time, and today, too, are unable to fully grasp them.

The Talmud tells us that the Sages were unable to fully grasp the teachings of Rabbi Meir. In addition, it is told of Rabbi Meir that he traveled afar for a year. Because he was without a Scroll of Ester, when the Purim holiday arrived he wrote a scroll from memory and read from it. And though ordinarily it is forbidden to write the Scroll of Ester from memory, Rabbi Meir was an exception, for "the entire Torah was as if before his very eyes." The entire Torah was before his eyes, and because of his greatness, other sages were unable to fully grasp his teachings.

Some Torah scholars reach unique levels of greatness, and, as a result, few are able to truly grasp their teachings. Sometimes it takes generations for their profundity to become apparent and understood. Though in the days of Rabbi Kook only a handful of individuals understood him, those who met him admired him greatly.

It is well known that Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer, one of the leading Torah scholars in his day, grandfather of the Yeshiva world in Eretz Israel, and author of "Even HaEzel," greatly admired Rabbi Kook. It is told that when Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer visited Rabbi Chaim Ozer he said, "We are 'Torah giants' until we reach the door of Rabbi Kook; when we pass through Rabbi Kook's door we cease being 'giants.' We do not reach his level." It is also told that Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer - who in addition to being a leading scholar was also extremely pious - once spent time together with Rabbi Kook recuperating in the Carmel Mountains. When he saw the great fervor with which Rabbi Kook prayed the weekday afternoon prayer he said, "If only I could pray the 'Neilah' of Yom Kippur the way Rabbi Kook prays the ordinary weekday afternoon prayer while in recuperation."

Here, then, is a personage in whose light we may become illuminated.

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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