The Grape Harvest

A story about Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, head of Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva and son of the iconic religious Zionist leader for whom Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva is named.

Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook,

Judaism הרב צבי יהודה קוק זצ"ל.
הרב צבי יהודה קוק זצ"ל.
אתר 'ישיבה'

"It was the season when the grapes begin to ripen..." (Num. 13:20)

Rabbi Yosef Kfir related:

My parents, who were among the founders of moshav Kfar Pines, owned a vineyard. One year we were still busy with the grape harvest on the first of Elul, when the academic year in yeshivah begins. My father requested that I postpone leaving home until the harvest was finished. Thus I returned to my studies two weeks late.

On my first day back, I attended the lecture of the rosh yeshivah, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook. The rabbi inquired why I was so late in returning to the yeshivah. Embarrassed, I explained that I needed to help my parents with the grape harvest.

His face shining, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah went to one of the book shelves and excitedly pulled out a Talmudic commentary by the renowned Chatam Sofer (Rabbi Moses Sofer, 1762-1839). The rabbi opened the volume and read out loud, with deep emotion:

"In my humble opinion, Rabbi Yishmael only asserted that one should follow what it says, "You shall harvest your grain, your wine and your oil" (Deut. 11:14), [even though this will limit time available for Torah study] - in the Land of Israel, when the majority of the Jewish people are living there. The reason being that, in this case, working the land and producing its holy fruit is itself a mitzvah - the mitzvah of yishuv Eretz Yisrael, settling the Land of Israel. It was in this context that the Torah commanded us, "You shall harvest your grain." And Boaz [who was a leading scholar of his generation] winnowed barley in the threshing floor at night in order to fulfill this mitzvah.

"Just as one would not say, 'I will not wear tefillin because I am currently busy studying Torah,' so too, one cannot say, 'I will not harvest my crops because I am busy studying Torah.'" (Chiddushei Chatam Sofer on Sukkah 36a)

Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah went on to explain the words of the Chatam Sofer. Just as it is inconceivable that one would not wear tefillin because this takes away time from Torah study, so too, harvesting the produce of Eretz Yisrael is a mitzvah; and when it is time to harvest, it takes precedence over Torah study.

With his heartwarming words, the rabbi calmed my uneasiness and cheered me up. In this way I gained a clearer grasp of the connection between Torah 'in the books' and our practical life in Eretz Yisrael.

Torah and Avodah

Some 36 years later, my father became seriously ill. I spent many nights at his bedside. During one of his final days, he called out to me in the middle of the night. Trembling, he reminded me of the Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah's words regarding the great importance of settling the Land of Israel and harvesting its fruits.

In his last days, my father - a true pioneer, a man of "Torah and Avodah" in the full sense of the word - saw Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah's words as the philosophical foundation and the halakhic basis for his life's work.

(Translated from Mashmia Yeshu'ah by R. Simcha Raz and Hilah Volbershtin, p. 247, sent to Arutz Sheva by Rabbi Chanan Morrison of Rav Kook on the Net: