Judaism: Usishkin's Eulogy for Harav Kook
The 19th Zionist Congress, 1935
The delegates heard the bitter news during a meeting of the Zionist Congress in Lucerne, Switzerland - Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaKohen Kook had passed away in Jerusalem. Overcome by sadness and mourning, they brought the session to an early close.
When the assembly reopened, Dr. Chaim Weizmann invited Menachem Usishkin, highly respected Zionist leader and president of the JNF, to say a few words about the beloved chief rabbi of Eretz Yisrael.
Today, Usishkin announced, the Jewish people is cloaked in deep mourning. One of the preeminent scholars of our generation has departed.
But I will not speak about his greatness in Torah. The speaker after me [Rabbi Meir Berlin] will speak of this. I will speak, not of the Gaon [brilliant scholar] Kook, but of the man, Rabbi Kook....
The first time I heard his name was from that unique luminary of our generation, Chaim Bialik. After Bialik's first visit in Eretz Yisrael, he gave me a report of everything he saw. But his greatest enthusiasm was about a Jew whom he had met, then rabbi of the small community of Jaffa. He told me wonders about this man's wisdom, his Torah and breadth of knowledge; and his tremendous expertise — not only in Torah, but also in all the latest philosophies. And over all of this, Bialik added, hovers a towering personality in its depth, love and dedication, and in its way of relating to the new phenomena in the world.
When I made my second trip to Eretz Yisrael, I knew that I must meet this man whose fame precedes him. I then recognized that Bialik's description was accurate. [Rav Kook] was flowing with ideas — brilliant, sparkling ideas in all aspects of life. When one spoke with him — or more precisely, when he spoke, for it was impossible to have a conversation with him, he would always lead the conversation, while others would listen and absorb — one would gain from him such a wealth of ideas and views, that sometimes one had to struggle to fully grasp their depth.
One could not help but be enthralled with the brilliance of his ideas and the beauty of his imagery. After conversing with him, one always left the room with some new view, some new concept, some new insight, whether or not one agreed with him.
Now We Are Building!
Even though his views on life, especially regarding our [national] life in Israel, were original and dazzling, Rav Kook remained with both feet firmly entrenched in our ancient traditions. He did not move a hair's breadth from the tenets of our fathers and our ancestors. Yet he possessed a radically different approach on how to bring understanding of this tradition to the new and renewed world that confronts us.
First of all, there must be a soul-connection between the previous generation and the new generation. His admiration for youth in general, and particularly the youth living in Eretz Yisrael — youth who are thousands of miles away from his own worldview — this was a father's understanding of his son, a father who wishes to instruct his son and draw him close with insight and love.
Many of you have heard his remarkable reply to a prominent rabbi — a rabbi who criticized him for his cordial relationship with the anti-religious youth. 'How can you join forces with these people in common causes?'
And the Rav responded:
As you know, the Holy Temple had [separate] courtyards for kohanim, for Levites, for regular Israelites, and for women. And there was one special place called the Kodesh Ha-Kodashim, the Holy of Holies, which only the High Priest was allowed to enter — and only once a year, on the holiest day of the year.
This was true when the Temple was standing. Then there were separate areas for each sector of the nation, and each person knew where he was permitted and where he was forbidden to enter.
However, what do you think it was like when they were building the Temple? Then there were certainly no barriers. The workers went to any place that required their skills. Even into the Holy of Holies.
Nowadays, the Rav concluded, we are building the Third Temple. We are in the period of building. There are no — and there must not be any — barriers between the young generation and us, between the religious and the secular. We are all busy with one project; we all work toward one goal. First, let us build the Temple. Afterward we may speak...
This was his philosophy, from the first day that he arrived in the country, until his final day.
(From the minutes of the Nineteenth Zionist Congress. Quoted in Zichron Re'iyah, pp. 248-250.)
Note: Until Friday, in honor of his yahrtzeit, a free copy of the booklet "The Splendor of Tefillin" will be given to anyone purchasing a copy of "Gold from the Land of Israel" or "Silver from the Land of Israel." Books can be ordered online at http://www.ravkooktorah.org/book-gold.htm