Rabbi Kook and the state of The State

International malice mirrors national dysfunctions.There is an internal and external dynamic relationship

Menachem Ben-Mordechai,

Judaism מתפללים על קבר הרב קוק
מתפללים על קבר הרב קוק

It is always timely to reflect upon the wisdom of our great minds.

On December 23, the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 2334, which states that “the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law.” On December 28, Secretary of State John Kerry gave “Remarks on Middle East Peace” where he referred to “the march of settlements” in a speech that used the word “settlements” over 40 times.

These acts have an external meaning and an internal meaning. The external meaning is obvious: 2334 and such are yet more forms of concerted hostility to Jewish peoplehood and sovereignty in our homeland.

The internal meaning—less considered and by far more important—is how this international malice mirrors national dysfunctions to be discussed. The internal meaning can be framed in the relationship drawn by The Kuzari:

“Israel among the nations is like a heart among its organs...Similarly, the Divinity in relation to us is like the soul in relation to the heart [ – just as the soul first connects to the heart and then spreads to the rest of the body, so does God's influence in the world connect first to Israel and then spread to the rest of the world]...But [despite the heart's inherent purity,] it still becomes tainted at times because of the other organs, such as from the desires of the liver or the stomach...Similarly, Israel becomes tainted from their assimilation with the other nations, as it says, 'And they assimilated with the nations, and they learned from their ways' (Tehillim 106:35)...Through our cleansing and rectification, the Divinity can attach Itself to this world.“

Someone who profoundly understood this dynamic between Israel and the nations was Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, zt"l. "If our self-awareness be superficial, the world's awareness of our value will be superficial,” Rav Kook writes in Orot. He likewise observes in another chapter:

"If we know our greatness, then we know ourselves, and if we forget our greatness, then we forget ourselves, and a people that forgets itself, certainly is small and lowly. Only when we forget ourselves do we remain small and low...”

What if Israel's national life does not pivot on its unified center? What if Israel instead emulates the ways of others?
For Rav Kook, Jewish self-awareness and greatness entail fulfillment of Torah in a national setting:

"Contemporary culture, as it is now constructed, is predicated on disbelief and hatred, the negaters of essential life. It is possible to overcome this illness only by revealing all the wealth of goodness stored in the treasury of faith and love...The Torah is the love, and the commandments, the faith. When Israel's national life is aroused, its entire spiritual and material culture must pivot on this double (though unified) center, a twosome that in reality is a foursome: Torah and commandments, faith and love."

And what if Israel's national life does not pivot on that center? What if Israel instead emulates the ways of others? Rav Kook writes:

"When we regard the connection of Torah to the nation, a covenant was made with the Land and the People that when they cling to the Lord their God, they succeed and develop, sink roots in the Land and prosper; when they stray after foreign gods they are impoverished and fall, the People and the Land are destroyed, and troubles and annihilation follow." (Compare with what Rav Kook wrote after the 1929 massacres, discussed here.)

Rav Kook elsewhere emphasizes that theme of conditional sovereignty, for example:

“If a Jew holds the opinion...that nevertheless it is possible to succeed in settling Eretz Yisrael—is this not outright denial of the Torah? The berit that governs our national and political success was made contingent on observance of the Torah.' "

He continues:

"How will we possibly survive without the strength of faith and the light of religion? We never attempted it. Never was there such a state of affairs; never will there be in the future."

And in remarks after Theodor Herzl's death, Rav Kook warns:

"It [Zionism] is unequipped to realize that the development of Israel's general [material] aspect is but the foundation for Israel's singularity...[T]his is not the end goal of Israel, but only a preparation. If this preparation will not submit to the spiritual aspect; if it will not aspire to it, then it is of no more value than the kingdom of Ephraim, 'a cake readily devoured' , because 'they abandoned the source of living waters' , and 'Egypt did they call hither, to Assyria did they go' ."

Religious Zionists tend to focus on the Rav Kook of national destiny. Here we see the Rav Kook of national duties.

It is beyond troubling to compare Rav Kook's teachings with the state of Israel today. Consider some events in just the past two months:

•                     The attorney general reinforces recognition of same-sex marriage, preceded by similar official acts at levels ranging from consulates to the prime minister.

•                     Dr. Eli Schussheim of the Efrat Association remarks about abortions that "more than a hundred children a day are thrown into a trash can." To put that in perspective, in 2014 there were approximately 99,700 abortions in Germany, whose population is over 80 million compared with Israel's 8.6 million.

•                     The justice minister comments on the declassification of some records concerning the missing Yemenite children: "There was institutional involvement in the disappearance of children...In many files, it was indicated that details of children taken from their parents were changed and identity cards were blackened out so that it wouldn’t be possible to identify family origins."

•                     After aiding terrorists, Basel Ghattas continued to receive a Knesset salary and retain voting power.

•                     After killing a terrorist, Elor Azariya is convicted of manslaughter with the IDF stating it will apply the implications of the verdict.

•                     In Jerusalem, Arabs celebrate the murder of four soldiers with fireworks and graffiti.

•                     A collaborator with Hamas is free in less than a year.

•                     Arabs attack worshipers at Joshua's tomb, and police arrest the worshipers.

•                     Graves continue to be desecrated at the Mount of Olives cemetery.

This is not what national health and self-awareness look like. In a global context, contrast the above with Rav Kook's vision of the Jewish People's ethical summit:

"By preventing the muddy, lowly current from spreading too much, she [Knesset Yisrael] stopped the pollution and the emptiness of paganism, characteriological evil and all the perversions of life from penetrating deep into the collective human soul to the point of no return...Then faith will clarify its value and the laws of life will pave their ways over the full breadth of earth...The concepts of life will be crystallized and the entire world will seek the paths of the higher peace, not only through a blind longing but rather through a whole illumination, in whose midst the light of Torah shines; the laws of the Lord and the laws of man will form a single bond, their lights will interpenetrate brilliantly. The Lord will be king over all the earth; on that day the Lord will be one and His name one (Zechariah 14:9).”

Given a train of toxic assimilation and injustice, Israel should not be surprised by Resolution 2334—did the U.N. expel over 8,000 Jews in 2005?--or more direct damage like November's horrific arsons. Suffice it to say reward does not result from brazenly violating the aforementioned covenant and promoting violations of universal morality—the Sheva Mitzvot Bnei Noach—abroad.

No doubt these are very unsavory matters. Given what is at stake, however, the Jewish People cannot afford to ignore its national condition. As Rabbi Lazer Brody wrote in 2010 regarding a pride parade in Jerusalem:

"Ahmadinejad and his nukes don't scare me. Neither do Nasrallah and the Hezbollah. But such public debauchery here in the Holy City of Jerusalem is terrifying...This parade of an expected 3,000 participants is not only a slap in the face to half a million Jerusalemites, but to people around the world. Besides, this is the worst threat to our security here in the Holy Land...When we need so much Divine compassion, who is so daft as to arouse Divine wrath? That's national suicide!"

Batya Medad, who made aliya the same year as Rabbi Brody (1970), has likewise written:

"I'm not one of those who has this great confidence that God will just jump in and save the State of Israel, no matter how badly we and the Israeli Government sin against the Land and God. The more I study Tanach...the more I’m convinced that God will let the State of Israel be destroyed if we don’t make some very crucial changes."

Internalizing Rav Kook's insights is a way to advance those crucial changes and realize our authentic self. “Knesset Yisrael aspires to the correction (tikkun) of the world in all its fullness,” Rav Kook teaches us, and being true to our purpose both protects Israel and uplifts the world:

“The building of the nation and the discovery of its spirit are one concept, linked to the building of the world, which is disintegrating and longing for a force filled with unity and loftiness, and all of this is found in the soul of Knesset Yisrael.”