In this week’s Torah portion of Kedoshim, we find the supreme mitzvah,
“You shall love your fellow as yourself” (Vayikra, 19:18), which Rabbi Akiva called a great rule of the Torah.
Though some professional talkbackers claim that I hate my fellow Jews, the exact opposite is the case. Everything that I write is out of a pure and unbounded love for my brothers and sisters, to alert them of the dangers of straying from the paths of Torah, just as a bystander calls out when he sees a blind man heading for a dangerous cliff.
Therefore, “Set em up, Joe.” Here’s one last blog for the road. And though we have covered this material before, it is certainly good to repeat it, because of its great importance.
In our time, Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook is especially famous for his love for the secular pioneer builders of the Land. Today, when secular leaders in Israel are often engaged in the very opposite, including the destruction of Jewish settlements and the surrendering of large tracts of our homeland to enemies set upon our destruction – what is to be our orientation toward these fellow Jews?
(In the same breath, we can ask, what is to be our relations to our beloved brothers and sisters in the Diaspora, who have alienated themselves from Judaism completely, or adopted pseudo paths, or versions of “Orthodoxy” which have removed the ingathering of the exiles and building a Torah Nation in Zion as the goal of the Torah, as if it is a mitzvah which belongs to somebody else?)
I love all Jews with a towering love!
Rabbi Kook taught that, “The heart must be filled with a love for all” (Midot HaRayah, Ahavah, 9). This love, he wrote, must encompass all of G-d’s creation, non-Jews and Jews alike. He explained that his unbounded love for the Jewish People stemmed from his birthright as a Kohen. It can also be attributed to his immersion in the secrets of Torah, which finds unity and goodness in everything. It was precisely in a Jew’s connection to the lofty and ever-pure soul of Knesset Yisrael, the encompassing Community of Israel, past, present, and future, that the inner holiness and worth of every Jew can be found. Rabbi Kook taught that even the sinners of Israel, as long as they identified themselves with the nation, albeit in distorted fashions, were worthy of unreserved love.
“The pious of the generation, lofty holy men, must disregard any deficiency or flaw in every Jewish soul that is in any way attached to the Rock from which it was hewn. Instead, they must raise the point of connection to Clal Yisrael (the Community of Israel) that exists in every individual soul to its heights and exalted holiness. Nothing can diminish the unlimited love for the nation, the source of our life, as it says: ‘He has not seen beheld iniquity in Yaacov, nor has He seen perverseness in Israel'” (Orot, Orot HaTechiyah, 24).
The antagonism of the Ultra-Orthodox zealots against Rabbi Kook’s positive outlook toward the national contributions of the secular pioneers led to many distasteful personal attacks against him, including his being hung in effigy in a religious neighborhood in Jerusalem.
Once, on the way home from a brit milah in the Old City, a group of zealous Ultra-Orthodox Jews attacked his entourage and threw sewage water all over Rabbi Kook. Later in the day, the Attorney General of the British Mandatory Government visited Rabbi Kook to express his anger over the shameful deed and to persuade the Rabbi to file a criminal suit against the perpetrators. Rabbi Kook replied: “I have no interest in legal actions. I love them despite what they did to me. I love them so much that I am even prepared to kiss them. My entire being burns with love for every single Jew!” (“An Angel Among Men,” Pg. 300).
Rabbi Kook’s followers often beseeched him to strike back at those who sought to besmirch him and belittle his greatness in Torah.
“With all of their wickedness,” he wrote, “As long as they cling to the collective of the nation (Clal Yisrael), they are included in the verse, ‘Your people are all righteous’” (Yisheyahu, 60:21; Orot HaTechiya, 20). Rav Kook explained that this outer wickedness served to fortify the strength and faith of the righteous, who must struggle against this darkness by adding more light.
“Ahavat Yisrael,” Rav Kook stated, “and the work of stressing the good in the Clal, and in the individual, isn’t simply work on the emotional level alone, but a great occupation of Torah, and a profound reach of wisdom” (Orot, Orot Yisrael, 4:1).
“It is a great and enlightening task to totally remove anger from the heart and to feel unlimited compassion and kindness, to gaze upon everything with a favorable eye, even upon the actions of the most wicked, in emulation of the pure Divine eye, to feel compassion for those sunk in the mire of evil, and to find some good in them” (Orot HaKodesh, Vol. 3, Pg. 326).
While criticized for his towering tolerance, Rabbi Kook saw the shortcomings of his generation as much as anyone in his time. Nevertheless, he sought to find merit in every Jew – the sign of an enlightened leader. In the chapter on Hasidut in the book, “Mesillat Yesharim,” the famed Kabbalist, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato, writes: “These are the true shepherds of Israel, whom the Holy One Blessed Be He greatly desires, those who sacrifice themselves for His sheep, who petition and actively work for their peace and benefit in all of their endeavors, and who forever stand in the breach to pray for them, in order to nullify stern decrees, and to open the gates of blessing for them.”
“The great love that we feel for our nation does not shut our eyes to its blemishes,” Rav Kook wrote. “Even though loving mankind encompasses everyone, and sometimes an evil person also falls into this general love, this doesn’t in any way interfere with hating evil” (Orot, Orot Yisrael, 4:3).
Rav Kook taught that hatred should only be directed toward the evil and filth in the world. “It is proper to hate a corrupt person only for his defects, but insofar as he is endowed with a Divine Image, it is necessary to love him. We must realize that this precious dimension of his worth is a more authentic expression of his nature than the lower characteristics that developed in him through the circumstances of his life” (Midot HaRayah, Ahavah, 9).
While Rabbi Kook’s love for the Jewish People knew no bounds, one should not think that he was some sort of liberal, reform rabbi who believed that everyone was free to do his own thing, G-d forbid. On the contrary, he harshly condemned desecrations of the Torah and did all he could to inspire transgressors to mend their ways. For instance, he writes, “Whoever undermines, through the proliferation of ideas, and, all the more so, through deed, the holy idea which vitalizes the Nation, he is a traitor to the nation, and to pardon him is folly” (Letters, 93). When Eliezer Ben Yehuda, restorer of the modern Hebrew language, wrote an article claiming that the Jewish People “have turned their backs on their past, and that is our praise and our glory,” Rabbi Kook wrote a long, scathing response, “Let him dream to his heart’s content, but when he attests publicly that all of us are dangling limbs like him, and that we have all turned our backs on the past which is the source of our lives, we are obliged to protest and make known that not our hearts, but his, issued these words that shame the dignity of Israel” (Letters, 18).
In protest to the widespread desecration of Torah in the country’s towns, cities, and kibbutzim, Rabbi Kook penned a passionate appeal: “Turn back, turn back children! Return to the spirit of our people, to the Torah of G-d, the Rock of Israel. Keep the Sabbath free of desecration and turn your hands from all evil. Can it be that we have no other occupation and calling in life, in the Land of Israel, than to pursue the worst customs of other nations, so that we will be a derision to our enemies? Is being carried away by all kind of dances, constantly wasting money and time on motion pictures, and the like, what we lack these days? Must our women follow the most immodest fashions, just to imitate the ways of a dying Europe, and bring them brazenly into this ancient Holy Land, thus shaming the glory of its rebirth and majestic life? And our tables are becoming disgusting, carrion and forbidden foods are eaten in public without any feeling of shame. How can we be as one person, in a bond of brotherhood, if you destroy the most basic foundations which unite us, if you continue to ferment the stench of separatism, which festers fraternal hatred and despair? (Articles of Rav Kook, “Wounds of a Lover”).
Rabbi Kook warned that the lack of brotherly love in the Jewish Nation causes disunity which weakens the nation, and jeopardizes our continued settlement of the Land. The rifts we see today, whether between political parties, between the religious and the secular, or within the religious world itself, are divisions which prevent us from working together in unison to pull the wagon of nationhood out of the mud. This can only be rectified, Rabbi Kook taught, by an active and encompassing love.
What was true in Rabbi Kook’s time is true for us today. We have to love our fellow Jews and bring them close to the Torah. And when we see our brothers and sisters straying from the life-giving pathways of Torah, because of a lack of learning or true understanding, whether in the Land of Israel, or in the darkness of exile, we have to warn them and help them to see the error of their ways, precisely out of the great love for them which we feel in our hearts.