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Zionism and National T'shuva - Part 2

By Tzvi Fishman
8/31/2009, 12:00 AM

Rabbi Kook teaches that even in the return of the nonreligious Zionists to Israel there is a profound holy core. The inner source of their desire to return is the Divine Ideal itself. At first, it is an unconscious call toward t’shuva which motivates them, but with time, it will surely be awakened and actualized in their return to the Torah. This great transformation may take 100 years. It may 200. We need to remember that after nearly two-thousand years in exile, a few generations is like the blink of an eye. The important thing to know is that the t’shuva of the nation is sure to come to pass (Rambam, Laws of T’shuva, 7:5).

The beginning of national t'shuva

Thus, Rabbi Kook writes:

“The awakened yearning of the Jewish People as a whole to return to their Land, to their roots, to their spirit and way of life — truthfully, there is the light of t’shuva in this” (Orot HaT’shuva, 17:2).

The book of Ezekiel includes an overview of Jewish history which traces Israel’s exile among the gentile nations, and our ultimate return to the Land of Israel and Torah. Only after the nation’s physical revival in Israel do the Jewish people undergo the period of spiritual cleansing which leads them back to Torah:

“For I will take you from among the nations, and gather you out of all countries, and I will bring you into your own Land. Then I will sprinkle pure water upon you, and you shall be clean; from all of your uncleanlinesses, and from all of your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart will I also give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My spirit in you, and cause you to follow My statutes, and you shall keep My judgments and do them. And you shall dwell in the Land that I gave to your fathers; and you shall be My people, and I shall be your G-d” (Ezekiel, 36:24-28).

The return to our true national identity, and the spiritual revolution which follows, encompasses all aspects of Jewish life. This great return, while still in its nascent stages, is something we have witnessed in our time. First, out of the graveyards of exile, came a new hope and zest for life, as if our scattered, dry bones were rising to rebirth, in fulfillment of Biblical prophecy (Ezekiel, 37:1-14). Out of the ashes of the Holocaust, the Jewish nation was reborn in Israel. The Hebrew language was restored. After two-thousand years of wandering, the Jews returned to being an independent nation in our own Land. An incredible, new awakening of Jewish valor and physical prowess, epitomized by the Israel Defense Forces, startled the world. The ingathering of exiles from the four corners of the earth led to the building of a dynamic, progressive society. Yeshivas were opened all over the country. Today, Israel is unquestionably the Torah center of the world. All of these things are aspects of national t’shuva, of a nation returning to its roots.

As Rabbi Kook writes:

“Without question, the light of Mashiach, and the salvation of

Israel, the rebirth of the Nation and the Land, the revival of its language and literature — all stem from the source of t’shuva, and everything will be brought out of the depths to the heights of the highest t’shuva” (Orot Ha’Tshuva, 4:11).

The return of a scattered people to its Land is no simple matter. Because of the magnitude of the undertaking, there are numerous problems. Nonetheless, Rabbi Kook assures us that our inner longing for G-d will overcome all of the barriers. Even the brazen secularism, which seems so contrary to the nation’s holiest goals, will become a powerful vessel bursting with Torah.

“Out of the profane, holiness will also come forth, and out of wanton freedom, the beloved yoke (of Torah) will blossom. Golden chains will be woven and arise out of secular poetry, and a brilliant light of t’shuva will shine from secular literature. This will be the supreme wonder of the vision of redemption. Let the bud sprout, let the flower blossom, let the fruit ripen, and the whole world will know that the Spirit of G-d is speaking within the Nation of Israel in its every expression. All of this will climax in a t’shuva which will bring healing and redemption to the world” (Ibid, 17:3).

FIRST THE BODY THEN THE SPIRIT

Indeed, the revival of the Jewish Nation in Israel is a wonder that is impossible to explain in any mundane fashion. Clearly, there are powerful inner forces at work as we return to our homeland. Increasingly sensitized to our own national longings, we realize that gentile lands cannot be called home. The process takes time. The nation is not transformed overnight. But gradually, the curse of galut (exile in foreign lands) is erased. From being a scattered people, the Jewish Nation returns to have its own sovereign state. G-d’s blessing is revealed in all facets of the nation’s existence; military success, economic prosperity, scientific achievement, the resettlement of the nation’s ancient cities and holy cities — all leading to a great national t’shuva, the renewal of prophecy, and, of course, the return of the Divine Presence to the rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem, in fulfillment of our daily Amidah prayer.

Rabbi Kook explains that the secular, physical rebuilding must necessarily precede the spiritual building. The Talmud teaches that the Beit HaMikdash (Jerusalem Temple) was first constructed in a normal, profane manner, and only after its completion was its sanctity declared (Me’ilah 14A). First, Adam was created from the dust of the earth, and then the soul was placed within him. So too, a Jewish youth only becomes responsible to keep the Torah at the age of thirteen  - after his body and mind have developed in strength. This is the pattern of spiritual building; first comes the physical vessel, and then its inner content. First the ark is constructed, and then the Tablets are placed within (see Rashi, Shemot, 38:22).

It must be remembered that the Zionist movement did not begin with Herzl, but rather with the giants of Torah, the Baal Shem Tov and the Gaon of Vilna, more than a hundred years earlier. The Gaon sent his students to settle Eretz Yisrael, teaching them that the active resettlement of the Land was the path to bring the long-awaited redemption (see the book, “Kol HaTor”). Other great Rabbis, Rav Tzvi Hirsh Kalisher, Rav Eliyahu Guttmacher, and Rav Shmuel Mohliver were the actual builders of the early Zionist groups like the “Lovers of Zion.” As the movement spread, its message attracted many non-religious Jews as well. Rabbi Kook explains that the newcomers embraced the call to Zion in a way which fit their own understandings, national aspirations, and dreams. While this temporarily lowered the loftiness of the message, it insured the necessary first stage of physical rebuilding:

“Occasionally, a concept falls from its loftiness and its original pureness after it has been grounded in life when unrefined people become associated with it, darkening its illumination. The descent is only temporary because an idea which embraces spiritual goodness cannot be transformed into evil. The descent is passing, and it is also a bridge to an approaching ascent” (Orot HaT’shuva, 12:12).

The original, pure, lofty idea of Zionism, as handed down by our Sages, is that the revival of the Jewish nation in Israel is the earthly foundation for the revelation of the Kingdom of G-d in the world. For the secular Zionists, the return to Israel became something else. For some, the Land of Israel was merely a refuge from the persecutions of the gentiles. For others, it was a place to build a utopian socialist society. Because of their large numbers, the influence of the secular Zionists was widespread. Additionally, Rabbi Kook explains, the secular Jews were more suited to the task of settling the barren, swamp-ridden land. The religious Jews of the time lived in a spiritual world, having little contact with earthly matters. The physical sides of their natures were neglected and weak. The secular Jews, on the other hand, had an abundance of physical energy and prowess, along with the subsequent “will and desire to work and achieve, to carry out one’s goal through physical force and concrete endeavor” (Ibid, 12:13).

Rabbi Kook explains that when a holy idea needs to be grounded in reality, it necessarily descends from its exalted elevation. When this happens, people of lesser spiritual sensitivities seize the idea and profane its true intent. Because greater numbers of people can grasp the idea in its minimized form, its followers increase, bringing more strength and vigor to its practical implementation. This trend continues until powerful spiritual figures arise, girded with the strength of Divine righteousness. They grasp the idea in its original purity and hold it aloft, rescuing it from the depths where it had plunged, stripped of its holiness and spiritual splendor. As a result of this new infusion of light, the original idea is resurrected in all of its majesty and power. All who embrace it are elevated with its ascent. Even those who attached themselves to the idea in its fallen state are raised up, and they are inspired to a powerful, lofty t’shuva.

“This process will surely come about. The light of G-d, which is buried away in the fundamental point of Zion, and which is now concealed by clouds, will surely appear. From the lowly valley, it will raise up G-d’s Temple and Kingdom and all of its branches. All those who cling to it, the near and the distant, will be uplifted with it, for a true revival and an everlasting salvation” (Ibid, 12:12).

At the turn of this century, as the Zionist movement grew in influence and attracted more and more followers, many religious Jews rose up in protest. In their eyes, the movement to resettle the Land of Israel was brazenly secular, even defiant of Torah. While Rabbi Kook exhorted the pioneers to return to a sanctified life of Torah, he saw the inner source and positive side of their courageous endeavor. The return of the Nation to Israel was in itself a great, holy act. Simply because they were Jews, in the depths of their proud Jewish souls, the Zionists also shared the yearning for a full Jewish life (“Orot,” 2:8). Their scorn of the commandments was a blemish that was destined to heal.

SPIRITUAL REBELLION

Rabbi Kook’s deep spiritual insight did not blind him to the unholy lifestyles of the secular pioneers. However, he knew that the holy essence of Am Yisrael guaranteed that the Nation would return to its roots. Long before the establishment of the State of Israel, Rabbi Kook described this process in almost prophetic terms:

“We recognize that a spiritual rebellion will come to pass in Eretz Yisrael amongst the People of Israel in the beginnings of the Nation’s revival. The material comfort which will be attained by a percentage of the Nation, convincing them that they have already completely reached their goal, will constrict the soul, and days will come which will seem to be devoid of all spirit and meaning. The aspirations for lofty and holy ideals will cease, and the spirit of the Nation will plunge and sink low until a storm of rebellion will appear, and people will come to see clearly that the power of Israel lies in its eternal holiness, in the light of G-d and His Torah, in the yearning for spiritual light which is the ultimate valor, triumphing over all of the worlds and all of their powers” (“Orot,” pg.84, para.44).

In another essay, Rabbi Kook writes:

“Our Nation will be built and reestablished; all of its foundations will return to their full might, through the reactivating, strengthening, perfection, and spreading of its faith, its Divine inner holiness, and its reverence of G-d. All of the Nation’s builders will come to recognize this truth. Then with a mighty, valorous voice, they will call out to themselves and to their brethren, ‘Let us come and return to the L-rd.’ And this will be a true return. It will be a t’shuva filled with valor, a t’shuva which will give strength and vigor to all of the Nation’s spiritual and physical aspects, to all of the endeavors needed for the building and perfection of the people, inspiring it to rebirth and to stability. The Nation’s eyes will be opened, its soul will be cleansed, its light will shine, its wings will spread, a reborn Nation will arise, a great, awesome, and numerous people, filled with the light of G-d and the majesty of nationhood. ‘Behold, the people shall rise up like a great lion, and like a young lion, it shall lift itself up.’” (Bamidbar, 23:24; Orot Ha’Tshuva, 15:11).

(To be continued)

More Rav Kook essays on T'shuva are online for your reading pleasure!