Tombstone of Rabbi Avraham Itzhak HaCohen Kook, at Mount of Olives
Tombstone of Rabbi Avraham Itzhak HaCohen Kook, at Mount of Olives Flash 90

* Translation by Yehoshua Siskin (

When I was in Memphis on a lecture tour, I asked to meet him. They told me that in this city lives one of the last people who met *Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook* and has stories to tell about him. And so I was privileged to sit opposite *Rabbi Neta Greenblatt*, 96 years old, an American talmid chacham (Torah scholar), and to hear a firsthand account of his encounters with a true spiritual giant.

As a young boy, Rabbi Greenblatt was sickly and his father took him to Rav Kook to receive a blessing. He remembers that the rav stood in tallit and tefillin, looked him in the eyes, and gave him a blessing that he should become a talmid chacham and merit to live a long life. "The second blessing materialized," he smiled, "I hope the first did, too."

His face lit up with a special light as he told about Rav Kook's Torah classes, about the Shavuot festival when the Rav taught Torah without interruption from eleven o'clock at night until four in the morning, about walking with him to the Kotel together with hundreds of others, about the special Hebrew that Rav Kook spoke and about the Rav's tireless efforts on behalf of the entire nation of Israel.

Rabbi Greenblatt recalled Rav Kook's funeral. The funeral procession departed from the house of the Rav, arriving at the Mount of Olives, where he was buried. Although Rabbi Greenblatt was only ten years old at the time, he remembered everything.

Rabbi Greenblatt passed away last week, after almost a hundred years during which he was privileged to study, to teach and to share his memories of Rav Kook.

At the end of our meeting, I asked him one final question: What can people today who never met Rav Kook learn from all these stories about him?

"What's the message?' Rabbi Greenblatt asked and immediately answered: "The message is that, like Rav Kook, we can also be great and honorable individuals and possess qualities truly befitting a human being. It's possible. We are not Rav Kook but surely, yes, surely it's possible to be a great human being. It's not only possible but essential! There can be no doubt about this."

Note: The celebrated first Chief Rabbi of pre-state Israel, Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook (1865-1935) is recognized as being among the most important Jewish thinkers of all time. His writings reflect the mystic's search for underlying unity in all aspects of life and the world, and his unique personality similarly united a rare combination of talents and gifts.

Rav Kook was a prominent rabbinical authority and active public leader, but at the same time a deeply religious mystic. He was both Talmudic scholar and poet, original thinker and saintly tzaddik.