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Monday, March 06, 2006

The non-Eulogy of Herzl

Rav Bezalel Naor in his book When God becomes History translates a beautiful letter Rav Kook Zt"l wrote to his Father-in-law the Aderet Zt"l. The background to the letter is a “eulogy” Rav Kook gave for Herzl in 1904. I put eulogy in quotes since Rav Kook never mentioned Herzl's name in the entire speech and only praised actions that better the physical and spiritual well-being of the Jewish people. He also warned of the great dangers of tending to the physicality of the Jewish people at the expense of their spirituality. This was the general approach of Rav Kook when dealing with the irreligious. Always accept the opportunity to speak and use that opportunity to advance the cause of Torah and make heard ideas and messages that are rarely if ever heard in irreligious circles. Rav Kook drew a lot of fire for speaking at such an occasion and in this letter explains his position to the Aderet:

With the help of God
Jaffa, 29 Tammuz, 5664

From between the straits lights shall shine.

To my beloved teacher, my father-in-law, the Gaon, the glory of Israel, Rabbi Elijah David, may he live lengthy, good days, and all the dear members of his household, may they live, and my daughter Batya, may she live lengthy, good days.

Because of my burden leading the people of God, God bless them, I am not always able to satiate my thirst to write long, frequent letters to his honor, may he live, the joy of my heart and the treasure of my soul. In addition, these days I have been fatigues by events that have reinforced that which I knew beforehand: How difficult it is to go in the good and straight way of God purely for His name’s sake and His love, especially in a place where there is a history of quarrels and various controversies that kindle anger, which is the case (due to our many sins) in the Hoy Land in general, and in the holy city of Jerusalem specifically. Though I am aware of the severity of the situation, heaven forefend that I deviate from the way paved for us by our sages of blessed memory, the way of Torah: “Be of the disciples of Aaron, a lover of peace and a pursuer of peace, a lover of humanity and one who brings them closer to Torah.” This is the path I have chosen since youth, and thank God, through it I still see blessed results. May God grant me the merit to increase strength in days to come for good. I already expressed in Ha-Peless my opinion concerning the way to relate to the demands of the hour. The honor of the divine name and the honor of Torah will be upheld not by shouts and quarrels, nor by banishment of whoever is found in the least blemished, but rather through words of pleasantness that appeal to reason, drawing them with ropes of love and cords of humanity.

Now there came to me two gentlemen … and requested me … since they were planning to gather in the bank building here to honor the memory of Doctor Herzl and it was their finding that even those opposed to Zionism would not deny that there were in his heart thoughts concerning the betterment of Israel. Though unfortunately he did not find the straight path, nevertheless, “The Holy One does not withhold credit for even good talk.” It would be poor manners not to arrange a memorial in his honor in a public meeting place such as the Anglo-Palestine Bank here. Therefore I promised them I would attend.

Understandably, once I agreed to come, I did not want to refuse to speak there some words. I assessed that God willing, benefit would derive from my words, inasmuch as the other speakers would not have the audacity to belittle God, His Torah, and the sages of Israel. Thank God, this assessment proved correct. Of course, I spoke pleasantly and politely, but I did reveal the fundamental failure of their [the Zionists’] entire enterprise, namely the fact that they do not place at the top of their list of priorities the sanctity of God and His great name, which is the power that enables Israel to survive. The sages employed the parable of a key and a long chain. On the other hand, it is incumbent on the God-fearing to relate lovingly and peaceable to all who wish to do good for Israel, be it only in a material sense. One must draw such an individual to the good way of God, not by some vague remark intended to hinder him from his deed, but rather through some directed remark that demands coming closer to the name of God and His holy Torah. Then it is possible that all the powers presently being utilized for evil will be channeled for good. I humbly submit that this is one of the great mysteries alluded to in the Zohar, Bereshit, that the head of the academy in the palace of Messiah announced, “Whoever does not transform darkness to light and bitterness to sweetness, has no place here.” In other words, the redemption will be brought about only by attempting to transform the evil powers into good. We must not push the bad away. It is conceivable they are evil because of extenuating circumstances. They have been influenced negatively and are not totally to blame. How can we push a stone down after one who is falling?

Thank God, I see tangible results. When I came to Rehovot, due to our many sins, I found the youth there corrupted as far as their opinions, and one may assume the same goes for their deeds. I did not reject them but rather drew them close. I spoke before them words of wisdom and good reason from which they understood at least in a general way how the light of Torah dispels all the shadows of darkness and wickedness of evil opinions that in our many sins have proliferated in this day and age. The talk had a great effect on them in drawing them closer to the love of Torah. It was reported that the Sabbath following my stay they did not shave, though my talk contained not the slightest hint of practical reproach, but rather remained on a general level. I am confident that once the divine spark of love of God and His true awe has entered the heart, it will effect through a divine power much more than would be accomplished if we forced it in, using duress. Even more than is visible on the tangible level, there is a tikkun (fixing) of the emotion of the heart, which is the main thing.

Now if I would have turned my back on them [the residents of Jaffa who requested Rav Kook’s presence at the memorial assembly for Dr. Herzl – Translator], God forbid this would have brought about a situation in which the rabbinate would have absolutely no influence on the townspeople, the majority of whom are followers of Zionism. This is especially true of the inhabitants of the moshavot [colonies, such as nearby Rehovot]. How could I possibly desert many souls, the holy people in the Holy Land? Our eyes are turned to them to settle our holy soil. If I were to do so, the result would be, God forbid, that afterward admonishment or guidance would be of no avail. The main thing about guidance is that it hinges on the love-relationship between the guide and his protégés. And all of this I should do purely for imagined honor, so that persons unacquainted with my good thoughts for God and His Torah will not belittle me! Heaven forfend that I should entertain such an invalid option. I trust in God’s loving-kindness. He knows my heart and my entire striving, and how bitter it is for me to befriend even for a moment empty people far from Torah and fear [of God]. But all of this and a lot more than this, we must bear and endure for the sake of the sanctity of His blessed name and for the love and glory of Israel – though it may mean inestimable spiritual torture.

God forbid that we conclude through “common sense” that any person whose deeds or opinions are tarnished is already outside the bounds of “brotherhood,” and that therefore we are no longer responsible for his soul, or even more extreme, that we might turn on him as an enemy and attack him. This approach is absolutely wrong. We are not permitted to accept such reasoning from any man. In the case of something so exaggerated that it is beyond the realm of Halakha, our sages remarked, “Were Joshua son of Nun to tell it to me with his own mouth, I would not accept it.”

In this generation which is so confused and divided, if those Torah scholars who, thank God, have acquired fame, will not recognize their own impact, but rather will allow themselves to be deterred from seeking the welfare and improvement of Israel, by any hothead, God only knows where this will lead. Verily, one must deliberate how to lead on each occasion, but heaven forefend that one stand on one’s own honor. Our only purpose should be the increase of heaven’s honor (kevod shamayim), with and eye to Israel’s return (teshuvah), which can be brought about only by the goodly ways of Torah scholars, by the “string of love” extended to them in the merit of the Torah. Let not the slightest tikkun (fixing) be small in our eyes. A small beginning can end in great things. If we will do that which we are able, God will finish for us.

In summation, I could not have acted otherwise. All who truly fear God must give me the benefit of the doubt. If one has decided to transgress the positive commandment, :Judge justly your companion,” we have no responsibility to pay heed to his words and dreams, being as he desires to block the way to peace in Israel and Torah outreach. Given that, I could not prevent a eulogy being held in the Talmud Torah. This too would have produced great controversy and eternal enmity.

In my remarks, I offered no homage to Dr. Herzl per se. What I did say was that such a thought of improving the situation of Israel in Eretz Israel would be worthwhile if we would rise to the occasion. It would require return to God by observing and honoring the Torah, and a consensus that the foundation of all must be the power of Torah. Repenting of baseless hatred, and wholehearted peace-seeking as obligated [by Torah] would result in success because it would be close to God’s will. We must make amends toward the future that the power of the sanctity of Torah be at the top of our list of priorities, that “the son of Jesse be at the lead.” If the will to improve materially will rest on Torah – then the Lord will shine His face upon us and crown our every deed with success. At first, the salvation will be gradual, as our holy rabbis remarked upon witnessing daybreak over the valley of Arbel, but after it will gain momentum, appearing as a great and wondrous light, as in the days of our exodus from Egypt.

After [the address], others came to me and reported that some read into my words ideas I never intended … By using good reason and character traits, we will accomplish more than with shouting and curses, God forbid. What am I to do if there are some who consider such proper remarks as, God forbid, “justification of the wicked”? I trust in the Lord that all God fearing people will recognize that the way of peace is the true way of God. It is in this way we will succeed. Especially at this time, we need to strengthen the way of peace. The Lord will show us salvation. His salvation is close to those who fear Him.

His son-in-law who loves him as his son,

Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook