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. They sent their students to settle Eretz Yisrael, teaching that the active resettlement of the Land was the path to bring the long-awaited Redemption. 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.” Then, as the movement spread, its message attracted many non-religious Jews as well.
Rabbi Kook writes:
“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 Zohar teaches that the original, pure, lofty idea of the return to Zion, the revival of the Jewish Nation in Israel, is the earthly foundation for the revelation of the Kingdom of God in the world (Zohar, Ki Tisa, 276A). However, 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 the inner spiritual light arises to banish the material darkness.
“This process will surely come about,” Rabbi Kook proclaims. “The light of God, which is buried away in the fundamental point of Zion, and which is now concealed by clouds, will surely appear. All those who cling to it, the near and the distant, will be uplifted with it, for a true revival and an everlasting salvation.”
Rabbi Kook’s deep spiritual insight did not blind him to the unholy lifestyles of the secular pioneers, and we are not blinded to the painful shortcomings of their followers today. However, as the Lag B’Omer bonfires blaze all over Israel, filling each house with the aroma of Torah, we know that the holy essence of Am Yisrael guarantees that the Nation will return to its roots no matter how secular it looks on the outside.
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 God 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).
Therefore, my friends, don’t despair. Governments come and governments go, but the light of Torah shines on forever.
“The Nation’s eyes shall 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 God 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’” (Orot HaT’shuva, 15:11).