Indeed, the revival of the Jewish People 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 and slowly turn away from alien cultures and creeds. 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 is erased. From being a scattered people, the Jewish Nation returns to have its own sovereign state. God’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 sites — 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 prayers.
Rabbi Kook explains that the secular, physical rebuilding must necessarily precede the spiritual building. The Talmud teaches that the Beit HaMikdash was first constructed in a normal, profane manner, and only after its completion was its sanctity declared (Me’ilah 14A). Similarly, Adam was first 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.
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 Gra sent his 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.” 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. He 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 (Ibid, 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 God 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).
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 God, 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 God’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, 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. Their scorn of the commandments was a passing blemish that was destined to heal.