Baseless hatred destroyed the second Beit HaMikdash. In recent weeks, several people have been arrested for threatening to kill Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In light of the animosity in the air, The Jewish Press thought it wise to interview author and school principal Rabbi David Samson on the teachings of the legendary ohev Yisrael, Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook, the first Ashkenazic chief rabbi of Palestine. Rabbi Samson has written four commentaries on Rav Kook’s writings.
The Jewish Press: What did Rav Kook say about love between people?
Rabbi Samson: Rav Kook taught that the “heart must be filled with a love for all.” This love, he wrote, must encompass all of G-d’s creation – non-Jews and Jews alike. Rav Tzvi Yehuda explained that his father’s unbounded love for the Jewish people stemmed from his birthright as a kohen. He said it could also be attributed to his immersion in the secrets of Torah, which finds unity and goodness in everything.
It is in a Jew’s connection to the lofty and ever-pure soul of Knesset Yisrael – past, present, and future – that the inner holiness and worth of every Jew can be found. Rav Kook taught that even the sinners of Israel, as long as they identified themselves with the Israelite nation, albeit in distorted fashions, were worthy of unreserved love. He wrote:
“The pious of the generation, lofty holy men, must disregard any deficiency or flaw in every Jewish soul that is in any way attached to the Rock from which it was hewn. Instead, they must raise the point of connection to Klal Yisrael that exists in every individual soul to its heights and exalted holiness. Nothing can diminish the unlimited love for the nation, the source of our life, as it says: ‘He has not seen beheld iniquity in Yaakov, nor has He seen perverseness in Israel’” (Orot, Orot HaTechiyah, 24).
Isn’t it ironic that although Rav Kook loved all people, not everyone loved him?
Unfortunately, the antagonism of the charedi zealots against his positive outlook toward the national contributions of the secular pioneers led to many distasteful attacks, including his being hung in effigy in the Zichron Moshe neighborhood of Jerusalem.
Once, on the way home from a brit milah in the Old City, a group of zealous charedim attacked his entourage and threw sewage water all over Rav Kook. Later in the day, the attorney general of the British Mandatory government visited the chief rabbi to express his anger over the shameful deed and to persuade the rav to file a criminal suit against the perpetrators.
Rav Kook replied, “I have no interest in legal actions. I love them despite what they did to me. I love them so much that I am even prepared to embrace and kiss them. My entire being burns with love for every single Jew!”
On another occasion, one of Rav Kook’s student’s tore down a placard that the zealots had pasted on walls throughout the city. The poster belittled Rav Kook in a most venomous fashion, calling him Shabbatai Zvi and other vile epithets. The angry student demanded that the chief rabbi call for an inquiry by the police to have the culprits arrested.
Rav Kook refused, explaining that surely he had faults that the embarrassing affair would help him atone for and that if a Jewish printer could make a little parnassa because of him, he was glad.
One night after midnight, the leader of the zealots knocked on the rabbi’s door, not wanting to be seen by his comrades at the home of the “Zionist Rabbi.” He explained that he had fallen into financial difficulty and lacked the money to pay for a medical treatment which his daughter badly needed.
Even though Rav Kook knew who the zealot was, he gave the man the two expensive silver candlesticks on his study mantle, not having any cash in his house, and wrote him a wholehearted recommendation for the doctor who would administer the treatment, asking him to lower the price.
Every year, Rav Tzvi Yehuda would tell new students that his father stressed that Ahavat Yisrael was not an abstract feeling but a commandment of the Torah that had to be worked on and observed as meticulously as any other clause in Shulchan Aruch.
Often, non-religious Jews hold up Rav Kook as a paragon of tolerance and an advocate of embracing all opinions in the name of harmony and peace.
Rav Kook saw the shortcomings of his generation as much as anyone else. Nevertheless, he sought to find merit in every Jew.
Rav Kook taught that hatred should only be directed toward the evil and filth in the world. He wrote: “It is proper to hate a corrupt person only for his defects, but insofar as he is endowed with a Divine image, it is necessary to love him. We must realize that this precious dimension of his worth is a more authentic expression of his nature than the lower characteristics that developed in him through the circumstances of his life” (Midot HaRayah, Ahavah, 9).
While Rav Kook’s love for the Jewish people knew no bounds, one should not think that he was some sort of liberal, reform rabbi who believed that everyone was free to do his own thing, G-d forbid. On the contrary, he harshly condemned desecrations of the Torah and did all he could to inspire transgressors to mend their ways.
For instance, he writes, “Whoever undermines through the proliferation of ideas and, all the more so, through deed, the holy idea that vitalizes the Israelite nation is a traitor to the nation, and to pardon him is folly” (Letters, 93).
When Eliezer Ben Yehuda, restorer of the modern Hebrew language, wrote an article claiming the Jewish people “have turned their backs on their past, and that is our praise and our glory,” Rav Kook wrote a long, scathing response:
“Let him dream to his heart’s content, but when he attests publicly that all of us are dangling limbs like him, and that we have all turned our backs on the past, which is the source of our lives, we are obliged to protest and make known that not our hearts, but his, issued these words that shame the dignity of Israel” (Letters, 18).
Some of his critics maintain that he was far too accepting of the secularists.
Generally, the people who voice this claim are not familiar with his life and writings. In protest to the widespread desecration of Torah in the country’s towns, cities, and kibbutzim, Rav Kook penned a passionate public appeal:
“Turn back, turn back, my children! Return to the spirit of our people, to the Torah of G-d, the Rock of Israel. Keep the Sabbath free of desecration and turn your hands from all evil.
“Can it be that we have no other occupation and calling in life in the Land of Israel than to pursue the worst customs of other nations so that we will be a derision to our enemies? Is being carried away by all kind of dances, constantly wasting money and time on motion pictures and the like what we lack these days?
“Must our women follow the most immodest fashions just to imitate the ways of a dying Europe and bring them brazenly into this ancient Holy Land, thus shaming the glory of its rebirth and majestic life? And our tables are becoming disgusting, carrion and forbidden foods are eaten in public without any feeling of shame.
“How can we be as one person, in a bond of brotherhood, if you destroy the most basic foundations which unite us, if you continue to ferment the stench of separatism, which festers fraternal hatred and despair?”
What can we learn from Rav Kook today when it comes to Ahavat Yisrael?
Rav Kook warned that the lack of brotherly love in the Jewish nation causes disunity, which weakens the spirit of nation, and jeopardizes our continued settlement of the land. The rifts we see today, whether between political parties, between the religious and the secular, or within the religious world itself, are obstacles that prevent us from working together in unison to pull the wagon of Israeli nationhood out of the darkness of division toward the light of redemption. This can only be rectified, Rav Kook taught, by an active and encompassing love.
He stated: “Since groundless hatred caused the destruction of the Second Temple, in order to bring about the Temple’s rebuilding, we have to increase unlimited love.” This love is not dependent on anything. It is like G-d’s unconditional love for Israel. This love exists regardless of any shortcomings in the beloved, or without any conditions that have to be met. Even with all of the deficiencies and imperfections in people, love must be total.
What was true in Rav Kook’s time is true for us today. We have to love our fellow Jews and bring them closer to the Torah. The joyous love we feel on Tu B’Av for all Jews helps bring us to this exalted level, to which we are called upon to cling throughout the year.