Revivim, rabbi Eliezer Melamed
Revivim, rabbi Eliezer Melamed

Rabbi Kook’s Concept of Unity

The exile and the geographical distance among Jews created different methods in the service of God that divide and separate, and occasionally lead to hostility * Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook ztz”l proposed a unified concept that would contain all the methods, along with the Ingathering of the Exiles back to the Land of Israel * His special vision also found a place for secular movements that spread within the people of Israel, thus bringing them closer to Judaism than those who rejected them with both hands

Maran (our master) Rabbi Kook was unique in that he formed an organized doctrine that gives room to all the methods of Torah study and spiritual paths in the service of Hashem. This is the virtue of the Torah of Eretz Yisrael, in which the Divine unifying light is revealed, and in which all of the Tribes of Israel unite, to inspire each other, and illuminate the word of Hashem in the world. This complies with our Sages statement that Torah scholars of the Land of Israel are termed ‘no’am’ (pleasant) for they act amiably towards one another in words of halakha, and do not speak harshly to each other when they disagree, as do the Torah scholars outside of the Land of Israel (Tractate Sanhedrin 24a). This position is necessary in order to do teshuva (repent), and reach a state where the Torah will be revealed in its full light to all of Israel.

Division Outside the Land of Israel

Outside the Land of Israel, each community had to strengthen and defend itself against anti-Semitism and foreign influences which threatened to destroy it, and tailor its own special approach to deal with the challenges of the particular location. With the passage of time and lengthening of the exile, it seemed to each community that its unique style, including its accent and attire, was the absolute Judaism. Each community also regarded its eminent rabbis as being the heads of the Diaspora; such was the case in Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Ukraine, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Aleppo, Egypt, Iraq and Yemen. Then, suddenly, by the grace of Hashem, they gathered to the Land of Israel, and all the eminent rabbis of the generation and the heads of the Diaspora had to get along with each other.

Though in principle they all know other communities exist, and every minhag (custom) has its own place and spiritual gateway, it seems to every group, that in truth, it would be proper for everyone to follow their path, which, in their opinion, is superior and worthier. Thus, the members of Lithuanian Jewry believe that their method of limud iyuni (theoretical study) is the only method to truly study Torah, and all Jews should learn as they do, and accept their leadership. Many members of the Eastern and North African communities believe that the way of learning aliba de’hilkhata, reaching definitive conclusions in a straightforward manner, as was the method of the eminent rabbis of Spain and Maran Beit Yosef, is the suitable way for all Jews. The Hasidim believe that the path revealed by the righteous disciples of the Baal Shem Tov in the service of Hashem, with enthusiasm and joy, devotion to the tzaddikim, and the study of Hasidism is the way by which Redemption will come, and all should become Hasidim. (Many of them add that everyone should follow the path paved by the founder of their stream of Hasidism, who is the true successor of the Baal Shem Tov). Then, there are those who follow the Kabbalah of the Arizal and the Ben Ish Chai, and according to them, the complete tikkun (rectification) will come by engaging in the secrets of the Torah and the kavanot (intentions) of prayer, and that even those unable to grasp the mysteries of Hashem, should act according to the customs of the Mekubalim. The Yemenites, who have preserved their tradition with precision and dedication, also believe that everyone should follow their path, particularly because they go according to Rambam, the Rabbi of all of Israel.

The Root of Division between the Ethnic Groups and Communities

These profound differences create an extremely vast separation between the Gedolei Yisrael (the eminent Rabbis of Israel), far greater than the separation that existed between Beit Hillel and Beit Shamai (see, Eruvin 13b). As a result, despite the love and respect that true Talmidei Chachamim have for each other, there is no possibility for them together to deliberate issues on the agenda. The style of study and the basic assumptions are so different, that it is impossible to have a real discussion between the Gedolei Yisrael from the various circles. Only in difficult times of distress, is it barely possible to convene an assembly for a political discussion of the needs of the hour. This is an enormous obstacle to the manifestation of the Torah in our times.

Some people mistakenly think that the distance and separation between the ethnic groups and communities stems from bad qualities of pride and controversy. But more than that, it is the profound difference in the ways of Torah study and the service of Hashem that causes separation; one group engages in pilpulim (intense textual analysis), others are sadranim (study in an orderly fashion); some are me’ayanim (study in-depth), others gorsim (study broadly); some shout in prayer, others sing; some pray at length, others pray quickly; some act with solemnity in synagogue, others participate in meals and drinking. In addition to all this is a serious problem – as a result of clinging to defense of the masoret (tradition) in the Diaspora, some of them alienate the value of science, which is also Divine wisdom; some alienate the value of work, which too is a mitzvah; and some alienate the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land) and serving in the army. These profound differences are accompanied by ‘little foxes’ with evil attributes who provoke controversy. In the end, because of the profound differences in worldviews, there is no mutual interaction between the different branches of Torah and the various groups, and consequently, members of every community are certain that the way they behave is the same way Moshe Rabbeinu, may he rest in peace, and all the prophets and Tana’im behaved. Therefore, although in every circle there are righteous people who respect the other Gedolei Yisrael and pray for unity, the deep inner conflict remains unchanged, and causes severe disagreements to occasionally erupt.

As long as a way is not found to unite the good in all the methods and traditions, combining all the mitzvot contained in yishuv ha’aretz in its full breadth and scope – in the areas of security, the economy, and in science – the serious problem cannot be solved, and we will cry in the dark over the light of the Torah that has been eclipsed.

The Concept of Unity in Rabbi Kook’s Teaching

By the grace of Hashem for his people – together with the beginning of Kibbutz Galuyot (the Ingathering of the Exiles), he sent Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook ztz”l  to illuminate for us the path of the Torah of Eretz Yisrael. From heaven he was given immense, unparalleled talents and a supreme soul, with an ability to connect to the source of unity. Thus, with his genius and insight, diligence and wisdom, Rabbi Kook succeeded to incorporate all of the approaches and understand their roots. He perceived how each of the different methods complimented one another, and clearly recognized its special and deserving place, in a way that it could make its full contribution, without harming other methods.

Sephardim and Ashkenazim

For example, in his important essay “Le’Shnei Batei Yisrael” (Ma’amerei Ha’Rayah, p. 45), he understood the Ashkenazi style of study, which tends towards pilpul (critical analysis) and sharpness, while the Sephardic style leans towards methodology and systematic criticism, and explained in detail how the people of Israel need these two “houses”, and showed how, in Eretz Yisrael, they should interact to create an elaborate and magnificent building.

The Various Books of Emunah (Faith)

Usually, each circle deals exclusively with books that are close to its point of view. Accordingly, you will not find a Hasidic yeshiva where they study ‘Moreh Nevuchim’ (Guide to the Perplexed), Ramchal, and other books that explain emunah rationally; the followers of Rambam do not engage in Hasidism; and the Kabbalists, who follow the Sephardic method of study, do not learn the books of Hasidism and Ramchal, and Hassidim do not study the books of the Sephardic Kabbalists. Then, there are those who study Tanakh, but do not delve into books of emunah; and those who delve into books of emunah, but do not learn Tanakh. Even in the study of Tanakh, there are numerous approaches.

Maran Rabbi Kook showed a way to encompass everything – on the contrary, he explained that, precisely, out of a complete and comprehensive study of all the books,  the light of emunah will shine throughout the entire world, and as he wrote in his introduction to his book “Eder Hayakar,” that one should study all areas of Jewish thought and faith, starting from the words of Chazal in the Talmud and Midrashim, and from there, to all the “rays of light continuing to flow through the generations … for example, from the books of Rabbi Saadia Gaon, Rambam, Kuzari, Chovot Ha’Levavot, Akedah, Ikarim, and the like. And in this manner, the rays of light progress slowly, back and forth, until they reach the books of Reishit Chochmah, the Shlah, Maharal of Prague, and all books similar to them; and from there, to the books of the later generations, the books of the Gaon of Vilna and his disciples, the GRa”Z from Liadi and all the interpreters of Hasidism, and all books similar to them, such as the books of Ramchal, Yesod ve’Shoresh Ha’Avodah and the likes, and all the books in the middle, from period to period, including the works of the elect authors of our generation, and those related … and out of them branches will grow, and streams will flow, until the heights of Israel’s treasure of thought and emotion… precisely, the Book of Zohar and all its supplementary works, for all its history, according to the plentitude of all the various methods (of the great Kabbalists).” “To gather scattered ideas … to draw complete vessels from all of them… to add light to the paths of our beloved nation.” When this occurs, everyone will understand the magnitude of the destiny of Am Yisrael, namely, to illuminate the world in the Light of Torah, and rectify it.

Gemara and Halakha

He also pointed out the division created between the students of Gemara, and students of halakha. There are those who study the Gemara with its Rishonim and Achronim commentaries, but do not reach the complete, orderly analysis up to the halakha. Others study Shulchan Aruch and its commentaries and the halachic responses and rulings surrounding it, but since they do not study the issue from its source in the Gemara and Rishonim, they do not properly understand the roots of the s’varot (reasoning). Therefore, he set a vision to connect the study of Gemara to halakha, by writing the commentary ‘Halakha Berura‘ and ‘Birur Halakha’, and to connect the study of halakha to its roots in the Gemara and Rishonim, by expanding the commentary of the Gaon of Vilna.

Incidentally, at the beginning of my studies, I believed it was a sacred principle to connect the in-depth study of Gemara to the halakha which adds blessing, but I did not understand the great damage this separation causes. As I continued learning, I came to see that in fact, students of Gemara who do not reach the halakha do not study properly and do not distinguish between good and twisted s’varot (reasoning), and by the same token, many halakhic scholars err in halakha due to their lack of in-depth study.

Unity by Revealing the Lights of Torah

The fragmented vision of the Torah caused many Torah scholars to be blind to the good motives of the idealistic movements that strayed from the path of traditional Jewish lifestyle, such as the Socialists, Liberals, Nationalists, Zionists, and Universalists. In addition to the smallness of emunah and Torah in their position, they caused many to distance themselves from Torah and mitzvot. In contrast, Maran Rabbi Kook taught us to see, in accordance with Torah, the inner light of all these movements, and as a result, be able to cooperate with them for the fulfillment of all the ideals, which at the highest level, will be fulfilled by the elevation of all of us in Torah and mitzvot.

Unfortunately, there are those who, instead of seeing the light, see in all the non-Haredi movements darkness and evil stemming from a general agenda that threatens the overall character of Judaism, the family, and the state, and in order to save the world from destruction, they wage a bitter war against all these movements. We pray that the illuminating light of the Torah, revealed by Maran Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, the “Seer of Lights”, will help them realize the error of their ways.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.

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