What do Rabbi Meir Kahane, Rabbi Kook, and Rabbi Kook’s son have in common? Only someone who reads this special triple-decker Purim blog will know. Purim Mishulash Samaoch!
By Rabbi Meir Kahane
[Rabbi Kahane wrote this article in 1973 in Jerusalem. He said that he hoped his thoughts would survive the test of time. Unfortunately, its message still holds true today.]
It is Purim in Israel, though not yet here in the capital where the festival — as in the case of all cities walled from the days of Joshua — will not be celebrated till this evening. The weather, which has been quite fickle, alternating between extremes of tem- perature and precipitation, has again begun to turn warm and we look forward to a Jerusalem day in the 60-degree range (Farenheit). Yesterday, I sat in the synagogue commemorating Shabbat Zachor, the Sabbath of Remembrance, and afterwards, at the Sabbath meal, discussed Megilat Esther, the Book of Esther and its lessons for our time. I believe that some interesting thoughts emerged.
“The couriers went forth hurriedly by order of the king, and the decree was given in Shushan, the capital. And the king and Haman sat down to drink; and the city of Shushan was confused” (Esther 3:15).
“And Mordechai perceived all that was done, and Mordechai tore his garments, and dressed himself in sackcloth with ashes. He went out into the midst of the city, and cried out with a loud and bitter cry” (ibid., 4:1).
It appears to me that this is both a difficult and wondrous portion. It also holds an incredible truth and insight that we would do well to learn, understand and act upon.
What is happening here? Haman has just emerged triumphant from his efforts to win approval for genocide against the Jews. The king has agreed; has removed his ring and given it to Haman; Haman has chosen a day for the Final Solution and the messengers go off “hurriedly by order of the king.” “The decree was given in Shushan” and, presumably, the whole Jewish population — metropolitan and sophisticated, knows of the electrifying news. What is their reaction? “And the city of Shushan was CONFUSED.”
Confused? What an incredible reaction! Say terrified, fearful, broken — but “confused”? What is there to be confused about? It is clear what is happening; there is a decree to exterminate the Jews! What place is there for confusion? More. We have just learned that the decree is given in the entire city of Shushan, and that the Jews of the city are confused upon hearing it. Everyone knows; everyone is “confused.” What in the world, then, is the meaning of the next verse, “and Mordechai perceived all that was done.” Certainly, Mordechai knew, but not just Mordechai. Everyone knew and what is the purpose of singling out Mordechai as if he had some special knowledge? More, one may ask, given the general knowledge, why was it that only Mordechai reacted with mourning, sackcloth and ashes while all the rest limited themselves to “confusion”?
Listen carefully to Biblical insight; its lesson could well be our own salvation. What is Shushan? The sophisticated, modern capital of the Persian empire. The largest, most exciting and most cosmopolitan city of its time. (Say, Berlin 1928 or New York City 1973.) The Jews, more sophisticated and more cosmopolitan than everyone else, clever and eager to climb, are ready to cast off their Judaism at the drop of an emancipated opportunity. The king invites them to his banquet? They flock there against the protests of Mordechai, and sup happily from non-kosher food served temptingly on uncircumcised dishes.
What joy reigns at the banquet and at all the other banquets, not so much for the food and the entertainment, but because here is proof absolute that the Jew has been accepted in Persia by the progressive, sophisticated and enlightened Persian. He can assimilate calmly and without fear. Farewell to insecurity and the need to contemplate return to Zion where the living is so not-easy and hardships abound. Farewell to the concept of Exile. We are now home; Shushan is our Jerusalem (as in later years, the descendants of these Jews would joyfully substitute “Hamburg” or “Vienna” or “Charleston, South Carolina”). We are Persians of the Mosaic persuasion. Joy and tranquility reign among the Persian Jews, and assimilation amongst their fellow equal citizens goes on at a mad pace.
And suddenly, the shock bursts upon them like a bolt from above! A decree from the king that his Persians of the Mosaic per suasion be exterminated! Not some, but all! Not just the reactionary and medieval ones with the kaftans and earlocks and infuriating habit of tradition who live in the squalid part of Shushan known as William-shan, but even the intellectual and the radical on the Upper East Shan of the city. My L-rd, what is happening? What has happened to all the emancipation and liberation and equality and dreams of integration? Gone up before the mocking words of Haman, “there is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of your kingdom . . . ” (Esther 3:8). The poor modern, sophisticated and assimilated Jews of Shushan sit stunned. They cannot believe their ears. It is not fear or panic that is their initial reaction but exactly — “confusion.”
It cannot be happening to us. We are not Jews, we are Persians. Our world cannot be turned upside down overnight and our illusions so burst. All that we believed in cannot be completely wrong! “Confusion,” that is the precise word. So, of course, they knew — as did Mordechai. But his “knowing” was of quite a different kind. He knew, and he understood, not with confusion — BECAUSE HE NEVER ALLOWED HIMSELF TO BELIEVE THAT THE JEW IN THE EXILE COULD EVER FIND A PERMANENT HOME. Mordechai is the Jew of honest tradition who knows that there is only one home — the Land of Israel — and that all the rest, the most progressive and the most enlightened states, in the end, turn upon the Jew and demand his head. He hears the news and he is not “confused”; he is not startled into paralysis. He knows that this is possible and, now that it has come, he acts and cries out: Jews, repent! Pray unto G-d! Learn the bitter lesson of Exile!
Jews of Shushan, 1973. Leave off confusion. Go home!
THE TEACHINGS OF HARAV TZVI YEHUDA
Until the day of his death, 25 years ago, on Purim, at the age of 91, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook championed the principle of Jewish settlement in all of Eretz Yisrael. The only son of Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook, and Rosh Yeshiva of Mercaz HaRav in Jerusalem, he was the spiritual father of the renewed Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria, East Jerusalem, Gush Katif, and the Golan Heights. As a memorial, we are presenting a few of his teachings, may his memory be for a blessing.
“The time has come to return home. Whether we want to or not; whether we recognize this truth, or whether we want to run away from it. ‘And I will bring them back to their Land.’ Hashem has decided that the time has arrived.”
“Because of our long exile amidst the impurity of the gentile nations, we have become accustomed to think that our life of exile is normal, and we forget that Eretz Yisrael is our natural, healthy, Divinely-intended place. We need to foster the understanding, and the feeling, that we must live in Israel, that this is our normal place, in terms of religion, and in terms of our nationhood. If we are not here, we are unhealthy. And from time to time, the gentiles forcibly remind us that we are living in their domain, in an alien land.”
“The wholeness of the Jewish People appears only in Eretz Yisrael. The Divine value of this great nation appears only when it is situated in its own Land, in all of its health and stature. The revelation of Hashem’s honor in the world comes through this nation in this Land. This is the order of Creation, that ‘There is no G-d in all of the earth, except in Israel’ (Melachim 2, 5:15). When this portion of mankind is situated in this particular Land, the Torah is revealed in all of its truth.”
“The Ramban clearly establishes that this Land, which has Hashem has promised to our forefathers, must be kept under our control, and not under the control of any other nation. This is clearly meant in a national sense, for everyone understands that ruling a land means the establishment of a state in that land. Thus the establishment of Jewish sovereignty over the Land of Israel is a fundamental precept of the Torah.”
“We are indivisibly attached to Judea and Samaria, and to all the expanses of our Land, through the eternal bond between the Holy Nation and the Holy Land. We must stand in defense of this to the uppermost limits of dedication and self-sacrifice, without any surrender at all. There is absolutely no room to entertain thoughts of relinquishing even a single square meter of Hashem’s inheritance to us. There is not to be any blemish in our borders, G-d forbid. We are to battle for this end with all of our strength.”
“There isn’t any man who is permitted to make territorial concessions over this Land. Are these kilometers ours? Is someone the owner of them? These kilometers belong to the millions of Jews in Russia and America and throughout the world, no less than they belong to us. How can a person not feel ashamed by the thought of making do with a truncated state? No one has the right to relinquish lands which belong to the millions of Jews of all generations. This is a disgrace, a sorrowful shame, and a violation of the Torah.”
“The setbacks we face are temporary. All steps backwards are transitory and passing. Advances sometimes come in hidden stages. One must look at the global upheaval involved in bringing us back to our Land, and recognize that this is the Divine unfolding of, ‘When the L-rd brings the exiles back to Zion.” Because of its staggering scale, the process naturally undergoes difficulties and problems. The greater a thing is, the more complicated it is. The unfolding of our Redemption is an historical event of colossal proportions. All of the disturbances and temporary setbacks are trivialities which have no substance in this sweeping historical pageant. The actions of the gentiles, or of superficially thinking Jews, which oppose this Divine plan, carry no weight whatsoever. They are null and void in the light of the Torah and Hashem’s promise and providence over His people.”
“GATHER THE JEWS TOGETHER”
On Purim, in addition to the joy of salvation, our transcendental simcha comes from the feelings of love and brotherhood that the holiday fosters, as Mordechai commanded, “Gather the Jews together.” In this week’s Torah portion, we meet the Kohen HaGadol and the Kohanim, who are to take their place in the center of national life as servants in the Mishkan, the spiritual light and heart of the nation. In addition to the commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Vayikra, 19:18), which is incumbent on every Jew, the Kohanim also have the special mitzvah to “bless His nation of Israel in love.” In our time in the Holy Land, this role was filled by the saintly, Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook, the High Priest of Redemption. In his towering love for the Jewish People, Rav Kook was the personification of Hillel’s teaching: “Be like the disciples of Aharon, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving thy fellow man, and drawing them close to the Torah (Avot, 1:12). His whole life and being were devoted to gathering the Jews together.
Rav Kook is especially famous for his love for the secular pioneer builders of the Land. Today, when secular leaders in Israel are often engaged in the very opposite, including the destruction of Jewish settlements and houses of Jewish worship; the surrendering of large tracts of our homeland to enemies set upon our destruction; and setting a shameful standard of corruption, public scandal, self-interest, and greed, the question can be asked – what is to be our orientation toward these fellow Jews?
Rabbi Kook taught that, “The heart must be filled with a love for all” (Midot HaRayah, Ahavah, 9). This love, he wrote, must encompass all of G-d’s creation, non-Jews and Jews alike. He explained that his unbounded love for the Jewish People stemmed from his birthright as a Kohen. It can also be attributed to his immersion in the secrets of Torah, which finds unity and goodness in everything. It was precisely in a Jew’s connection to the lofty and ever-pure soul of Knesset Yisrael, the encompassing Community of Israel, past, present, and future, that the inner holiness and worth of every Jew can be found. Rabbi Kook taught that even the sinners of Israel, as long as they identified themselves with the nation, albeit in distorted fashions, were worthy of unreserved love.
“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 Clal 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 Yaacov, nor has He seen perverseness in Israel'” (Orot, Orot HaTechiyah, 24).
The antagonism of the Ultra-Orthodox 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 a religious neighborhood in Jerusalem.
Once, on the way home from a brit milah in the Old City, a group of zealous Ultra-Orthodox Jews attacked his entourage and threw sewage water all over Rabbi Kook. Later in the day, the Attorney General of the British Mandatory Government visited the Rav to express his anger over the shameful deed and to persuade the Rav to file a criminal suit against the perpetrators. Rabbi 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 kiss them. My entire being burns with love for every single Jew!” (“An Angel Among Men,” Pg. 300).
“The purely righteous,” Rav Kook wrote, “Do not complain about wickedness - they increase righteousness. They do not complain about heresy - they increase faith. They do not complain about ignorance – they increase wisdom.”
Rabbi Kook’s followers often beseeched him to strike back at those who sought to besmirch him and belittle his greatness in Torah.
“With all of their wickedness,” he wrote, “As long as they cling to the collective of the nation (Clal Yisrael), they are included in the verse, ‘Your people are all righteous’” (Yisheyahu, 60:21; Orot HaTechiya, 20). Rav Kook explained that this outer wickedness served to fortify the strength of the righteous, who must struggle against this darkness by adding more light.
“Ahavat Yisrael,” Rav Kook stated, “and the work of stressing the good in the Clal, and in the individual, isn’t simply work on the emotional level alone, but a great occupation of Torah, and a profound reach of wisdom” (Orot, Orot Yisrael, 4:1).
“It is a great and enlightening task to totally remove anger from the heart and to feel unlimited compassion and kindness, to gaze upon everything with a favorable eye, even upon the actions of the most wicked, in emulation of the pure Divine eye, to feel compassion for those sunk in the mire of evil, and to find some good in them” (Orot HaKodesh, Vol. 3, Pg. 326).
While criticized for his towering tolerance, Rabbi Kook saw the shortcomings of his generation as much as anyone in his time. Nevertheless, he sought to find merit in every Jew – the sign of an enlightened leader. In the chapter on Hasidut in the book, “Mesillat Yesharim,” the famed Kabbalist, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato, writes: “These are the true shepherds of Israel, whom the Holy One Blessed Be He greatly desires, those who sacrifice themselves for His sheep, who petition and actively work for their peace and benefit in all of their endeavors, and who forever stand in the breach to pray for them, in order to nullify stern decrees, and to open the gates of blessing for them.”
“The great love that we feel for our nation does not shut our eyes to its blemishes,” Rav Kook wrote. “Even though loving mankind encompasses everyone, and sometimes an evil person also falls into this general love, this doesn’t in any way interfere with hating evil” (Orot, Orot Yisrael, 4:3).
Rav Kook taught that hatred should only be directed toward the evil and filth in the world. “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 Rabbi 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 which vitalizes the nation, he 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 that the Jewish People “have turned their backs on their past, and that is our praise and our glory,” Rabbi 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).
In protest to the widespread desecration of Torah in the country’s towns, cities, and kibbutzim, Rabbi Kook penned a passionate appeal: “Turn back, turn back 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? (Articles of Rav Kook, “Wounds of a Lover”).
Rabbi Kook warned that the lack of brotherly love in the Jewish Nation causes disunity which weakens the 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 divisions which prevent us from working together in unison to pull the wagon of nationhood out of the mud. This can only be rectified, Rabbi Kook taught, by an active and encompassing love.
Rabbi Kook’s only son, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook, took over his father’s mantle as head of the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva, and labored over his father’s prodigious writings, compiling them into books. “My Father said that since groundless hatred caused the destruction of the Second Temple, 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. There can be great differences in personalities, or disagreements in learning, or debates over the right thing to do, but true Ahavah transcends all of this and surrounds all of the Jewish People, like the eternal love of G-d for His people.”
What was true in Rabbi Kook’s time is true for us today. We have to love our fellow Jews and bring them close to the Torah. May your Purim be filled with great joy and love for every Jew, no matter how unlearned and misguided he may be.