from An Angel Among Men (translator).
A Statement of Principles
Blessed be God, the holy city of Jaffa 24 Sivan 5673
To my honored, good friend, rabbi and true genius, the glory of the generation, R. Yaacov Dovid (the Ridbaz).
I received your letter, and since I am not engaged in any pressing tasks, thank God, I can respond without delay and address the points that you raised.
I am astonished that my words have wounded your pure heart. What has led you to believe that I want to abrogate the shmitah year, heaven forbid? Have I not stated repeatedly that my ruling is only a temporary one, and issued only due to great need? Heaven forbid that a great, all-encompassing mitzvah such as the holy mitzvah of shmitah be abrogated unless an issue of life and death is at stake, a question of keeping people from starving to death (heaven forbid), because they lack work and food, which would lead to the collapse of Jewish settlement at its very inception....
I am very surprised to read that when I was a youth, you gleaned lessons from me about ethics, character and fear of God. I do not know what you ever found to learn from me. But if in your humility you attribute so much to me in my youth even before I was in the land of Israel, so that even then you could learn something positive thing from me, how can you entertain the thought that now, when God has made it possible for me to envelop myself in the holiness of this land, my abilities should be diminished, heaven forbid? Why do you not judge me favorably: that my ways and actions are not for my personal honor (heaven forbid), nor for any ulterior purpose, but for the love of God, the holy Torah, the Jewish people and the holy land.
I toiled a great deal and with considerable difficulty before the Holy One, blessed be He, awoke my spirit. But at last He inspired me to go wholeheartedly upon the holy path of sanctifying the name of heaven, making the Torah and those who learn Torah beloved to others, bringing people to the Torah, and increasing the strength and might of Jewish settlement upon God’s holy land.
“Happy is the generation whose greatest men listen to its most insignificant men.” I had hoped that this would be the case here, and that now, no less than before, you might find something to learn from my manner and activity. The purity of my heart and the yearning of my spirit for God’s great name and His worship are clear to me.
When you originally wrote to me and expressed surprise that I extend a welcome to everyone, even Jewish sinners, in order to draw them close, I wrote back and alluded to my purpose, which is that whoever has the capacity to learn the innermost secrets of the Torah is filled to a greater degree with the light of kindness that comes from the Torah of kindness, and is obligated to work on rectifying those who are fallen and on bringing near those who are distant. In the language of the Kabbalists, this too is considered to be “gathering in the holy sparks from the husks.”
But you found this to contradict our prayer that God “uproot and smash” the heretics.
If your honor will heed my words, I will explain this to you not in the language of the secrets of the Torah (for you think that you know that you do not know them), but in simple words. In truth, “both are the words of the living God...”
Your honor should know that there are two essential things that together build the holiness of Israel and God’s connection to the Jewish people. The first is intrinsic: the holy nature within the soul of a Jew. This is his inheritance from the Patriarchs...This intrinsic nature is a holy, inner power that rests within the nature of the soul because God wills it. It is like the nature of anything else in existence, which cannot change at all...The second is free will, which depends upon good deeds and learning Torah...
In our generation, there are many souls who are very low from the standpoint of their free will, and who are therefore contaminated with many evil deeds and evil points of view (may God protect us). Nevertheless, the light of their particular, intrinsic nature shines within them. Therefore, they deeply love the totality of the Jewish people and desire the land of Israel. And in regard to some good and precious character traits, which comes from the nature of Israel within the nature of their soul, they are outstanding...
You criticized me for having written that I am not diminished (heaven forbid) because sinners praise me, since it is said of Avraham Avinu himself that “all the nations of the earth will be blessed in him.” To this, you replied that the nations of the world never considered Avraham Avinu to be like them (heaven forbid), yet these sinners do consider me to be like them. Please believe me that the majority of the non-religious who feel favorable to me know and recognize that I am not like them and their masses (heaven forbid), and that my thoughts and ways are as different from theirs as east is distant from west. They acknowledge this very clearly. But even against their will, they must admit the truth: that (thank God) my mind is clear and just; that I bear no falsehood in my heart or on my lips; and that (thank God) I am entirely filled with love of Jews. I thank God, Who has given me this spirit, which is not a result of my own wisdom or righteousness, but which comes from His great compassion and mercy, which are infinite. He takes cognizance of the poor and oppressed in spirit, and of the person who trembles at His word (cf. Isaiah 66:2).
Thank God, when it is necessary, I protest strongly against sacrilege. But I speak logically and calmly, as we have been taught by the advice of the wise King Solomon. There is no doubt that if your honor and the other leaders of the generation would support me, join me and act as I do as much as possible in accordance with their character, the name of heaven would be sanctified, and great peace and blessing would flow upon the Jewish people and upon the land of Israel, and a great many indeed would today return fully to God. And in truth, the blossoming of the horn of salvation would quickly be revealed with a fitting revelation for the house of Israel. It is completely impossible to imagine and describe how much goodness, holiness and rectification of the world would blossom from this.
I am filled with hope that, with God’s help, so will it be, and that ultimately those who fear Him and know His name will, recognizing the purity of my heart and the truth of my viewpoints, return to me, and all of us will form one union to do the will of God and increase the light of God and His glory upon His nation, and upon His beloved land, and upon all the ends of the earth.
You level the accusation against me that in my old age I have become a “Zionist,” sacrificing my soul for the sake of the settlement of Jews in the land of Israel. My beloved friend, I wish that all Zionists would love the land of Israel and desire its settlement with the same intent and holy goal that I have. This is the land of God, Who chose it and loved it more than the entire world, a land with qualities of holiness that facilitate prophecy and divine inspiration, a land so great that one may merit the world-to-come merely by walking upon it.
Its merit shields even the wicked. A Canaanite maidservant in the land of Israel is assured that she will attain the world-to-come. The wicked Esav accrued so much merit by dwelling in the land of Israel that Yaacov Avinu feared him.
How much more, then, will this land benefit the holy seed, the tested seed, the children of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaacov...How much more can we find in every individual, even in the most worthless Jew, unimaginably precious pearls of good deeds and good qualities that the land of Israel will certainly help elevate and sanctify. If this cannot be seen in them openly, it will appear in their children and in their children’s children. As the verse states, “Your work will appear upon Your servants, and Your beauty upon their children.” If all Zionists thought this way, it would certainly be a great honor for every Torah leader, scholar and tzaddik to be a Zionist. And so you need not be ashamed of such a Zionist...
You, who are honored and beloved to me, write that I should believe you when you say that it is hard for you to quench your love for me. I believe this without the slightest doubt. “As water reflects a face, so does one man’s heart reflect that of another” (Mishlei 27:19). I feel the holy flame of the fire of your holy love within my heart and the depth of my spirit, a fire that many waters will not extinguish (cf. Shir Hashirim 8:7). In everything that has passed between us regarding our differences about the shmittah year, the intent of both of us has been, thank God, pleasing to heaven. In this, the Supernal One, blessed be He, is extolled equally by me and you. Our differences will not extinguish this holy fire rooted in the depths of our soul for an eternal covenant. There is certainly a great spiritual connection between us, since we cleave so much to each other with an inner love. Present circumstances merely refine and purify matters so that the holiness of the love of truth between us will increase–a holy and pure love not dependent on any earthly matter but dedicated to God, to the light of His Torah and to the sanctity of the fear and love of God.
You write that you find it difficult to address me harshly. Do not think in your pure heart that I am pained to hear harsh words spoken against me for the sake of heaven. When a person speaks harshly for the sake of heaven, he is serving God. And I will not be upset that a Jew is performing a mitzvah. Although it is the nature of a human being to feel some pain over this, our holy sages have told us that “according to the pain is the reward.” The Master of reward will faithfully deliver my reward: that I may truly serve Him and return to Him with love, with a full heart and a fullness of spirit–I and all Israel as well, brothers with one heart.
You write that you are pained because a man of my caliber is going on such a dangerous path. You were generous enough in your goodness to call me a “great man.” Do not fail to recognize my lowliness and meager worth, which is as nothing. But please be aware that I toiled a great deal with my blood, flesh, the marrow of my bones, and all my abilities to reach this path upon which I now work in serving God, until in His compassion God illumined my eyes and I gained clarity in this matter. I find this to be no dangerous path at all. It should rather be called a path of holiness...
I in my impoverishment am not fit to be called a tzaddik. If I could only claim with confidence that I am an average man. But the path that I am striving to walk upon is, thank God, without any doubt the path of the tzaddikim. Whoever adopts my manner and joins me in Torah and service of God with a willing heart and true faith in the sages will merit to see the light and truth upon this paved, straight road, a road illumined by the light of supernal kindness...
You write that you see that I can expect to receive insults and calumny–I do not know about what. In the past, everything has come from heaven, and thank God, I have accepted it with love. As for the future, do we not hope for Jewish settlement of the land to improve in all ways, physical and spiritual? Perhaps there will be no need for any leniencies whatsoever about the shmittah year. May God help us determine the halachic boundaries of Yehudah with one heart and one point of view. May God swiftly bring us our righteous messiah and just leader...
It seems to me that I have addressed all the points you raised. I think that you will now somewhat understand my thought. As you have stated, I will declare as well: beloved rabbi, let us walk arm in arm on the path of God, upon the path of truth and peace. Let us strive to increase peace amidst the Jewish people and bring the hearts of the Jewish people close to their Father in heaven. Let us try to assure that even those who are distant will come close to holiness, and that the brotherhood, comradery and union of hearts will increase amongst all Jews–particularly those in the Holy Land...
Allow me to end my letter with your words: I am sure that you, honored one, will not ignore me but that you will think deeply into this matter and entertain the thought that perhaps (in some details, at least,) in truth I, your friend Kook, am right.
Signing with all seals of blessings, I kiss you in my thought with faithful love, and seek your well-being with great love. With great respect,
the insignificant Avraham Yitzchak Hacohen Kook