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[Page 305]

Avraham Itskhok Hakohen Kook (the Raaya'h)

By E. Leoni

Originally translated by M. Porat z”l and edited by Mike Kalt

Edited further and refined by Jerrold Landau

{Photo and introductory paragraph added by translator M. Porat.}

 

Vol305.jpg

 

The most esteemed Student of the Netziv; he became the first chief Rabbi of Eretz Israel. Born on 5625 Elul 16th (1865), in Griva, Latvia, Harav Kook wrote his excellent essay on Hanaziv “The Yeshiva “Ets Hayim” head”, published in “Knesset Israel” 5648 (1888). Died in 5695 Elul 3rd (1.9.1935) in Jerusalem.

* * *

“My Avrom-Itshe” – So did the Netziv refer to his talented student, Avraham Itskhok Hakohen Kook. In Volozhin he was called “The Ponevezh Prodigy,” because while in Volozhin, he became the son-in-law of R' Dovid Rabinovitch-Teomim from Ponevezh.

Harav Kook used to study in the Volozhin Yeshiva eighteen hours per day. Each day he learned sixty pages of Gemara. The Yeshiva men noticed once that the glass of his kerosene lamp, the light of which he used to study late in the night, disappeared. They discovered that at the end of his daily learning he dismantled and hid the glass. However, what was the reason? The reason was that he wrote verse “I keep G-d before me at all times” [Psalms 16:8] on the glass, in order that those words would be in front of him when he was learning.

Hanatziv liked Rav Kook to such a degree that he ordered the Yeshiva management to provide this young Prodigy with all his material needs. He said: “The Ponevezher is beyond the bounds of allocations.” Rav Kook was also liked by all the students of the Yeshiva, who recognized his worth, and turned to him with various questions in Jewish law.

The article “Glory for the Righteous” [Tzvi Latzadik] was his first literary publication. He published it in 5646 (1886) the Kol Machzikei Hadas journal as a response to a criticism of Hanaziv's book Haemek Davar. Around the same time, he published in the Knesset Israel journal another article, “The Ets Hayim Yeshiva Head” (Hanaziv's Annals).

The Volozhin era was a time of happiness and pleasure in his life. He wrote then to his parents and friends: “The hours are very dear in Volozhin, in the large town where Torah is grown.” He praised and thanked the Creator who “guided him in the true way and brought him to this place of Torah.” He was full of pleasure from “the atmosphere of Volozhin, which makes those who seek wisdom and who are diligent in Torah wise.”

In the year 5648 (1888), Harav Kook published an anthology called Itur Sofrim, a forum for the path of religious Jewry. Prominent Hassidim as well as Misnagdim took part in this anthology. Among them were the Netziv and the Rabbi Zeev Twerski, a scion of the Admorim of Chernobyl.

As for his life orientation, Harav Kook was a faithful student of Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin, which taught that the existence of the entire world is in the merit the Torah. In his article Teudat Yisrael Uleumioto [The Mission and Nationality of Israel][27], Harav Kook emphasized that Israel's mission, the study, and dissemination of Torah, “Exists and is constant like the days of the heavens upon the earth,” for there is no existence of the Torah without the nation of Israel “which bears the signature of True Torah. Heaven forbid, if the nation of Israel would cease to exist, and Torah would be forgotten, humanity would revert to its boorishness and its idols.”

Nevertheless, he wrote, the most important condition to accomplish our mission is the concentration of the Nation of Israel in the Land of Israel. Harav Kook states, “There is no doubt that it is impossible for us to fulfil our general mission

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unless we are a nation that resides in the Land of Israel, on the holy ground, for only there it is possible for the spirit of our nation to flourish and develop, to be the light of the world.” Harav Kook sees in this national essence as “the foundation and essence of Judaism.” Therefore, “A small group in the Land of Israel is better than large Sanhedrins in the Diaspora.”[28]

Harav Kook once gave an interesting answer to a local Zionist who mocked those Jews who come to die in the Land of Israel and concern themselves with obtaining a grave in the Holy Land. He said that the very first settlement in the Land of Israel began with a grave [the Cave of Machpela in Hevron]. “Give me land for a family grave.” (Genesis 23:4). Also, later during the exodus from Egypt, the children of Israel went into the Land of Israel carrying the bones of Joseph – once more a grave. In any case, on account of those graves and those buried there, the Land of Israel developed and flourished.

Harav Kook's love of the land of Israel was very strong. He was not able to breathe the air of the Diaspora. It is told that when he once went to the United States in order to collect money for the Yeshivas in the Land of Israel, he was hosted in the luxurious house of a wealthy person. In spite of that, his admirers who came to visit him found him in a state of sadness.

“Our Rabbi, why are you unhappy?” Harav Kook answered: “I will tell you a story: A king went out to sea on a ship with his ministers and servants. Of course, they took all the fine dishes which the king was accustomed to. They prepared all sorts of food and drink that are worthy to appear on a king's table. They invited a choir and a band to try to make the king happy. Nevertheless, the king remained sad.

“One of his ministers asked him, ‘Our king, why are you constantly unhappy? Are you lacking something on the ship?’ The king responded, ‘No, I am not lacking anything, other than a bit of dry land…’;”

Harav Kook finished by saying, “Thank G-d, I am not lacking anything. But I am lacking ‘something.𔃾 I am lacking the soil of the Land of Israel.”

Since the building of the Land was the main thing to Harav Kook , he did not investigate the tzitzit [fringes – here a symbol for religiosity in general] of the builders. He would say, “The simples of the simple in the Land of Israel is more proper than the fittest of the fittest in the Diaspora.” He understood the soul of the worker in the Land. Once, some religious people came to him and complained about the chalutzim [pioneers] and laborers who were occupied with the settlement and the upbuilding of the Land, stating that they were simple people who were lax about religious matters, and the land was the holy Land of Israel.

Harav Kook responded, “During the time that the Temple existed, a stranger did not enter the Holy of Holies, other than the High Priest. Even he would only enter once a year, on Yom Kippur Day, wearing the white priestly garb. However, at the time of the building of the Temple, every worker entered the site daily, wearing workaday clothes.” When he received complaints that the chalutzim did not put on tefillin, he responded, “It is sufficient for them that they are placing bricks in the building.”

The crown of Harav Kook's actions was the establishment of the Mercaz Harav, as a kernel for the central world Yeshiva in Jerusalem, from where Torah and the word of G-d would emanate to the entire nation.

 

Original Footnotes:
  1. Published in Hapeles, first year, in Hamashkim. Return
  2. Igrot Raaya'h, letter II. Return


[Page 307]

Yitzchak Rivkind

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Yitzchak Rivkind was the son of a well-pedigreed family rooted in Lithuania (the Gaon Rabbi Hayim Heller was his uncle). In his parental home, a home of Torah, he absorbed the love of Torah and its studiers, and a deep connection to the holiness of the nation.

His grandfather, Rabbi Sender Diskin, one of the great wealthy people of Łódź, set up a Yeshiva with his own money, which he conducted in the Lithuanian style.

This grandfather made aliya to the Land. He intended to establish a weaving enterprise, similar to the enterprises that he set up in Łódź. However this did not succeed. On the other hand, his brother, Rabbi Mordechai Diskin succeeded in setting up roots in the Land. He was one of the founders of Petach Tikva, and he also authored booklets on the love of Zion and the settlement of the Land.

Rivkind acquired the love of Zion from his grandfather. He became an active member of Chovevei Zion when he studied in the Yeshiva of Volozhin during the period of Rabbi Rafael Shapira. During that period, vibrant nationalist youth gathered in the Yeshiva, who dreamed and prepared for aliya to the Land of Israel.

Rivkind began to dedicate himself to Zionist activity at a young age. He was one of the heads of those who made efforts for political Zionism. He visited many cities and towns, appealing for aliya to the Land of Israel. His teacher and rabbi regarding Zionist publicity was the well-known Zionist preacher, Rabbi Yitzchak Nisenbaum.

In the year 5677 (1917), Rivkind participated in the founding of the Young Mizrachi organization of Łódź. The founders aspired toward a large movement. Indeed, Young Mizrachi became a wide-branched organization, from which Hapoel Hamizrachi later developed.

During that year, Rivkind was a delegate to the Mizrachi convention in Poland. Where he was elected to the leadership. Rivkind conducted publicity for Mizrachi in writing as well. He participated in the Hamizrachi weekly, of which he was also one of the founders. He published two booklets regarding national publicity: “The Netzi'v and his relation to the Land of Israel,” and “The Mizrachi and its Outlook.” He was sent by Mizrachi as a publicist to Vilna. Once, an Orthodox opponent of Mizrachi complained and asked him, “What is your purpose? To add another ‘booklet of Mishna' to those that already exist?” Rivkind responded, “Indeed, we are another ‘booklet of Mishna.’ However what is the difference between us and you? We study the order of Zeraim, whereas you study the order of Nezikin.”[1*]

Rivkind was invited by Rabbi Meir Berlin (Bar-Ilan) to come to the United States to set up the Mizrachi movement there. He came in the year 5680 (1920). However, he left his communal work after some time, especially after he was accepted to work in the library of the Shechter Theological Seminary[2*] in New York in the year 5683 (1921). Rivkind became involved in the bibliographic profession in that library, and was one of the great bibliographers of our generation.

During the period when Rivkind left his communal work and immersed himself completely in the world of the book, a strong longing for his “spiritual birthplace” of Volozhin was aroused in him. He began to gather material to write the history of the Ets Hayim Yeshiva of Volozhin. Until his great effort came to fruition, he published several

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articles about the Yeshiva in Reshimot, Hadoar, Sefer Turov, and other forums. His material was of great value to anyone researching the history of the Yeshiva.

Among the important items for a researcher of the history of the Ets Hayim Yeshiva of Volozhin, Rivkin published “The Drama of the Closing of the Yeshiva of Volozhin,” which was written in Yiddish by a young student of the Telz Yeshiva who was very pained by the closing of the Ets Hayim Yeshiva. The active individuals in this drama were mainly abstractions – the Netzi'v and his students, the Talmud, the Torah, the Jewish nation, and the prophet Elijah. The content of this drama is: at the time of the closing of the Volozhin Yeshiva, a great danger awaited the Talmud, the source of Jewish life in the Diaspora. The Talmud got sick, and the Torah prayed to G-d for his only son. The first scene describes the closing of the Yeshiva. Later, there is a dialogue between the Netzi'v and his students. The fifth scene describes the Netzi'v going to the grave of Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin, as was always his custom when danger was lurking for the Jewish people.

The Netzi'v prostrates himself upon the grave of Rabbi Hayim and says with bitter weeping:

Holy grandfather, I disturb your rest today
With terrible news, that your Yeshiva is closed.
There is nobody in your Yeshiva. It is silent
From the Gemaras. And they have been driven out of learning.
The Talmud is missing in the world. The well is dry.
The soul of our people is in danger.
Go, grandfather, plead before G-d in Heaven
Go to the pargod[3*], prostate yourself before G-d, before his stool.
Act, Grandfather, with your tears, your full measure of tears.
Tell the Gaon, wake up Moses, that they should supplicate.
Wake up the Patriarchs, that they should know, and they can save us.
The Yeshiva that you hoped would remain forever,
Has been shuttered and locked, one cannot enter.
Awaken a merit for the People of Israel, they are immersed in tribulations,
Supplicate for Torah, with your tears wash away the decree.
I am weak. I do not know what to do
To again raise the sacred banner.
Do not sleep, Grandfather, your Yeshiva is closed.

Rivkind writes that on Seder nights, when all the Yeshiva students reclined together, the Yeshiva heads would sing Chasal Siddur Pesachin a special melody, at all times, and in all eras.

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Who was the composer of the melody? Two answers are given to this question. One states that Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin was the composer. The other states that his son Rabbi Itzele was the composer. Rivkind continues and says that when he was in Volozhin, he heard an additional legend that stated that when Rabbi Itzele traveled to Petersburg in the year 5604 [1844] regarding matters of the Jewish people, Jewish soldiers who were stationed in the capital of Russia came out to greet him with song, as was fitting for a great rabbi such as him, who was a leader of the generation. When Rabbi Itzele returned to Volozhin, he set the melody with which the Jewish soldiers greeted him to Chasal Siddur Pesach. From that time, this tune was accepted in Volozhin, and the heads of the Yeshiva and the students sung it every year[29].

Yitzchak Rivkin revealed an interesting thing, that in the year 5663 (1903), ten years after the death of the Netzi'v – two rabbis, students of the Ets Hayim Yeshiva of Volozhin, attempted to found a Yeshiva in New York named for the Netzi'v. The two rabbis were Rabbi Eliezer HaKohen Drucker, and Rabbi Michel Yehoshua Feinstein. Rabbi Drucker was not only a student of the Yeshiva of Volozhin, for he also married a woman from Volozhin, the daughter of Rabbi Dov Aryeh Perski, the author of the book Keter Torah. He was forced to leave Russia while his wife was still pregnant, and came to Montreal, Canada, where he was accepted as a rabbi. His wife sold her house in Volozhin, and prepared to travel to her husband, but she was forced to delay her departure because she loaned the proceeds of the house sale to the Netzi'v so that he would be able to discharge the debts of the Yeshiva.

Rivkind notes that students from the United States also studied in Volozhin. The Netzi'v valued greatly the power of the Russian immigrants in America, and foresaw their historic role as “for I was sent to preserve life” [Genesis 45:5]. When things were difficult for him and the Yeshiva, he called to “our brethren who live far away but are close in our thoughts.”

Rivkind states that he does not know whether this attempt succeeded, and for how long the Netzi'v was in the United States. However, he expresses a personal connection to the attempt to found a Yeshiva such as this in New York, ten years after the death of the Netzi'v[30].

 

Yitzchak Yaakov Reines

Rabbi Reines was a scion of great ones of the Jewish People, a link in the long chain of Gaonim who descended from the minister Shaul Wohl[4*], and going further back, to Rashi and King David.

He was different from many of the students of Volozhin in that he attempted to blend the study of Talmud with rational principles, making them fit together. By chance, the book “Explanation of World of Logic” by Maimonides came to his hands.

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He read it several times, and swallowed every word, until the words were etched in and penetrated deep into his heart. From then, he became a master of logic.

Logic overtook him more and more when he was in Volozhin. He began to utilize it to “explain the methodology of the Talmud with a completely novel explanation.” However, he did not suffice himself with this, and he made additional step. With is visionary eye, he realized that the Yeshiva of Volozhin as well as other Yeshivot had become old. Therefore, the command of the Torah and of the times is to rejuvenate the youths of the Yeshiva, to prepare them for the demands of the times, and to imbue them with the beauty of Japheth[5*]. This was a daring innovation at that time, almost considered to be an attack on the holy of holies with apostasy. Rabbi Reines explained his “revolution” with the following words: “There are times when the masses are wrong, and consider a true opinion to be invalid, and if someone holds such an opinion – they spread rumors about him and question his uprightness and correctness. However, a person for whom truth is more important than anything will support this opinion openly, without concern as to whether this mater will degrade his honor in the eyes of people. People such as this, who are fit to give their souls for the truth without concern for their own honor, are necessary for the existence of the world.”

Therefore, the thought of founding a Yeshiva in which they would also teach the vernacular language and secular studies sprouted in his heart. However, he did not want to do this on his own accord, so he brought his proposal to a rabbinical convention that convened in Petersburg in accordance with the demands of the government. The Netzi'v and Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik also participated in that convention. They rejected his plans, for the Yeshiva of Volozhin had always fought against Haskalah, and this was the reason for its closing.

Rabbi Reines was among the first of the students of the Netzi'v who joined the ranks of Chibat Zion. He entered communication with Rabbi Kalisher, and proposed a comprehensive and imaginative plan of action, the aim of which was to establish the work of Chovevei Zion on a broad basis. Rabbi Kalisher immediately realized the level of energy and greatness of Rabbi Reines, and continued his correspondence with him.

Rabbi Reines knew that his work for Chibat Zion, which occupied a great deal of time, would result in his diminishment of his image as a Torah great. However, he felt that he was compelled to this by the Torah as well as a national command. He stated that Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever was one of the great ones of the generation, who would have surpassed all the great ones of the generation had he not immersed himself in the work for the Chovevei Zion movement. Chibat Zion darkened his genius, but it was impossible to free himself from it. He explained his words as follows: It is written in the book of Deuteronomy “And an iron yoke will be placed upon your neck” (28:48). Regarding this, the Jerusalem Talmud states: What is a yoke of iron? Rabbi Eleazar says, that is the idea. (Tractate Shabbat 84). The intention of the Jerusalem Talmud was that any idea that penetrates into the heart and mind of an individual is like a yoke of iron upon his neck, and it is impossible under any circumstance to free himself of the yoke.”

Rabbi Reines rejected the Diaspora. He did not believe that we could exist among the gentiles, “for your descendants will be strangers in a land not theirs” [Genesis 15:13]. Rabbi Reines continues and explains: “God informed Abraham about this,

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that as long as they will be in other lands, and not in their holy land – they will be considered as strangers, and all efforts to win over the hearts of the nations to consider them as full citizens will be for naught.”

He regarded the redemption as the purpose of the exile. Rabbi Reines said, “There are two types of exiles: an eternal exile, and an exile whose culmination will be redemption. Many nations who were exiled from their land died out and assimilated into other nations, without leaving a trace among the nations. An exile of this sort is an eternal exile. However, the culmination of the exile of Israel will be the redemption.”

Rabbi Reines also believed that the redemption would come through manual labor, especially through agriculture. “Every intelligent person knows that all the good and fortunate traits can only exist and be preserved among workers of the land, and not among merchants and traders.”

Similarly, he was in favor of mutual action with the non-observant people in the Chibat Zion movement. To those who denigrated him for enthusiastically speaking the praises of the new settlement [Yishuv Hechadash][6*], which was built up for the most part by those who had thrown off the yoke of Torah, he responded: “Our sages stated in the Sifrei: Everyone who dwells in the Land of Israel, recites the Shema morning and evening, and speaks the Holy Tongue is destined for the World To Come. From this it appears that neither the non-observant in the Land of Israel nor the Orthodox in the Diaspora are able to merit the World To Come, for they do not uphold these three things together. However, there is more hope for the non-observant, since they fulfil two things: they live in the Land of Israel and speak the Holy Tongue. On the other hand, we only fulfil one thing – we recite the Shema. Let us make aliya to the Land of Israel, where we will fulfil the three things and merit the World To Come.”

The crowning achievement of Rabbi Reines' nationalist activity was the creation of Mizrachi. In such, he removed the shame of standing aback from the question of questions in our lives from the vast majority of the Jewish community of those days.

Rabbi Reines wanted to make aliya to Israel during his final days. He wrote to Rabbi Maimon: “I want to see with my eyes the land for which I dedicated the best of my energies.”

The Jews of Jerusalem perpetuated the name of Rabbi Reines when they founded in the north part of Jerusalem a neighborhood called Neve Yaakov, named for Rabbi Yitzchak Yaakov Reines.

 

Original Footnotes:
  1. Reb Yitzchak Rivkin, Miyalkutei HaVolozhin, a) The closing of the Yeshiva of Volozhin; b) Melodies of Volozhin, Reshimon, Volume V, year 5687 [1927], pp 362-382. Return
  2. Reb Yitzchak Rivkind, attempt to found a Yeshiva in New York named for the Netzi'v forty years ago. Scharfstein Book, New York, 5704 [1944], pp 243-249. Return

 

Translator's Footnotes:
1*. The Mishnaic order of Zeraim [seeds] deals primarily with agricultural laws, many relating to the Land of Israel. The Mishnaic order of Nezikin deals with tortes and monetary law, which is applicable everywhere. Return
2*. The Jewish Theological Seminary. Re Rivkind, see https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/rivkind-isaac Return
3*. The figurative partition in Heaven that divides between the area comprehensible by angelic beings, and the area solely in G-d's domain. See footnote 207 in this translation of the piyut [liturgical hymn] of the ten martyrs for Yom Kippur, which mentions the term: https://www.sefaria.org/Machzor_Yom_Kippur_Ashkenaz%2C_Musaf_for_Yom_Kippur%2C_The_Ten_Martyrs.10?lang=bi Return
4*. See https://yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Wahl_Shaul Return
5*. The Biblical Japheth is considered to be the progenitor of the arts and beauty. There is a rabbinic statement that the beauty of Japheth is positive when subordinate to the tents [i.e. study halls] of Shem. Return
6*. The community in the Land of Israel that was built up through the waves of immigration in the late 19th century, as opposed to the older, original, primarily Orthodox community. Return


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Translated by Jerrold Landau

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