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Avraham Itskhok Hakohen Kook

By E. Leoni

Translated by M. Porat z”l

Edited by Mike Kalt

Avraham Itskhok Hakohen Kook

The most estimated Student of Hanazi; he became the first chief Rabbi of Eretz Israel. Born on 5625 Elul 16th (1865), in Grayevo, 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

“Mine Avrom-Itshe” – So called Hanaziv his talented student, Avrom Itskhok Hakohen Kook. In Volozhin he was called “The Poniviezh Prodigy,” because being in Volozhin, he became the son-in-law of R' Dovid Rabinovitsh-Teomim from Poniviezh.

Harav Kook used to study in the Volozhin Yeshiva eighteen hours per day. Each day he learned sixty pages of Gomorrah. 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 the verse “I am feeling the Almighty every time,” he wrote on the glass, in order that those words would be in front of him when he was learning.

Hanaziv appreciated and estimated his student in such a measure that he ordered to provide the Prodigy all his material needs. He said: “The Ponivezher is upon all allocations”.

The article “Glory for the Righteous” was his first literary appearance. He published it in the journal “Voice of the Religion Holders” as an answer to a criticism of Hanaziv's book “Deepen the Matter”. Near this time, he published in the “Knesset Israel” journal another article, “The Eyts Hayim Yeshiva Head” (Hanaziv's Annals).

The Volozhin time 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 precious town where Torah is grown.” He praised and thanked the Almighty who “guided us in the true way and brought us into this place of Torah.” He enjoyed the Volozhin pure and “educational” air, which “makes wise” the Torah student.

Harav Kook issued a collection named “Books Ornament” on 1888, a stage for the religious Jewry. Prominent Hassidim and Misnagdim took part in this collection. Among them were the Naziv and the Admor R' Zeev Tverski from Tshernobil.

As for his life orientation, he followed faithfully R' Hayim Volozhiner's ideas, which taught that the entire world's existence is based on the Holy Torah. Harav Kook emphasized the purpose of Israel's Torah study and its distribution, which was “Israel's national mission.” In an article that carries his name, he claimed that the mission was delivered to our nation and is old like the sun illuminating the earth. The Torah will not exist without Israel as a nation. Moreover, if Israel, God forbid, would cease to exist, the Torah would be forgotten and humanity without Torah would come back to ignorance and idolatry.

Nevertheless, he wrote, the most important condition to accomplish our mission is the concentration of the Israeli Nation in the Land of Israel, the land of Holiness. Only here would develop the spirit of our nation to enlighten the world. Harav Kook saw the Jewish nationality as the basis of Judaism and its essence.

Harav Kook once answered a local Zionist who mocked upon the Jews coming to die in the Holy Land and caring to buy a family grave. The Rabbi told him that the very first settlement (the Cave of Makhpeyla in Hevron) started with a grave. “Give me land for a family grave” asked father Abraham (Breyshit, art. 23, verse 4). Also later during the Egypt Exodus, the children of Israel went into the Land of Israel carrying the bones of Yosef – once more a grave.

Anyway, due to those graves, and from those graves, lives developed, and the Land of Israel prospers.

His love of the land of Israel was extraordinary strong. He was not able to breathe the air of foreign countries. People tell that when coming once to the United States in order to gather money for the Yeshivas in Erets Israel, he was hosted in a millionaire's sumptuous house. In spite of that, his admirers found him in a state of sadness.

“Rabbi, why are you so unhappy?” The Rabbi answered: “A king went out to the sea on his ship with all his servants. They had the best facilities, excellent food and the best wines. Renowned artists, poets, and musicians accompanied the king to make him happy. However, the king remained gloomy and sad. One of his ministers asked him, why are you unhappy, do you lack something? No, I have all I need but I am missing something; I am missing a piece of land.”

The Rabbi finished the story saying, “God, blessed be his name, provided me with all I need, but there is something I'm lacking here abroad; I'm lacking the Land of Israel.”

Harav Kook considered that country building was the main purpose of the Jewish people. He did not check on the fringes of the builders. He understood the worker's soul. Religious people complained before him that the Halutsim building the Land were frivolous and frequently obscene in matters between human and God, while the Land of Israel was holy.

The Rabbi answered that when the temple existed nobody had right to enter inside it, except the main Priest (Hakohen Hagadol), and even he could enter only once a year, on the Yom Kippur Day, and wearing pure white garments. However, at the times of the Temple building, every worker entered the site every day, wearing workaday clothes.

Moreover, when he received complaints that the Halutsim did not put on phylacteries, he would answer that it is enough for them to put stone upon stone building the Land of Israel.

The crown of his actions was the establishment of the Yeshiva “Beit Harav” as the central World School in Jerusalem, where from Torah and God's word would come out and propagate into the entire nation.

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