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Shabbat Parashat Tzav Erev Pesach 5781

Igrot Hareaya Letters of Rav Kook: The Need to Be Connected to our Past

Letter #18 part III

Date and Place: Adar 5665 (1905), the holy city of Yafo


Recipient: An open letter


Summary of previous parts: We are in the midst of Rav Kook’s public rebuke of the editor of the Hashkafa periodical. He had written that the Zionists for Zion who accused the Ugandists of turning their back on their pasts were hypocrites because all Jews, except the extreme religious, turned their backs on their past, and he is proud of that.

Body: The words of the member of the editorial board of “HaZman” (The Time) found favor in the eyes of the publisher of “Hashkafa,” and he “answered them with ‘amen,’” i.e., they are true. Indeed, the words of the former consist of degrading and besmirching our Torah, our nation, our history, and our wisdom. These are words that are fit to be said only by the worst anti-Semites amongst the evil of the nations of the world. However, I did not feel a need to respond to them, because they were written as an expression of the personal opinion of the writer. Were we to respond to the ideas of every individual, whether he be Jewish or non-Jewish, who does not understand the essence of the Jewish people and therefore he finds fault in them, we would not have time to get to all of them.

We are confident that any person with a wise heart, whose inclinations bring him to deal with Jewish scholarship, will not be intimidated by the scorn of those who are disrespectful of our heritage, and he will continue to search for the truth concerning the teachings we have received from our ancestors. He will know properly that most of the words of wisdom and ethics [which we cherish] can be found in the writings of our Jewish texts. The fine expressions of emotion that elevate the spirit are much more accessible in our teachings than in the idle talk of the new “advisors,” who turn their back on the past.

Our wisdom and history are not limited to one area of study or one historical period but can be found from the beginning of our historical scholarship until its most recent times. The inextinguishable hidden light is seen in the whole of our literature, which touches on all of the detailed points of wisdom. The wonderful power of life connects to the highest philosophical points and the purest characteristics, which have always been a part of our legacy. These remained constant in the Jewish mind thanks to the operative obligations, and the great love of Torah study, which causes one to act properly. This causes the character promoted by these ideas to remain forever as part of our national culture.

Our practical and intellectual powers develop in different ways, whether through wisdom that comes from Jewish sources or those that were “grafted onto us” from the wisdom of the refined nations with which we have contact. These can all impact us positively based on our true character, which when we have been true to it, we have built onto the base of our befitting nature. These are known to all except those who are addicted to the idea of trying to destroy us.

You, my dear brothers, the youth of Zionists of Zion, are yourselves aware that those who have given up hope are not worth much. They include many people who are coarse in their beings, whose ears have absorbed too much cheap and disgraceful heresy. However, these are not the thoughts of the choicest thinkers of the various nations, who are truly the pride of mankind. They know the value of the [authentic Jewish] enterprise, which is the greatest spiritual contribution to the world, and our adorned internal life, which was not spoiled even by the worst times of persecution. The most pious non-Jewish thinker of our time, Vladimir Solovyov (Russian philosopher and proponent of the Jews, died 1900), correctly said that the question about the Jews does not exist; rather, it is a question about Christians, who have not yet reached the moral level to know how to act toward such a special and talented nation as the Jews.

We continue next time from this point.

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