Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Great Quote from Rav Kook on Secular Zionism

Our Friend Yosef Hakohen e-mailed me the following quote from Rav Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook about secular Zionism. Awesome:

Dixie Yid,

I noticed that you have a nice story about Rav Kook, and I therefore thought that you might be personally interested in the attached quote from Rav Kook. It appears in a letter I sent out today titled, "The Chareidi Critique of Secular Zionism" - a letter which also discusses why the Chofetz Chaim and other gedolim founded Agudath Israel.

Kol Tuv,

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook was a leading Torah sage who moved to the Land of Israel in 1904, and I hope to discuss aspects of his approach to the modern Zionist movement in future letters. There were Zionist leaders who viewed the Chareidim as being in the “wilderness”; however, Rabbi Kook offered a defense of the Chareidim. In an essay which discusses the modern Zionist movement (Igrot R’iah 871), Rabbi Kook writes that this movement “will never be a stronghold for the whole nation, because it intrinsically fails to grasp the holy eternal light of the nation’s soul, the spirit of the true God in its midst; thus, it will do well in the external area of building up the nation, but will never be able to deal with its inner side.” Rabbi Kook adds: “That inner building stands ready for other workers of an entirely different type. These will develop, from all places, out of the ‘wilderness’ of the Chareidim, those who faithfully and truthfully opposed Zionism because of their pure zealousness regarding the spirit of Hashem, His people, and the foundation of its existence.”

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Moses form Goodmount said...

I think the biggest tova that secular zionism did the jewish people in one of attitude, even more than actual physical building. Secular zionism showed us that jews can fight and win, and even more than that, it showed us that a jew CAN BE A FIGHTER... I think this attitude is crucial when it comes to geula, I think it's crucial when it comes to truly connecting with G-d, and it is something that we utterly lost in golus. A contemporary of Shalom Aleichem (I think it was Babel) even said something like "when a jew gets on a horse he stops being a jew", and that really was a prevalent, albeit unspoken attitude among frum jews in Europe... That's why it was so easy for natzis y's to herd us into ghettos and gas chambersm with very little resistance (and when there was resistance, it came mostly from jews who were secular, especially secular zionist...)

Why do I think it's so crucial? First of all, it's intrinsic to the jewish people to be fighters and warriors. If one opens Tanach one sees that most Avos and Neviim didn't just fight - they were truly masters of war...
It's also crucial because it's impossible to truly comprehend the Torah, and definitelly not the "Torah chadasha meiti teitze", if one is not a warrior. Torah is given to free men and not slaves, and one is only a truly free when one is able to fight well enough that he only needs to rely on the hand of G-d to aid him, and not on the hand of man (someone who is not a fighter will always look for men to rely on...). That's why, in my opinion, the era of prophesy existed among the jewish people at a time when jews were self reliant when it came to defending themselves. It never mentions in sefer Shoftim, or earlier Mlachim, that jews made a pact with another nation. Because they knew how to do it themselves, each one was a warrior! Then they could truly rely on G-d...

And this is something we so sorely lost in golus. We became basically a bunch of sheep... And a bunch of sheep cannot experience geula... It's only now that G-d fearing jews are starting to get it back. First it was among the national religeous through their training in IDF, and now it's starting to spread also to the "charedim". Very far from ideal, but step in the right direction...

It's a pity that it has to come through the impure channels of secular zionism. In my opinion, G-d fearing jews have to "redeem" this "fighting spirit" which has fallen into their (secular zionist's) impure hands, and make it truly jewish...

Yosef said...

The following editorial in Jewish Action Magazine can serve as a response to anyone who disdainfully refers to our oppressed and murdered brethren in Europe as "sheep":

Like sheep to the slaughter.” To many Jews, the Holocaust represents our shameful, oppressed past. “Why should we teach our children about the disgrace of their ancestors? No heroes, no rulers …?” asks a well-known Israeli author. To him, the Holocaust has no meaning, no lessons we can learn.

How untrue! It’s just that the true story—that of the valor, strength and spiritual tenacity of European Jewry—has not been sufficiently told. Holocaust studies focuses, for the most part, on the brave acts of physical resistance: the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, the destruction of a crematorium at Auschwitz, the sabotage work of partisans.

But what about spiritual resilience? What about the Jews who, despite living in intolerable, inhuman conditions, baked matzot, laid tefillin and circumcised their sons? In even the most desperate circumstances, we find Jews who ferociously clung to their Jewish identity, who exhibited superhuman strength in defying their captors in order to preserve their religious beliefs. Indeed, Rabbi Ephraim Oshry, the spiritual leader of the Kovno Ghetto during the Holocaust, saw spiritual resistance as the highest form of resistance against the Nazis. “One resists with a gun,” remarked the rabbi, “another with his soul.” In the pages ahead, we present an extraordinary array of photographs that attest to the rich spiritual and religious lives of European Jews during the devastating years of 1939 to 1945.

View Slideshow:

Spiritual Resistance

Moses form Goodmount said...

Yosef: Let me say that my great grandparents were murdered in the holocoust, and I can say that I myself consider myself a survivor, or even a victim, as although I was not physically murdered (wasn't around back then), my soul (and that of all of the jewish people) was definitelly scarred by the holocoust. So it's not with disdain, but rather with much pain and tears that I said those words, but I none the less believe them to be true... I said those words reffering to myself as well. AND ONE MUST LEARN FROM ONE'S MISTAKES!!!

It's a big mistake to try to focus only of what we did right during the holocoust. If we want to avoid it in the future, we MUST examine EVERY ASPECT very carefully to determine WHAT WE DID WRONG!!! Without pointing fingers at "other jews", but rather at ourselves... I undertand, this will not be very politically correct, and many people will get very offended, BUT THIS IS THE ONLY WAY TO TRULY FIX OUR MISTAKES! If we don't look for what we did wrong, how can we ever hope to fix???

And yes, sometimes the truth comes out of the mouth of secular authors, who indeed have only disdain for the victims. But nevertheless THERE IS TRUTH to what they say, and we MUST identify that truth, without giving any thought to what anyone may think... We must extract it from the falsehood which their mouth is full of, and learn from it, and fix what needs to be fixed...

So it's not with disdain that I said sheep but rather with much pain and tears. Let's stop being offended, and try to fix our mistakes together... For if we don't fix them, we're bound to repeat them...

Regarding "spiritual resistance", it's important to realize that most, MOST! jews DID NOT engage in any kind of resistance, physical or spiritual. Although those who did, are indeed called kedoshim.

Yosef said...

The Jews living in Europe were an unarmed people, and the invading German army was not their only dangerous enemy. Their Gentile neighbors often assisted the Germans in rounding up and murdering the Jews. It is therefore unfair for anyone to sit in judgement on our lonely and abandoned brethren who faced conditions that we have no true awareness of. In many cases, physical resistance hastened death, and for many Jews, trying to stay alive, even in the camps, was a form of resistance. When a Jew struggles to stay alive under such conditions, then this is also a form of spiritual resistance.

Let us not forget that the Divine spirit is the true strength of Israel, as Hashem proclaimed: "Not through the might of arms and not through physical strength, but through My spirit, said Hashem of the hosts of creation."( Zechariah 4:6).

The following story from the Holocaust period can serve as an example:

One of the great teachers of mussar was Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv - the Alter of Kelm - who headed the yeshiva known as the Talmud Torah of Kelm. In Kelm, both men and women were encouraged to study mussar, and the Alter's daughter, Rebbitzen Nechama Liba, became a respected teacher of mussar. During World War Two, the revered Nechama Liba was already old in years, and the following story concerning the last day of her life is told by a student of the Talmud Torah of Kelm who survived the Holocaust: When the Germans invaded Lithuania, they asked the Lithuanians to assist them in rounding up the Jews. The majority of Lithuanians responded with enthusiasm, and they volunteered to help with the slaughter of the local Jewish population. Kelm was no exception. When the Lithuanians came to the place where most of the Jews - including the students of the Talmud Torah - had been gathered, they had already savagely murdered a number of Jews in Kelm. The Jews were ordered to march to the town square. From the looks on the faces of the Lithuanians that morning, their victims had few doubts as to what lay in store for them. But as they marched at gunpoint, the men of the Talmud Torah sang and danced as if it were Simchas Torah. Although they knew that their physical lives would soon end, they also knew that the life-affirming teachings of Torah would endure. They were therefore enraptured in the songs they had sung so often - "Vetaher libeinu l'ovdecha b'emes" (Purify our hearts to serve you in truth), and "Ashreinu ma tov chelkeinu" (How fortunate are we, how good is our lot). Held high on a chair was the Alter's daughter, Rebbetzin Nechama Liba, whom they carried just as if she were a sefer Torah - Torah Scroll.

The Talmud (Brochos 18a-b) teaches that there are righteous people who in their death are called "living," and that there are wicked people who in their lifetime are called "dead." The murderers of the Jews were already "dead" when they entered the town of Kelm, while the martyrs of Kelm are still living. They are alive in our hearts and minds, and their souls are bound in the eternal "Bond of Life."


The above information - including the information about Rebbitzen Nechama Liba - is taken from "Rav Dessler" a well-written and inspiring biography of Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, a great teacher of mussar of the previous generation who studied in the Talmud Torah of Kelm. The author is Jonathan Rosenblum, and the publisher is ArtScroll:

MFG said...

Yosef: Enough being offended already! No one's sitting in judgement of anyone. I'm pointing out mistakes which WE (yes, I, among others) have done, and which have yet to be fixed.

Now about what you wrote:

Unarmed people? - The issue here is not lack of arms, the issue here is willingness to fight. If you read accounts of ghetto apprisings you see that one of the hardest things for the activists was to convince jews to fight... Jews immediately prior to establishment of the state of Israel were also unarmed but fought nonetheless... The problem here is that frum jews in europe (Yes, that's us...) lacked the fighting spirit of our holy ancestors, and this is what I wrote in the begining.

In many cases, physical resistance hastened death... - Let's just imagine David Hamelech telling that to his soldiers: "No, we shoudn't fight the plishtim, remember, it's dangerous, and pikuach nefesh is doche kol hatorah kula..." Do I need to explain? I hope you understand what I mean...

Yosef said...

I am willing to learn from the above insight of Rav Kook regarding the true and lasting strength of our nation.

And I am willing to learn from the following comments of Simon Wiesenthal, the famed Nazi-hunter, on how he learned to see the good in his fellow sufferers in the camps and judge them on the scale of merit. His comments were said at a conference of European Rabbis in Bratislava, Slovakia. The Rabbis presented the 91 year old Simon Wiesenthal with an award, and Mr.Wiesenthal, visibly moved, told the Rabbis the following story:

He related how he was in Mauthausen after liberation and was visited there by Rabbi Eliezer Silver, the head of the Agudat Harabanim in the United States, who had come to help and comfort the survivors. Rabbi Silver also organized a special service, and he invited Wiesenthal to join the other survivors in praying. Mr. Wiesenthal declined, and explained why.

"When I was in camp, I saw many different types of people do things. There was one religious man of whom I was in awe when I saw that he smuggled a siddur (prayer book) into the camp. I was amazed that he took the risk of his life in order to bring the siddur in. But then, the next day, to my horror, I realized that he was taking this siddur and renting it out to people in exchange for giving him their last piece of bread. This man was so thin, that when he started eating so much from the people renting out his siddur, he died before everyone."

Mr. Wiesenthal continued: "I was so angry with this Jew - how could he take a holy siddur and use it to take a person's last piece of bread away? So I am not going to pray, if this is how Jews behave, if this is what they do with something that is supposed to be a prayer book."

As Wiesenthal turned to walk away, Rabbi Silver tapped him on the shoulder and gently said in Yiddish, "Oh na'ar, na'ar (silly boy). Why do you look at the Jew who rented out his siddur to take away people's last meals? Why do you look at that bad Jew? Why don't you look at the dozens of Jews who gave up their last piece of bread in order to be able to use a siddur? That's faith. That's the true power of the siddur."

Rabbi Silver then embraced him.

"When he said that," said Wiesenthal, "I walked together with him to daven."