Rav Avraham Isaak HaKohen Kook was born in Russian Griva (today Daugavpils in Latvia) in 1865. Born to a Litvik father, it would seem normal that R. Kook himself would become follower of the Litvik movement, but having a grandfather, on his mother’s side, who was from one of the Hassidic dynasties, the Kapust, it is not weird to consider his way and embracement of the Hassidic ways. He did spend some times in a Litvik yeshivah, the same his father had studied in, but stopped there after one and a half year to continue his studies elsewhere. He got his first position as Rabbi when he was 23, in Zaumel (today Zeimelis) in Lithuania. In 1904 he moved to Jaffa (in today’s Israel) to become rabbi there, where he engaged in ‘kiruv,’ outreach for Jews to bring them closer to Torah.
When the first world war broke out, R. HaKohen Kook was caught outside Israel, where he had to spend the war in London and Switzerland until 1918. In 1916 he became rabbi for the Mahzike HaDat in Brick Lane, London, and upon returning to Palestine, he became the rabbi for Jerusalem until 1921, where he became the chief rabbi for the Ashkenazi Jews in Palestine.
Though he was very skilled in Halachah, Jewish religious law, he still showed an openness and sense of universalism, which gave him hard opposition from many sides in the Haredi world, misunderstanding his embracement of secular people, who he saw as Jews needing to be brought back to the fold, instead of being condemned.
There are so much I could write about R. HaKohen Kook and still feeling that I didn’t tell enough afterwards. He indeed was a brilliant mind, a great thinker, and a role model, maybe even more today than then. I’m not sure I would be able to do him right though, so I’ll rather let you get an understanding of him by his own word. I hope that this will be my introduction to a series of post, where I will deal a little with his thoughts, and that they will make you more interested in this great thinker.
One of the reasons why I’m so fascinated by him is his sense of the combination of universalism and particularity in relation to each other. That the Jewish People has a special place, but that we also are connected to the rest of Human kind as well as creation. That we basically have the same sources, though different roles to fulfill. The first thought of his I want to share, is his letter “The Value of Opposition,” from his “Orot HaQodesh,” Lights of Holiness:
The Value of Opposition
Ideologies tend to be in conflict. One group at times reacts to another with total negation. And this opposition becomes pronounced the more important a place ideas have in the human spirit. To one who assesses all this opposition on the basis of its inner significance, it appears as illustrating the need for the spatial separation of plants, which serves as an aid to their growth, enabling them to suck up [from the earth] their needed substance. Thus will each one develop to its fullness, its particularities. Excessive closeness would have blurred and impaired them all. The proper unity results only from this separation. One begins by separation and concludes by unification.
Orot HaQodesh, Vol. I, pp. 15.
When I think about the conflicts we have today, this seems to be the essence, that sometimes we are so opposed to each other that we need to be parted. It is not always so. Or rather, I find some conflicts on different stages. When it comes to the conflict between believers, especially between Jews and Muslims, I do see us nearing the conclusion, that we need to be unified. I don’t mean by this that we should become one and same religion, but that we should be as brothers, seeing that though we are different, then we are the more similar, holding the same values and care for God. We both have our fanatics, who cannot accept any other than those thinking like themselves, but that is even yet another similarity which should bring us together, understanding that we share internal challenges, and in that way can fight them together.
We have been allowed to grow up and develop our particularities, identifying ourselves in relation to the other. Now it must be time to identify each other as brothers, and reach for a shared existence.