50th Yartzeit of Rav Kook’s Main Student: HaRav David Cohen, HaRav HaNazir zt”l
“May it be the Divine Will that we be worthy of the renewal of the holy, of the rebirth of our prophetic auditory spirit, through our national revival in our holy land.”
With these words Rabbi David Cohen-HaRav HaNazir -The Nazirite Rabbi TZ”L and Rav Kook’s main student– concluded the introduction to his magnum opus, “Kol HaNevua-The Voice of Prophecy”. Published in 1970, two years before his passing, it is perhaps the most important book written in Torah thought since Rav Kook passed away in 1935.
Let us review his primary teachings as we honor his extraordinary contribution to modern Jewish/Israeli history and thought.
Kol HaNevua is a profound encyclopedic journey that weaves together all the strands of Jewish thinking and history as it explains the singular reality of Jewish experience:
‘THE CREATOR OF EXISTENCE IS COMMUNICATING WITH HUMAN BEINGS – WHO ARE UNIQUELY CREATED WITH THE ABILITY TO HEAR THE DIVINE COMMUNICATION’.
And thus it is most appropriate that the book begins with this quotation:
“הַטּוּ אָזְנְכֶם וּלְכוּ אֵלַי שִׁמְעוּ וּתְחִי נַפְשְׁכֶם וְאֶכְרְתָה לָכֶם בְּרִית עוֹלָם-Turn your ears and come to Me, Hear and your souls will live, And I will hew an eternal covenant with you.” (Isaiah 55:3)
The Torah is an account of our communication with the Divine Creator.
Adam and Eve, the parents of all humankind, were created with that capacity active. Our ‘descent’ into the consciousness of good and evil blocked up our hearing.
Avraham and Sara re-learnt to open their ears to that conversation. Their children have been engaged in it ever since.
Moshe Rabbenu-Moses Our Teacher is our prime historical hearer. He was followed by a series of prophets and prophetesses. The age of prophets ended with the deaths of Malachi, Zechariah and Chaggai around the beginning of the Second Temple period-486 BCE.
We entered the age of the Sages and Rabbis as we historically went into exile from the Land of Israel. Most of the Jews in the world did not return during the Second Temple period and the nation of Israel did not have true independence for most of that period. This process was heightened after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. By the year 500 CE very few Jews remained in the Land of Israel.
The conscious modern return to Israel began at the beginning of the year 5000-1240 CE. The Zohar and the Kabbalah of the Ari-Rabbi Isaac Luria spoke clearly about the necessity and inevitability of the return of the Children of Israel to their homeland.
Rav Kook was a primary carrier of this teaching and his return to Israel in 1904 was an important milestone in this unfolding.
At the core of this teaching of return is the understanding that ‘prophecy will be reborn as an active spiritual force as the physical return to Israel grows strong’.
This historical narrative is important to understand the context for the Rav HaNazir’s unique life. David Cohen was 28 years old when he first met Rav Kook in August 1915 in Switzerland. He came from a distinguished rabbinic family, close to the Chofetz Chayim (as was Rav Kook) and was a profound spiritual seeker and scholar.
At the outbreak of WW1, he was inspired by a mekubal/kabbalist that he met at a German prisoner of war camp (he was arrested for a month as a Russian citizen), to undertake the practice of Nazirut-no grape products and not cutting your hair. He personally became a vegetarian after hearing the cries of cattle from a nearby slaughterhouse. He also refrained from wearing leather and spent periods in silence and meditation.
This was in order to cultivate his prophetic capacities-in accordance with the teaching that טהרה-purity and נזירות-abstinence were the prerequisites for נבואה-prophecy. At the same time, he was studying for his PhD in philosophy in Germany and after his release, continued at the University of Basel in Switzerland.
Rav Kook was also in Germany then to address the rabbis of Europe about Israel and Zionism when WW1 broke out on Tisha B’Av, 1914. The meeting never took place (the hand of Amalek). He could not return to Israel and spent the war years in Switzerland and England.
In historical hindsight it is apparent that the Divine unfolding required that. The Balfour Declaration would probably not have come into being in 1917 if Rav Kook was not in London at the time of its deliberation.
Upon finding out that Rav Kook was also in Switzerland, David Cohen asked to meet him. In August 1915, he was invited to Rav Kook’s abode in St. Galen. He describes the fateful meeting in his introduction to Orot HaKodesh-The Lights of Holiness:
“After taking a mikveh in the Rhine River, carrying a volume of ‘Shaarei Kedusha-Gates of Holiness’ (by Chayim Vital), full of uncertainty and expectation, I made my way to the Rav on Erev Rosh Chodesh Elul -5675-1915. I found him engaged in halachic/legal studies with his son. We spoke about Greek wisdom and its literature; which did not satisfy one who knew the sources in their origins. [The Rav HaNazir was studying Greek philosophy by reading it in Greek.]
I stayed to sleep in their home. My heart could not rest at night. My life’s destiny was hanging in the balance.
I awoke in the morning and I heard the sound of footsteps back and forth. (I approached the room from whence the footsteps came.) It was the Rav praying the morning blessings, the tefilla/prayer of Akeidat Itzchak-the almost sacrifice of Isaac in a sublime supernal melody. “From the eternal high heavens, and it reminded us of the love our ancestors.” [from the introduction to Yom Kippur Shacharit prayer]
AS I WAS LISTENING I TRANSFORMED INTO A DIFFERENT PERSON. I quickly wrote in a letter that I had found more than I had hoped for. I found my Rav.”
At this moment an extraordinary relationship between two spiritual giants began. HaRav HaNazir was 28 years old at the time when he recognized that HaRav Kook, who was then 50, was experiencing a spiritual state akin to prophecy. His being cleaved to him.
In 1922, he was invited to Jerusalem by Rav Kook to help establish the “Yeshivat Mercazit Olamit/Central Universal Yeshiva”-now widely known as ‘Mercaz HaRav’- and write the curriculum for it. He arrived in Jerusalem and stayed by Rav Kook’s side for the rest of Rav Kook’s life.
Around 1924, Rav Kook gave him the 8 Notebooks that he had been filling with his spiritual illuminations between 1910 and 1919. The Rav HaNazir then dedicated many years of his life to the study and presentation of these new Torah gems to the world through the 4 volume of Orot HaKodesh-The Lights of Holiness.
During this time and with Rav Kook’s guidance and inspiration he also developed his unique spiritual and intellectual insights about the uniquely auditory nature of Jewish experience.
In 1970, after over 50 years of working on it, Kol HaNevua was published and released in a special ceremony at the house of the President of Israel-Zalman Shazar. He was a student of the Nazir in a unique learning circle that the Rav HaNazir led in Switzerland during and after WW1. When he was President he visited and learned with the Nazir at his succa every Hoshana Rabba.
The Nazir passed away on the 28th of Av, 1972.
Rav Kook TZ’L was known as ‘the great visionary-הרואה הגדול’.
Rabbi David Cohen, HaRav HaNazir TZ’L is known as ‘the great hearer-השומע הגדול’.
It is thus my honor as a humble student of his extraordinary Torah to share varied selections from his voluminous writings.
During the 1948 War of Independence his son Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen TZ”L was imprisoned by the Jordanian army after trying to protect the Jewish community of the Old City. At that time, the Nazir wrote an extraordinary document, ’מגילת מלחמה ושלום-The Scroll of War and Peace’. It was published in the wake of the 1973 Yom Kippur war. In it he wrote:
“The call has to go out to the nations, to the masses and their leadership through essays and book, to AWAKEN THE PEACE MOVEMENT in absolute opposition to mass murder, to war.
The leaders of the nations, their ministers, advisors and parliaments must legislate that the law ‘Do not murder” includes the prohibition of the mass murder of war. They must forbid war, not declare it…Each human being, each writer and thinker is commanded: “Do not stand idly by as your neighbor’s blood [is being spilled]” (Leviticus 19:16).
Let us call out with all strength to the destroyer: STOP!
No! ‘Do Not Murder’ (Exodus 20:13/Deuteronomy 5:17), do not go out to war, to commit mass murder, “nation shall not lift sword against any other nation and they will no longer learn war”. (Isaiah 2:)” (p.12-13)
His son in law, Rabbi Shlomo Goren was the Chief Rabbi of the Israeli Defense Forces during the June 1967 Six Day War. When the Kotel was liberated on the third day, Rabbi Goren immediately sent a jeep to bring Rav Kook’s son, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda ZT”L and the Nazir to the Kotel. The Nazir wrote of this moment:
“The liberation of Israel and the rebirth of the State of Israel is accompanied with the rebirth of the spirit of Israel, the renewal of the holy. We saw this with our own eyes on the day of the liberation of Jerusalem. Every Israelite as they arrived at the Temple Mount, at our House of Holiness, at our liberated Western Wall, covered their head, put their face to wall, kissed and clung to it with tears of joy upon their faces…The light of the liberation is sparkling, spark by spark-the /גאולה/liberation is approaching step by step…” (The Sparkling Light of Messiach -published 1989.)
In his diary in 1922 he wrote of his own spiritual process:
“The main thing is to come closer to the path of the revelation of prophecy. Our teacher and our rabbi, the holy one of Israel , the one who gazes at the Divine flow [Rav Kook] sees that this is the essential core of my spirit and life and supports and guides me in this.
This elevated process of approaching [the Divine] is a necessary precondition for the period of liberation, even at its beginning. Our teacher and rabbi [Rav Kook] is the soul of the renewal and its leader. It is upon me, despite being small and weak, to serve him in this…”.
Elsewhere he spoke about the methodology of enlightenment and the prophetic spirit:
“The source for prophecy and the holy spirit is in the inner Israelite wisdom. Its purpose has always been, as it is today-’אם בקולו תשמעו -If you listen to His voice’(Psalms 95:7)- [to cultivate] the call of the prophetic spirit in holy silence-this is the covenant established for Israel and her children.
And the path requires: Quieting the noise of the world around us, erasure of the forms and images that we imagine and see through our visualizations…meditation in a holy place…holy song from the songs of God’s anointed with the joy of Torah, expansion of consciousness and and understanding through the fusion of mystical study and intellectual investigation. The engagement with Torah study in all its aspects…the fulfilment of the Mitzvot in all their dimensions-between human and human, to do good and kindness (and without this, you are limping)…
The path is long and far and yet it is close…. לֹא בַשָּׁמַיִם הִוא-it is not in the heavens- בְּפִיךָ וּבִלְבָבְךָ לַעֲשֹׂתוֹ-it is in your mouth and heart to do…” (Deut. 35 12-14)
As his holy Rebbe, Rav Kook TZ’L wrote:
“Waves from the higher realm act on our souls ceaselessly. The stirring of our inner spiritual sensibilities are the result of the sounds released by the violin of our soul, as it listens to the echo of the sound emanating from the divine realm.
Though we do not know how to delimit and we cannot particularize, and certainly not sum up, or see an ordered content in the subjects with which the divine reverberation concerns itself, nevertheless, we listen with a general attentiveness. We hear the sound of words.
…All our endeavours in Torahitic and scientific studies is to clarify whatever comprehensible words it is possible to distill from the Divine voice that always reverberates in our inner ear.” (Lights of Holiness 2:346)
May we and all humankind be blessed to hear the divine voice that reverberates within each of us.
Rabbi David Cohen, the Rav HaNazir TZ’L devoted his life and being to this search and process. He was a pioneer hewing out a path, illuminating the way for all spiritual seekers.
May his memory be for a blessing for all life—-יהי זכרו ברוך
Prepared by Rabbi Itzchak Evan-Shayish, www.haorot.com , [email protected] Please help us share these widely.