RAV KOOK ON PARSHAT KI TAVO: CREATING A WORLD ‘FLOWING WITH MILK AND HONEY’
“When you enter the land that the LORD your God is giving you as a heritage, and you possess it and settle in it (Dvarim 26:1)…HaShem brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey(Ibid 26:9)….And you shall enjoy, together with the Levite and the stranger in your midst, all the bounty that the LORD your God has bestowed upon you and your household (Ibid 26:11)…a land flowing with milk and honey (Ibid 26:15)…When you cross over to enter the land that the LORD your God is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, as the LORD, the God of your fathers, promised you (Ibid 27:3)”
Moshe Rabbenu continues to describe the great blessings that Israel will experience in the land ‘flowing with milk and honey’ if they walk in HaShem’s ways, observing HaShem’s laws and commandments and rules.
Moshe Rabbenu then describes the curses that Israel will experience “if you do not obey the LORD your God to observe faithfully all His commandments and laws which I enjoin upon you this day, all these curses shall come upon you and take effect.” (Ibid 28:15)
The next 55 verses in Chapter 28 describe in detail the ferocious range of curses that Israel will experience when they will not live in harmony with HaShem’s ways. Approximately 25 years ago, I had the unique opportunity in Vancouver to review these verses with Sigmund Sobolewski also known as ‘Prisoner 88’. Sigmund was a Polish Catholic Holocaust survivor and activist. He was the 88th prisoner to enter Auschwitz on the first transport to the concentration camp on June 14, 1940, and remained a prisoner there for the remainder of the war. Based on what he saw he became a vocal opponent of Holocaust denial and was notable as a non-Jewish victim and witness who confronted neo-Nazis, antisemites and Holocaust deniers. As we read through these verses closely, he recounted examples of how every terrible curse was experienced by the Jews in the hell of Auschwitz (my family among them).
Parshat Ki Tavo thus outlines the potential blessings and curses that await Israel as they enter history. It is clear that the Children of Israel have experienced both and we are thankful that we are now experiencing the blessings as outlined in Chapter 30 of next week’s Parshat Nitzavim.
It is also clear that Rabbi Avraham Itzchak HaCohen Kook TZ’L was (and still is) the Jewish leader in modern history who is most qualified to guiding us to the illuminated Torah understanding and observance that will enable us to fully experience the blessings of ‘the land flowing with milk and honey’. What might he say to Israel and the world today?
Being Elul, it is most appropriate to draw a little from what he actually said to Israel and the world a hundred years ago in his masterful ‘Orot HaTshuva-The Lights of Return/Penitence’. It was published in 1925. It may be more relevant now than ever.
“Through tshuva all things are reunited with HaShem; through the fact that tshuva is operative in all worlds, all things are returned and re-attached to the realm of divine perfection. Through the thoughts of tshuva, its conceptual implications and the feelings it engenders-the basic character of all our thinking, our imagination and our knowledge, our will and our feeling- is transformed and placed again within the context of the holy order of the divine. (Orot HaTshuva 4:2)
General tshuva, which involves raising the world to perfection, and particularized tshuva, which pertains to the personal life of each individual…all constitute one essence. Similarly all the cultural reforms through which the world rises from decadence, the improvements in the social and economic order through the redress of every form of wrongdoing…constitute an inseparable whole. (Ibid, 4:3)
The highest sensibility in the soul of the people of Israel is the quest for universality…The soul of the people of Israel expresses itself in the striving for absolute justice, which, to be effectuated, must include the realization of all moral virtues…(Ibid, 4:6,7)
Tshuva emerges from the depths of being…in which the individual stands not as a separate entity, but rather as a continuation of the vastness of universal existence. The desire for tshuva is related to the universal will, to its highest source.
From the moment the mighty stream for the universal will for life turns toward the good, many forces within the whole of existence are stirred to disclose the good and to bestow good to all…
Tshuva is inspired by the yearning of all existence to be better, purer, more vigorous and on a higher plane that it is. Within this yearning is a hidden life force for overcoming every factor that limits and weakens existence. (Ibid 6:1)”
The many dimensions and expression of the tshuva process are extensively and precisely discussed in the 17 (gematria/numeric for the Hebrew word ‘tov/good’) chapters of the Lights of Tshuva. It was Rav Kook’s personal practice to review this sefer every Elul as part of his preparation for Rosh HaShana and Yom HaKippurim.
What can we draw for ourselves from this short excerpt?
Rav Kook is explaining to us that our inner will for improvement and for good is the powerful expression of the Tzelem Elokim/Divine Image that is our essential core nature. When we give full expression to this Divine inner directive, we will be able to “overcome every factor that limits and weakens existence”.
This will enable us to truly and fully heal this suffering planet and its inhabitants. All humankind will thus truly merit to live a life flowing with ‘milk and honey’ and everything good.
Quickly and in our days.
Please help us share the lights of Rav Kook widely.