Rav Kook On Parshat Yitro: ‘Becoming A Holy Nation With A Holy Government”
“וְאַתֶּ֧ם תִּֽהְיוּ־לִ֛י מַמְלֶ֥כֶת כֹּֽהֲנִ֖ים וְג֣וֹי קָד֑וֹשׁ”
“And you will be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation to me.” (Exodus 19:6)
As the children of Israel reach Mt. Sinai and before they hear the Ten Divine Speakings, YHVH explains to Moshe the purpose of His extraordinary developing relationship with Israel. We are being educated and directed to become a ‘kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ It is not enough to be holy individually; it must become our collective experience.
Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook ZT”L wrote a public letter to Israel about this on the eve of Shavuot 1934. He understood that the nation of Israel was in the process of re-creation and felt it was especially important for us to understand this directive well.
He wrote: “Torah and kingship [governance] in Israel are inseparably bound together… Observing the national collective Torah-ha’klalit hamamlachit- is however far more difficult than observing the Torah of the individual.
The Torah and its mitzvot were given to ultimately refine all humankind. (Gen. Rabbah 44:1). The process of purifying a community with all its political needs is however far more complicated than the purification of each individual.
The individual approaches simple issues of human morality informed by a natural sense of justice, but humankind has not yet arrived at a consensus on the ethical imperatives governing affairs of state.
Thus the evil inclination in collective, political man is many times stronger than the inclination in the individual. As a result, all conceptions of good and evil, justice and iniquity, are totally lost amidst political turmoil in the bubbling cauldron of state, which rages like a stormy sea….
Let us note that within the movement in which we are feeling a political rebirth, we are duty bound to raise the level of morality and the bond to our foundation of holiness through the power of our sacred Torah, the Torah life, the source of justice and the foundation of truth.
We must not allow stormy waves of political ambitions to blind us. Certainly we must not allow the inclination toward factionalism, the threat of which is strongest at the inception of a political movement, to deter us from justice and truth, from love of the human- both the collective and the individual- from love for Israel and from the duty of sanctity unique to Israel.
We are obligated not only to be holy individuals, but also, and especially to be ‘a kingdom of priests and a holy nation’. We should aspire to establish a government worthy of the task….” (Ma’amarei HaRe’iyah, pp. 173-4)
We unfortunately continue to see factionalism in the State of Israel (and the whole world) deterring us from creating a country (and world) of complete justice, truth, ethics and love. Competition rather than cooperation is the dominant force in the Israeli Knesset (and all over the world).
In an essay “The Soul Of Nationhood And Its Body” written in the early 1900s Rav Kook emphasizes that it is the Divine mission of Israel to establish a nation state guided by Divine ethical ideals: “Inestimably beautiful is the ideal of establishing a chosen people, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, out of a people sunk in frightful servitude, the brilliance of whose patriarchal origin shall illumine in darkness. In the divine heights this ideal abides in the secret hiding place in its purity.
But it must be materialized, set within a particular boundary, among people with good and also evil passions, in communities in need of sustenance, of gaining a foothold on the land, of governmental authority.
The collective life must allow room for everybody, from the heights of people of pure spirit and refined souls to the lowland of people who are bound to pursue the lower aspects of existence….
In the end the general love of humanity will overcome the evil surrounding it, and the basic love of nationhood, of the community of Israel, will destroy all its thorny elements, and she will draw from the divine source, as in her bridal days. She will be planted again in the place that has been her home….
Her broken vessels will be mended, the sparks of purity that have been scattered will be fathered together, one by one. From the general ideal realm of existence will the light of Israel again be manifest, and, by its purity and might, restore the purity of the human ideal.
The rose of Sharon, [a metaphor for the children of Israel] rooted in eternal righteousness, will blossom, and shed its light and splendor to all sides.” (Orot 132-4)
It is in our hands to manifest this fully. Rav Kook ZT”L was and is the Cohen Gadol-High Priest of our epoch. Our Holy Torah and Rav Kook’s voluminous, multi-levelled enlightened Torah writings offer us clear guidance as to what we must do in order to truly become a holy nation of priests and priestesses. So that we may truly merit ‘letaken olam be’malchut Shaddai-to repair the world under the Almighty’s kingdom’.
Beemhera Be’Yamenu-Quickly In Our Days
Prepared by Rabbi Itzchak Evan-Shayish, [email protected], www.haorot.com