Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Shavuot – Parashat Naso 5768/ June 7, 2008

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar- Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar- Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity. Prepared for Internet Publication by the Computer Center Staff at Bar-Ilan University. Inquiries and comments to: Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible, gottlii@mail.biu.ac.il

 

 

Shavuot: Rabbi Kook and Nahalal

 

Aaron Arend

 

Department of Talmud

 

Rabbi Abraham Isaac ha-Cohen Kook (1865-1935), the first Chief Rabbi of the land of Israel, made great efforts to buttress observance of the commandments throughout the Land of Israel, including secular kibbutzim and moshavim.  In an effort to encourage more observance of the Jewish holidays, in 1913 he led a delegation of rabbis to the pioneering settlements in the Galilee to encourage them to abstain from working on the Sabbath and festivals, eating hametz on Passover, and holding ceremonies on the Festival of Shavuot to commemorate bringing of the first fruits, moving them instead to Isru Hag (the day after the holiday). [1]   His correspondence on these subjects is extensive.  Sometimes he wrote directly to the pioneers, spurring them on to be strict in observing a certain commandment, and sometimes he addressed the leaders of the Jewish settlement (the yishuv) in the land, exhorting them to intervene in a given matter.

A typewritten letter, sent by Rav Kook on Thursday, the ninth of Sivan 5690 (June 5, 1930) to members of Moshav Nahalal, recently came into our hands. [2]   He had found out that they had harvested grain on the Sabbath preceding the Feast of Weeks, claiming that the Chief Rabbinate had permitted them to do so, “in order to avoid losing the crop,” because of an attack of mice that was threatening the wheat at the time. [3]   Reaping is one of the thirty-nine basic categories of work that are forbidden on the Sabbath.   Rav Kook immediately sent a sharp response in which he reproved them for harvesting on the Sabbath and denied the claim that the Rabbinate had permitted this harvesting to be done.  This letter reveals Rav Kook’s well-known view regarding the connection between national revival of the Jewish people in its land and observance of the Sabbath by all the Jews in the land, even those who live in a closed private society. [4]   Below we present a translation of his letter:

By the grace of G-d, the ninth of Sivan 5690

Greetings to the residents of Kefar Nahalal,

I have heard a terrible rumor concerning you, a rumor that roused all my ire, that on the holy Sabbath that just passed, the fourth of Sivan, you desecrated the holy day, in a most awful way, harvesting grain and performing all the tasks belonging to this work, in public, and in a group.   Know that you have done the wrong thing, that you are pursuing an evil course such that in the end it is likely to destroy all the brotherhood between the entire community of the Jewish people and yourselves.  And how distressed I was to hear that there are amongst you those who spread lies, proclaiming as a figment of your imagination that the Chief Rabbinate permitted you to desecrate the Sabbath due to the possible loss of the grain.  Heaven forfend!   Instead of attending, as would befit you, to the fact that all the great troubles that we are now suffering in our holy land came upon us entirely because we abandoned the word of the Lord, and that now we ought to repent and leave all our evil ways and then we shall be able to build the land; you add sin to crime by continuing to desecrate all that is sacred in Israel and by fabricating lies that the Chief Rabbinate permitted you to do such a disgraceful thing.  Cease, my brethren, and repent of your evil ways, so that Israel will be able to withstand its foes and all the terrible calamities that hasten to befall us in our world in the land of Israel; for the cup of wickedness has been filled to overflowing.

I hope that these words that come from the deep passion of a brother’s heart full of love and melancholy trepidation over the ruin of our people and hopeful expectation for its deliverance will serve as moral guidance, before you stumble over dark mountains and all the people of Israel separate themselves from you and your produce; repent and live.  Your brother who reproves you out of love and awaits your faithful response, signed with blessing,

                                                                                                                  The small one,

 Abraham Isaac H”K [5]

 

The secretariat of the moshav sent a letter in response to Rav Kook on the 14th of Sivan (June 10) in which they expressed regret over the desecration of the Sabbath by a handful of their members who were overly concerned for their financial well-being. [6]

 

                                                                                                                                         

 



[1] See Y. Avneri, Rabbi A. I. Kook as Chief Rabbi of Palestine (1920-1935):  The Man and his Activities (Hebrew), doctoral dissertation, Bar Ilan University, Ramat- Gan 1989, pp. 387-425; Y. Zoldan, Mo’adei Yehudah ve-Yisrael, Merkaz Shapira 2004, pp. 516-524;Avinoam Rosenak, Ha-Rav Abraham Isaac Ha-Cohen Kook, Jerusalem 2007, pp. 103-111; 241-245.

[2] Other correspondence by Rav Kook with moshav Nahalal includes his letter to them, 19 Iyar, 1933, regarding their holding a ceremony, commemorating the Bringing First Fruits to the Temple, on the day after the festival, not on the Feast of Weeks itself, in Zoldan (note 1, above), pp. 520-523, and his appeal to  Ussishkin, head of the Jewish National Fund, and to Ben-Gurion, the Prime Minister,   in Iyyar 1934, requesting them to intervene in the ceremony of First Fruits in Nahalal.  See Avneri (note 1, above), p. 402.

[3] Thus Mrs. Atzilit Abiran, Secretary of Nahalal, explained to me.   I am indebted to her for her assistance.

[4] The four-volume collection, Iggerot Ha- Ra’ayah, contains some 1350 letters written by Rav Kook between 1888 and 1924.   Other letters were published in a number of forums, and many others, primarily from 1924-1935, have not yet been published.  At a time when many thirst for his philosophical, halakhic, and publicistic writings, the slow publication of Rav Kook’s writings is lamentable. The letters that have been published in scattered fashion and those that are still in archives and private collections should be gathered into anthologies for the benefit of the many people who wish to study the teachings of Rav Kook. 

[5] Ha-Cohen Kook.

[6] The text of the letter follows:  “Regarding the incident of desecration of the Sabbath on the fourth of Sivan just passed, we express our great regret over the public desecration of the Sabbath by isolated individuals, which was unwitting and not with evil intent.   For indeed a rumor had become widespread that the Rabbinate had permitted saving those fields which could be saved; and naturally since people tend to be anxious over their wealth especially when it is in jeopardy -- that which is precious to them and for which they have worked their farm an entire year -- believing the rumor, they went out to reap.   Therefore we express our great regret, that without investigating the matter you accuse our entire community of desecrating the Sabbath.”