A Dialogue about Zionism and the Return to Judaism

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Pekudei 5771 – translated by R. Blumberg]

Question: Maran Ha-Rav Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Ha-Cohain Kook wrote many times that the Jewish people's return to Zion would immediately bring spiritual rebirth and a return to Judaism, but we don't see anything like that.
Answer: First of all, you've got to understand that with processes on a national scale the word "immediately" doesn't mean the same thing as with processes involving individuals.
For example, the Torah says that if Israel sin, they “will rapidly vanish,” but in biblical times it took 850 years for them to be exiled. Second of all, not everything is visible. There are also psychological processes developing deep within the national awareness, understanding, will and fortitude. Thirdly, we have to understand that the very return to the Land and the rebuilding of the Land, the establishment of a State and army, the unity of Israel and the wars of Israel, themselves constitute repentance, as is explained in the first chapter of Orot Ha-Teshuva. By the way, this understanding that national rebirth will bring in its wake spiritual rebirth is obviously not an invention of Rav Kook. It can be found in the writings of our medieval Rabbis, our ancient Sages, and even in explicit verses in the Torah section on repentance (Devarim 30), and in the prophetic vision of the ingathering of the exiles (Yechezkel 36).

Question: But what about the return to mitzvah observance amongst the Nation at large?
When will that happen? How can we be a part of that?
Answer: In the Nation dwelling in Zion, there is more and more interest being shown in Torah and in its study. In contrast to the exilic situation of before the return to Zion and its beginning, of opposition to the Torah and worse -- scorn for the Torah, there is today more and more Torah study in various formats.
The books printed the most in our country for the use of people far from Torah are holy books. This, after all, is the chronology of national repentance at large, as described by Rav Kook in his work “Orot HaTeshuva”, in the section called “Tosefet HaTeshuva”: 1. Respect for our faith. 2 Love of our faith. 3. Study of our faith. And 4. observance of our faith. First comes respect for our faith. In other words, even though they don't agree with our faith, they still respect and admire it. That is, they admit that it has importance and depth.
This will lead to love of our faith, in other words, a recognition that even though they don't
fulfill it, they still admit that it is something that adds sweetness and light to life, and altogether makes life worth living. This will lead to study of our faith. In other words, even though they don't fulfill it, a fierce desire will be aroused to study that faith which for thousands of years, until this very day, has been so respected and beloved. And in the end, profound, serious study will lead to observance of the faith, for blessings influence our deeds. Obviously, not all Jews are on precisely the same page in this process. Rather, each one is in his own place, but in general, such is the general process. And what we, who keep Torah and Mitzvot, can do is to increase respect for our faith is not to cause a profanation of G-d's name through immoral behavior. Such behavior, coming from us, leads many people to think they don't need religion at all to be moral, and that they can even be more moral outside of faith. Quite the contrary, we've get to increase our moral behavior. It's not words that have the main effect, but deeds, as Rav Kook explains in his book, “Eder HaYakar”. And obviously, today as well there are Jews who are returning to the fold, and that makes us very happy, but they are a small, unrepresentative minority.

Question: Is what you have in mind the flow of people to Kabbalah and neo-Hasidism?
Answer: That is a negligible phenomenon, resulting from the an unhealthy, spiritually lazy thirst for what lies beyond the level of man, as is explained in Rav Kook’s “Orot”. As for “Neo-Hasidism”, that is our version of the “New Age” thinking that focuses on spiritual experiences and places man, rather than G-d, at the center of the universe.

Question: But the fact is that a lot of people are being caught up in this?
Answer: First of all, we’re talking about a small number of people creating a false impression of strength due to excessive media exposure. Second of all, the truth of a spiritual approach cannot be tested according to practical yardsticks of success. The test has to be long-term, and especially, Torah-based. Third, New Age and its various permutations contain a spark of truth -- in response to the spiritual emptiness of the culture of hedonistic technology. But it is not the healthiest response.

Question: Can we say that, for us as well, the reawakening to religion is a product of the crisis over Zionism having collapsed and no longer attracting people who find in it sustenance for their lives?
Answer: That's not so. Zionism hasn’t collapsed. People believe in our country and they believe in the army. Here, too, one must avoid some of the editorials in some of the media, or the writings of some intellectuals lacking moral and national responsibility, who do not represent the broader strata of the nation, in all its streams. Quite the contrary, the interest shown in Judaism is a continuation of Zionism, as we said at the beginning. In other words, it constitutes an inner clarification of Zionism’s greater goal, of the State of Israel’s deeper meaning, of the true Jewish culture, what was called before the State’s establishment, “the cultural question”. In other words, everyone agreed that a state had to be established, but the deliberations and decisions regarding its spiritual content were pushed off for afterwards when we had more breathing space. Thus, the return to Judaism in its larger national dimensions precisely derives from Zionism.

Question: Yet don’t we simultaneously bear witness to the post-modern entrenchment of individualism?
Answer: Here as well, we’re talking about a minority that engages in a lot of prattle. The mainstream of our Nation has values and is moral, and possesses an idealistic concern for its fellow man. We certainly will not deny that we are beset by harsh spiritual crises, as Rav Kook forewarned us in his book Orot, as far as the spiritual rebellion against materialistic complacency. There, as well, however, we must discern that the crisis is external and has not harmed the deeper entity which is precious and pure, although finding expression in various ways.

Question: Even if we admit that the totally secular are moral, idealistic people, how are they considered Jewish, if they are bereft of religion?
Answer: That may well be the crux of the matter. WE ARE A NATION BEFORE WE ARE A RELIGION, even if our faith is our national essence, an expression of our people’s soul. Our Sages therefore said, “A Jew, even if he sins, remains a Jew.” He is a Jew in his inner essence, in his pure soul, in his belonging to our Nation. “You are sons to Hashem your G-d” (Devarim 14:1) – Even if Israel do not behave like sons, as our Sages explain, and even if they err and are confused and sin, they are still called “sons,” albeit “foolish sons” (Yirmiyahu 4:22). Sometimes they may even be called “sons who lack faith” (Devarim 32:20), which is worse, but even if they don’t believe, even if they are heretical, they are still sons. Still worse, they are also called “children that deal corruptly” (Yeshayahu 1:4). Yet if they worship idols they are still called sons, as occurred during many periods of our Nation.
Finally, do not imagine that those sinful sons are “second class citizens”. That isn’t the case.
Rather, they remain excellent sons, as it says, “Instead of their being told, ‘You are not My people’, they shall be told, ‘You are the children of the living God.’” (Hoshea 2:1).

Question: So we can then ask the opposite question: Don’t we need to add universal ideals to the Torah? Maybe that’s what will bring the Torah closer to the secular?
Answer: We don’t have to attach anything to the Torah. G-d’s Torah is perfect, complete, all-inclusive, containing in it all the universal values. Quite the contrary, they are not an addition to the Torah. Rather, they are a sort of foundation to the Torah. Refined behavior precedes the Torah. Human morality is the introduction to the Torah. When that morality undergoes the melting pot of the Torah, it becomes infinitely enhanced. Hence, nothing need be added to the Torah. Rather, we must add on to ourselves more and more portions of the moral, universal component of the Torah.

Question: But don’t we simultaneously see a process of increasing distance, of hatred for the religious, for the Charedim, for the settlers, for the Right Wing, etc.?
Answer: That isn’t so. That’s just the hatred of the media, which does not represent the people. In mainstream society there is increasing brotherhood between the different streams, within the family, at work, and especially in the army. More and more we are becoming one Nation. Who is like Your people, Israel, one Nation in the Land!