The Chief Mistake of Religious Zionism

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Chayei Sarah 5773 – translated by R. Blumberg]


What is the chief mistake of the disciples of Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohain Kook, and of Religious Zionism in general? Obviously we are only human and we make many mistakes, but it is good to know the main point from which all of the problems derive - such that if we rectify that main point, all the details will be rectified as well.

The chief error is that their longing for the fear of G-d was shunted far aside by their overwhelming longing to love G-d, rejoice in G-d, find strength and fortitude in G-d, and find pleasantness and tranquility, faith and belief in oneself.

All of these things are fine and important, and essential in our generation, which is a generation of redemption, as Maran Ha-Rav Kook wrote in his famous letter, Letter #378, in which he notes the need to explain the repentance suitable to the generation: “Before all else we must clarify the confidence, tranquility, strength and joy with which the individual must be enveloped when the light of repentance illuminates his soul…” (page 36).

The reason for this need is that “if someone seeks to achieve a lofty understanding of repentance in these times without taking into account the redemption unfolding before us, and the light of salvation, he will not arrive at the truth” (ibid., 37).

Now we can understand Rav Kook’s testimony about himself: “What a harsh inner struggle I wage, and what a powerful spirit induces me to talk about repentance. All my thoughts are concentrated on this” (Introduction to Orot Ha-Teshuvah).

We therefore wonder: if this letter was written in 5671, why did Rav Kook delay publishing Orot Ha-Teshuvah? As of 5685 he had written only three chapters and then stopped? In fact the book was only published when his son, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook, compiled that work from his father’s various manuscripts.

It is well-known that Maran Ha-Rav Kook was blessed with divine intuition. That being the case, what caused the delay? Rav Kook answers this himself: “The greater the matter, the more the hindrances” (Igeret #378). The reason for this is that the person must also “seek ways to ensure that this true joy and holy bliss do not impinge on one’s fear of G-d, and do not in the least lessen the spiritual arousal acquired through all sorts of aspects of earthly fear. Quite the contrary, that joy and bliss should be increasing the force of one’s spiritual caution and alacrity” (ibid.). In other words, Rav Kook was afraid that sublime repentance would harm our conventional fear of G-d, as well as jeopardize the caution and alacrity elucidated at the start of Mesillat Yesharim, i.e., caution to avoid all sin and alacrity to perform every mitzvah.

“Particularly difficult for me was achieving a precise clarification” (ibid.). That is, Rav Kook expressed his difficulty in striking a precise balance between how much we must address joy and how much we must avoid this. This is the hard work of finding a balance (and see Orot Ha-Teshuvah at the end of Chapter 14).

The rule is this: joy does not erase the fear of G-d. Rather, it constitutes a stage above it, and quite the contrary, it strengthens it. Rav Kook likewise writes in Chapter 1 of Orot Ha-Teshuvah, that supreme repentance will appear after the lower stages of repentance, they, themselves, having developed into the higher stages.

We find the same in the Zohar, which notes the contradiction between “Serve G-d in fear” (Tehillim 2:11), and “Serve G-d in joy” (Tehillim 100:2), and resolves it by stating that

first one should serve G-d in fear and afterwards in joy (Zohar Vayikra 56:1).

True, in his article “Ha-Dor,” about his generation, Rav Kook wrote, “They are incapable of repenting out of fear, but very fit to repent out of love” (Ikvei Ha-Tzon 111). Yet that involves a non-ideal situation in which the edifice is constructed starting with the upper stories. All the same, when we have to rescue someone, we do it however we can.

Obviously, however, afterwards the fear of G-d has to be filled in, for the Torah includes a mitzvah of fearing G-d, and that mitzvah has not been nullified.

Moreover, fear of G-d is the foundation of all else. “The beginning of wisdom is the fear of G-d” (Tehillim 111:10); “What does G-d ask of you other than to fear Him?” (Devarim 10:12);

Fear the L-rd your G-d and serve Him” (ibid., 10:20); “Any person who has Torah in him but not the fear of G-d is like a thief who has been given the inner keys, but not the outer keys” (Shabbat 31a); “The sum of the matter, when all is said and done: Revere G-d and observe all His commandments, for this applies to all mankind” (Kohelet 12:13).

Moreover, if there is no fear of G-d, the love of G-d will collapse as well, as the Jerusalem Talmud explains: “One verse states, ‘Hashem your G-d’ (Devarim 6:5), while another states, ‘Fear Hashem your G-d and serve Him’ (ibid., 6:13). Exercise both love and reverence.

Exercise love, so that should you be prone to hate Him, your love will already be there, and one you love you cannot hate. Exercise reverence, such that should you be prone to show G-d disrespect, your reverence would stop you from doing so.” (Jerusalem Talmud Sotah 5:5).

One who loves cannot hate, but he can show disrespect. There are all sorts of disrespect. There is harsh disrespect, such as rebellion, trespass, willful sin and casting off one’s yoke. There is subtle disrespect, coated in a false coating of love. Examples include, “I can’t connect to Torah”; “It doesn’t speak to me”; “I have to be true to myself”; “I have to heed my inner voice”; “I listen to the G-d within me”; “Accept me as I am”. All these comments represent New Age thinking, which was adopted by “Neo-Chassidism”, which is actually Neo-Paganism.

Although it is possible to find such expressions amongst the great figures of Chassidism, or in the writings of Rav Kook, they are only in very small doses. When, however, such an approach occupies a much larger place, when a marginal point becomes the be-all-and-end-all, it turns into idolatry. This subtle disrespect creates all sorts of sins, under the veil of serving G-d joyfully.

Yet reverence can save one from such disrespect, because fearing G-d means seeing yourself as a servant of G-d who created us and brought us out of the House of Bondage. As it states in the “Sefer Ha-Gan” by Rabbi Yitzchak ben Rav Elazar, a disciple of Moshe Ha-Darshan: one who fears G-d constantly thinks: “I was created only to wholeheartedly be G-d’s servant, as it says, ‘Serve G-d with all your heart’ (Devarim 11:13)… This means sincerely… Every individual must undertake to submit himself totally to G-d, to fear Him at all times, and to serve Him as a servant who must serve his master. He mustn’t behave like a person who sometimes obeys and at other times does not. Rather, one must perform G-d’s commandments with constancy… Neither should one pass up the least commandment of His Maker” (Sefer Ha-Gan Le-Yom Rishon).

Some will say, “But surely we attach ourselves to G-d better as G-d’s children than as G-d’s servants.” The answer to that appears already in the Zohar: Even a son cannot escape being his father’s servant, albeit that he has permission to glimpse into the king’s treasure house. (Zohar Vayikra, Behar, 111:2:272).

Remember this: “The sum of the matter, when all is said and done: Revere G-d and observe all His commandments, for this applies to all mankind.”