kosher bookworm

Jerusalem and the legacy of Rav Kook


This week I am both honored and glad to bring to your attention a new siddur, “The Koren Rav Kook Siddur,” which is based on commentary by Rav Avraham Yitzchok HaKohen Kook, zt’’l.

Much of this work has been adapted and translated by one of Rav Kook’s leading contemporary interpreters, Rabbi Bezalel Naor. The siddur translation is by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.

Rav Kook, the first Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael, was famous for his harmonious blending of “the body and the soul” of Torah, as represented in the traditions of halacha and aggadah, both of which are reflected in every page of this 1,320 page volume.

Given the current focus on the centrality of Jerusalem, I will bring to your attention several references to Rav Kook’s writings as they relate to the holy city in our Jewish liturgical tradition.

In the Shabbat morning liturgy we recite Psalm 135, which concludes: “Blessed is the Lord from Zion, He who dwells in Jerusalem. Halleluya!”

Rav Kook explains: “The People of Israel was destined to be a ‘kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ The two names of our capital symbolize different dimensions of our polity. ‘Zion,’ the city of David, represents the temporal aspects of ‘kingdom’ [mamlachah]. ‘Jerusalem’ corresponds to the kehunah, the priestly aspect that revolves around the service in the temple. But these two ‘crowns’ that the People of Israel wear, are inseparable. Though different roles have been assigned to various members of our nation, and we all wear different hats [‘kings’ and ‘priests’], collectively, as a nation, we are that singular ‘kingdom of priests,’ top teachers and instructors to the entire world, destined to enlighten mankind about G-d.”

Earlier in the daily morning service, we recite the following prayer: “May it be Your will, Lord our G-d and G-d of our ancestors, that the Temple be speedily rebuilt in our days, and grant us our share in Your Torah.”

To this daily plea, Rav Kook shares with us the following: “Before we enter the inner sanctum of prayer, we connect to our Holy temple on the mountain in Jerusalem. ‘Let him direct his heart to the Holy of Holies.’ Our Rabbis taught:

“If he was standing outside the Land of Israel, he should direct his heart to the Land of Israel; if he was standing in the Land of Israel, he should direct his heart to Jerusalem;if he was standing in Jerusalem, he should direct his heart to the Holy Temple; if he is standing in the Holy temple, he should direct his heart to the Holy of Holies; if he was standing in the Holy of Holies, he should direct his heart to the Holy Ark; if he was standing behind the Holy Ark, he should envision himself as if he is standing before the Holy Ark.

“Thus we find that one standing in the east, faces west; in the west, faces east; in the south, faces north; in the north, faces south. The result being that all Israel direct their heart to one place.”

Further on we learn: “This is not merely a matter of which direction one must face during the Amidah prayer. Rather, a visualization is called for. In one’s mind’s eye, one must imagine that one is actually facing the Temple.”

With the above teachings centered around Jerusalem as prologue, we, with further study from this most precious siddur, will reach a greater appreciation of the role that Jerusalem plays as the centerpiece of our faith.

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I will conclude this week’s essay with an excerpt from a recent essay in Commentary magazine by Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik of Yeshiva University, entitled, “The Builders and Founders of the City”: “The Jewish link to Jerusalem goes hand in hand with the mystery of Jewish eternity. … [T]he enduring, miraculous nature of Jews and their city is something many Americans have understood, and they have revered the Jewish link to Jerusalem long before the modern Jewish state was born.

“In 1871, William Seward, Abraham Lincoln’s one-time secretary of state, journeyed on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. As his travelogue recounts, ‘our day in Jerusalem has been spent, as it ought to have been, among and with the Jews, who were the builders and founders of the city, and who cling the closer to it for its disasters and desolation.’

“Seward spent several hours on a Friday afternoon at the Wailing Wall, admiringly observing the Jews who were ‘pouring out their lamentations over the fall of their beloved city, and praying for its restoration to the Lord, who promised, in giving its name, that he would “be there”.’ Upon departing at sunset, he encountered a rabbi who begged him to attend Kabbalat Shabbat evening prayers at the Churva synagogue, then the most magnificent Jewish house of worship in the Holy Land. Seward sat through the entire service, which concluded with a special Hebrew benediction. ‘The rabbi informed us,’ the travelogue reports, ‘that it was a prayer of gratitude for Seward’s visit to the Jews at Jerusalem.’

“This was nothing less than what Jewish law calls Hakkarat Ha-Tov — an expression of Jewish gratitude to any world leader who publically embraces the Jewish link to their eternal city.”

Rabbi Soloveichik concludes his eloquent essay with the following observation:

“This obligation of Hakkarat Ha-Tov binds Jews today. And that is why, whether one is a supporter or critic of the president, whether or not the State Department follows suit in adding ‘Israel’ to the passports of those born in Jerusalem, whether the future peace plan proposed by this administration will be worthy of consideration or not, this speech should be recognized by Jews as one of the most important, and profoundly American, speeches President Trump has given.

“It will be remembered by an eternal people, a nation whose memory exceeds that of any other, a nation afflicted with so many enemies and too few friends, who are enjoined by G-d never, ever to forget.”