Elul 3 5776
Dear Rabbi Kook,
On this day in 1935 your soul departed. Like other saintly sages and memorable teachers whose births and deaths become part of our calendar, this date remains one of gratitude and honor for the rich and complex legacy you left behind.
Like other visionary leaders, your legacy has been claimed by very different heirs and followers, celebrating and creating wildly diverse realities in the world. You are credited as one of the founding father of the Religious Zionist movement, the first Chief Rabbi of Israel before it became a state, and a great advocate for combining traditional Jewish loyalties with modern secular realities, a man of peace. Also, a vegetarian.
My pious cousins who live in West Bank settlements have your portrait on their walls, venerating your love of the land of Israel. But so do some of my secular friends all over the world who are pro palestinian activists, quoting your persistent call for peace among all people, at all price. You were a mystic, a poet, jurist and author, traveling all over the world to promote the Jewish way of spirit, tolerance, devotion to our highest humanistic values. Some legacies are too nuanced for just one voice. We are struggling today to live up to all these expectations.
On this third day of our Elul journey into better and more conscious living, I thank you for the faith in our future and for teaching me to have the courage to hold on to my convictions, finding find fusions between what was and what one day be. Years ago you gave me the mission for my life’s work: “Let the ancient be renewed and the new become sacred.” I hope I am living up to your intentions, please forgive me if I don’t. I hope your understand.
In recent years one of your poems, first printed in your book Orot Hakodesh, has become an anthem of hope for so many of us, esp in Israel, so seeking hope. This coming Yom Kippur I hope to sing it with my congregation, rising to the challenge of these trying times of so much needless strife:
בן אדם עלה למעלה עלה
כי כוח עז לך יש לך כנפי רוח
כנפי נשרים אבירים
אל תכחש בם פן יכחשו לך
ויימצאו לך מיד
Human being, Rise up. Rise up, for you have tremendous strength.
You have wings of the spirit, wings of noble eagles. Do not deny them, or they will deny you. Seek them, and instantly they will manifest.
Today we honor those, like you, who gave us words and wings which with to rise above all fears and fences.
Gratitude and Love,
PREPENT: Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie’s annual journey to the new year, with 40 ways in 40 days to reflect, refocus, recharge and restart life. This year features daily love letters inspired by Lab/Shul’s theme for the High Holy Days, “וְאָהַבְתָּ re:love.”
This story "Prepent Day 3: Remembering Rabbi Kook" was written by Amichai Lau-Lavie.