Friday, August 29, 2014
Week 48 (Book 4a): To Honor the Righteous
Week 48 is the second week of Elul. The verse from the story of Channah speaks of how Eli would bless Elkanah and Chanah with more children. The end of the verse states that “they (Elkanah and Chanah) would go to his (Eli’s) place.” This addition at first appears somewhat unnecessary. Yet, it serves to emphasize the extent to which Elkanah and Chanah would go in order to honor Eli, the Kohen Gadol and judge of the generation. Perhaps it was particular because of the honor shown to Eli that he was able to grant such a powerful blessing. Rashi comments that the inverse order found in Eli’s verses is also in order to emphasize Chanah’s righteousness:
because of the request which he had requested: for himself a son. And Eli would say to him, “May the Lord grant seed, etc.” May it be the Divine Will that all the children which you will have, will be from this righteous woman. This is (therefore) an inverted sentence.
This week’s Pirkei Avot quality that is “becoming to the righteous and becoming to the world” is honor. As noted above, honoring the righteous can serve as a direct link to G-d’s blessings. To honor the righteous is ultimately to honor G-d Himself.
Chapter 4 of the Song of Songs is completely about Hashem honoring the Jewish people. Every verse is one of praise for their attributes, their righteousness: “7. You are all fair, my beloved, and there is no blemish in you.”
This week contains the yahrzeits of two very prominent Jewish leaders in modern day Israel: Rabbi Abraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook (first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, 3rd of Elul) and Rabbi David Zvi Shlomo Biederman (4th Lelover Rebbe, leader of Chassidic community in Jerusalem, 5th of Elul)
Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook (5625/1865-5695/1935), served as the first Ashkenazic chief rabbi of Erets Israel. He was born in Grieva, a suburb of Dvinsk, Latvia, to Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Hakohen Kook and Perel Zlata Felman. The elder Kook’s intellectual roots were in the famed Volozhin Yeshiva, founded by the eminent disciple of the Vilna Gaon, Rabbi Hayyim of Volozhin. Abraham Isaac’s maternal grandfather Raphael, on the other hand, was a hasid of Rabbi Menahem Mendel Schneersohn of Lubavitch, author of Responsa Tsemah Tsedek. At an early age, Abraham Isaac imbibed both of these influences, which would later germinate in his thought, producing a unique fusion of the mitnagdic and hasidic traditions. Abraham Isaac studied in his youth with the rabbi of neighboring Dvinsk, Rabbi Reuven Halevi, author of Responsa Degel haRe’uveni. Later, he studied in Lutchin and Smorgon. The young genius was engaged to the daughter of one of the great rabbis of the generation, Rabbi Elijah David Rabinowitz-Te’omim of Ponevezh.
During the year preceding his marriage, Abraham Isaac studied in Volozhin, where he developed an intimate relationship with the rosh yeshivah or dean, Rabbi Naphtali Zevi Judah Berlin.
After serving as rabbi in the small town of Zoimel and later in the city of Boisk (Bauska), Latvia, in 1904 Rabbi Kook accepted the invitation of the port city of Jaffa, Erets Israel, to serve as its rabbi. In Erets Israel, Rabbi Kook, who was himself an interesting mixture of the old and the new, exerted a profound influence on both the Old and New Yishuv, as they were referred to in those days. His brilliance in all aspects of Torah attracted the finest minds among Jerusalem’s young pietists: Zevi Pesah Frank, Jacob Moses Harlap, Israel Porath, and others, who would become the leaders of the next generation. By the same token, Rav Kook had a unique gift for reaching out to the modern elements in Erets-Israeli society who were alienated from Jewish tradition. Thus, Rav Kook cemented relations with the halutsim, the pioneers in the outlying settlements. Especially in the new settlement of Rehovot was Rav Kook able to count many friends. His deep philosophical thoughts, as well as the poetic expression he gave to them, could not fail to impress the avant-garde writers of the day. Samuel Joseph Agnon, Joseph Brenner, et al supped at Rav Kook’s shalosh se’udot (third meal of the Sabbath). Rav Kook served as rabbi of Jaffa for a decade.
In 1914 Rav Kook traveled to Europe to attend the conference of Agudat Israel, a newly formed Orthodox movement, in order to impress upon the delegates the importance of Orthodox participation in the settlement of Erets Israel. Due to the outbreak of World War One the conference was cancelled, and Rav Kook found himself stranded on the European continent, unable to sail home. He spent the war years, first as a private citizen in St. Gallen, Switzerland in the home of an admirer Mr. Abraham Kimhi, and later in London as rabbi of the prestigious East End synagogue Mahzikei Hadat, founded by East European immigrants.
At war’s end Rav Kook returned to Erets Israel, becoming the Ashkenazic Rabbi of Jerusalem, and eventually Chief Rabbi of Erets Israel. It was during this final phase of his career that Rav Kook emerged as a world leader of Jewry. In 1924 he spent the better part of a year in the United States as part of a three-man rabbinic delegation sent to raise funds for the destitute yeshivot of Eastern Europe. About that time, Rav Kook established a yeshivah of his own in Jerusalem, known ever since as Merkaz Harav. The institutions Rav Kook established, namely the chief rabbinate and Yeshivat Merkaz Harav, continue to this day. Rav Kook’s teaching was preserved both orally by his disciples, and in the abundant writings he penned, some of which have yet to see the light of print. Rav Kook returned his soul to his Maker on 3 Ellul, 5695/1935, the exact day on which he had entered Jerusalem sixteen years earlier.
Rabbi David Zvi Shlomo Biederman (1844-5 Elul 1918) was one of the most respected rabbinical figures in old Jerusalem through World War I, and the leader of its Chassidic community. He was the official head of Kollel Warsaw, and in 1883 succeeded his father as Lelover Rebbe.
This week also contains the yahrzeits of Rabbi Chanoch Henoch Dov of Alesk (1st of Elul), Rabbi Eliezer Hager (the Damesek Eliezer of Vizhnitz, 2nd of Elul), Rabbi Moshe Aharon Pinto (5th of Elul), Rabbi Yomtov Lippman Heller (the Tosfot Yomtov, 6th of Elul), Rabbi Zalman Leib (Yekutiel Yehudah) Teitelbaum (the Sigheter Rav, author of Yetiv Lev, 6th of Elul), Chacham Eliyahu Chaim (son of Chacham Moshe and father of Chacham Yosef Chaim, the Ben Ish Chai, 7th of Elul).
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