In part one of this letter, we discussed how true love for other individuals is the love of the beautiful and sacred potential within each of them – the love of their souls. In this letter, we will cite some special teachings and stories which reveal that true love for the People of Israel is the love of the beautiful and sacred potential within this people – the love of their collective soul. As the Chofetz Chaim taught us:
“The soul of Israel is the holy Torah.” (Chofetz Chaim on the Torah, Parshas Bo)
As we discussed, the modern Zionist movement became dominated by leaders who rejected the above premise regarding Torah, the Divine Teaching. According to their ideology – which they named “Zionism” – Jewish nationalism is to replace the Torah as the inner guiding spirit of our people. These Zionist leaders therefore viewed the Chareidi men and women of the Old Yishuv as old-fashioned, and as being in the “wilderness”; however, Rav Avraham Isaac Kook offered a defense of the Chareidim. In an essay which discusses the modern Zionist movement (Igrot R’iah 871), Rac Kook writes that this movement “will never be a stronghold for the whole nation, because it intrinsically fails to grasp the holy eternal light of the nation’s soul, the spirit of the true God in its midst; thus, it will do well in the external area of building up the nation, but will never be able to deal with its inner side.” Rac Kook adds: “That inner building stands ready for other workers of an entirely different type. These will develop from all places, out of the ‘wilderness’ of the Chareidim, those who faithfully and truthfully opposed Zionism because of their pure zealousness regarding the spirit of Hashem, His people, and the foundation of its existence.”
Just as the core identity of each human being is expressed through the light of their souls, so too, the core identity of our people is expressed through the light of our collective soul – the Torah. In this spirit, Saadia Gaon, a leading sage of our people in the early 10th century, expressed the following famous principle regarding our national identity:
Our nation is a nation only through its Torah. (Emunos V’De’os 3:7)
When we were still enslaved in Egypt, Hashem, the Compassionate and Life-Giving One, told Moshe to convey to us the following message:
“I shall take you to Me for a people” (Exodus 6:7).
According to a number of biblical commentators, the Divine promise, “I shall take you to Me for a people,” is referring to receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai. (Ibn Ezra, Sforno, Rabbeinu Bachya, and Ohr HaChaim)
Through the giving of the Torah, we were assigned a spiritual and universal mission; moreover, we became a nation whose inner identity would be defined by this mission. As Hashem proclaimed to our people at Mount Sinai:
“And you shall be to Me a kingdom of Kohanim and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6).
Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch discusses the deeper meaning of this message in the following teaching, where he refers to our people by our Hebrew name, “Yisrael”:
“Yisrael was given the Torah in the wilderness, and there – without a country and land of its own – it became a nation, a body whose soul was Torah. Thereby it came to be a mamleches kohanim, a ‘kingdom of priests,’ a nation serving as the guardian of Hashem’s Word in the midst of humanity, as a priest serves amidst his people. At the same time, by fulfilling Hashem’s Word, it was to become a goy kadosh, a ‘holy nation,’ standing apart in holiness.” (The Nineteen Letters, Letter Eight)
Rabbi Hirsch adds:
“Torah, the fulfillment of the Divine Will, constitutes the foundation, basis and goal of this people. Its nationhood is therefore not tied to transitory things or dependent on anything of a passing nature; it is as eternal and everlasting as spirit and soul and the Word of the Eternal.” (Ibid)
Rabbi Hirsch then conveys a message which was stressed by all the Prophets of Israel:
“A land, prosperity, and the institutions of statehood were to be put at Yisrael’s disposal not as goals in themselves, but as means for the fulfillment of the Torah. Accordingly, they were all granted to Yisrael on one – and only one – condition: that it would indeed fulfill the Torah.” (Ibid)
In a previous letter, we discussed how Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook, and other leading rabbis representing the Old Yishuv went on a spiritual “renewal tour” of various settlements of the New Yishuv, where many of the pioneers had abandoned the Torah. This outreach tour was an expression of true love, for the rabbis recognized the beautiful and sacred potential within each of these pioneers – their individual souls; moreover, the rabbis reminded the pioneers that they were part of a holy nation whose soul is the Torah.
The book, Guardian of Jerusalem, describes the “boundless love” of Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld for each member of Am Yisrael – the People of Israel – including those who had sunk to a low spiritual level. This strong love for his people caused him to strongly oppose the secular ideology of the World Zionist Organization which was causing members of Am Yisrael to lose their awareness of the beauty and holiness of their individual souls; moreover, this ideology was also causing them to lose their awareness of the beauty and holiness of our collective soul. In many of his struggles against the secular goals of the W.Z.O., an organization which also tried to dominate the religious Old Yishuv, his main opponent was Chaim Weizmann, who became president of this Zionist organization. As we shall later discuss, Weizmann would often visit Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, in order to debate the issues.
Weizmann realized, however, that Rav Yosef Chaim’s strong opposition to the ideology of the W.Z.O. was rooted in love, and as cited in “Guardian of Jerusalem,” Weizmann once acknowledged:
“It is difficult to fight against Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld’s brand of pure and objective truth, especially when it flows from a warm Jewish heart completely permeated with the love of the land and the People of Israel.”
Rav Yosef Chaim’s opposition was mainly directed at the secular ideology of the World Zionist organization, and not at the individuals who followed this ideology; in fact, regarding those individuals who were not Torah-observant, he said:
“Most Jews today who have abandoned mitzvos are prisoners of alien cultures and improper education. Were it not for the effects of the long and bitter exile, they would certainly find their way back to their faith and origins.”
He also acknowledged that the secular-oriented Zionist pioneers were involved in one particular mitzvah – rebuilding the Land of Israel – which they performed with great self-sacrifice. He therefore said. “It is my hope that in the merit of this mitzvah which they fulfill with such sacrifice, they will repent and return to the fold of Torah and faith.”
Unlike our own era of spiritual searching, the early 20th century was known for its militant secularism; nevertheless, Rav Yosef Chaim tried, whenever possible, to lovingly reach out to those of our brethren who had abandoned our spiritual path. The following stories can serve as examples:
The Haganah became the main defense force of the modern Zionist movement. In Rav Yosef Chaim’s later years, the young Haganah members in charge of defending Jerusalem’s Jewish population against Arab marauders maintained their headquarters in the clinic where Rav Yosef Chaim often frequented. The Haganah was particularly active during the celebrations of the local Arab festival honoring Nebi Musa (the Prophet Moses), when, ironically, there would often be attacks on Jews, the people of Moses. One particular year, this Moslem festival coincided with Passover. Although most of the Haganah members considered themselves to be irreligious, Rav Yosef Chaim made it a point to invite them to his Seder. He said to them: “If because of you, Jews can enjoy a secure Seder, then you certainly deserve to celebrate the Seder with us in an atmosphere of holiness and family warmth.”
Rav Yosef Chaim befriended these young people, and in response to a few individuals from his own community who wondered why he associated with these “irreligious” Jews, he said: “These young people risk their lives to defend other Jews and they deserve an effort on our part to bring them closer to Torah and mitzvos.”
Settlers from the New Yishuv who were not Torah-observant felt drawn to visit Rav Yosef Chaim at his home in Batei Machseh, Jerusalem, where they would receive a warm and loving welcome. He would utilize these opportunities to speak to them about Torah wisdom and the observance of mitzvos. Some of his associates, however, remarked that he was apparently wasting his time, as his visitors seemed “none the better” for all his warm, paternal talks.
Rav Yosef Chaim replied that although it was true that most of the time these people were unreceptive to the sublime truths he discussed with them, they, too, would sooner or later encounter those reflective moments when every person takes stock of his life. At those moments, he said, they might recall the fatherly old Rav in Battei Machseh and the sincere words he had spoken to them; thus, at that moment, the talk might cause some of these wandering sheep of Israel to return to the fold of their people and to the Eternal Shepherd.
One day, one of these pioneers came to Rav Yosef Chaim and tearfully recounted what had happened in the long interval since their last meeting. The man had been walking on the scaffolding of a building under construction when he lost his footing. In the ensuing fall, he had broken several ribs and sustained serious internal injuries. For six months he had lain wracked with pain and this had caused him to start thinking about the words of the venerable Rav in Battei Machseh.
He had then resolved that should Hashem grant him a recovery, he would return to the religious life he had known as a boy in his father’s house in Russia. Now that he had recovered, he was about to marry, and his bride-to-be was also willing to conduct a religious life. They had but one wish and that was that Rav Yosef Chaim himself would officiate at their wedding and confer on the new couple his blessings that they merit to build a “loyal family in Israel.” Rav Yosef Chaim willingly accepted the invitation and greatly rejoiced with the couple at their wedding. Indeed, his blessings were fulfilled and the couple raised a God-revering and observant family true to the traditions of their ancestors.
The new month of Shvat begins this Shabbos. May we be blessed with a good and sweet Shabbos. And may we be blessed with a month of life and love.
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
A Related Story and Comment:
1. Rav Moshe Blau, a noted community activist who was a disciple of Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnefeld, related the following incident: When Rav Yosef Chaim and Rav Moshe were leaving the grounds of Shaarei Tzedek Hospital, a parade of boys and girls from the secular Zionist schools was approaching. Knowing that the ideology of these anti-religious schools caused his beloved rebbe great pain, Rav Blau gently suggested to Rav Yosef Chaim that they return to the hospital building until the parade passes by.
“No,” was his reply, “they are Jewish children, aren’t they?” As the children marched by, singing their songs, Rav Moshe noticed that Rabbi Yosef Chaim’s lips were moving steadily, as he murmured something softly to himself. Rav Blau moved closer and he heard his teacher saying the following verses:
“May Hashem add upon you, upon you and your children! Blessed are you to Hashem, Maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 115:14,15).
He repeated these verses of blessing over and over again, until the last child in that long procession had passed.
2. The above information and stories about Rav Yosef Chaim are found in the book, “Guardian of Jerusalem” by Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Sonnenfeld. For information on this book, visit: http://www.artscroll.com/linker/hazon/ASIN/YCPH . This book may also be available in your local Jewish book store.