Feb 2 2012

Ellul Reflections

We are currently in the Hebrew month of Ellul leading up to the High Holiday season of Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur. Now is the time to reflect on our private and communal lives, to evaluate the past year and to chart a better course for the future. The third day of the month of Ellul happens to be the anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935), the first Chief Rabbi of Israel during the period of the British Mandate. His memory serves as an instructive and inspirational message to frame this season and set priorities, especially for our communal lives.

When Rabbi Kook moved to Israel from Latvia in 1904 he encountered Jewish communities in conflict with each other: traditionalists verses secularists, rightists verses leftists, Ashkenazim verses Sepharadim, and the list goes on. Rabbi Kook devoted much of his rabbinic leadership to serving as a bridge between adversarial worlds.

In this spirit, Rabbi Kook invited some of the leading traditionalist rabbis to join him on a visit to the agricultural settlements of the secularist Zionist pioneers. Rabbi Kook’s motive was to help the other rabbis appreciate the self-sacrificing idealism of the young Zionists and to inspire the pioneers with the nobility of the message of the Torah.

The rabbinic delegation arrived one evening to the agricultural settlement of Poriya, near Tiberias, just as the workers were sitting down to eat. Since the food was not kosher the rabbis waited outside the dining room for the meal to end. When the rabbis heard the pioneers begin to sing, Rabbi Kook convinced his colleagues to join the young men and women of the settlement. Upon entering Rabbi Kook raised his hand and silence fell upon the room. He then passionately implored, “The time has come to end the state of estrangement between us. Dear brothers and sisters, come close. The time has come for the uniting of the hearts of the Old Settlement with those of the New Settlement. We have come to you, but please take a step towards us …”

At this point Rabbi Kook urged all present to join a dance. As the pioneers and the rabbis began to dance together in circles Rabbi Kook stealthily left the room. He approached the guard of the settlement and exchanged clothes with him. As the enthusiastic dancing was continuing, Rabbi Kook returned, dressed as a pioneer guard, complete with kafiye Arab headdress and rifle in hand. Upon noticing Rabbi Kook’s entrance, the dancing and singing ceased in curious amazement at the strange sight. Rabbi Kook addressed the crowd with words emerging from the depths of his heart, “The Chassidim teach that the greatness of dancing lies in the necessity to jump a little off the floor. We then can view the world from a different angle, from a fresh perspective. Let us join in dance. Let us see a renewed world. A world without “old” and “new,” without hatred and hostility, a world where rabbis can where the clothes of pioneering guards and where pioneer guards are capable of wearing the clothes of rabbis.” The dancing of the rabbis and Zionist pioneers continued till dawn when Rabbi Kook collapsed muttering, “Blessed be God who has brought me to this moment…”

Let’s lift our feet off the floor and gain a refreshed and continually renewed perspective that will preserve and further nurture a cohesive community- the hidden secret of our peoples’ survival.