"The Twilight of Rabbi Kook" (Part 1)

His Personality

There have been scores of Torah giants in recent generations, but the
stature of none compares to that of Rabbi Avraham Isaac HaCohen Kook,
may the memory of the righteous be for a blessing. His genius was
astounding – there was no field of Torah study that he had not
mastered. His recall was astonishing – great scholars related that no
matter what Torah subject they discussed with him it would appear as
if he had just recently learned the issue in depth. Not only was he
versed, sharp, and innovative in the arenas of Talmud and Halakha, he
was at home in all areas of Jewish thought: Bible, Midrash,
philosophy, and mysticism. On top of all this, he was unmatched in
piety and righteousness, and his entire existence was dedicated to the
service of the Creator. Rabbi Kook was a mighty figure who fought for
truth and was willing to put himself on the line for the sake of Torah
justice.
It is not uncommon for extreme brilliance to result in strange
character traits, but Rabbi Kook was friendly and pleasant, so much so
that all who knew him were captivated by his warm character. He was
both intellectual and emotional, sharp and poetic. He possessed a rich
inner life, while at the same time was very active spiritually and
publicly on behalf of the Torah, the nation, and the land. That all of
these talents could reside together harmoniously in one soul is itself
remarkable.

The Respect of His Contemporaries

The descriptions brought thus far were not expressed by Rabbi Kook’s
disciples alone. The great Torah leaders of his time also attested to
these facts. Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer once said to the famed Rabbi
Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky from Vilna, “The two of us are considered Torah
giants until we reach the door of Rabbi Kook’s office.” When he
participated in rabbinic envoys within Israel and abroad, other great
rabbis joined him: Rabbi Epstein, Dean of the Slobodka Yeshiva and the
Rabbi MiKubna, author of “Dvar Avraham”, yet it was clear that Rabbi
Kook was the most prominent among them.
The Gerer Rebbe admitted that Rabbi Kook remembered the writings of
his father, the “Sefat Emet” even better than he himself. The renowned
and learned Kabbalist, author of “Leshem Shvo VeAchlama,” said of
Rabbi Kook that there was no Torah secret that he was not aware of.
It is told of a certain rabbi who was immersed in the study of
Kabbalah and was having trouble finding the source of certain writings
in his possession, that he turned to the leading mystics in Jerusalem
but they could not help him. He was surprised when they suggested that
he speak with Rabbi Kook, for he could not believe that Rabbi Kook,
who as Chief Rabbi was so busy with public issues and Halakhic
inquiries from morning until night, would be able to identify the
material at hand; but the rabbi did.

Once, a youngster who was studying at the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva High
School was having doubts about his future direction of study and he
turned to Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Aurbach for advice. The student said
that perhaps because the majority of Torah leaders do not agree with
the path taken by Rabbi Kook, it would be more appropriate for him to
follow the path of the majority. Rabbi Aurbach responded, saying,
“What are you talking about? In the time of Rabbi Kook, the majority
of Torah giants were all as if nothing compared to him.”
Rabbi Kook conducted the marriages of both Rabbi Shlomo Zalman
Aurbach, zt”l, and Rabbi Elyashiv, shlita. He was their rabbi. Rabbi
A.I. Kerlitz, the “Chazon Ish,” addressed Rabbi Kook as “our royal and
respected Rabbi.”

His Unique Path – Torah and Redemption

Going far beyond matters connected to the Rabbinate, Rabbi Kook
addressed the difficulties of the day. He was very familiar with the
philosophical and cultural winds of his generation and examined them
from the perspective of the Torah. With astounding depth and
comprehension, he knew how to size up the various philosophies
collectively, find the positive points in each one of them, and
uncover their holy roots. Rabbi Kook possessed a unified, all-
inclusive vision of things: he found harmony among the many sides of
the Torah, the many factions within the Jewish people, and the many
periods in history. Only a genius and righteous individual of his
stature, bound to the One God could truly see the unity in all, and,
as a result, pave wonderful paths and clarifications toward the
rectification of existence.
Many were aware of Rabbi Kook’s greatness and righteousness, but few
understood that his teachings contained a comprehensive solution for
contemporary crises. He understood the very sources of those forces
which were bursting forth and exploding in the modern age – the Jewish
Haskala (“Enlightenment”), nationalism, freedom, and creativity, and
he was able to discern the good and bad in them, forging a path for
correcting them.

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