Rav Kook Torah

Nitzavim: Dances of Teshuvah in Poriah

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“The Eternal your God will once again gather you from among all the nations where He scattered you... bringing you to the land that your ancestors occupied. God will remove the barriers from your hearts, and from the hearts of your descendants; and you will love the Eternal your God with all your heart and soul.” (Deut. 30:3-6)

Avraham Rosenblatt was eighteen years old when he ran away from his parent’s home in Kishinev. His parents objected to Avraham’s dream to leave Russia for Palestine, as life under the oppressive rule of the Ottoman Empire was difficult and dangerous. So the young man, active for many years in a local Zionist youth group, quietly stole away from home and made his way to Eretz Yisrael.

Some decades later, Rosenblatt was a highly respected accountant and comptroller in Tel Aviv. But when he first came to the country, he was employed in the moshavot of the Galilee area as a farm hand and security guard for the Hashomer organization.

In the winter of 1913, Rosenblatt was working in Poriah, a small community near the Sea of Galilee, just south of Tiberius. Poriah was a fledgling agricultural community recently established by a group of forty young pioneers from St. Louis, Missouri. The moshavah was eventually abandoned several years later, after relentless confiscations and harassment by the Turks during World War I. Forty years would pass before the village of Poriah was re-established.

A high point in the short history of Poriah took place one November evening in 1913. Many of the pioneers present, including Rosenblatt, cherished the memory of that wonderful winter night, when the young secular pioneers sang and danced with the Chief Rabbi of Jaffa.

The pioneers of Poriah heard that Rav Kook was leading a rabbinical delegation to visit the remote Jewish settlements in the northern part of the country. When they learned that the delegation was close by, they sent two representatives — on the Sabbath! — to invite the rabbis to visit their community. Since Poriah was beyond the Sabbath limits, and thus it would have been forbidden for them to return to Poriah, even on foot, Rav Kook did not provide an immediate answer. He wanted to prevent any further Sabbath desecration. Instead, he told the Poriah pioneers that if they waited until the Sabbath was over, he would give them his response. After reciting the Havdalah prayer at the end of the Sabbath, Rav Kook agreed to visit the following evening.

The visit to Poriah made a powerful impression on the young pioneers, who felt distant from rabbis and were estranged from religion in general. Rav Kook spoke to them about Jewish values and the mitzvah of settling the Land. He spoke of the need to unite the entire nation with a connection of souls and spirits.

“We need,” the rabbi proclaimed, “to bind together all Jews, from the elderly rabbi of Jerusalem, Rabbi Zonnenfeld, to the youngest laborer of Poriah.”

The pioneers responded with cheers and applause. Full of youthful enthusiasm, the young men jumped up and danced with Rav Kook.

The Guard’s Account

We are fortunate to possess Avraham Rosenblatt’s testimony of that evening. In a letter written nearly sixty years after the event, he described in detail the stirring encounter, vividly etched in his memory:

I recall a beautiful episode that took place 57 years ago, when Rav Kook toured the moshavot in the Galilee. I was working in the Poriah farm near the town of Tiberius. At the time we were just a handful of sixty workers. In the end of Tishrei, 5674, we heard that Rav Kook, together with three other rabbis — Rabbis Zonnenfeld, Yadler, and Horowitz — were touring the isolated moshavot in the Galilee in order to influence them to greater religious observance and purity.

I remember that we were told that the delegation was staying nearby, and that the rabbis would also visit Poriah. We sat in the dining hall, singing and dancing, as was our custom back then. Then we heard that the delegation had arrived in Poriah and was in the office of the manager, Eliyahu Israelite, and that the rabbis wished to meet with us.

We had already finished eating. We were dancing and singing, “God will rebuild the Galilee,” when Rav Kook joined in and danced with the men.

Suddenly Rav Kook turned to me and my friend, Pinhas Schneerson. We were both on guard duty that night; we were wearing Arab cloaks and kefiyyeh headdresses, with rifles slung on our shoulders. Rav Kook asked us to accompany him to the manager’s office. I was shorter than the rabbi, but Schneerson was tall, so Rav Kook asked Schneerson if he could borrow his “uniform.”

The three of us returned to the dancing, with the Rav wearing a kefiyyeh on his head and a rifle over his shoulder. Everyone stared at Rav Kook’s change of dress. The truth is, the clothes suited him. The Rav began to sing a song from the liturgy, “Vetaheir Libeinu” — “Purify our hearts, so that we may truly serve You.”

Then the rabbi stopped and spoke to us. “Dear brothers! Holy brothers! Builders of the Land! Just as I am not embarrassed to wear your garments, so too, I request — do not be embarrassed by the Torah of Israel! In the merit of observing the Torah’s mitzvot, you will live many years in the Land of Israel, in sanctity and purity, in the study of the holy Torah. Is it so hard to be a Jew? In your homes in the Diaspora, you were certainly educated in the spirit of Judaism. Your homes were conducted in purity and religious observance. Please, please....”

Rav Kook concluded his address with the following request: “I will not remove the uniform of your guard unless you promise me — all of you, with one heart and a willing soul — that you will fulfill my request. I ask that you should be guards: that you guard over your pintele yid, your inner Jewish spark.”

We all cried out, “We promise!”

And the Rav responded, “Happy is the eye that witnessed such dances of teshuvah [repentance] and holiness. Praised be God’s name!”

Rav Kook then went to the manager’s office and quickly returned to join in our dancing. He sang “Vekariev pizureinu” — “Bring home our dispersed from among the nations” — and other such songs. The Rav continued to dance and sing with us for over an hour.

The delegation remained the following day to oversee the kashering of all the kitchen utensils. They instructed the young women working in the kitchen in the laws of kosher food; and the rabbis departed in joy and happiness.

Another worker who was present that evening, Ze'ev Horowitz of Kibbutz Geva, recalled the happy exuberance and high spirits:

I will never forget that image: Rav Kook, a tall, handsome man with a high hat, spied a security guard wearing a Bedouin cloak. He said, “Let’s exchange — I'll take your ‘rabbinical cloak,’ and you'll take mine.”

Oh, how our spirits soared!

At the end, the Rav announced, “I wore your clothes, and you wore mine. So it should also be on the inside — together in our hearts!”

(Stories from the Land of Israel. (Adapted from Megged Yerachim no. 156 (Elul 5772); Eileh Massei; Encyclopedia of Founders and Builders of Israel)

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