Rav Kook Torah

Yom Atzma'ut: From Tragedy to Triumph

In the aftermath of the Arab riots of 1929, Rav Kook published a proclamation entitled “Shuvu leVitzaron” (‘Return to Your Fortress'; derived from Zechariah 9:12) with the aim of bolstering the morale of a populace afflicted with anxiety and apprehension regarding the future of the Jewish community in the Land of Israel.1

The Spark of Redemption

The Sages taught in Pesachim 54a that one of seven things created before the world was created was “the name of the Messiah.” What does this mean?

Rav Kook explained that “the name of the Messiah” is a fundamental force in the universe, the perpetual aspiration for Israel’s redemption. This holy spark did not start with Theodor Herzl and the Zionist movement, but predates the world’s creation. Following the demise of our kingdom and the destruction of our holy Temple, it lay concealed for centuries, a smoldering ember buried under the ashes of bitter exile.

Slowly, the holy spark began to stir and awaken, kindled by efforts of the disciples of the Vilna Gaon and the Baal Shem Tov, who established the Old Yishuv in the 18th century. Its flames grew brighter with the practical endeavors of the Hibbat Zion movement, the precursor to the great wave of Zionism, which inspired souls throughout the Jewish people.

And yet, these great lights have dimmed amid the tumult of the practical aspects of Israel’s return to its homeland.

Like a Gazelle, Appearing and Disappearing

In the Song of Songs, the shepherdess compares her beloved shepherd to a gazelle: דּוֹמֶה דוֹדִי לִצְבִי “My beloved is like a gazelle” (2:9).

In what way is the shepherd — a metaphor for God’s love and guidance of the Jewish people — like a gazelle?

The Sages observed that gazelles dart swiftly through the forest, suddenly appearing and then vanishing from sight. They likened the process of redemption to the movement of a gazelle. Sometimes it emerges into view, and sometimes it disappears. Moses, the first redeemer, appeared before the Jewish people and then temporarily disappeared. “So too, the final redeemer will appear to them and then disappear” (Bamidbar Rabbah 11:2).

At the heart of our collective aspiration for redemption lies the spark of the concealed light of the Messiah. Throughout the history of Israel’s reclamation of its ancestral land, we have experienced many fluctuations: ascents and descents, advances and setbacks. Each setback is a concealment of the light of redemption, while each advance is its subsequent revelation.

Brighter Revelation of Light

Anyone who has followed the development of the Jewish community in Eretz Yisrael can readily see how, from every reversal, a new triumph emerged. Every crisis led to a new stage of growth and success.

Numerous examples attest to this phenomenon. Consider the great decline and crisis during the wartime period (of World War I), accompanied by the siege that ensued, which made every heart tremble, fearing the utter collapse of our community. Yet, we have seen with our own eyes how, amidst the deep shadows, a great light emerged.2 The fledgling Yishuv expanded, attaining its current level of stability and growth.

From this, we must learn not to succumb to despair, even in the face of terrible crisis. Our Yishuv has now fallen at the hands of wicked, murderous defilers who brazenly slaughtered Torah scholars and pious tzadikim in Jerusalem, Hebron, Motza, Safed, and the other holy places in our sacred land. They laid waste to the dwellings of Jacob, built with self-sacrifice and the toil of generations, and shook the very foundation of our settlement in the Land of Israel.

This setback is indeed dreadful and ominous. Within its darkness, there are elements that surpass all previous crises that we have suffered.

Yet, in proportion to the depth of the concealment, the future revelation will be that much brighter. The temporary suppression of the holy spark will bring about a brilliant resurgence of light and redemption.

Rav Kook also indicated how he hoped Israel’s redemption would recover from this setback:

1. By strengthening the connection of every Jew throughout the Diaspora to the enterprise of building up the Land of Israel, their love for the Land deepened with the memory of the pure and innocent blood shed by wicked murderers.3

2. By fostering greater unity among different sectors of the Jewish community, in particular, between the religious Jews of the Old Yishuv and the predominantly secular pioneers of the New Yishuv, as each recognizes their shared destiny and role in Israel’s redemption.

Rav Kook concluded the proclamation with a call for fortitude and perseverance:

“And as in days of yore, like the sound of thunder in the heavens, a great voice will resound in the ears of the entire nation... ringing out: ‘Be strong and let us strengthen ourselves, on behalf of our people and the cities of our God.’ (2 Sam. 10:12)”

(Adapted from Ma’amerei ha-Re’iyah vol. 2, pp. 360–362)

1 On August 23, 1929, Arab mobs began rioting all over Eretz Yisrael. Dozens of Jewish communities were attacked, including Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa. In Hebron and Safed, Arab mobs slaughtered men and women, elderly and young. Those who survived the slaughter were evacuated, as were the residents of Gaza, Shechem (Nablus), Beit She'an, and other towns. In a week of rioting and pogroms, 133 Jews were killed and more than 300 wounded. Seventeen communities were evacuated, and there was great loss of Jewish property. It was a devastating blow for the Jewish community, which at that time numbered around 150,000.

2 The Jewish community in Eretz Yisrael suffered greatly during WWI, enduring famine and the expulsion of thousands of Jews by the Ottoman authorities. Over the course of four years (1914-1918), the Jewish population dwindled by a third. Yet, with the British conquest in 1917 and the Balfour Declaration endorsing a Jewish homeland, the Jewish community in Eretz Yisrael gained a qualitatively improved standing.

3 As Rav Kook had hoped, the 1929 riots increased awareness of the struggle of the pioneers in Eretz Yisrael. The international Jewish community raised more than $600,000 for an emergency fund, used to finance the cost of restoring destroyed and damaged homes, and construct schools and nurseries. In addition, the riots were a turning point for Ben-Gurion. He realized that violent, uncompromising anti-Zionism had become a mass movement among the Arab population. From then on, he worked to transform the Haganah into a professional and national force that would eventually evolve into the IDF.