HARAV KOOK ON REPAIRING TISHA BE’AV AND THE WORLD WITH THE POWER OF UNCONDITIONAL LOVE

“If we  destroyed [the second Temple], and the world with us, through needless hatred, we will rebuild [the third Temple] and the world with us, through unconditional love.” (Notebook 8:47)

This is one of Rabbi Avraham HaCohen Kook’s most well known and important statements. As Tisha Be’Av-the Ninth of Av approaches and we once again mark the destruction of the first and second Temples (and many other historical catastrophes), let us review it and explore its significance for our time and future. 

This statement is based on the Midrash that explains:   

“Why was the first Temple destroyed? Because the three cardinal sins were rampant in society: idol worship, licentiousness, and murder… And why then was the second Temple – wherein the society was involved in Torah, commandments and acts of kindness – destroyed? Because ‘sinat chinam-needless hatred’ was rampant in society.This comes to teach that the sin of needless hatred is equivalent to the three severe transgressions: Idol worship, forbidden sexual relations and bloodshed.” (Tractate Yoma:9b)

Rav Kook was in London during the First World War, witnessing huge world destruction, when he wrote:

“If we  destroyed [the second Temple], and the world with us, through needless hatred, we will rebuild [the third Temple] and the world with us, through unconditional love.” (Notebook 8:47)

Sinat Chinam-Needless Hatred is one of the most widespread and destructive forces in human life. Rav Kook is teaching us that Ahavat Chinam-Unconditional Love is the hugely powerful constructive counter-force that must be harnessed to transform the destruction of hate. 

What does this mean for our everyday life? What does unconditional love imply in terms of our actual behavior?

In his masterwork on moral behavior, ‘Midot HaRayah’, Rav Kook elaborates on what is required of us in order to transform a world of hate to a world of love:

“The heart must be filled with love for all.

The love of all creation comes first, then comes the love for all humankind, and then follows the love for Israel, in which all the other loves are included, since it is the destiny of Israel to serve toward the perfection of all things.

All of these loves are to be expressed in practical actions, by pursuing the welfare of those we are bidden to love and to seek their advancement…” (Midot HaRayah:1,2)

This is, of course, not so easy to do. As Rav Kook goes on to  explain:

“Much effort is needed to broaden the love for people to the proper level, so that it can pervade life to its fullest extent …The highest level of love for people is the love due the individual person; it must embrace every single individual, regardless of differences in views on religion, or differences of race or climate.

It is essential to understand the mentalities of different nations and groupings, to study their characteristics and life-styles in order to know how to base our  love of humanity on foundations that will readily translate themselves into action.

It is only a person rich in love – for all people and a love for each individual person – who can reach the love for his own nation in its noblest dimension, spiritually and practically.

The narrow-mindedness that leads one to view whatever is outside a particular nation, even outside the people of Israel, as ugly and defiling is a phase of the frightful darkness that undermines every effort to reach that state of spiritual development whose dawn is awaited by every sensitive spirit….

The whole Torah, its moral teachings, its commandments, good deeds and  studies- have as their objective to remove the roadblocks so that universal love can spread and extend to all realms of life.” (Ibid, 10,12)

Rav Kook is clarifying and emphasizing that a core Torah teaching is that we must actively pursue the well-being of all humans, of every race, nationality and religion. 

We share this planet together. Our Holy Loving Creator has given us the tools and capabilities to transform it- to return it- into the Garden of Eden it once was and is ultimately designed to be.

It is our ultimate responsibility.                                                       

May we succeed to do so quickly in our days.


Prepared by Rabbi Itzchak Evan-Shayish -haorot@gmail.com, www.haorot.com

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