What does Rav Kook teach us about the Jewish, Christian and Muslim Conflict and its resolution?
In the last period of time, there has been a vital debate in Israeli society about the status of the Arab citizens in the state. The social, political and cultural implications of this are being discussed. The Abrahamic Reunion is a developing project dedicated to building peace in the Holy Land by “opening hearts to the love and wisdom of all spiritual traditions”. This is of course all based on the historical reality that Avraham/Ibrahim/Abraham is our common forefather. We felt it important to share Rav Kook’s prophetic insights about this developing situation. Rav Kook had positive relationships with many religious leaders in his time:
וְשָׁפַט֙ בֵּ֣ין הַגֹּויִ֔ם וְהֹוכִ֖יחַ לְעַמִּ֣ים רַבִּ֑ים וְכִתְּת֨וּ חַרְבֹותָ֜ם לְאִתִּ֗ים וַחֲנִיתֹֽותֵיהֶם֙
לְמַזְמֵרֹ֔ות לֹא־יִשָּׂ֨א גֹ֤וי אֶל־גֹּוי֙ חֶ֔רֶב וְלֹא־יִלְמְד֥וּ עֹ֖וד מִלְחָמָֽה׃
He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. (Isaiah 2:4)
This is the day and the experience that all peace loving souls crave. And yet we seem to be so distant. How can we reach the mutual loving and caring state that Isaiah prophesies?
Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, TZ”L addressed this in an extraordinary letter that he wrote in 1908. He had been in Israel and serving as the Chief Rabbi of Yaffo and the new settlements for almost 4 years. The letter was written to Rabbi Pinchas HaKohen, chief of the Bet Din-Rabbinic Court of Birz in northern Lithuania.
After elaborating on the need in the Yishuv for “a new type of Yeshiva…in which the mystical aspect of the Torah…will have a prominent part”, Rav Kook discussed the relationship between Judaism and other religions:
“I will state to your honor my opinion, that it is not the aim of the enlightenment that emanates from Israel to absorb or destroy them, just as it is not our aim to destroy the world’s different nationalities. Our aim is to perfect and elevate them, to purge them of their dross.”
In the same way that Avraham Avinu worked to raise human consciousness beyond the blindness of idolatry and towards the clarity of a unified creation and Creator, Judaism is called upon to raise religious consciousness beyond “the conception of God (that) is crystallized among people in a particular form, going back to childish habit and imagination.” (Orot, Essays-יסורים ממרקים-The Pangs of Cleansing)
The Torah describes the unfolding of human history in Breishit-Genesis. The family of Avraham, Itzchak and Yaakov form the basis of the Jewish people. Avraham’s son and Itzchak’s half brother, Ishmael became the progenitor of the Arab people and the nation which was (forcibly) converted to Islam by Mohammed and his followers (570 c.e.-730 c.e.)
Yaakov’s twin brother, Esau is understood by Jewish theologians and historians to be the spiritual forefather of Edom-Rome which adopted Christianity as its official religion in 380 c.e.
The Torah describes in great detail the process of Yaakov/Israel’s return to his homeland after fleeing Esau’s wrath 22 years earlier for his deceptive ‘stealing’ of the birthright/blessing. After expressing his trepidation- “I am afraid of him, for he can come and kill us all-mother and children alike” (Genesis 32:12) Yaakov divides his family into two camps so that “if Esau comes and attacks one camp, at least the other camp will survive.” (Ibid- 32:9).
And then the historic meeting occurs: Jacob “prostrated himself seven times as he approached his brother. Esau ran to meet him and embraced him, fell upon his neck, and they kissed and wept” (Genesis 33:4) Their reconciliation continues and Yaakov says to Esau ‘seeing your face is like seeing the face of God (Elohim)” (Genesis 33:10).
Rav Kook derives a startling prophecy from this interaction and statement: “(Jacob’s) words shall not go down as a vain utterance. The brotherly love of Esau and Yaakov, of Itzchak and Ishmael will assert itself above all the confusion that the evil brought upon us by our physicality has engendered. It will overcome them and transform them to eternal light and compassion.”
Rav Kook is explaining to us that this reconciliation and loving that occurs after years of enmity is a foreshadowing of the loving meeting that will occur historically between all the children of Avraham in the latter days of history. As he says explicitly: “This broad understanding, sweetened by the enlightenment of the true teaching of the Torah (a reference to Kabbala) must be our guide in all our ways in the end of days, to seal/complete our understanding of the Torah with the Messianic imprint by turning the bitter to sweet and darkness to light.” (Igrot 1:112)
Events of the past century have continued to grow the hatred between religions. These have turned to armed conflicts in numerous times and places. Currently the radical Islamist movement is actively involved in promoting these battles in many different parts of the world.
What does Rav Kook teach us about how to heal and bring to resolution the Jewish, Christian and Muslim conflict? He explains that the Torah teaches us that the conflicted state is not the end of history. It is but a turn of the wheel that is ultimately moving to reconciliation, harmony and universal love. There is much for us to do to achieve this aim, but an important beginning point is to realize that this is the goal of history and we are here to activate and serve this divine unfolding of love and shalom/peace.
May we be so blessed. Soon and in our days.