Aish Kodesh rabbi translates Rav Kook’s seminal work

by Alan Jay Gerber

In what will be one of this season’s most popular commentaries, Rabbi Moshe Weinberger of Congregation Aish Kodesh in Woodmere has written a translation of Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook’s “Orot Teshuvah.” Entitled “Song of Teshuvah Volume One” [Penina – Urim Press, 2011] this new work is the result of over seven years of a shiur that Rabbi Weinberger gave on Friday mornings at his shul.

“Our erev Shabbos adventure became the mikveh before the mikveh. Together —anywhere from forty to seventy individuals — we toveled in the stormy, yet soothing waters of Rav Kook’s seminal masterpiece,” Rabbi Weinberger said. “We marveled at how Rav Kook was able to lift us up from the weekday grind of New York life and carry us into the sweetness of Shabbos. In his light, we were able to catch a little glimpse of Yerushalayim.”

To best appreciate the importance of this work, especially at this time of year, consider these words written by one of Rav Kook’s premier students, Rabbi Moshe Zvi Neria, of blessed memory. “It is pleasant and fitting for Rav Kook’s name and memory that these days of study should center round the subject of teshuvah,” Rabbi Neria wrote. “In my student years in his yeshiva, the Merkaz HaRav yeshiva, I was privileged to see him in the mornings of the month of Elul, after the morning service, striding up and down in the main room of his house, studying his own book, the Orot HaTeshuvah.

“His words had been written not only for others but also for himself; and in the days set apart for teshuvah, he devoted himself to its cleansing and elevating content.”

In the years to come, the need for an English translation became ever more urgent. Finally, in 1968, Rabbi Dr. Alter Metzger published an elegant and lucid translation of this otherwise daunting work.

But as time passed, the need for a comprehensive commentary was deemed essential by most rabbis and educators. To this end Rabbi Weinberger’s efforts and skilled scholarship helped fill the void.

The timeliness of this publication can best be demonstrated by the comments of the Ramat Gan Rosh Yeshiva Rav Yehoshua Shapiro.“Orot HaTeshuvah not only reveals the lights, ‘orot,’ of ‘teshuvah,’ repentance, it reveals that repentance itself is a great light.” Rav Kook’s view was to make teshuvah a positive spiritual experience.

Also to be found in this commentary are numerous sources from all the major teachings of our faith, further enhancing Rav Kook’s teachings to make them ever more relevant to the reader.

This factor is what makes Rabbi Weinberger’s research all the more endearing to this writer.

Examples of this can be seen threaded throughout this work. Even such an esoteric issue as evolution finds a place in Rav Kook’s teaching. Consider the following:

“Rav Kook had the unique ability to find holiness in everything, to remove the barriers covering an idea and unveil its kernel of holiness. Therefore, he saw a remarkable seed hidden in evolution. For Rav Kook, this theory offered an insight into Jewish faith and showed a way to draw close to Hashem. According to Rav Kook, evolution is a spiritual process that takes place deep within each Jew. It is a movement propelling us forward, pushing us inevitably towards perfection, health and teshuvah.”

The organic wholeness of our people is further explored by Rabbi Weinberger in Rav Kook’s ideological and practical involvement with Zionism.

Rabbi Weinberger demonstrates to the reader that, “Ultimately, the source of Zionism, of a Jew’s longing to return to Yerushalayim, is Hashem and the Torah, as expressed in G-d’s promise to Avraham that Eretz Yisrael belongs to us. For a few generations the idea persisted that the longing for Zion can exist without mitzvos. But secular Zionism has reached the point of exhaustion.”

This spirited defense of Zionist ideology within the Jewish religious context marks the first time that a major American Jewish religious figure has stepped forward to explain in clear and concise language Rav Kook’s ideological formulations on this matter.

While no ideological partisan argument is given primacy, the fairness and balance with which Rabbi Weinberger presents these issues is a welcome respite from those who seek only division, machlokes, in all Jewish religious matters.Prayer, tefillah, in the context of teshuvah is noted with great care and sensitivity.

“And we thus see that the service of the entire Torah and all of its wisdom is the on-going revelation of the concealed prayer of the soul,” Rav Kook wrote.

“That is the refinement and pleasure, glory and beauty of prayer. It is like a rose that opens its beautiful petals to greet the dew or in the presence of the rays of the sun… Prayer is only rectified as a result of a person’s thought that in truth the soul is constantly praying,” he added.

Within the context of prayer, Rabbi Weinberger skillfully brings together the teachings of such diverse personalities as the Chofetz Chaim, the Rebbe Rashab and Rav Shlomo Yosef Zevin to reinforce Rav Kook’s teachings on the integrity of Jewish prayer.

A Personal Note

In a review essay published on Rabbi Metzger’s work a couple of years ago, I expressed my wish that a full commentary be published on Orot HaTeshuvah. I then suggested, “It is my opinion that either an additional forward or commentary be penned by one of the Rav’s foremost contemporary interpreters of Orot HaTeshuvah, Rav Moshe Weinberger of Cong. Aish Kodesh of Woodmere. It was he, through his popular shiur on Orot HaTeshuvah given every Friday morning at his Woodmere bais medrash that brought the practical importance and relevance of this work to my attention.”

Sometimes it is said that you have to be careful about what you wish for. In this case, my wish has come true. For this I am extremely happy, and so will you be after reading and learning from the teachings of Rav Kook and Rabbi Weinberger especially at this sacred time of year.

The original article from The Jewish Star may be found here online.

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