This week, I shall focus on the legacy of a speech by the Rav, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik originally delivered in Yiddish before a gathering of the Religious Zionists of American in May 1956 on the occasion of the eighth anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel. It was subsequently expanded upon, translated into Hebrew, and ultimately into English where it gained traction among many elements within the intellectual community of American Jewry.
The emotional heft inherent in its teachings, especially in the Rav’s perspective of the horrors of the Holocaust and the historic legacy of Jew hatred through the ages, has given this address (published as a book, “Kol Dodi Dofek: Listen, My Beloved Knocks,” KTAV Publishing House 2006) the richly deserved status of a Jewish theological class. This theological spin of the Rav’s work on this delicate subject was viewed by many serious scholars as a pivotal moment in the reality that Jews have come to face concerning the hostile world around them.
In his classic work, “Majesty and Humility” (Urim/OU Press, 2012), detailing the thoughts of the Rav, Rabbi Reuven Ziegler goes into great detail concerning the deeper meanings of “Kol Dodi Dofek.” In his review of this work by Rabbi Ziegler, the late Prof. Charles M. Raffel of Stern College wrote the following concerning Rabbi Ziegler’s treatment of the Rav’s teachings on this subject:
“Kol Dodi Dofek receives a direct treatment, culminating in a chapter titled quite simply, ‘The Significance of the State of Israel,’ which transcends the text of the essay itself to examine and question the core values and nuances of the Rav’s position on the ‘instrumental’ value of the state. Here, Rabbi Ziegler seems intent on not only explaining the Rav’s position on religion and state, but in pushing and probing it in light of contemporary issues and problems. The treatment is very brief, but suggestive nonetheless.” (The Torah u-Maddah Journal, 16/2012-13)
Rabbi Ziegler elaborates further on this heartfelt subject in a chapter titled “From Holocaust to the State of Israel,” wherein in referencing to these two events he writes the following:
“The proximity of these two overwhelming events almost begged one to connect them. At the extremes, some saw the connection in terms of strict causality. For example, the Satmar Rebbe believed that the Holocaust was a divine punishment for the sin of attempting to establish Jewish sovereignty before the coming of the Messiah, and the success of the Zionists in establishing the State of Israel was to be attributed to the sitra ahra, the metaphysical forces of evil.
“At the opposite end, Rabbi Zvi Yehudah Kook believed that the Holocaust was divine ‘surgery’ necessary to sever the Jews’ connection to the Diaspora and bring them to the Land of Israel as part of an inexorable process of national revival and messianic redemption.
“Rav Soloveitchik does not provide casual explanations, nor does he offer metaphysical speculation as to the reasons G-d brought about these events. In his view, the human’s finite mind cannot fathom the ways of divine providence, and the only question one can and should ask oneself is how to respond on one’s given circumstances.”
Rabbi Ziegler elaborates further on the Rav’s motives and purposes in an interesting footnote wherein he teaches us the following:
“To be sure, in this essay the Rav is speaking of G-d’s call to the Jewish nation, and of a commensurate national response that is demanded. Thus, he says the Jewish people should ‘open the door’ through national projects [settling the Negev], and the Orthodox community should undertake community projects [starting kibbutzim, building housing for religious immigrants, and establishing a network of schools].
“It could be argued that as long as the nation and community undertake these projects, the individual can participate through philanthropy, or can turn his attention to other worthy causes, such as Jewish education. Although this may indeed be in line with the Rav’s thinking, it does not, to my mind, do away with the question of individual aliyah.”
Next year will mark the 60th anniversary of the Rav’s delivery of Kol Dodi Dofek. Considering all that has transpired in all those 60 years, a realistic and intense revisiting of the Rav’s works, starting with Rabbi Reuven Ziegler “Majesty and Humility,” will serve as an introduction to what will, with G-d’s help, bring us to the salvation we all pray for.
This article originally appeared on The Jewish Star