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Shabbat Parashat Beshalach 5781

Igrot Hareaya Letters of Rav Kook: Advice from an Older Brother

Vol. I, #5

Date and Place: Tuesday night of Parashat Yitro 5657 (1897), Boisk

Recipient: Shaul Chona Kook, Rav Kook’s younger brother (by approximately 14 years; he was 18 at the time). R. Shaul Chona made aliya as a young adult and was a scholarly (in Jewish studies) businessman who lived in Tel Aviv and was active in municipal affairs and in the Mizrachi religious Zionist movement.


Greeting: Peace and blessing, guarded and set out before my dear and beloved brother, the excellent young man, sharp, learned, and charming, Master Shaul Chona HaKohen shlita. May Hashem bless you and grant you success in all of your undertakings. May your heart be widened by His Torah. May you and those who assist you be blessed with abundant peace.


Body: My beloved brother, you have brought me joy with your words to me. For a while I have longed (from Yedid Nefesh) to speak with you through the written word, and my many preoccupations delayed me from day to day, and now you have beaten me to it. Dear brother, may blessings settle upon your head. You have quenched my thirst for nachas even with your short words, even though you shortened them too much. Why did you not tell me in detail what you are leaning now and what you have acquired for yourself (i.e., fully internalized) with Hashem’s help in all the days you have dwelled in the place of increased knowledge (Shmuel II, 23:8), the dear city of Smorgon (presently in Belarus, in the Grodno region)?

The name and recollection of the city (a majority of whose population was Jewish in those days) is engraved in my heart in a loving manner from the fresh time of my childhood. It is the place in which I made my first steps with the comradery of holy people, as it is a place full of wise scholars, with sharp minds and extensive Torah knowledge, fearers of Hashem and those who respect His Name (Malachi 3:16). Being around such people widened my heart and also caused me to have a head start in developing the skills of my childhood, with Hashem’s help.

You, my beloved brother, are living there. Certainly you are only making your company with those who are G-d-fearing and bring respect to His Name, who dedicate their lives to His Torah and awe of Him, the people who are great and dear, the gems of the wise men of the city, may Hashem protect them.

Learn to make many acquisitions in the realm of wisdom, to learn sources, understand them, and review what you have learned with desire and love. Acquire mastery of the gemara with Tosafot’s commentary in order, treating the main thing as the main thing and the less important as less important.  I have never seen a truly significant talmid chacham whose main focus was not on gemara and Rishonim, learning and reviewing literally according to the order of the gemara, especially at the earlier stages of life. Please forgive me, my beloved brother – it is possible that you do not need these urgings. It is just that I remember that I did need them when I was younger. My heart felt that I had to share these things as I was conversing with you.

Praises to Hashem, all is good with us. May Hashem allow to have blessings in the future as well, and even increase His kindness toward and mercy upon us. I am expecting that your letters will now come on a regular basis, so that you can share all that is good with you, and “there is nothing good but Torah” (Avot 6:3). Hashem should strengthen you to spend all your time by the doorways of His Torah, and you shall strengthen yourself and be a successful man with a good name and with a standing of glory. These are the prayers and hope of your brother, with a love of the spirit, who looks forward to your success. So shall it be His will.

The letter continues with a request to send regards to two friends of Rav Kook, apparently from his Smorgon days, and an intricate halachic discourse.
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