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Shabbat Parashat Vayishlach 5783

Igrot Hareaya Letters of Rav Kook: Remarks on a Yom Kippur Machzor


Date and Place: 7 Iyar 5668 (1908), Yafo


Recipient: Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchaki, former Chief Rabbi of Dagestan, who moved to Yerushalayim and founded the village that is now called Be’er Yaakov. He was a talmid chacham and a historian of the Jews of his region, with fascinating theories. He was also an expert on the liturgy of his community (Sephardim of the Caucasus region) and published the machzor “Ohalei Yaakov,” which he sent to Rav Kook for his approbation and comments.


Body: I received your dear letter along with the precious machzor with your wonderful commentary, “Ohalei Yaakov.” It brought me great joy, breadth, and song in the heart to see the grand “work of your hand.” This will bring great goodness for the House of Israel and the Sephardic community, may they be well, as you shined dear light on all of the holy liturgical poems, which are storehouses of light and true sanctity from earlier times. It is such a good storehouse, to gather together the songs of early holy noblemen, which used to be scattered in different places, and now you bring them to “one table,” which is full of the blessing of Hashem, ready to be accessed by all who desire to draw out pearls from the depths. The merit of the masses will be attributable to you forever.

That which you asked for an approbation on your dear commentary, I am much too small to do such a thing. After all, all of your holy words are dear, and indicate that he who wrote them has a pure heart and broad knowledge in all areas of Torah scholarship. In contrast, I am young and lowly. What power do I have to praise the type of praise that such writing deserves, as it is full of light and divine glow and intensity, which draw the human soul to them?

Let me just end off with a blessing that Hashem will give you a long and pleasant life and that you should be able to share with us other sweet fruit of your intellect to provide light for the masses. May our eyes see when the redeemer comes back to Zion, when the kohen gadol will wear the urim v’tumim, and the holy songs will be sung in Hashem’s House. May humble people rejoice in Hashem and may needy people rejoice with happiness on the holy mountain. I send these blessings to you as one who feels love for you and who shares his blessing from the depth of the heart.

I want to share with you a few comments, but I am too preoccupied to go over all of your holy words. [We will share only some of those comments.]

In Rav Moshe Ibn Ezra’s “Kamti B’ashmoret,” it says “nafshi shcharchoret” (my soul is blackened). You wrote that this means that sins blemish the soul. This is certainly true, but as far as what the words mean in context, I see it differently. It is a simple metaphor for a person whose spirit is saddened, and he is in a blackened state of depression, like one who wears black clothing. This expresses that the person regrets his sins, which is one of the major elements of repentance according to Rabbeinu Yonah’s Sha’arei Teshuva (I:10).

“He washed and purified himself” – I want to complete the idea you presented. The theme is that we are talking about something that is easy to do and the reward is great. By means of the simple process of washing, he will attain full healing. So too, repentance is very accessible and easy, as the Torah says, “For the matter is very close to you” (Devarim 30:14). The great benefit is a full recovery of the body and the spirit and actually for the whole world. It is as is written in Sha’arei Teshuva (I:2), regarding those who were arrested by the kingdom due to a sin. They were left an open escape route, and the authorities were upset at those who did not try to escape. If they saw the escape route, they should have realized that the king wanted them to be able to escape, as the king desires good for his people.


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