Rabbi Zvi Yehuda HaCohen Kook
It was Israel's nineteenth Independence Day, and a large crowd gathered at Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav in Jerusalem to take part in a thanksgiving ceremony. Of all the rabbis speaking that night, the last one to take the stage was the yeshiva's head, Rabbi Zvi Yehuda HaCohen Kook.
"Nineteen years ago, on that famous night, when the decision of the establishment of the State of Israel was made by the governors of the nations of the world, when all the people flocked to the streets to publicly celebrate, I could not take part in the joy," the rabbi told the shocked worshippers.
"In those first hours," he added, "I could not make peace with what was done, with the horrible news, that God's words from the prophecy in the Twelve Prophets: "My land was divided" was coming true.
"Where is our Hebron? Are we forgetting it? And where is our Nablus? Are we forgetting it? And where is our Jericho? Are we forgetting it? And where is our east side of the Jordan? Where is every lump and chunk? Every bit and piece of the four cubits of God's land? Is it up to us to give up any millimeter of it? God forbid! In the state of shock that took over my body, completely bruised and torn to pieces – I could not rejoice then."
Those present stood frozen before the angry man. "He spoke with a rage and fury that I had never heard before. He repeated the verse 'and they divided my land' several times, screaming terribly," Rabbi Yitzhak Shilat described in the personal journal he kept as a student at the yeshiva.
Hanan Porat, another one of the yeshiva's dominant students and a founder of the settler movement, will never forget that occasion. "He shouted and roared and moaned," said Porat, "We looked at him and saw that he was really like a man crying out over the dead, like a man cut and wounded and torn to pieces. We felt as though he was speaking for the Land of Israel, and the ripping of the Land of Israel was tearing through him, through his flesh.
"In those days, no one spoke of the complete Land of Israel," said Porat, "the concepts 'Hebron' and 'Nablus' did not exist. It was like after the War of Independence a screen fell on all those pieces of land beyond the Green Line, even though they were a part of the land's backbone, they seemed like something far out of our reach. It was a very hard thing."
Rabbi Kook knew that not many believed in his vision that the State of Israel was a holy tool to bring about the yearning for Zion's return and the longing for salvation.
"To our dismay and disgrace," Kook told his audience, "a significant part of our public does not believe in the actions of God which have unfolded before us." In his speech, he harshly attacked the position of haredi circles that refused to acknowledge the words of the prophets who envisioned the people of Israel securely returning to their land under independent rule.
"Heresy dressed in pious haredi clothes," he called them, and added that this heresy "is what is keeping God's words from coming and being embodied on earth." Kook also admitted that he was aware that "even in our circles, there are those who hesitate."
He encouraged those who were present, and urged them to remember: "Faith is not uncertainty. When the people of Israel give their hearts to their father in the heavens – complete salvation will follow."
The speech became a prophecy
The impression that Rabbi Kook's powerful speech was inspired by a greater source only intensified in the days following the Six Day War, and the awaited road to salvation in the vision of the whole Land of Israel seemed closer than ever.
After the war, Kook's words received prophecy status among religious Zionist circles and by the end of the battles; Kook's students were distributing tens of thousands of copies of his sermon.
Up until that year, the belief that salvation depended on saving the land could only be found among a small group of his followers. "The old school was more tied to public politics. They saw the vision of settlement, but not the greater vision of the whole Land of Israel," said Rabbi Zephaniah Drori, Kook's former student and current yeshiva head in Kiryat Shemona.
The war's great victories helped promote Kook's vision of salvation. "From there it spread to Bnei Akiva youngsters, and they themselves turned into leaders, and the phenomenon became part of religious Zionism," said Drori.
When Rabbi Kook died in 1982, just a month and a half before the withdrawal from Sinai was complete, Kook's students attributed his death to the fact that he could not bear to witness homeland territories being given away. And the settlement movement took off.