“We are not protesting against; we are protesting for Shabbos, Torah, and HaKadosh Baruch Hu,” were the often repeated words of HaGaon HaRav Simcha HaKohen Kook ztk”l, whose petirah was announced this past Tuesday afternoon. Rav Kook was the nephew and talmid of Rabbi Avaraham Yitzchak Kook, the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of the British Mandate of Palestine. Rav Kook also followed in his uncle’s footsteps, one of the founding fathers of modern religious Zionism. The brilliance of Rav Avraham Yitzchak and the depth of his knowledge were simply otherworldly, his devotion to Hashem was supernal, and his character traits were heavenly - always more concerned with helping others come closer to Hashem.
Rav Kook was the Chief Rabbi of Rechovot, led the historic Churva Shul in the Old City of Yerushalayim, and was the dean of Maor HaTalmud Yeshivah. The devastating petirah follows a short stay at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Yerushalyim, where the rav was being treated for a lung infection that resulted in breathing difficulties.
In his early years growing up in Teveria and learning in Yeshivas Chevron under Rav Chatzkel Sarna, Rav Kook looked on as his father served the city as their rabbi. He briefly assumed the same position following his father’s death only to take over for his brother, Rabbi Shlomo Kook ztk”l in Rechovot, after a tragic accident took his life and his family’s. This decision was made in consultation with Rav Meir Chodosh from Yeshivas Chevron and Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach, the Rosh HaYeshivah of Ponovezh who once led Rechovot’s Yeshivas Kletzk. Maor HaTalmud, now a beacon of Torah to over 500 young men was established as an everlasting memory for his brother. Rav Kook took on its mission as his life’s own and would spend considerable time fundraising around the world. As the city’s Chief Rabbi, all walks of life from all corners of Judaism entered the Kook home and Shabbos table. Other guests often included the students of Yeshivat Sha’alvim. Rav Kook was known to be seen headed around his city in the moments before Shabbos, tenderly alerting storeowners of the incoming Shabbos.
What is most remarkable is how those on the far-Right and far-Left would feel comfortable in the rav’s presence and how Rav Kook ultimately spent nearly three decades raising the level of religious observance in Rechovot by uniting the secular and religious inhabitants and turning a city a far cry from when just 12% of its children received a religious education and when there were only a handful of kosher establishments.
At points in his life, Rav Kook also learned in Kfar Haroeh Yeshiva and the Slabodka Yeshiva, and headed Yeshivas Merom M’Tzion (Kiryat Noar) in Bayit Vegan, delivering a special dose of inspiration to bochurim, and at Yeshivas Bnei Akiva in Netanya, during which time he bonded with Ba’al Shefa Chaim of Sanz ztk”l.
Rav Kook was the quintessential old-time Yerushalmi - a Chevroner from another era. He was constantly involved in the affairs of his people, doing everything in his power to ease their pain and raise their pride. There is no way to express the light that radiated from this celestial human being, an angel among men.
Rav Kook’s legacy lives on through his children Rav Chaim Kook (Rosh HaYeshiva, Toras Raphael), Rav Aryeh Kook (Rosh HaYeshiva, Maor Hatalmud), Rav Ben Zion Kook (Menahel, Seminar Alei Be’er), Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook (Beit Chilkia), Rav Dov Kook, Mrs. Lezerovitch, wife of Rav Yaakov Lezerovitch (Rosh HaYeshiva, Chochmas Shlomo, Rechovot), and Mrs. Shiffman, wife of Rav Yeshayahu Shiffman zt”l.
By Shabsie Saphirstein