A certain Torah scholar, recently arrived from America, was greatly agitated. He went to visit Rav Kook, unburdening his complaints and severe disappointment in the state of religious observance in Eretz Yisrael. He was shocked by the sight of irreligious Jews desecrating the Sabbath, eating non-kosher foods, and rebelling against Jewish traditions in the Holy Land. How could he raise his children in such an environment? He was so disturbed by what he saw that he contemplated returning to America.
Rav Kook told him:
Surely you remember the story from the beginning of the book of Samuel, a story which you studied as a child. It is related how Elkanah, the father of the prophet Samuel,
“would ascend each year from his town to prostrate himself and bring offerings to God at Shiloh. There [in Shiloh], Eli’s two sons Hophni and Pinchas served as kohanim to God” (I Sam. 1:3).
It is curious that the verse mentions the High Priest’s sons, Hophni and Pinchas. What did they have to do with Elkanah’s yearly pilgrimage to Shiloh?
The Midrash teaches that Elkanah did not just travel to Shiloh. Elkanah wanted to encourage others to fulfill the mitzvah of aliyah la-regel, of visiting the Sanctuary on the holidays. In order to publicize the mitzvah and encourage others to join him, each year Elkanah would take to a different route to Shiloh.
One might ask: What caused the people of this generation to become so lax in their observance of the mitzvah of aliyah la-regel — a mitzvah mentioned several times in the Torah - that Elkanah felt it necessary to promote its observance?
The second question answers the first question. Hophni and Pinchas were unscrupulous men who were punished severely for their actions in the Shiloh sanctuary. The fact that they served as kohanim was the reason that many chose not to visit Shiloh. With kohanim like Hophni and Pinchas, people reasoned, it is preferable not to travel to Shiloh and be exposed to such scandalous behavior.
Elkanah, however, saw the matter differently. He told the people that, despite Hophni and Pinchas’ improper behavior, we should not sever our connection to this holy place. We may not abandon this mitzvah. Rather, it is our duty to ascend to Shiloh and strengthen the holiness of the place.
It was due to his noble efforts that Elkanah was rewarded with a son who became one of the greatest leaders of the Jewish people - the prophet Samuel.
At this point, Rav Kook turned to his guest:
We learn an important lesson regarding Eretz Yisrael from this story. The fact that there are irreligious Jews living here should not be a reason for us to abandon the mitzvah of dwelling in the Land of Israel. And certainly one should not consider leaving the country. Every person who lives in Eretz Yisrael and observes Torah and mitzvot adds greater holiness to the Land.
Those who dwell in Eretz Yisrael in holiness — Rav Kook reassured the scholar — will merit children about whom they will be able to say with pride, like Hannah, Samuel’s mother, “It was for this child that I prayed” (Sam. 1:27).
(Sapphire from the Land of Israel. Adapted from Chayei HaRe’iyah by Rabbi Moshe Zvi Neriah, pp. 211-212)