Rav Kook On Noach: How To Be A Complete Tzadik In Our Generation
“אֵ֚לֶּה תּוֹלְדֹ֣ת נֹ֔חַ נֹ֗חַ אִ֥ישׁ צַדִּ֛יק תָּמִ֥ים הָיָ֖ה בְּדֹֽרֹתָ֑יו אֶת־הָֽאֱלֹהִ֖ים הִֽתְהַלֶּךְ־נֹֽחַ׃”
“This is the history of Noach.—Noach was a righteous man; whole in his generation; Noach walked with God.” (Breishit 6:9)
Immediately before this, the Torah describes that YHVH saw that “human wickedness on earth was increasing and every impulse of his innermost thought was only for evil, all day long.” (Ibid, 6:5) He decided that “I will obliterate humanity from the face of the earth.” (Ibid 6:7) However “Noach found favor in HaShem’s eyes” (Ibid 6:8) Therefore Noach and his family were chosen to survive the destruction and become the progenitors of the human race after the flood.
What made Noach deserving of this extraordinary Divine decision?
Midrash Breishit Rabba notes that Noach’s name is doubled in this introductory verse: “נֹ֔חַ נֹ֗חַ “. It comments that “Someone whose name is doubled is a complete tzadik.” (Breishit Rabba 30:4)
Rav Kook explains this midrash in a notebook entry when he was a rabbi in Boisk, Lithuania (1895-1904):
“The reason that [someone whose name is doubled is a complete tzadik] is that the name teaches about the person’s character. A human being is made up of ‘regesh ve’sechel-emotion and intellect’.
There are people whose feelings are for the good and they are prepared to do everything good when they are emotionally moved to do so. However they do not hasten to do something that they do not respond to emotionally even though their intellect and the Torah obligates them to. This person is not complete in their righteousness and their name is mentioned only once.
Someone whose intellect is dominant is directed to integrity and righteousness primarily by their thoughts. They are not moved by their emotions and thus are not impacted by their feelings to act righteously. Their names are also only mentioned once.
However someone who is fully responsive to their thoughts and emotions is moved to act in good ways when their feelings are stirred and when their intellect and the Torah obligates them. This person is prepared to do multitudes of good deeds. Their name is doubled to emphasize their great righteousness.” (Kvatzim Michtav Yad Kodsho 2:45)
And thus the Torah describes Noach as ‘תָּמִ֥ים-Tamim’. ‘Tamim’ implies a perfection that comes from being whole.
When Rav Kook arrived in Yaffo in 1904, he saw and directed the unfolding rebirth of Israel. He wrote his illuminated understandings as they developed. Notebook 1, written in 1910, includes a number of significant entries in which he explained that we must integrate our intellect and emotions in a harmonious and idealistic way in order to be truly whole, individually and collectively. Let us review a few of these most contemporarily relevant insights:
“Every ideal thought that affects a person’s life is composed of a blend of intellect and emotion.
The intellectual realm is small in quantity but great in quality. It is the soul’s foundation for the ideal which is continuously drawn forth, weaving the thread of life.
The emotional realm is the vessel for the ideal thought. The intellectual ideal always clothes itself in emotion so that the emotion will transform the ideals of the intellect into actual life behavior.” (Notebook 1:142)
“It is impossible for a person to live only according to their intellect or emotions. A person must always blend their intellect with their feelings…
It is only the equal balancing of intellect and emotion that can bring complete deliverance.” (Ibid: 271)
“Inner spiritual work requires the ordering of thoughts that enable a life of clear observation; and the ordering of emotions that enable a life of poetry and song. It requires the proper blending of these different functions. They must be linked in order to influence on each other appropriately.” (Ibid:659)
Rav Kook emphasizes the ultimate importance of effecting a healthy integration of thoughts and feelings:
“Spiritual suffering occurs because of the lack of integration of the emotions with the intellect. The soul is always trying to complete itself with a great enlightenment. In order to do this, it is necessary that the natural spiritual and bodily inclinations of the emotional realm will be in harmony with the highest intellectual illumination.
This enables the manifestation of the holy; of holy visions that come from the transcendent highest level of the completed and refined human intellect.” (Ibid: 555)
Rav Kook’s writings are filled with holy visions of Israel and humankind perfecting themselves and existence. He emphasizes that the healthy fusion of thought and emotion enables us to experience holiness in our actual lives.
And the ‘bliss of the edenic’.
“The ‘edenic bliss’ of intellectual understanding – העדן של ההכרה השכלית- is one experience while the ‘edenic bliss’ of the emotional realm-העדן של ההרגשה הנפשית- is another…
And as the soul rises, these two ‘edenic blisses’ are grafted together- מתרכבים שני העדנים יחד. Then there is no limit to their complete happiness and fullness; to their ‘edenic exaltation’-לעדנות אצילותם- and to their brilliant and refined light.” (Ibid:896)
Parshat Noach begins by stating that:
“נֹ֔חַ נֹ֗חַ אִ֥ישׁ צַדִּ֛יק תָּמִ֥ים הָיָ֖ה בְּדֹֽרֹתָ֑יו אֶת־הָֽאֱלֹהִ֖ים הִֽתְהַלֶּךְ־נֹֽחַ”
Rav Kook explained to us that: “Noach was the complete tzadik of his generation because he fully integrated his emotions and intellect and was thus able to walk with Elohim”.
Torat Israel calls us to continue this walk with the Creator. Rav Kook is teaching us that we must fully integrate our minds, hearts and actions in order to do that- living wisely, passionately and fully. Anyone familiar with modern psychology understands that this insight is foundational for human well-being.
The Torah’s description on the negative human behavior that led to the most awful consequence of a destructive flood is unflinching: “The earth became corrupt…and was filled with crime…all flesh had corrupted its way on earth…’the earth is filled with lawlessness’.” (Breishit 6:11-13)
It is frighteningly current and accurate. The world continues to be flooded with corruption, crime and destruction. War is the major activity in terms of commitment and resources. The hearts and minds of so much of humankind are deeply troubled and locked in hatred and fear.
The Torah’s call to transform all the evil into good is more critical now than ever. Rav Kook’s illuminated understanding of the Torah focuses on the personal, interpersonal, national, international and cosmic dimensions of effecting this transformation in our lifetime.
May we be blessed to become powerful agents of goodness, righteousness and repair for the sake of our generations and all humankind.
BeMehera BeYamenu/Quickly In Our Days