“A world of chaos stands before us, all the time that we have not yet reached the ‘tikkun elyon’-the highest level of healing, repairing, transforming-by uniting all life forces and all their diverse tendencies. As long as each one exalts himself, claiming, I am sovereign, I and no other–there cannot be peace in our midst…”
(Notebook 8:429, written in 1919)
People often ask me when and why my interest in Rav Kook’s Torah understanding developed. I explain that it began in the the early 1980s, in a sunlit cottage in Winnipeg Beach, Canada. I sat down to read from the writings of Rabbi Avraham Itzchak HaCohen Kook, TZ’L (1865-1935). It changed my life.
I knew well the world of chaos. I am an Israeli-born only child of Holocaust survivors whose mother was in Auschwitz. I absorbed on the cellular level the reality that a huge darkness and evil had recently occurred in the world. For some time, and in response, I had been seeking the greatest possible light.
My search brought me to serious study of the Torah in 1973 though I remained disturbed by the manifestations of parochialism in the ‘religious’ world.
“All our endeavors must be directed toward disclosing the ‘or hashalom haclali’ – the light of universal harmony, which derives not from suppressing any power, any thought, any tendency, but bringing each of them within the vast ocean of infinite light, where all things find their unity, where all is ennobled and exalted, all is hallowed.” (Ibid)
As I began to read from Rav Kook’s writings, I experienced an internal expansion, an inner recognition.
“We must liberate ourselves from confinement within our private concerns…This reduces us to the worst kind of smallness, and brings upon us endless physical and spiritual distress. It is necessary for us to raise our thought and will and our basic preoccupations toward universality, to the inclusion of all, to the whole world, to humankind, to the Jewish people, to all existence…The firmer our vision of universality, the greater joy we will experience and the more we will merit divine illumination.” (Orot HaKodesh- 3:147)
Continuing to read, I felt my soul stirring, touched by an extraordinary consciousness whose grasp of the brokenness and wholeness of existence and the possibilities for perfection was breathtaking and clear.
“Tshuva-return is inspired by the yearning of all existence to be better, purer, more vigorous and on a higher plane than it is. Within this yearning is a hidden life-force for overcoming every factor that limits and weakens existence.” (Orot HaTshuva-6:1)
Since that light-filled afternoon, I have often been inspired deeply by the writings of Rav Kook- known by some as Baal Ha’Orot-The Master Of The Lights. I have dedicated my life to sharing his song with the world. Please allow me to to explain a little of his story and some highlights from the Kook book.
Everyone in contact with Rav Kook described a similar picture.
Here was a rabbi, a Cohen, with unparalleled knowledge of the breadth and depth of the entire Torah. Here was an enlightened soul whose illumination shone powerfully. Here was a fearless leader, instrumental in the process leading to the Balfour Declaration, the first Chief Rabbi of the nascent Land of Israel, whose love for all humankind was boundless.
He was respected and loved by Ashkenazi and Sefardi, religious and secular, intellectual and worker, right and left. Chagall said upon meeting him that he now knew what holiness is. Einstein on conferring with him in 1925 said that Rav Kook is one of the few people who understood his theory of relativity. He told Einstein about passages in Kabbalistic texts that speak of varying experiences of time in different ‘hechalot’-chambers of experience. Gershon Scholem explained that Rav Kook was the “last [newest] example of productive Kabbalistic thought that I know.” (Jewish Mysticism, Scholem, Notes to Lecture 1, Note 18).
The noisy opposition of a small percentage of the old ultra-Orthodox Yishuv- did not prevent him from boldly putting forth a vision of integration, a vision of universal peace and love:
“The whole Torah, its moral teachings, commandments, good deeds and studies has as its objective to remove the roadblocks so that universal love should be able to spread, to extend to all realms of life.” (Midot HaRaya: Ahava-12)
He first arrived in the land of Israel on the 28th of Iyar, 1904.
He stepped off the boat in Yaffo and prayed for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and Israel.This day is now forever stamped in Jewish history as Yom Yerushalayim-Jerusalem Day. On that same day, in 1967, the IDF captured the Old City of Jerusalem in the midst of the 6 Day War. Rav Kook was the first to use the term Medinat Israel-the State of Israel.
In 1908, he wrote a letter calling for the reconciliation of Jews, Moslems and Christians. He explained that the Torah records Yaakov saying upon his emotional reunion with his twin brother/enemy, Esau:
“I have seen you; it is like seeing the face of Elokim”. (Genesis 33:10)
Rav Kook continued:
“The words of Yaakov shall not go down as a vain utterance. The brotherly love of Esau and Yaakov,of Itzchak and Ishmael, will rise above all the ‘mehumot’-disturbances…and transform them to ‘or ve’chesed olam’-universal light and compassion.” (Letters 1:112)
Jewish tradition explains that the feud between Yaakov and Esau is the prototype for the hostility between Jews and Christians and that the history of Itzchak and Ishmael seeded the tension between Jews and Moslems. At the beginning of our return to the land, Rav Kook called for the core of love that exists between each brother and sister to re-emerge:
“This broad understanding [that we are all actually brothers and sisters each reflecting Divinity] must be our guide in all our ways in the end of days…turning the bitter to sweet and darkness to light.” (Ibid)
His entire life and thought was dedicated to tikkun, to directing life toward the light of harmony:
“When love possessed people see the world, living creatures full of quarrels, hatred, persecution and conflicts, they yearn with all their being to share in those aspirations that move life toward wholeness and unity, peace and tranquility…They want that every particular shall be preserved and developed and that the collective whole shall be united and abounding in peace.”
(Notebook 1:101, written 1904)
He encouraged the inward journey:
“The greater a person is, the more they must seek to discover themselves.The deep levels of our soul remain concealed, so that we must be alone frequently, to elevate our imagination, deepen our thought, and to liberate our mind. Then our soul will reveal itself to us by radiating some of its light upon us.” (Orot Ha’Kodesh 3:270)
He invited each person to value and share their inner truth:
“Let everyone express in faithfulness and truth whatever their soul reveals to them, let everyone bring forth their spiritual creativity from potentiality to actuality without any deception. Out of such sparks torches of light will be assembled and they will illuminate the whole world out of their glory. Out of such fragments of inner truth, will the great truth emerge.” (OK, 1:166)
He supported the highest possible idealism:
“The great dreams are the foundation of the world…The crudeness of conventional life, wholly immersed in its materialistic aspect, removes from the world the light of the dream…The world is in convulsion with pains engendered by the destructive toxins of reality, devoid of the brightness of the dream…The free dream, which is in revolt against reality and its limitations, is truly the most substantive truth of existence.”(OK 1:226)
People often ask ‘what would Rav Kook say if he were alive today?’.
I feel he was too original, too independent a thinker for anyone to really know, though many are happy to speculate:
“The inner essence of the soul…must have absolute inner freedom. It experiences its freedom, which is life, through its originality in thought.” (OK 1:177)
I write this as a personal tribute to a sage who has brought so much light into my life and the lives of countless others. And as an invitation to anyone seeking deeper understanding to read directly from the wisdom of Rav Kook. Contemporary idealists, spiritual seekers and world fixers off all backgrounds will find much of interest in his sophisticated and holistic teachings.
We, like him, continue to be faced with the immense challenge of Tikkun Olam-repairing the world. In exploring the dynamics of repair, Rav Kook emphasized that tov/good is the strongest force in existence and our dedication to it is our most powerful tool.
“Its the good that I desire,
Its broad expanses entrance me,
Its lips, its roses, I kiss,
Its glorious vision exalts me.
Absolute good, without limitation,
Without end, constriction or boundary,
That does not separate from anyone alive,
And with its love fixes everything broken.
Good for me, good for all,
Good without evil or fear,
Good full of pleasure for all,
Full of tranquility, without anxiety.
Good forever, good right now,
Good for every people and nation,
For all who seek for the good and not for the bad,
And the light and the delight, as the One is there.”
( Naftshee Takshiv Shiro/My Soul Will Hear Its Song, P. 18)
“Tov le kol aam ve’aam-good for every people and nation…”
Bemhera BeYamenu-May it be soon and in our days.