Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Selected Teachings from Rav Kook

The following excerpts are from the anthology “Abraham Isaac Kook,” translated and annotated by Ben Zion Bokser,Paulist Press: Mahwah, New Jersey 1978. Rav Kook was a profound thinker, whose works can only be appreciated through careful study. The interested reader is encouraged to obtain this introductory volume:


Love For Humanity

The love for people must be alive in heart and soul, a love for all people and a love for all nations, expressing itself in a desire for their spiritual and material advancement; hatred may direct itself only toward the evil and the filth in the world. One cannot reach the exalted position of being able to recite the verse from the morning prayer (I Chron. 16:8), “Praise the Lord, invoke His name, declare His works among the nations,” without experiencing the deep, inner love stirring one to a solicitousness for all nations, to improve their material state, to promote their happiness. This disposition qualifies the Jewish people to experience the spirit of the Messiah.

Whenever in our classic tradition we encounter allusions to hatred, clearly the reference is to the phenomenon of evil, which has disrupted by force the unity of many nations at the present time, and certainly in ancient times when the world was in a much lower moral state. But we must realize that the life process, its inherent light and holiness, never leaves the divine image, with which each person and each nation has been endowed, each according to its level of qualification, and this nucleus of holiness will uplift all. It is because of this perspective on life that we are concerned for the fullest progress to prevail in the world, for the ascent of justice, merged with beauty and vitality, for the perfection of all creation, commencing with man, in all the particular groupings through which he functions. This is the essence that lies at the heart of the Jewish outlook, that, by the grace of God, we are now reviving on a practical and spiritual plane. (Ibid. The Moral Principles, Love, pp. 136-137)

The Ascent of Everything toward the Holy

Differentiation is included in the scheme of creation. The difference between the holy and the ordinary is a fact. A blurring of their distinctiveness would be destructive. A concentration on understanding and experiencing this great fact of differentiation contributes to much fruitfulness of spirit. But after all this one comes to the clear perception that all these are passing phenomena, and that the exertion of everything toward holiness, toward brotherhood, toward equality and delight, is the eternal vision that animates every noble spirit. The perception of differences is a passing phenomenon, engendered by temporary circumstances.

The general conception of striving for equality, which is the basis of kindness and the pure love of people, is seen in the mystical interpretation as bringing up the sparks that are scattered among the husks of unrefined existence, and in the great vision of transforming everything to full and absolute holiness, in a gradual increasing of love, peace, justice, truth and compassion. (Ibid., Lights of Holiness, p. 219 / Orot HaKodesh, Vol. II, p. 322)

A Love for the World

Great souls cannot dissociate themselves from the most universal concerns. All they desire and aspire for is the universal good, universal in its comprehensiveness, universal in its full width, height and depth. But the whole is constituted of numberless particulars, particular individuals and particular communities. The whole cannot achieve its highest fulfillment except through the perfection of its particular individuals, and the particular communities, whether small or large, of which it is constituted.

The higher unification, in which everything finds its completion, rests on the influence of the knowledge of God and the love of God, from which it necessarily derives, to the extent that one has embraced it. When the knowledge of God is suffused by a great love, when it is pervaded by its true illumination, according to the capacity of each soul to receive it, there radiates from its absolute light a love for the world, for all worlds, for all creatures, on all levels of their being. A love for all existence fills the hearts of the good and kindly ones among creatures, and among humans. They yearn for the happiness of all, they hope that all may know light and joy. They draw into themselves the love for all existence, differentiated into its many forms of being, from the higher love for God, from the love of absolute and total perfection in the Cause of all, who created and sustains everything.

When love descends from the spiritual realm to the created order, it descends by fragmentation into many particulars, to opposition and contradiction. It faces the necessity of confining the scope of the love bestowed to one individual for the sake of another, to many individuals for the sake of another group of many individuals, and to individuals in general for the sake of the all embracing collective.

Love in its most luminous aspect has its being beyond the world, in the divine realm, where there are no contradictions, limits and opposition; only bliss and good, wide horizons without limit. When worldly love derives from it, it partakes of much in its nature. Even in its descent it does not become miserly or grudging. When it needs to confine itself, it confines love for the sake of love, it sets a boundary around the good for the sake of the good.

When these love possessed people see the world, especially living creatures full of quarrels, hatred, persecutions and conflicts, they yearn with all their being to share in those aspirations that move life toward comprehensiveness and unity, peace and tranquillity. They feel and they know that the nearness of God, for which they yearn, can only lead them to joining themselves with all and for the sake of all. When they confront the human scene, and find divisions among nations, religions, parties, with goals in conflict, they endeavor with all their might to bring all together, to mend and to unite. With the healthy instinct of their noble souls, which soar with a divine thrust above all confinements, they feel that the individuals need to be enhanced, that the best of societies must rise to greater heights, and to enter with all the affluence of their individuals into the light of a universal life. They want that every petticoat shall be preserved and developed, and that the collective whole shall be united and abounding in peace.

When they confront their own people, to whose happiness, continuity and perfection they feel committed in all the depths of their being, and find it splintered, broken into parties and parties, they cannot identify themselves with any particular party. They desire to unite themselves with the whole people, only with the all embracing whole, in all its fullness and good. (Ibid. Lights of Holiness, pp. 226-228 / Orot HaKodesh, Vol. II, pp. 456 457)

A Fourfold Song

There is one who sings the song of his own life, and in himself he finds everything, his full spiritual satisfaction.

There is another who sings the song of his people. He leaves the circle of his own individual self, because he finds it without sufficient breadth, without an idealistic basis. He aspires toward the heights, and he attaches himself with a gentle love to the whole community of Israel. Together with her he sings her songs. He feels grieved in her afflictions and delights in her hopes. He contemplates noble and pure thoughts about her past and her future, and probes with love and wisdom her inner spiritual essence.

There is another who reaches toward more distant realms, and he goes beyond the boundary of Israel to sing the song of man. His spirit extends to the wider vistas of the majesty of man generally, and his noble essence. He aspires toward man’s general goal and looks forward toward his higher perfection. From this source of life he draws the subjects of his meditation and study, his aspirations and his visions.

Then there is one who rises toward wider horizons, until he links himself with all existence, with all God’s creatures, with all worlds, and he sings his song with all of them. It is of one such as this that tradition has said that whoever sings a portion of song each day is assured of having a share in the world to come.

And then there is one who rises with all these songs in one ensemble, and they all join their voices. Together they sing their songs with beauty, each one lends vitality and life to the other. They, are sounds of joy and gladness, sounds of jubilation and celebration, sounds of ecstasy and holiness. The song of the self, the song of the people, the song of man, the song of the world all merge in him at all times, in every hour.

And this full comprehensiveness rises to become the song of holiness, the song of God, the song of Israel, in its full strength and beauty, in its full authenticity and greatness. The name “Israel” stands for shir el, the song of God. It is a simple song, a twofold song, a threefold song and a fourfold song. It is the Song of Songs of Solomon, shlomo which means peace or wholeness. It is the song of the King in whom is wholeness. (Ibid., Lights of Holiness, pp. 228-229 / Orot HaKodesh, Vol. II, pp. 458 459)

The Principle of Universality

A person must liberate himself from confinement within his private concerns. This pervades his whole being so that all his thoughts focus only on his own destiny. It reduces him to the worst kind of smallness, and brings upon him endless physical and spiritual distress. It is necessary to raise a per¬son’s thought and will and his basic preoccupations toward universality, to the inclusion of all, to the whole world, to man, to the Jewish people, to all existence. This will result in establishing even his private self on a proper basis.

The firmer a person’s vision of universality, the greater the joy he will experience, and the more he will merit the grace of divine illumination. The reality of God’s providence” is discernible when the world is seen in its totality. God’s presence is not manifest in anything defective. Since He does not abide where there is deficiency, how can He abide where everything is lacking, where all we have is the weak and puny entity, only the particularity of the ego?

This call to be committed always to the principle of universality, to the divine ensemble, where all things have their being, is the essence of the soul of the zaddikim, who walk before God and whose delight is in the Lord. (Ibid., Lights of Holiness, pp. 232-233 / Orot HaKodesh, Vol. III, p. 147)