Friday, January 28, 2011


This anthology, my second Judaica book for adults after I had worked for many years as an illustrator of children’s books, was published in 1998 by Jason Aronson. This company became an imprint of Rowman & Littlefield a few years later, and both of my Aronson books (the other being “The Path of the Baal Shem Tov”) became virtually unavailable. In the fall of 2010 I regained the rights to “Compassion for Humanity,” and the remaining copies of the book are now distributed by:

Moznaim Publishing, 4304-12th Ave., Brooklyn, NY, 11219 (718-853-0525).

These two Aronson books signaled a career change for me, and I have been writing and translating ever since, mainly for the Breslov Research Institute, under the editorship of Rabbi Chaim Kramer. Whether I’ll ever do a revised edition of “Compassion for Humanity” remains a question, but in the meantime I have compiled a number of excerpts from other Jewish texts that I would like to add someday.

I’m posting some of them here so that they will be available to those who need them. Unless otherwise indicated, the translations are my own. Please feel free to quote my translations online with acknowledgement, but do not reprint without written permission. I haven’t given up on that revised edition. Please contact the other authors of material I have quoted here via their publishers.

Judaism is a very old religion, beginning with the Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai more than three millennia ago, but with roots that date back to pre-history. (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob lived centuries before the Exodus and the revelation at Mount Sinai.) As one would expect, there are many strata in our ancient tradition. It is a foundational belief of Judaism that the Torah is God’s word, and that the Jewish people to whom the Torah was given have a special relationship with God, with unique responsibilities. We can find exclusivist attitudes toward other faiths, some dictated by Scripture, such as the uprooting of idol worship, while other negative attitudes may have been exacerbated by war and persecution. Yet at the same time there are inclusivist and universalist attitudes in TaNaKH (Torah-Prophets-Writings), which reappear in Talmudic and Midrashic texts and continue until the present. In recent times, some Orthodox Jewish leaders (conspicuously Rabbi Yitz Greenberg and Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks of England) have expressed a degree of pluralism in arguing that all religions can learn something from one another and that it is more necessary than ever for people of differing viewpoints to find ways to overcome conflict.

In this source book, I have collected a number of Judaic teachings from a wide range of both classic and modern sources that express respect and compassion toward other nations, and which I believe transcend Jewish nationalism. As one people with one God, it is only fitting that we look forward to the day when all humanity will serve God with one vision and a common spirit, and in doing so achieve world peace.


In Memory of Rafi Estrin

Raphael Yitzchak Ephraim ben Aryeh Leib Shlomo
(6 Menachem Av 5735/1975-8 Elul 5757/1997)

In his brief twenty-two years, Rafi brought light into the lives of all who knew him, and brought the whole world a little closer to the Light.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


Two Stories About Rabbi Yaaakov Kamenetsky (1891-1986)

Reb Yaakov Kamenetzky’s remarkable care with respect to every aspect of mitzvos between man and his fellow man—his courtesy, his willingness to extend himself on behalf of others, his sensitivity to others’ feelings—had its source in his constant awareness that every human being is created b’tzelem Elokim (in the divine image).

Reb Yaakov was once talking to someone when a gentile funeral procession passed by. He accompanied the funeral cortege the requisite four amos (six or seven feet). When the person with whom he had been talking expressed surprise, Reb Yaakov told him, “He, too, was created b’tzelem Elokim!”


Rabbi Avraham Kamenetzky, son of Reb Yaakov, was once driving on Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn. He stopped at a red light, next to a bus that was also waiting for the light to change. As the light turned green, Reb Avraham noticed that there was only one lane of traffic open ahead. Instinctively, he prepared to move quickly to be the first to get into the lane of traffic ahead. Reb Yaakov turned to his son and said, “You can’t go yet. You have to let the bus go first.”

“Why?” asked his son.

“It is kavod ha-brios (respect for fellow beings),” replied Reb Yaakov. “There are more people on the bus than in this car. They deserve respect and preference.”

(Yonasan Rosenblum, “Reb Yaakov,” Brooklyn, NY: Artscroll/Mesorah 1993)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Universality of the Torah

The Rebbe [Rabbi Nachman of Breslov] went on to say [of the great mystics, the Baal Shem Tov and the Ari]: “What nobody ever notices is that all their revelations only concern Asia [Minor]. All the events discussed took place only in Asia. Yet the truth of the matter is that the Torah contains an account of everything in the Universe. There is nothing which the Torah does not speak about. [1] Thus, we find Germany mentioned in the Torah. [2] It is just that the Torah does not make an entire story out of everything. At times, things are mentioned only to be ignored subsequently. Only where the Torah wants to does it give us the whole story, as in the case of Laban etc. Nevertheless, the Torah contains allusions to everything; it is just that the sages of former times only revealed what concerned Asia. Yet, the truth is, many nations existed in other parts of the world even prior to the revelation of the Torah. At the time the Torah was given, there were many faraway nations who had knowledge of the Giving of the Torah through communications routes which existed then. Thus, the state of Saxony had been in existence even before the days of Abraham. Hungary, too, was a very ancient country, and the same goes for other countries outside Asia. However nothing is said about these countries. The places which are mentioned—Egypt and so on and “these eight” that Milkah bore—are all in Asia. Yet the Torah contains allusions to all things because Moses had knowledge of everything.

The Rebbe went on to say that all the events which take place in this world contain allusions to things of the highest order. Nothing in the world is without significance. The world is never still for a moment. There is constant movement and change, and every single detail has a meaning. But, it is no more than the faintest hint in relation to the Ein Sof the Infinite. [3] Nothing in the world is more than a faint allusion in relation to what will be in the future, when the renewal of the world comes about.

The Rebbe then said that everything that happens is merely “working a thin thread of metal” in relation to the Infinite. The Rebbe spoke at length about this, but it is impossible to explain it in writing because we are dealing with very exalted matters concerning the mysteries of God’s dealing with the world. Those who heard these things from the Rebbe directly could perhaps have a glimpse of an understanding of the import of his words, even if they could not really grasp them fully. (Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum, Tzaddik, Breslov Research Institute, pp. 275-276, which is a translation of Rabbi Noson Sternhartz, Chayei Moharan, sec. 280. Source references noted here are also by Rabbi Greenbaum.)

[1] See Zohar 111, 221a; cf. Ta’anit 9a; Chullin 139b.

[2] The name Ashkenaz in Genesis 10:3 is traditionally accepted as a reference to Germany.

[3] See Etz Chaim, Drush Igulim v’Yosher, 5; Cf. above, sections 240, 243.

A Light Unto All Nations

Rabbi Yisrael Abuchatzeira, the “Baba Sali” (1890-1984)

The net of love and respect that Baba Sali wove with his kedusha (holiness) encompassed not only the Moroccan Jews, but the Arabs as well. They, too, came to the Rav for brachot (blessings), and when the Rav would invite everyone to a seudah (banquet), they would also come, sitting at special tables outdoors, hoping to catch a glimpse of the holy man of their city. On the streets, they would make way for him, and bless him as he passed.

On Purim, when the Rav distributed charity to the poor, the Arabs, too, would come to receive money. The money was kept in different pockets, and each person would receive his portion from another pocket. Only the Rav knew which pocket contained the allotment for whom. (Rabbi Eliyahu Alfasi, “Baba Sali: Our Holy Teacher, Rabbi Yisrael Abuchatzeirah, of Blessed Memory,” trans. Leah Dolinger. Brooklyn, NY: Judaica Press 1985, p. 12)

Religious Rapprochement

Rabbi Menachem Meiri of Perpignan (1249-1310)
From Alan Brill, “Judaism and Other Religions: Models of Understanding,” Chapter 8. New York: Palgrave Macmillan 2010.

“It has already been stated that these things were said concerning periods when there existed nations of idolaters, and they were contaminated in their deeds and tainted in their dispositions ... but other nations, which are restrained by the ways of religion and which are free from such blemishes of character on the contrary, they even punish such deeds are, without doubt, exempt from this prohibition.” (Beit ha Bechirah on Avodah Zarah 53)

“But anyone who belongs to nations restricted by ways of religion and worshipping the Godhead in any way, even if their belief is very different from ours, are not included in these rules, but are completely like Jews in such matters, including [the obligation of] returning lost items and [the ban on] taking advantage of their mistakes, and all other things, without any difference.” (Beit ha Bechirah on Bava Kama 113a b)

In many other places, Meiri writes that gentiles, meaning Christians, have knowledge of the ways of religion (Ketubot 3; Gittin 59) and that therefore the laws of idolatry do not apply to them. He even includes contemporary Christian as brothers, "in the ways of religion" and included with Jews under the prohibition of interest (Beit ha Bechirah on Bava Metziah, 219, 267). The full texts of Meiri's commentary were not available until recently. Until the mid twentieth century, most rabbinic scholars only had the citations of his opinions available in other works.

The full version of his reasoning opens with an empirical observation that Jews are not avoiding Christian holidays. In order to explain why some of the rabbinic restrictions on gentiles are not fully observed, Meiri explains that the laws of foreign worship only apply to ancient idolatry and do not have to be followed, but the rabbinic dietary and wine restrictions still apply to contemporary religions and are still in effect.

“I have seen many people puzzled by the fact that nowadays nobody is careful to observe these laws. But I have already explained which Gentile nations are meant in this tractate, and the names of their holidays will also testify to it: for, as I mentioned above, they all are feasts of ancient nations, not restricted by the ways of religions, but practicing fervently and persistently worship of idols, stars and talismans, which—and all things like them—are essentials of idolatry, as has been already explained. But in any event, with regard to [avoiding] the possibility of violation of the prohibitions concerning the Sabbath and the prohibitions concerning food and drinks [of non Jews]—e. g. [the ban] on wine of libation, and on their wine per se, and all those type of bans, whether it is only consuming something [of theirs] in food which was banned, or getting any advantage of it, or if the bans were made in order to prevent intermarriages—all the [non Jewish] nations come under these prohibitions ... From now on, let these things be settled on your mind, so that it will not be necessary to clarify them specifically on each and every occasion, but you should be able to analyze on your own whether in any particular case the ancient nations are meant or the non-Jews in general; examine things, and you will know them.” (Beit HaBechirah on Avodah Zara 26a).

Three Virtues

Rabbi Saadia Gaon (882-942)

I must furthermore make it clear that there are, on the other hand, certain good deeds which are perforce requited in this world, even though he that performs them is an unbeliever. These, I say, are three in number. The first of them is a loving demeanor toward parents, as Scripture says: Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long (Exodus 20:12). A second is pity on animals, as Scripture says: Thou shall in any wise let the dam go, but the young thou mayest take unto thyself; that it may be well with thee, and that thou mayest prolong thy days (Deuteronomy 22:7). The third, again, is dealing honestly, as Scripture says: A perfect and just weight shalt thou have; a perfect and just measure shalt thou have; [that thy days may be long] (Deuteronomy 25:15). To these is to be added the case where the promise of well being in this world has already been definitely decreed. Thus, for example, Jehu was categorically told by God: Thy sons to the fourth generation shall sit upon the throne of Israel (II Kings 15:12)—even though he and his children sinned against Him—because the promise made to them had to be fulfilled. (The Book of Beliefs and Opinions, trans. Samuel Rosenblatt. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press 1948, Treatise V, pp. 226-227)

An End to Antagonism

Rabbi Yechezkel Landau (1713-1793)

It is already well known in all the places I have been that in most of my public sermons I strongly urge [the Jewish public] to be extremely solicitous concerning the honor of the nations of our time, in whose lands and societies we find refuge. It is obligatory for us to pray for the peace of the rulers, their ministers, and their armies and to pray for the peace of the country and its inhabitants. Heaven forefend that we show ingratitude for the benefit they have bestowed upon us, giving us sustenance and survival in the land.

In addition, I always declaim against theft and robbery and let it be known that there is no difference whatever in the prohibition of theft and robbery concerning the money of a Jew or the money of a non-Jew. [The author goes on to cite scholarly sources to support this statement.]

The nations among whom we dwell today believe in the fundamentals of religion; they believe in the creation of the world, in the prophecy of the prophets, and in all the miracles and wonders written in the Torah and the books of the prophets. Thus, it is plain and simple that that we are obligated to honor and esteem them.

Therefore I announce and proclaim that not just in this work, but in every place in any work that one finds a derogatory statement about akum (idolaters) or goyim (gentiles) or kutim (Cuthians) and similar euphemisms, one should not err by applying it to the nations of our time. One who explains them as such is mistaken and interprets them contrary to the view of the Torah. Rather, the intent was toward those ancient peoples who believed in [the divinity of] the stars and constellations, such as the Sabians mentioned by Maimonides in the Guide [of the Perplexed]. Those nations were heretics and sectarians because they do not acknowledge the creation of the world [by God], and who denied all the miracles and who denied prophecy. Therefore everyone should heed these words and take them to heart as a remembrance. (Teshuvos Noda B’Yehudah, “Hisnatzlus HaMechaber”)

The Chofetz Chaim’s Compassion

Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan (1838-1933)

The “Chofetz Chaim,” once was told of a flood in Mississippi that claimed many lives. “If Divine Providence has caused us to hear of this disaster here in Radin [Lithuania],” the sage observed, “then we must do teshuvah - repent of our sins!” He made a similar remark after hearing that Mount Fuji had erupted in Japan, causing widespread destruction (Oral tradition of the Chofetz Chaim’s family, as heard from Rabbi Hillel Zaks; also cf. Kol Kisvei Chofetz Chaim, vol. 3, Michtavim 10, 12, 30, 40).

An Even Greater Day

Praise God, all nations… (Psalms 117:1)

Midrash: Rabbi Tanchum Bar Chiya said: A day of rain is greater than the day on which the Torah was given. For the giving of the Torah brought joy to the Israelites, whereas a day of rain brings joy to all nations and to the entire world, including beasts, animals, and birds (Midrash Shochar Tov, Tehillim 17).

Purim and World Peace

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov taught: “To the extent that there is peace in the world, mankind can be brought to serve God with a common accord.” This is why we are instructed to give charity on the holiday of Purim to anyone who opens his hand, even an idol-worshipper. A spirit of great peace prevails at this time; and our sages state: “We must sustain the poor of other nations just as we sustain our fellow Jews - for this is the way of peace.” On Purim, we may fulfill this to an even greater extent, for Mordekhai (the hero of the Purim story) was the very personification of “speaking peace” (Esther 10:3). Therefore, this is a time when we can elicit great peace, even upon the nations of the world, so that they all may return to faith in the One God (Rabbi Nosson Sternhartz, as cited in Toras Nosson: Pardes, vol. IV, Gittin, 38).

The Universal Festival of Sukkos

On the festival of Sukkos (Booths) we strive to reveal God’s Kingship to all humanity, even through all seventy languages of the non-Jewish nations. This is the symbolic meaning of the seventy bulls that were sacrificed in the Holy Temple during the seven days of Sukkos on behalf of the non-Jewish nations. This, too, is why we conclude the prayers associated with the rite of the lulav (palm branch) and its hakafos (procession in the synagogue) with the verse: “Thus all nations may come to know that the Lord is God; there is no other” (I Kings 8:60) (Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, Likkutei Moharan I, 33, end)

Every Creature Will Know God’s Oneness

The ultimate destiny of all living beings is to receive life and delight not from worldly pursuits, but from God alone, for “His Divinity is sufficient for every creature” (Rashi on Genesis 17:1). To be sure, many distinctions apply to this delight, which the righteous yearn to experience in the World to Come. Nevertheless, even the humblest creature in the hierarchy of creation eventually will attain enlightenment. Divine wisdom pour forth, until even the humblest creature will realize God’s Oneness, and thus live forever. However, the main thing is to strive for enlightenment in this life - by dedicating oneself to God through the Torah and commandments, which express God’s Oneness. Fortunate is he who perseveres until he attains his goal (Rabbi Nosson Sternhartz, Likkutei Halachos, Tefillin 6:8, as abridged by the Rav of Tcherin in Otzar HaYirah, Hasagas Elokus, 3).

Pray for Peace

“Pray for the welfare of the government, for if not for the fear of it, people would swallow one another alive.” (Avos 3:2)

Commentary: This instructs us to pray for the peace of the entire world and to empathize with the suffering of others. Thus is the way of the righteous, as David states, “But as for me, when they were ill, my clothing was sackcloth and I afflicted myself with fasting” (Psalms 35:13). A person should not engage in supplicatory and petitional prayer for his needs exclusively. Rather, one must pray for the peace of all humanity, and that through the welfare of the government there will be lasting peace (Rabbeinu Yonah of Gerona, ad loc.).

Three Principles

Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah said, “If there is no Torah there is no civilization [derech eretz: literally, ‘way of the land’]” (Avos 3:17). The word “Torah” here cannot be meant literally, since there are many ignorant people who have not learned it, and many pious among the gentiles who do not keep the Torah, and yet are ethical and civilized. Rather, the correct interpretation seems to me to be that every people has its own Divine religion, which comprises three foundational principles, (1) belief in a revealed Torah; (2) belief in reward and punishment; and (3) belief in an afterlife. They only disagree on the interpretation of these principles. These three principles are what are called here “Torah.” (Rabbi Yisrael Lipschutz, Tiferes Yisrael, ad loc.)

This indicates that in the view of Rabbi Lipschutz, we as Jews must recognize the contributions of other religions to world civilization, albeit that we disagree on interpretations of the fundamentals of faith. Thus, he implicitly advocates religious tolerance in order to promote peace and the betterment of society as a whole.

The Worthiness of Converts

“God watches over converts” (Psalms 146:9). [In Hebrew,] the initial letters of this phrase spell the word yeshag - “He will roar.” This alludes to the Talmudic teaching: “Rabbi Yitzchak bar Shmuel said in the name of Rav: The night has three watches, and over each watch, the Holy One, blessed be He, roars like a lion and cries, ‘Woe unto the children on account of whose sins I destroyed My House and burned My Temple and exiled them among the nations.’ “

Why did God destroy the Holy Temple if this would cause him to “roar” in grief (so to speak)? To increase the number of converts. As our sages state, “Israel went into exile among the nations so that the numbers of converts would increase” (Pesachim 87b). [Thus, the word yeshag, “He will roar,” is concealed in the initial letters of the verse that describes desire for converts.] (Rabbi Chaim Vital citing Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, Sha’ar HaPesukim, Tehillim 146).

The Secret of a Whisper

“Hear, O Israel: the Lord, our God, the Lord is One” (Deuteronomy 6:4). Immediately after reciting this declaration of God’s Oneness, we say in a whisper, “Blessed be the name of the glory of His Kingdom forever and ever.” Through the knowledge of God’s Oneness, we are empowered to reveal His Kingship to all humanity - even to those most distant from the realm of holiness. This intent must be expressed in a whisper because we have not yet accomplished this great task, which takes time, effort, and discretion (Rabbi Nosson Sternhartz, Likkutei Halachos, Minchah 7:74, abridged).

The Divine Witness

“Hear, O Israel: the Lord, our God, the Lord is One” (Deuteronomy 6:4).

Commentary 1: “The Lord,” Who at present is “our God” and not the God of the other nations, in the future will be “One God.” As it states, “For then I shall convert the nations to a pure speech, that they may all call upon the Name of God” (Zephaniah 3:9) and “On that day God shall be One and His Name shall be One” (Zechariah 14:9). (Rashi, ad loc., citing the Sifri).

Commentary 2: In the Torah scroll, two letters in this verse, the ayin of Shema (“Hear”) and the dalet of Echad (“One”) are written larger than the rest. Together, they form the word eid, meaning “witness.” Because of Israel’s survival for thousands of years exclusively in the service of this idea, we remain the living witness of its absolute truth. The two large letters constituting the word “witness” remind us of our mission among the nations as witnesses of the One God (Rabbi Elie Munk, The Call of the Torah, abridged, ad loc.; also cf. Abudraham, ad loc.)

Halloween with Rabbi and Mrs. Pam

Rabbi Akiva Males of Harrisburg, PA, related: “My father-in-law studied in Rav Pam’s shiur in Mesivta Torah Vodaas for several years back in the 1960s. When my wife’s older sister became engaged in the 1990s, my in-laws took my (future) sister-in-law and my (future) brother-in-law over to meet Rav and Rebbetzin Pam and receive their brachah and good wishes.

“What’s the most vivid memory they all have of that evening? It was October 31st. In contrast to the many Jewish homes around the Pams who had turned off their lights to discourage trick-or-treaters, the Pams left their front light on. While they all chatted with Rav Pam in the dining room, his Rebbetzin was in the kitchen working the hot-air popcorn popper and preparing plastic baggies of popcorn to give out with a smile to all the local non-Jewish kids who knocked at their door.

“They all left that night with numerous smiles, brachos (blessings), and best wishes from Rav Pam and his Rebbetzin – but what they all remember most is the powerful lesson the Pams taught them about interacting with their neighbors.” (As quoted by Dovid Bernstein, Newscenter, Thursday. October 28, 2010)

Rabbi Abraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook and Rembrandt

The following is based on an article in the London Jewish Chronicle (PDF) by Avraham Melnikoff (1892-1960), a sculptor from Jerusalem who lived in London from 1933-1959.

The article was written two weeks after Rav Kook’s passing, and the author recounts a conversation that he had with Rav Kook, where the latter told Melnikoff: “When I lived in London I used to visit the National Gallery, and my favourite pictures were those of Rembrandt. I really think that Rembrandt was a Tzaddik. Do you know that when I first saw Rembrandt’s works, they reminded me of the legend about the creation of light? We are told that when God created light, it was so strong and pellucid, that one could see from one and of the world to the other, but God was afraid that the wicked might abuse it. What did He do? He reserved that light for the righteous when the Messiah should come. But now and then there are great men who are blessed and privileged to see it. I think that Rembrandt was one of them, and the light in his pictures is the very light that was originally created by God Almighty.”

Melnikoff concludes that he had “read much about Rembrandt, but none gives such a vivid description of his genius... Only a man as pure of heart and soul as Rabbi Kook could have seen Rembrandt in that light.” (London Jewish Chronicle, September 13, 1935, p. 21.)

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)

The Paradox of Jewish Nationalism

Rav Kook is widely known as the modern mystic of Jewish nationalism, to whom the religious Zionist movement looks as one of its guiding lights. What is not understood is this great thinker's highly nuanced view of Jewish nationalism as the handmaiden of a broader universalism. I once wrote an essay on this subject for the "A Simple Jew" blog, which attempts to clarify this important point:

The Tenth Man

Stories about Rabbi Meir Simcha Hakohen of Dvinsk (5603/1843-5686/1926), known as the "Or Same'ach"

Only once during the period from 1887 to 1926 did Dvinsk have but one rabbi. When World War I broke out, in 1914, the Russian Commander, Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolayevitch (uncle of Czar Nikolai II) ordered the expulsion of the Jews from along the Russo-German Front. Dvinsk became dangerous for Jews, with famine and disease wreaking havoc. All who could fled the city. Even the Rogatchover was prevailed upon by his followers to escape.

But Reb Meir Simcha would not go. Neither the entreaties of his friends and students nor letters from gedolim around the world could persuade him to abandon his post. "As long as there are nine other Jews in that city, I will be the tenth for a minyan," he declared, and so infused hope and courage into his brethren. When he was reminded of the constant danger, Reb Meir Simcha declared, "Every bullet has a designated address and none will reach where there has been no Heavenly decree that it do so."9

One stormy October during this difficult period, terrifying news quickly spread through Dvinsk: "They're taking the Rav!" Everyone ran into the street and beheld the shattering sight of Reb Meir Simcha surrounded by burly Cossacks carrying drawn revolvers. Only the serene visage and calm demeanor of Reb Meir Simcha saved the horrified crowd from hysteria.

Despite the obvious dangers of doing so, thousands of Jews and Gentiles signed petitions attesting to the nobility of the Rav's character and his vital importance to the wellbeing of all members of that city. That very day, Reb Meir Simcha was freed and was never molested again.10

The Respect of the Gentiles
The above incident illustrates one of Reb Meir Simcha's more unique qualities: his relationship with the non-Jews of Dvinsk. A Gaon following the most ancient of traditions - spending virtually all of his time studying and teaching Torah - Reb Meir Simcha developed a reputation as a Holy Man among the Gentiles of the city. Indeed it is said that when Reb Meir Simcha was incarcerated by the authorities, a certain Christian tanner presented himself in the Rav's place, imploring, "Please do not harass this holy man. For the good of the city, let him go."11 Reb Meir Simcha's reputation was so widespread that even non-Jews sought him to settle their quarrels. Some say his acceptability began with the case of the Jew and the gypsy.
A Jew and a gypsy had been business partners when a major conflict of interests developed between them. Not being able to come to an agreement themselves, the gypsy suggested they go to Reb Meir Simcha for a decision. The Jewish man agreed and they presented their case to the Rav. Reb Meir Simcha listened with particularly careful attention and proceeded with his own independent investigation. After satisfying himself about the facts, Reb Meir Simcha decided in favor of the gypsy. From that day forward, the word of Reb Meir Simcha's justice and objectivity spread throughout all of Dvinsk and indeed Latvia.12
Reb Meir Simcha was known to joke about this phenomenon and with a smile would say, "A Chassidic Rebbe often has many types of Chassidim, but I draw all types of followers."13 Another aspect of the singular esteem in which Reb Meir Simcha was held was the widespread belief in his ability to literally bring about miracles. A resident of Dvinsk relates the following:
I remember when the Dvina overflowed its banks and threatened to flood the city. Gentiles and Jews alike swore by all that was holy to them that they saw Reb Meir Simcha mount the embankment, gaze at the swirling waters for a moment, murmur something very quietly and - the waters withdrew and the danger passed.14


9. Rabbi S. Y. Zevin, Ishim V'shitos, Tel Aviv, 1966, p. 159. 
10 Rabiner, p. 48. 
12. Ibid., p. 38.
13. Ibid., p. 173.
14. S. Levenberg, The Jews in Latvia, Tel Aviv, 1971, p. 266.