Latest update: May 24th, 2012
I seem to remember the lyrics of an old Bob Dylan song, “Something is going on Mr. Jones, but you don’t know what it is.” That’s exactly what it’s like for a Jew today if he hasn’t studied the book Orot, by Rabbi Kook. Something is going on with the Jewish People and he doesn’t know what it is. Why? Because for the first time in nearly 2000 years, Jews have risen up with great courage, taken up weapons, and fought for the right to live in our own Jewish Land. There’s another thing equally as startling to many devoutly religious Jews – the fact that the pioneers who risked their lives and largely led the way in rebuilding the Land of our forefathers were often far from Torah observance. Obviously, something very big was taking place. But because they didn’t understand it, or couldn’t accept that God had chosen to bring about the beginnings of Redemption in this seemingly traif manner, many Ultra-Orthodox Jews rejected it. It was Rabbi Kook, with his towering Torah vision, who taught us to recognize that, indeed, the long-awaited Redemption was unfolding before our eyes, even if Hashem decided to bring it about through our secular brothers.
What causes many Jews in the Diaspora, as well as communities of Haredi Jews in Israel, to have a negative to modern Zionism and the Land Israel? Rabbi Kook informs us the reason – it stems from an alienation from the secrets of Torah. Here are excerpts from Chapter Two of the book, Lights on Orot – Eretz Yisrael, a commentary by Rabbi David Samson and yours truly, on Rabbi’s Kook’s classic work Orot. Take your time reading it. Print it out. Study it thoughtfully on Shavuot night when you have the time. Surely, it will help you to understand what is going on, Mr. Jones. (And for readers, like me, who prefer shorter, more bloggier blogs, we will be getting back to them soon, Bezrat Hashem, after our pre-Shavuot mini course in Orot.)
In the first essay of Orot, we learned that Eretz Yisrael is not a secondary, external acquisition of the Nation, but rather an essential, life-giving foundation of Clal Yisrael. Rabbi Kook emphasized that the future of the Jewish People depends not on strengthening the Diaspora, but rather on strengthening our connection to Eretz Yisrael. In this second essay, Rabbi Kook explains in greater depth how an alienation from the secrets of Torah causes a distortion in our comprehension of Judaism and a crisis in Jewish life. He writes:
“By being alienated from the recognition of the secrets of Torah, the Kedusha (holiness) of Eretz Yisrael is understood in a foggy, unfocused fashion.”
The secrets of Torah which Rabbi Kook refers to are the deep Kabbalistic understandings which chart the inner spiritual blueprint of the Jewish Nation. We are not speaking here about the Tree of Kabbalah which can be found illustrated in popular books on the subject. While this metaphor for the Sefirot, or differing levels of God’s manifestation in the world, is a central understanding of Kabbalah, many other secrets of Torah appear throughout the Aggadah, and the Midrashim of our Sages. Works of wisdom such as the Zohar are the esoteric understandings of these writings. Rabbi Kook’s great genius was in applying this tradition of knowledge toward understanding the development of the Jewish People in our times. His writings illuminate the inner workings of the National Israeli Soul as it awakens to Redemption and physical expression in the rebuilding of the Nation in Eretz Yisrael. The book, Orot, is in effect a deep esoteric study of these themes.
This deeper understanding is necessary in recognizing the vital importance of Eretz Yisrael to the Jewish people. When we speak about Kabbalah, however, we are faced with an immediate dilemma. By its very nature, something secret is beyond our immediate awareness. Inner essences are hidden from mere superficial inspection. If a person is not educated to search for deeper levels, in Torah or any other field, he surely will not find them; he will not miss them; he will not even be aware that an inner dimension exists.
Not everything in life can be rationally explained. For example, the love between two people is something much more than a list of common attractions. A marriage partner or friend may be kind, smart, trustworthy, funny, and the like, but the attraction between two people is based on intangible reasons as well.
In light of all of the technical and scientific advances of modern times, the world recognizes the existence of forces which the human eye cannot detect. Microscopes, lasers, satellites, and telescopes have opened up worlds we never knew existed. The molecules, atoms, and genetic codes which were once hidden from our eyes are now recognized as the real building blocks of the physical world around us. Similarly, disciplines like psychology and sociology have led us to discover inner blueprints for both individual man and mankind. Only after a period of intensive probing can we uncover the inner secrets which rule a large part of our lives.
This invisible foundation of life is especially true in regard to the spiritual world. For example, God is invisible to the biological eye, yet He exists all the same. We recognize His presence either through a deep contemplation on the majesty of Creation; through faith in the traditions passed down from our forefathers; or through a profound personal experience in which God enters our lives. Yet we can never describe exactly His essence for, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, and My ways are not your ways, says the Lord. For My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts are higher than your thoughts.”1
The Torah is comprised of levels, from the revealed surface understanding, called Pshat; to a more inner contemplation, called Remez; to explanations called Drash; and to esoteric secrets known as Sod. The compilation of the inner, transcendental level of Torah is called Kabbalah. Only through its knowledge can we grasp the exalted specialties of the Jewish Nation, and understand the inherent symbiosis between the Jewish People, Torah, and Eretz Yisrael. In fact, our Sages have told us that it is precisely the study of this deeper aspect of Torah which will pave the way to Israel’s Redemption.2
Beside the difficult path of learning and character refinement which a person must follow in acquiring the secrets of Torah,3 there is another reason why this branch of knowledge has remained the exclusive possession of a small number of elite Tzaddikim. Throughout the exile, the main focus of Torah learning was on the revealed, practical side of Torah alone. Gemara and Halacha were the primary topics of study. With our exile from Israel and the destruction of our national framework, the focus on the national perspective of Torah and on the Clal was displaced by a preoccupation with the individual Jew and the personal mitzvot he was commanded to perform. In the Diaspora, the private, ritual precepts were all that we had.4 The deeper, philosophical level of Torah was largely ignored. To be sure, a select line of Sages5 continued to learn Kabbalah, but their knowledge was not shared by the masses.
The one-dimensional level of yeshiva learning which characterized the Diaspora world gave way to a truncated observance of Judaism, an “orthopractice” which lacked a deep philosophical base. Jews dutifully observed the precepts, but often “the depths of Divine life” were missing. The outer shell of Torah was left without the heart. The Tikuney Zohar explains that people who do not delve into the secrets of Torah make Torah observance into a dry, routine, handed-down Judaism lacking genuine depth.6 Without the inner formulas of Torah, a person only recognizes external realities. In effect, he sees only the upper part of the iceberg. His life revolves around his own private circle, and not around the life of the Clal. In consequence, he fails to recognize the Kedusha of Eretz Yisrael and to understand its absolute value and importance to the Nation. Thus, Rabbi Kook writes:
“By alienating oneself from the secrets of G-d, the highest Segulot of the deep Divine life become extraneous, secondary matters which do not enter the depths of the soul, and as a result, the most potent force of the individual’s and of the Nation’s soul will be missing; and the exile is found to be pleasant in its own accord. For to someone who only understands the superficial level, nothing basic will be lacking in the absence of the Land of Israel, the Jewish Kingdom, and all of the facets of the Nation in its built form.”
An alienation from the secrets of Torah creates an alienation from the highest realms of Divine existence. It causes a barrier, blocking a person from being in tune with the most vibrant powers of his soul, and with the soul of the Nation. When these aspects of Torah are missing, one can have a good life, a productive and meaningful life, but not a life of the Clal; not a life imbued with the spirit of God which infuses our National Soul. This higher Divine life is only possible when one is deeply connected to the secrets of Torah and to Eretz Yisrael.
It is important to note that even an outstanding Torah scholar can develop a distorted understanding regarding Eretz Yisrael if he is not steeped in the esoteric teachings of our Nation.7 In the Diaspora, with its emphasis on the individual, someone who only studies the revealed side of Torah can become alienated from the Nation’s inner yearnings and goals. A talmid chacham can be learned in Halacha, but distant from the deep philosophical reaches of Judaism.8 The Spies in the Wilderness were the Torah leaders of the tribes, yet they failed to recognize the necessity of living in Israel.9 The Gaon of Vilna teaches that this same sin of despising the cherished Land haunts the Jewish people in every generation.10 When one puts a personal focus over the life of the Clal, the yearning for a National Jewish Homeland can become weakened and confused. This tragedy arises when the Torah is not learned in all of its fullness.
It must be noted that an alienation from the secrets of Torah is not caused by intellectual shortcomings, but rather by a lack of identification with these concepts. Even an expert in Kabbalah can be estranged from the realm of inner Segulot if he approaches his studies in the spirit of intellectual endeavor alone. Only by sublimating one’s entire existence to the Divine esoteric ideals can an honest and passionate love be developed for this branch of knowledge.
What are the exalted Segulot which Rabbi Kook refers to? We mentioned in the first essay that the concept of Segula is not something which can be defined by rational terminology. The usual English translation, “treasure,” refers to something special, something of great value, something hidden. In this light, the Segula of Israel can be understood as the highest specialty of the Jewish People, as its inner uniqueness, the trait most exclusive to the Jewish People which only the Nation of Israel possesses. Certainly Israel’s Divine election is unique to the Jewish People alone. Israel, and only Israel, is the Nation chosen by God to reveal His Kingship in the world.11
This Divine Kingship is only revealed in the world when the Jewish People are living a full Torah life in the Land of Israel. In Kabbalistic terms, the Kingdom of God is known as Malchut. The Nation of Israel is also a manifestation of Malchut. And the Land of Israel is a manifestation of Malchut as well. They all go together in one unified whole. Thus, when the People of Israel are exiled from the Land of Israel, Malchut is shattered and the Divine Presence retreats from the world.
For a king to rule he needs a nation. So too, Hashem needs a Nation for His Kingship to appear in the world. Obviously, to be a nation, you need your own land. God’s Presence doesn’t shine on the Jews when they are a minority in someone else’s land. We need our own Land. We are to be a Divine Clal, and not simply an amalgamation of Jews.12 We are a holy NATION and not merely individual holy Tzaddikim. This is a pivotal understanding. Among the gentiles, individuals can achieve levels of saintliness according to their deeds.13 But in Am Yisrael, the whole Nation is holy, possessed with a Divine National Soul.14
When we understand our Segula in being a holy Nation, we can readily understand the need for a particular Holy Land. But, by being alienated from the deep Kabbalistic formulas which express the inner workings and foundations of Jewish life, the individual will be estranged from this understanding, and from the highest and most precious aspects of God which appear in the life of the Nation. These highest Segulot are expressed by our connection to Am Yisrael, to Eretz Yisrael, to the Torah in all of its depth, to the Kingdom of Israel, and to the yearning for Salvation, for the Temple, the Sanhedrin, for prophecy, and for “all of the aspects of the nation in its rebuilt form.” Our identification with these National foundations is what infuses the Jewish soul with its most potent force and expression. Thus the most outstanding heroes of Judaism are those Tzaddikim who have the greatest love for Clal Yisrael, and who most fervently yearn for Jerusalem and the nation’s upbuilding.15
In contrast, someone who understands only the superficial level of Judaism will feel nothing lacking if he lives far away from the Land of Israel, in a foreign country, in a gentile land, under a gentile government. He is estranged from the deeper levels of Judaism and the more lofty aspirations of the Clal. He is satisfied with the individual obligations which he feels he can perform just as well in Chutz L’Aretz, and thus the exile finds favor in his eyes. He does not feel a need for his own Jewish Land and government, nor for a Jewish army, nor for any of the other foundations of National Israeli life. His focus is on Shabbat, Kashrut, and Tefillin. To perform them, he does not need Eretz Yisrael. He may go to shul every morning, and learn a page of Gemara each day, but he does not miss living in Israel. The opposite is true – he enjoys the galut. He enjoys his work, his community, the education he can give to his children, and the opportunity he has to experience the best of both worlds – his Judaism and the gentile world around him. If there is an inner, esoteric need to live in Israel, he doesn’t feel it. To his way of thinking, the concept of Nationhood has nothing to do with Judaism, or with being “Frum.” But the Torah does not separate religion from the state. In the Torah, religion and the state are one. Many Torah commandments deals with the Israeli kingship, the Israeli army, and the Nation’s judicial branch as well.
Even great Torah leaders can fall prey to this compromise with Jewish life in the exile. An example of this can be seen in Yaacov Avinu’s descent to Mitzrayim. At first, he journeyed to Egypt to merely sojourn there, and not to settle down. “And he went down to Mitzrayim and sojourned there.”16 The Sifre comments that Yaacov did not intend to settle down permanently, but rather to live there temporarily, until the years of famine in Canaan passed.17 With time, however, his family’s orientation to the land of Egypt began to change, as it says, “And Yisrael settled in the land of Mitzrayim, in the land of Goshen, and they took possession of it, and they were fruitful and multiplied greatly.”18
The commentary “Kli Yakar” writes:
“This verse is a condemnation of the children of Israel, for Hashem decreed to Avraham that his descendants would be aliens in a foreign land, while they desired to be settlers and property holders in a land not their own. And they settled down so permanently that they did not want to leave Egypt until Hashem was compelled to take them out with a mighty hand, and those who did not want to leave died in the three days of darkness.”19
Interestingly the word ויאחזו in the verse, “And they took possession of it,” has the passive-tense meaning of, “And they were possessed by it.” The Midrash explains that the land took possession of them.20 While Yaacov merely intended to sojourn in the land, his descendants let themselves be gripped by the land. Yaacov himself foresaw this danger and made his son Yosef swear to bury him in the Land of Israel, in order to make clear that Eretz Yisrael, and not Egypt, was their one and only true homeland.21
Similarly, today, after generations of Diaspora existence, many Jews identify themselves with the place in which they live, whether it be England, France, or Brazil. Israel is often considered a faraway dream, a nice place for a visit, but not a place vital to a Jew’s day-to-day life.
Rabbi Kook tells us that when we are not immersed in the inner depths of Torah, we become vulnerable to the influences around us. After years of exile, the impure gentile cultures begin to seep into our national psyches.22 Our pure Jewish thinking becomes polluted. Influenced by Christian teachings, we erroneously think that religion is separate from statehood, when in reality the Torah is the Constitution of the Jewish State. Slowly, as years in exile turn into generations, we wander away from our own inner sources and strengths. We become alienated from our inner Segulot, from Clal Yisrael, from our own normal National drives, and from the Divine sensitivities which separate the Jew from the gentile, until finally we assimilate into the culture of yet another foreign land.
When we allow ourselves to become estranged from our deepest roots, we lose our longing for the exalted attachment to G-d which can only be achieved through our attachment to His Nation in His Chosen Holy Land. Without this deep connection, the yearning for Salvation from galut becomes a side issue, an extraneous matter, a song about Mashiach which does not enter the depths of the soul.
Rabbi Kook writes:
“For him, the foundation of the yearning for Salvation is like a side branch that cannot be united with the deep understanding of Judaism, and this itself testifies to the poverty of insight which is found in this juiceless perspective.”
We mentioned in the previous essay that one of the questions a person is asked when he reaches his Heavenly rest is, “Did you yearn for Salvation?”23 If a Jew is not longing for the Redemption, for Salvation from the exile, then something is wrong. If he is happy in the Diaspora, then his Judaism is out of focus, and he is out of touch with his soul’s deepest yearnings. As the classic study of Jewish faith, The Kuzari, poignantly declares, his prayers for Jerusalem and Zion are like the chatterings of a nightingale, melodious but empty of meaning.24 Because he does not feel his soul’s most inner desires, he does not feel the need to be saved. From what? From whom? Three times a day, he recites the words in the prayer book, “We yearn for Your Salvation all day long,”25 but when the davening is finished, he forgets. The prayers are talking about someone else, about some other time, about some other galut. Because he is removed from the loftiest National goals of Judaism, and from the yearning to Sanctify the Name of God on its highest level, he may not even experience a sense of exile at all.
The Zohar teaches that the Nation of Israel and the Torah are one.30 When a Jew is connected to the secrets of Torah, he is connected to his inner soul, and thus to the inner soul of all of the Nation. There, in the highest realms of the Nation’s Divine Segulot, he unites with the inner soul of Eretz Yisrael which is inherently bonded with the life and soul of the Clal. He yearns for a healthy National life in all of its facets. He comes to understand that the highest worship and sanctification of God’s Name comes through the life of the Nation of Israel, and not through the deeds of the individual Jew.31 Instead of living a private life, he raises himself up to identify with the eternal life of the Clal.
This deeper attachment to all branches of Torah, to Clal Yisrael, and to the yearning for a full National life in our own Jewish Homeland is the Torah ideal. This is the Torah of Eretz Yisrael, the complete Torah; as our Sages tell us: “There is no Torah like the Torah of Eretz Yisrael.”32
Thus, when a person is cut off from the secrets of Torah, he does not feel anything lacking in being a part of a foreign country and land. He sees no difference between the mountains and valleys of Israel, and the mountains and valleys of Italy or Vermont. His spiritual radar is broken. His recognition of Kedusha is lost. He is unable to feel anguish over the exile of the Nation, because he does not feel a connection to the Nation as a whole.
Zionism, whether religious or secular, isn’t for him. He feels content where he is.
This alienation to the deepest yearnings of the Nation is “testimony to the poverty of insight which is found in this juiceless perspective,” which emphasizes only the revealed side of Torah. A Judaism which negates the esoteric realms of Torah is a dry, lifeless Judaism, divorced from the Divine Spirit which rests on the Nation. This is the Judaism which leads to the dry bones of Ezekiel’s prophecy. It is a Judaism content with galut, cut off from the Nation’s constant yearning for Redemption.
A great tragedy results when we make Jewish life in the exile the goal of Jewish existence. In the introduction to the Siddur, Beit Yaacov, Rabbi Yaacov Emden writes:
“When it seems to us in our present peaceful existence outside of the Land of Israel, that we have found another Eretz Yisrael and Jerusalem, this is to me the greatest, deepest, most obvious, and direct cause of all of the awesome, frightening, monstrous, unimaginable destructions that we have experienced in the Diaspora.”33
Whether the destruction comes through pogroms, a holocaust, or day-to-day assimilation, the tragedy is the same.
Rabbi Kook writes:
“We are not rejecting any form or contemplation which is founded on truthfulness, on sensitivity of thought, or on the fear of Heaven, in whatever form it takes; but rejecting only the specific aspect of this perspective which seeks to negate the secrets of Torah and their great influence on the spirit of the Nation – for this is a tragedy which we are obligated to fight against with counsel and wisdom, with holiness and with valor.”
When a Jew does not yearn for Salvation, a basic foundation of Torah is lost. This results from the superficial perspective of Judaism which Rabbi Kook decries. He is careful to add that all other Jewish outlooks based on true Divine service have their rightful place. When they stem from a pure fear of Heaven, all disciplines of Torah contribute positively to the whole. It is only the specific outlook which denies the secrets of Torah and their influence on our lives which he condemns. A simple, faithful service of God is proper, but it is not all that there is. The Torah includes not only the revealed understandings, but the hidden understandings as well.34 If a philosophy negates the esoteric teachings of Torah, and regards those who learn them as if they possess no Torah at all, this is a distortion of Judaism which must be combated. It must be battled with counsel, with wisdom, with Kedusha and valor. Rabbi Kook raises up the banner of Redemption with the call for a deeper, more valiant illumination of Torah which will vanquish the darkness of exile by adding a holier light.
1. Isaiah, 55:8-9.
2. Orot, Orot HaTechiya, 64, Pg. 95, Translated by Rabbi Pesach Yaffe in “Celebration of the Soul,” Genesis Jerusalem Publications, Pg. 208, Orot HaTechiyah, 57,59,67,69. Letters of Rabbi Kook, Vol. 1, Pg. 233. See Tikuney Zohar 30. Even Shlemah 11:3, by the Vilna Gaon, “The Redemption will not come except through the learning of Torah, and the main Redemption depends on the learning of Kabbalah.” See also, Rav Mordechai Atia, Preface to the Pardes of Rav Moshe Kordevero.
3. See Mesillat Yesharim, and Shaare Kedusha by Rabbi Chaim Vital for a detailed study on the refined character traits needed to establish a proper foundation for the reception of Ruach HaKodesh.
4. Berachot 8A.
5. Isaiah, 12:3, Targum, “With joy you shall welcome a new learning from the elite Tzaddikim.” See the book “Meditation and Kabbalah” by R. Aryeh Kaplan for an in-depth discussion of this topic.
6. Tikuney Zohar, Tikun 30. Orot, Pg. 101.
7. Torat Eretz Yisrael, The Teachings of HaRav Tzvi Yehuda, Pgs. 248-255. See also Rav Mordechai Atia, loc cited above.
8. Orot, Pg. 101.
9. Numbers, 13:31. Mesillat Yesharim, HaRav Chaim Luzzato, Ch. 11, in the discussion on Honor.
10. Vilna Gaon, Kol HaTor, Ch. 5: “Many of the sinners in this great sin of, `They despised the cherished land,’ and also many of the guardians of Torah, will not know or understand that they are caught in this sin of the Spies, that they have been sucked into the sin of the Spies in many false ideas and empty claims, and they cover their ideas with the already proven fallacy that the mitzvah of the settlement of Israel no longer applies in our day, an opinion which has already been disproven by the giants of the world, the Rishonim and Achronim.”
11. Exodus 19:5-6. Isaiah, 43:21.
12. See Torat Eretz Yisrael, Ch. 2, Clal Yisrael.
13. Tanna Debe Eliyahu Rabbah, Ch. 9. Shaare Kedusha, Part 3, Gate 7.
14. Orot, Orot Yisrael, Ch. 9.
15. Mesillat Yesharim, Ch. 19.
16. Deut. 26:5.
17. Sifre, Ki Tavo, 26:5.
18. Genesis, 47:27.
19. Kli Yakar, verse cited.
20. Midrash HaGadol, there. See also, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch on the Torah, loc. cited.
21. Genesis, 47:29-31; and 49:29-32 (See the commentaries of Rabbi Munk and Rabbi Hirsch there).
22. Vilna Gaon, Likutei HaGra, at the end of Safra D’Tzniuta.
23. Shabbat 31A.
24. Kuzari, 2:24.
25. Shemona Esrei prayer.
26. Orot, Orot Yisrael 3:6.
27. Ibid 3:7.
28. Tehillim, 19:8.
29. Based on Jerusalem Talmud, Berachot, 5:3.
30. Zohar, Levit. 73A.
31. Orot HaTorah, HaRav Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook, 13:7.
32. Bereshit Rabbah, 16:4.
33. Siddur Beit Yaacov, Introduction.
34. Torat Eretz Yisrael, Pgs. 13-15.
About the Author: Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Creativity and Jewish Culture for his novel "Tevye in the Promised Land." A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon.The author's opinion does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Jewish Press.
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