Latest update: June 1st, 2012
I don’t know why some readers get angry at me. I only remind them what it says in the Torah. If you don’t believe me, here’s another remarkable essay by Rabbi Kook, whose vision of the rebirth of the Nation of Israel was light years ahead of everyone else. Once again, we are presenting an encapsulation of a chapter from his classic, Orot. Readers are encouraged to read the full commentary in our book, Lights on Orot – Eretz Yisrael. It may be the most important ten bucks you ever shelled out in your lives.
If we could dissect a soul, what would we discover inside? What would a microscopic examination reveal? What are a soul’s components? Its atoms? When we probe as deeply as we can into the anatomy of the soul, suddenly under our high-powered lens, an Alef comes into focus. Then we see a Mem, and a Taf. If a soul had a genetic make-up, we would discover that its DNA helix is made up of Hebrew letters.
The Hebrew letters are the atoms and basic building blocks of the Jewish soul. The letters which Rabbi Kook describes are not only the outer, graphic shape of the letters, which have meaning in themselves, but the inner essence and content of the letters. In another work, “Rosh Millin,” Rabbi Kook writes in depth on the meaning of each of the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Unlike the letters of the English alphabet which are mere symbols of sounds with no inner meaning of their own, the letters of the Holy Tongue have an independent existence, and spiritual roots in the celestial worlds above.
In the wisdom of the Kabbalah, letters are understood to be powerful, life-giving forces. The Gemara teaches that the Hebrew letters were used to create heaven and earth. Bezalel knew how to combine the letters which were used in Creation. It was this secret wisdom which enabled him to build the Mishkan.
The Torah itself is made up of letters. Each letter is said to represent one of the basic 600,000 Jewish souls in the world. In addition to their alphabetical form, each letter has a deeper, living nature. Every letter contains a concept, a direction, a will which finds expression in the soul. Beyond a person’s individual ego is the deeper, general will of existence. There is a force of life which is Divinely inspired, and this is what inspires each individual ego and psyche. The inner components of this deeper life-force are the Hebrew letters. Just as the letters are the building blocks of Torah, and of the world, they combine to form the molecular blueprint of the soul. What atoms are to the physical world, Hebrew letters are to the spiritual. Thus, Rabbi Kook writes: “The soul is filled with letters which are infused with the light of life, full of knowledge and will, full of spiritual seeking, and full existence.”
The soul is filled with letters which contain the Divine life-force which grants us existence. They themselves have knowledge and will and a quest for spiritual inspiration. All of a Jew’s primary activities, whether his thought, will, deed, and imagination, stem from the letters of his soul. Different combinations of letters make for different types of souls. There are high-powered combinations, and there are souls of lesser might. According to the brilliance of these life-giving letters, a man’s soul radiates with more and more energy.
“From the rays of these living letters, all of the other levels of life’s building are filled with the light of life – all of the aspects of the will, of knowledge, and of deed, of the spirit, and of the soul, in all of their values.”
Like atoms, these letters exist in a constant, dynamic flow. They are active, full of knowledge, motivation, inspiration, and will, constantly affecting the life of the soul. They are full of vision and imaginative flight. They are filled with full existence, not bounded in nature, containing a blueprint for all of Creation within them; in the same way that a molecule contains a solar system of atoms within it, and a cell contains the genetic structure of the body as a whole. Every soul contains a blueprint for all of the world. Letters activate letters in a constant chain reaction which is the motivating force of all life.
“Upon approaching a mitzvah, the mitzvah is always full of the light of life of all of the worlds – every mitzvah is filled with letters, big, incredible letters from among all of the 613 precepts which are, in turn, interdependent on each individual precept – from all of the life of the worlds which is in the secret of faith.”
What happens in the soul when a person approaches a mitzvah? A mitzvah of the Torah is also filled with pulsating letters and a stream of Divine inspirational force. The commandments themselves are fountains of life, as the Torah says, “These are the mitzvot which a man shall do and live.” The mitzvot are the channels which enable letters to flow from their Divine source to the soul. The life-force in the mitzvot adds vitality to the life-force in man. They are the circuits and conduits of life. And they too, like the letters, are microcosms of existence, bursting with the energy that G-d supplies to the world.
When a Jew performs a mitzvah, he receives a new dose of energy and life. When the letters of his soul collide and combine with the letters of the mitzvah, an explosion occurs. Like a nuclear fusion of atoms, new life is released to the soul and to all of the worlds. The union of the soul and the mitzvah is what gives the world its constant renewal. And because each individual mitzvah is integrally connected to all of the 613 precepts of the Torah, when we perform one mitzvah, we release the power of them all in a chain reaction which sends waves of Kedusha and light throughout the universe. This is the mechanism which brings life to the world. Thus, our Sages have taught that if the Jews were to stop learning Torah, God forbid, for even a moment, the whole world would come to an end.
The interrelationship between all of the 613 precepts of the Torah offers both tremendous potential and problems. Because every mitzvah is integrally connected to every other, the performance of a mitzvah can only be perfect if all of the other mitzvot are performed. This can be likened to a symphony made up of hundreds of notes. When they are all played together, they blend into a pleasing harmony. But if one note is flat, or missing, the harmony of the whole is destroyed. This is true in the life of an individual, and in the life of the nation. When a person is only performing a portion of the 613 mitzvot, his life-force is lessened. Similarly, if the Jewish nation as a whole is missing the full range of mitzvot, either because of spiritual weakness, or because of Galut, the entire life of the nation is crippled, and Divine goodness appears in the world in a dim, shattered light.
“The light of the God of life, the light of the life of the world, lives in complete harmony in the glory of every mitzvah.”
In the observance of a mitzvah, the soul meets with the light of God. This is the meaning of the Yichud prayer which some Jews say before performing a mitzvah. The mitzvah is the vehicle which unites God and His Presence with all of Clal Yisrael. A Jew cleaves to God, not only through abstract meditation, but through the performance of the practical mitzvot as well. When we perform the commandments, we connect our lives to God’s will, and to the Divine life-force which He implanted in them. This is the path to true life, through cleaving to the Divine life-force in the mitzvah, as we say upon reading the Torah: “Those who cleave to Hashem your God are all alive today.”
“As soon as we approach a commandment’s performance, all of the living letters which constitute our essence expand – we grow bigger, and become stronger and more forceful in the light of life and sublime existence which is resplendent and rich with the wealth of universal holiness and with the light of Torah and of wisdom, and all of the universe is renewed with light and life. The judgment of the world turns meritorious because of our deeds; light and truth, good will and inward satisfaction grace every face.”
When we come to perform a mitzvah, the energy in our souls and the mitzvah interact, and all of the letters which make up our essences grow bigger with an injection of Kedusha, Torah, exalted wisdom, and life. If we were on the proper level to experience this spiritual union, if our sensitivities were in tune with the immeasurable wealth of our Divine inner life, when we approached a mitzvah, we would feel the same ecstasy and joy that a bride and groom feel when they step under the wedding canopy to become husband and wife.
When a Jew performs a mitzvah, the letters of his or her soul are magnified with an accelerated life-force. Letters of Torah from the upper worlds of existence merge with the letters of the individual soul. This “wedding” between the upper and lower worlds causes a union of splendor and joy. Our will and God’s will become one. We and the world are filled with supernal strength, wisdom, holiness, valor, harmony, and joy. The same wholeness which returned to the world upon the giving of the Torah now returns to our souls. In the meeting of man and the mitzvah, the purpose of life is achieved. Man stands in line with God’s will for existence. The soul cleaves to God. Worlds merge, and the union brings rebirth to all of Creation.
Because of the soul’s connection to all of the world, each seemingly small mitzvah is, in truth, a cosmic deed which fills the world with untold blessing. The performance of a mitzvah fills the world with Torah, and with inner goodness and truth. We hold in our hands the fate of existence. Our good deeds infuse the world with merit. By observing the commandments of the Torah, we not only elevate our own life, we make the world a better place. In the Heavenly court, God’s judgment is sweetened.
In effect, the Almighty has put in our hands the key to existence. Divine blessing and life are released in the world according to what we do. In a sense, when we perform a mitzvah, we give strength to God Himself, as we say in our morning prayers, “Give strength to God.” Israel is figuratively the source of God’s power. It is our deeds which enable God’s goodness to appear in the world. Because of the unity of all Creation, the mitzvot which we perform on earth open valves of Heavenly blessing in the exalted worlds above. By doing God’s will, we bring about the wedding of heaven and earth.
“In Eretz Yisrael, the letters of our souls grow bigger; there they reveal shining light; they are nurtured with independent life from the light of life of Knesset Yisrael; they are directly influenced from the secret of their original creation.”
In simple language, Rabbi Kook is saying that if there were a Geiger counter which could measure the existence of Hebrew letters, it would start to crackle with a thunderous noise the moment it approached the borders of Israel. For Eretz Yisrael is the land of GIGANTIC 3-D LETTERS. It is the Land of indigenous ALEFS and BETS. Like the giants which the spies encountered in Hevron, and the gigantic fruit they found in the Land, the ALPHABET of Eretz Yisrael dwarfs the Lilliputian alphabet of Galut. The letters thrive in the air of Israel and draw body-building nutrients from its holy soil. In contrast, the letters of Chutz L’Aretz are stunted, like plants grown outside of their natural climate.
When a Jew makes Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael, the letters of his soul shift into high gear and multiply in size. All of his being gets bigger. He grows closer to God. Compared to the person he was in Galut, he becomes larger than life. He transforms into a giant, filled with greater valor, greater holiness, greater happiness and wisdom.
What is the secret of this change? IN ERETZ YISRAEL, OUR LETTERS, LIKE OUR SOULS, BECOME THE GIGANTIC LETTERS OF CLAL YISRAEL. They are no longer small, private, individual letters – THEY MULTIPLY AND MULTIPLY THROUGH THEIR UNION WITH KNESSET YISRAEL. IN THE LAND OF CLAL YISRAEL, OUR LETTERS MERGE WITH THE MEGA-SOUL OF THE NATION.
In his connection to the nation, the Oleh to Israel becomes a more complete Jew. He becomes a co-builder of the Jewish nation. He becomes a soldier in the Israeli Defense Force, in the army of God. He speaks the language of his Forefathers. He becomes independent in his own JEWISH LAND. His aspirations are filled with idealism. He becomes an architect of history, an active partner of Redemption. His outlook and psyche are exponentially expanded by his new identification with the national aspiration and will.
Because he is living in Israel, his whole life is a mitzvah. A mitzvah which is equal in weight to all of the mitzvot of the Torah. Divine life flows and flows into his being through the infinite channel of his new mitzvah life. His house is a mitzvah, his job is a mitzvah, every step which he takes in the Holy Land is a mitzvah, every four cubits earns him a greater share in the world to come. Every holy breath he takes fills him with holy life. Letters and letters of Torah pour into his soul.
Rabbi Kook quotes a verse from the book of Isaiah:
“And it shall come to pass, that he who is left in Zion, and he that remains in Jerusalem, they shall be called holy, everyone in Jerusalem who is written to life” (Isaiah, 4:3)
In Eretz Yisrael and Jerusalem, the letters of our souls are inscribed for eternal life.
Like the Land’s giant letters, the mitzvot of the land are giant mitzvot too, performed where God’s commandments are supposed to be performed. They burst with energy and life through the full force of their value. In Israel, the performance of the mitzvot is pure, without static and pollution, performed in the land of God. In Israel, each mitzvah reverberates through the myriad of souls in the Clal, multiplying beyond measure, echoing through the universe, filling the world with harmony, completeness, and order. When the nation is living its true Torah life in Israel, God’s will for the world is fulfilled. The vaults of heaven spread open, and Divine blessing flows uninterrupted to all of creation.
So too, the Torah of Eretz Yisrael is the complete Torah. As our Sages teach: “There is no Torah like the Torah of Eretz Yisrael.” The Torah in Israel is the all–encompassing Torah, the Torah of the nation, the Torah of the Clal, none of whose mitzvot or letters are missing. In the Land of Israel, the Torah is in its true place, radiating its influence in intimate pleasantness, its heavenly letters glowing with the light of the Shechinah.
“The yearning to see the glory of the cherished Land; the inner longing for the Land of Israel, increases the letters of holiness, the letters of independent Israeli life that are at the depth of our essence and being; it increases their inner spiritual growth. `One who is born in it, and one who yearns to see it’ – `And to Zion it shall be said; a man, and a man who is born in it, and He will establish it in exaltation, the Lord will count in the writing of the nations, this one has been born there, Selah.'”
Rabbi Kook tells us that not only by being in Israel can this heroic life be achieved, but also the soul which aspires to live in Israel is invigorated with increased holy energy. The Diaspora Jew who logs on to The Jewish Press website first thing in the morning, and sincerely yearns to be in Israel, is influenced by its greatness. In yearning to link himself with the Land, he too is like someone approaching a mitzvah, running to embrace his beloved. His pulse quickens, and the letters of his soul expand to receive a giant new infusion of life. He grows spiritually bigger in his attachment to Eretz Yisrael and to the aspirations of Clal Yisrael. Both “One who is born in it, and one who longs to see it,” both of them share in her blessing; both attain wholeness by living the maximum life of a Jew.
So you too my Facebook friends and Jewish Press readers, you too have GIANT LETTERS in your yearning to be in Israel. But you and your letters could grow even bigger if you were here, in the LAND OF GIANT LETTERS, GIANT MITZVOT, and GIANT JEWS, adding your letters to the NATION.
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 views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not represent the views of The Jewish Press
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