Photo Credit: Jewish Press

This week we will take another look inside Rav Kook’s commentary on the siddur, Olat Re’iya.

Every morning we begin our prayers with the words, “How good are your tents, Yaakov; your tabernacles, Israel.” Rav Kook says that the opening verse, “How good are your tents,” is filled with powerful symbolism. As one seeks true fulfillment, dedicating himself to the pursuit of godliness and inspiration, he must keep in mind two foundational premises: not to fall too low and not to rise too high. The tents provide one with a firm basis in reality upon which to build one’s spiritual path. We strive to elevate our physicality in the manner that Yaakov did; thus, we speak of the tents of Yaakov.


At the same time, we are reaching ever higher, trying to connect with the Divine. We achieve this through the “tabernacles” of Israel, the unique framework for enabling us to reach ever higher without losing sight of our unifying purpose, signified by the community of Israel. Rav Kook teaches that these are both good – indeed, how good they are! The tents and the tabernacles, good together when they are integrated in a common purpose.

When we find ourselves in the tabernacles of Israel, we enter into the House of G-d Himself and prostrate ourselves before His sacred Sanctuary. Rabbeinu Bachye, in his commentary on Korach last week, examined how Moshe and Aharon prostrated themselves when Hashem threatened to destroy Israel. The physical body is brought into conformity with the spiritual state, overcome by the awe of standing in the presence of the Most High.

When our own spiritual striving is met by the support of Hashem through His love for us, then we enter into His house. Once we are there, enveloped in His love, we also have our trepidation activated in the face of the magnitude of His glory, revealed as it is in His house. In the face of this power, like Moshe and Aharon, we extend our arms and legs. Rav Kook explains that as we surrender ourselves to the magnitude of the Divine Presence, our individual will is nullified in the face of His power. Therefore, we bring our entire physical body into conformity with the awareness that transforms us, as our spirit and our intellect seek to open as wide as possible to receive His greatness. Our body stretches itself out in every direction, as a limp vessel prepared to receive Him.

But the loss of physical control happens “before Hashem who made me.” And this realization also restores our power and our purpose as we arise to fulfill the tasks we were made to perform. We must go through this multi-stage process of establishing a base, striving to heaven, and entering into the tabernacle so that we can be imbued with the awareness of the power of the Divine; thereupon we crumble, only to rise again in the single-minded determination to execute the Divine will as we have been instructed to do.

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Avraham Levitt is a poet and philosopher living in Philadelphia. He writes chiefly about Jewish art and mysticism. His most recent poem is called “Great Floods Cannot Extinguish the Love.” It can be read at He can be reached by email at [email protected].