by Rav Hillel Rachmani


	It is often difficult to relate to men of great spirit 
because of the gap between them and us.  We confront this 
dilemma in its full force as we begin to study the works of R. 
Kook.  I would like to begin this lecture by illustrating his 
towering spiritual stature and discussing its effects on our 
understanding of his writings.

	Rav Soloveitchik's description of homo religiosus serves 
as a fitting description of R. Kook.  Even Israel's Nobel 
laureate in literature, Shai Agnon, who was not very easily 
impressed, expressed enthusiastic admiration for him.

	There is a well-known story about R. Kook which captures 
much of what made him so unique.  When R. Kook moved to 
Israel, he was appointed Chief Rabbi of Yaffo; this job 
included serving as the rabbi of the secular Zionists in the 
outlying agricultural settlements.  One summer, Rav Kook and 
his colleagues went on a tour of these settlements in an 
attempt to encourage the pioneers to observe more mitzvot, 
especially the laws pertaining to agriculture and produce.  
Their campaign was met with minimum of success.  One night, 
toward the end of the trip, Rabbi Y. M. Charlop, who was 
sharing a room with R. Kook, awoke to the sight of his teacher 
restlessly pacing about their small room.  As he looked 
closer, he noticed that R. Kook's face was flushed with 
passion and excitement.  Rav Kook noticed him and slowly 
approached his disciple, placing his ice cold hands on R. 
Charlop.  "What is wrong, master?" R. Charlop asked.  R. Kook 
responded, "I am consumed with a burning love of God."  
(Kadish Luz, a non-religious member of a kibbutz often visited 
by Rav Kook, and later Speaker of the Knesset, said years 
afterwards, "When we beheld Rav Kook, we used to feel as if a 
ball of fire had detached itself from Mt. Sinai and come to 

	This story describes the essence of Rav Kook.  His entire 
personality was focused on devekut (cleaving) to God.  He 
found it difficult to constrict his other-worldly experiences 
into the normal routines of daily existence.  We are clearly 
dealing with a man quite different from the average person.  
While we may find it difficult to get up in the morning for 
prayer, Rav Kook found it hard to "come down" to pray using 
the standardized "cages" of words.  This intense spirituality, 
at times, creates a gap between us and Rav Kook.

	R. Kook did not write in normal expository prose.  His 
writing flowed from inspiration; he attempted to capture his 
powerful experiences in words.  His hand was driven to write 
by the overwhelming emotions bursting forth from him.  Once he 
started writing, he didn't stop.  Sometimes he didn't even 
notice that he had reached the end of the page and kept 
writing straight onto the table.  He even preferred pencil 
over pen, because fountain pens constantly had to be re-dipped 
in ink, interrupting his passionate writing.  Yet, despite the 
spontaneity of his expression, we never find thoughts crossed 
out or erased in his manuscripts.  Not only did his thoughts 
flow, they flowed correctly the first time.  In this he can be 
compared to Mozart, who composed an entire symphony in one 
sitting, as opposed to Beethoven, who labored over each note, 
weighing the different options until he got it right.

	Some scholars believe that in his effusive prose, R. Kook 
was only expressing general ideas, using the language of the 
Kabbala as a poetic device to relate his experience.  On the 
other hand, Rav Kook's close disciples maintained that, 
despite his overflowing, flowery language, he carefully chose 
each word.  His son, Rav Zvi Yehuda Kook, and the "Nazir," Rav 
David HaCohen (who edited Rav Kook's magnum opus, "Orot 
HaKodesh" - The Lights of Holiness) provided sources for Rav 
Kook's ideas from the literature of the Kabbala, thus 
demonstrating that the concepts and language that R. Kook 
employed refer to specific ideas.  Rav Kook did not simply run 
wild.  Describing something as "Netzach Hod Tiferet" is not a 
random poetic description.  Each word relates to a specific 
"sefira" in Kabbala; if Rav Kook put these three words in this 
order, then he means it to relate to a metaphysical reality in 
the supernal worlds.  

	We, in this series of lectures, will analyze Rav Kook 
from the point of view of Rav Zvi Yehuda and the "Nazir," 
assuming that R. Kook's writings comprise a detailed system of 
thought, which makes specific references to the concepts of 
the Kabbala.  The Israeli poet, Y.Z. Rimon, who was very close 
to Rav Kook once described the Rav's writings as poetry.  In 
light of that pronouncement, the "Nazir" inquired of Rav Kook, 
"But is there not also a system to your work?"  The Rav 
responded in the affirmative.  Personally, I sense that there 
is a system in not only the ideas expressed in Rav Kook's 
writings, but also in the language and terms as well.

	While there is no doubt that Rav Kook's writing was 
impelled by personal inspiration, the inspirations adhere to 
an orderly pattern of laws.  Nietzsche maintained that this is 
true of all artistic inspiration.  You may believe that the 
rules taught you by your piano teacher are only meant for 
beginners, and that when you become a maestro you can fly free 
of restraint, creating your own music.  This, however, is not 
the case.  Even the most creative and revolutionary master 
uses the old rules, now internalized, as the building blocks 
for his works.  This is true of R. Kook as well.  His "rules" 
are the kabbalistic system of the Zohar and the Ari (Rabbi 
Yitzchak Luria, 16th century).  No matter what state of 
spiritual ecstasy evoked his inspiration, he will still 
express himself according to that basic system.  If so, we are 
justified in interpreting Rav Kook's writings in light of the 
classic Kabbalistic system.  The question remains to what 
degree ought we analyze every word and nuance.  This can only 
be resolved by investigating each essay individually. 

	In this course, we will do two things.  First, we will 
explore individual passages of R. Kook's writings, attempting 
to gain insights into his general view of major concepts in 
Jewish Thought.  We will explore the basis of R. Kook's 
attitudes to specific topics.  We will develop a type of code 
that will categorize worlds of ideas into single key phrases.  
Then, secondly, we will be able to move forward to discussing 
R. Kook's attitude toward specific topics such as the Land of 
Israel, secular Jews, science, etc.
	Let's jump right in and read the first few lines of the 
following passage which is found in Orot HaTeshuva (The Lights 
of Penitence) 6:7.  (The English translation is by B. Z. 
Bokser and is found in "Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook," published 
by Paulist Press in the "Classics of Western Spirituality" 
series.)  I am going to give you the entire text here, but 
only read until I tell you.  Don't worry if the text doesn't 
make any sense at first.  Remember, we said he's a difficult 

"At the inception of creation it was intended that the 
tree have the same taste as the fruit (Genesis Rabba 
5:9).  All the supportive actions that sustain any 
general worthwhile spiritual goal should by right be 
experienced in the soul with the same feeling of elation 
and delight as the goal itself is experienced when we 
envision it.  But earthly existence, the instability of 
life, the weariness of the spirit when confined in a 
corporate frame brought it about that only the fruition 
of the final step, which embodies the primary ideal, is 
experienced in its pleasure and splendor.  The trees that 
bear the fruit, with all their necessity for the growth 
of the fruit have, however, become coarse matter and have 
lost their taste.  This is the failing of the "earth" 
because of which it was cursed when Adam was also cursed 
LECTURE)  But every defect is destined to be mended.  
Thus we are assured that the day will come when creation 
will return to its original state, when the taste of the 
tree will be the same as the taste of the fruit.  The 
"earth" will repent of its sin, and the way of the 
practical life will no longer obstruct the delight of the 
ideal, which is sustained by appropriate intermediate 
steps on its way toward realization, and will stimulate 
its emergence from potentiality to actuality.

	Penitence itself, which activates the inner spirit 
that had sunk in the depths of the chaotic and the 
antithetical to the ideal goal, will enable the 
aspiration of the ideal to penetrate all the conditioning 
influences, and in all of them will be tasted the 
splendor of the ideal goal.  It will do this by enlarging 
the scope of action for the ideal of justice.  Man will 
then no longer suffer the disgrace of indolence on the 
way of the true life."

		In this passage Rav Kook deals with the famous 
midrash regarding the sin of the Earth during the Six Days of 
Creation.  On the third day, God commanded the earth to "bring 
forth FRUIT TREES that give forth fruit."  The earth deviates 
from the original command and only produces "trees that give 
fruit."  In the eyes of the Sages, the earth sinned by not 
producing "fruit trees."  That is, trees of which the bark and 
branches themselves had the taste of fruit.  Instead, we were 
left with only the brown exterior used for firewood, while 
only the actual fruit offers a good taste.

	This midrash leaves us a bit puzzled.  How can inanimate 
objects sin?  Does the earth have free choice, like man, to 
rebel against its maker?  In a letter, Rav Kook explains that 
the midrash uses the word "sin" to portray a flaw of nature.  
This flaw, which seems to be a natural phenomenon, is the 
subject of Rav Kook's attention in the paragraph before us. 

	R. Kook explains the midrash as a parable.  We all know 
that when one visualizes something of a high spiritual nature, 
one becomes filled with a certain feeling of "elation and 
delight."  Imagine being the High Priest entering the Holy of 
Holies on Yom Kippur.  It would certainly be a most uplifting 
experience.  But we all know that it is not so easy to reach 
that pinnacle of spirituality.  The preparation required is 
enormous.  And it is precisely during that process of tedious 
preparation that it is so easy to lose the inspiration 
represented by the goal.

	For example, imagine a teacher fresh out of college.  He 
is filled with dreams about educating the underprivileged, 
shaping young minds, and providing children with a chance to 
make it in the world.  Finally he arrives for his first day of 
work and is overcome by the mundane and tedious realities of 
teaching.  Papers and tests are piling up for grading.  His 
life turns into a drudgery.  The faint glimmer of his goal is 
the only thing which keeps him going.

	It is this situation which R. Kook views as the result of 
the Earth's sin.  In the parable the 

	Fruit = the goal
	Taste = the inspiration
	Tree = the means of achieving the goal 

	Go back to the text and plug these ideas into R. Kook's 
words.  See if the paragraph begins to make more sense.
	Originally, the means of arriving at the goal were 
supposed to be filled with the same sense of pleasure and 
inspiration as the end result.  The satisfaction of the end 
would penetrate the process of the means.  However, the 
Earth's sin kept all of the inspiration in the goal, leaving 
the means tasteless.

	Please continue now reading the rest of the passage...

	There is hope for the world despite the sin of the earth.  
Rav Kook maintains that every sin eventually will be repaired, 
as will the sin of the earth.  Even today, we begin to see the 
beginnings of this "Tikkun."  Idealists who experience the 
pleasure of the ends in the means serve as example.  About 15 
years ago, I was a member of the group that founded the town 
of Ofra.  We started off as a labor camp in temporary 
barracks.  During the day we did extremely hard work, fencing 
off several mountains.  My companions had fire in their eyes.  
Every mile was filled with the same meaning as the final 
result. They had bridged the gap between Ends and Means.

	This passage has served as a model of Rav Kook's thought 
on the subject of "means and ends."  Let's now identify these 
ideas of "tree and fruit" and "means and ends" with a new set 
of concepts:  Kodesh and Chol (sacred and profane).  Rav 
Kook's concept of means and ends serves as the basis for his 
understanding of the relationship between Kodesh and Chol.
	Kodesh is the inner "taste" of reality; it is the meaning 
of existence.  Chol is that which is detached from Kodesh and 
thus becomes bland and neutral, without any meaning.  This is, 
of course, an extreme formulation.  There is practically 
nothing in the world that does not have some form of meaning.  
However, we are describing Kodesh and Chol as having different 
levels of meaning.

	At this point we discover that the relationship between 
the "fruit and the tree" can take on many different forms.  
The more the process of means (tree) sticks to the goal 
(fruit), the more taste and meaning (both translations of the 
Hebrew word ta'am) it will have.  Conversely, the more the 
means turns its back on what should be its ultimate goal, to 
that degree will it become tasteless, superficial, and empty.  
Judaism attempts to educate us to sanctify our lives, or in 
other words, to put the taste of the fruit back into the tree.  
It is our goal to attach all the practical, secular elements 
of life to spiritual goals which reflect the absolute meaning 
of existence - God Himself.

	This topic of Kodesh and Chol plays an extremely 
important role in Rav Kook's thought.  The following lectures 
will deal extensively with this topic.

(This lecture was summarized by Simcha Mirvis.)


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