Rav Kook on the Net

Psalm 12  Print

Circles and Straight Lines

Rav Avraham Isaac Kook, first Chief Rabbi of Israel

Psalm 12: Circles and Straight Lines

"The wicked walk around; people scorn the exalted." [Ps 12:]

Why does the Psalm describe evil people as those who "walk around"? What is the exalted thing that is unappreciated and scorned? And what is the connection between the two parts of the verse?

The Cabalists distinguished between two different realms: the realm of Circles, and the realm of Straight Lines.

The natural world is a world of Circles. The heavenly bodies are spherical, rotating and revolving in space. There is no right or wrong, just constant movement along the never-ending cycles and gears of natural processes.

The purpose of the world, however, is its moral perfection. This is the realm of Straight Lines. When man, possessing free will, chooses the correct path, he acquires wisdom and perfection for himself and for all of creation. The realm of Straight Lines is one of linear progression, of purpose, of right and wrong.

The Sages wrote that this verse refers to prayer. Prayer is that exalted value which many people belittle and scorn. Why isn't prayer properly appreciated? Because these people view the world through the viewpoint of Circles. They see just the natural, amoral aspect of the universe. In a world ruled by the laws of Nature, what good is it to pray? Can prayer change God's Will? Why should praying influence the outcome of natural processes?

That is why the psalm describes the wicked as 'walking around'. They follow along the cycles of the natural world, perceiving the universe as a place of unfeeling, unforgiving laws of nature and fate.

But the enlightened comprehend the world in terms of a realm of Straight Lines. There exists a purpose and a moral direction to the world. We are to achieve the goal of universal perfection via proper application of free choice. In such a world, the efficacy of prayer is clear. Prayer is highly effective in refining and elevating the individual's inclination and choice, and is thus an integral part of the purposeful world of Straight Lines.

[Ayn Aya I:26 on Berachot 6]