Posts Tagged 'Rav Kook'

Crippling God’s Plan – Gush Emunim and Its Aftermath

Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook and then Minister of Agriculture Ariel Sharon placing the cornerstone for the Elon Moreh settlment, late seventiesIn Christian theology the days of the messiah often involve great upheavals and calamities, giving birth to the Messiah through great pain and suffering. That’s the reason “apocalypse” has come to mean not vision, as it does in Greek, but catastrophe. Ironically, this grand messianic scheme has played out in actual 20th century Jewish history, as two major messianic movements erupted out of the post-holocaust Jewish world, movements that in many ways are coloring significant aspects of it to this very day.

These movements, Chabad and Gush Emunim, exemplify two different genres of messianism. While the former is of centered around the charismatic figure of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the latter is a headless creature, conceived from the richly optimistic teachings of Rav Kook, and moving forward on the high octane motivational energy of modern nationalism.

Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook (1865–1935) was an extremely creative mystic and thinker. Based on a Hegelian view of history wed to a panentheistic vision of God, Kook interpreted the braking away of significant numbers of Jews from their religious tradition, followed by their adopting of Zionism and their efforts to found a Jewish state, as an indispensable and foreordained stage in the path to Jewish redemption. Since Geula must involve the rebuilding of the Jewish kingdom in the Holy Land, and since the orthodoxly observant are reluctant to leave the Diaspora, God has mandated the “uppity bound-breakers” (his words) to do the dirty – but momentously paramount – work.

Rav Kook the elder did not live to see the State of Israel being founded, but his son, Zvi Yehuda Kook, was blessed to witness it. Yet Kook junior wept tears of sorrow when the United Nations proclaimed the Jewish people’s right to an independent state, because the same UN decision also stated that the land would be divided between the Jews and the Palestinians. In his eyes, the biblical Promised Land had to be forever undivided. What’s more, because in Zvi Yehuda’s eyes the state itself was holy (indeed, he considered it to be “the Seat of the Divine on Earth”), the actual military and political control of more and more of its promised territories were the very steps on which the messiah ascends (or is it descends?) toward final redemption.

With this in mind, we can understand why after the Six-Day war, Judea and Samaria’s coming under Israely control was construed by Zvi Yehuda and his followers to be a clear signal from the Heavenly Hand that the setback in the redemptive plan was over. With Israel finally broadening its borders it seemed that the messianic momentum was shifting gear, and that Salvation was ours for the taking. “There is not an End clearer then this!” proclaimed Kook Jr., and his followers announced that “The Third Redemption [after the exodus for Egypt and the return from Babilon in Ezra’s days] is without a stop!”.

In Kookist circles, then, it was a given that Geula has clearly begun, and that it was most surly irreversible. That did not mean, however, that we are to sit idly by and let God do all the work. In fact, it is after the Six-Day war, and in greater effort still after the Yom-Kippur war, that the first settlements were founded on the other side of what were the ’48 Israeli borders. That is the time when Gush-Emunim was born, then a young and spirited messianic-but-pragmatic movement, organized and peopled by Zvi Yehuda’s followers, but supported by many secular Israelis and quietly encouraged by elements from within the government.

Gush-Emunim started populating the hills and the occupied cities (such as Hebron) of the West Bank, sometimes by state permission and sometimes using trickery and lies.* Not less of import, The Gush’s messianic ideology occupied the hearts and souls of leading figures, and large numbers, of the Zionist-Religious public, imbuing it with renewed pride and the exhilarating feeling that its members were finally moving to the head of the Zionist enterprise. Not many years passed, however, before the first crisis of faith erupted.

A messianic vision’s weakness lies in the very thing that allows it to generate so much hope: its unabashed and uncompromising confidence. With the signing of the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt in 1979 the vision of an ever advancing redemptive plan was shattered, as the Sinai desert was promised to be handed over to Egypt. Instead of gaining more and more of the Promised Land, the state of Israel was now breaking parts of it away. Note also the theological sprain the kooknics now found themselves in: it was the same Israel which they believed to be holy that is in fact crippling God’s plan.

The withdrawal from Sinai, followed later by the handing over of the Palestinian cities after the Oslo accords, the retreat from south Lebanon and, most devastatingly, the razing of the Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip have become almost an insurmountable challenge to the kookist messianic worldview. Its adherents today are experiencing a major crisis of faith, and their response to it divides them into a number of distinct groups.

Some, like Rabbi Shmuel Tal, have given up all hope for the state of Israel, no longer see it as divinely ordained, and have for all intents and purposes joined the Haredi world (allowing them to shift the center of their religious life from Zionism to Halakha). Some, led by the prominent Rav Tao, have delayed redemption indefinitely, and while still sure it’s on its way, have transferred progress toward it to the dimension hidden from the unlearned eye. At present they concentrate their efforts on strengthening Halakhic observance and education, while waiting for the masses to embrace their tradition.

Others, like the Jewish Underground of the early ‘80s or the Bat Ayin Underground from 2002, have turned to terrorism, in an attempt to force an apocalyptic event (or simply an all-out war) that will force the state to conquer its forsaken lands. And some, led by the post-Zionist and deeply Kabbalistic teachings of Rabbi Yitzhak Ginsburgh, aim to overthrow the secular government in a revolution of consciousness that will reconnect every Jew to his innermost soul. Most Religious-Zionists, however, are simply living their bourgeois life, hoping for the best, somewhat less convinced of the state’s divine status, and ever more wary of sweet-talking prophets bringing tidings of The End.

* For one of many examples, see חגי סגל [Chaggai Segal], אחים יקרים [beloved Brothers], page 237. Rabbi ehoshua Zuckerman says that “while settling the Shomron we did some illegal things.” On the same page, Ze’ev Hever, one of the leading figures among the settlers, says: “The dry law in itself is not holy to us, is not holy to any of the people sitting here.”

A shorter version of the Article, including the statistics box, was published in the December 2012 of Sh’ma, pp. 11-12.

Kookism – Settler politics as God’s playing field

"Kookism: Shorshei Gush Emunim, Tarbut Hamitnahlim, Teologia Tzionit, Meshihiyut Be’zmanenu,” (Kookism: The Roots of Gush Emunim, Jewish Settlers’ Subculture, Zionist Theology, Contemporary Messianism) by Gideon Aran. Carmel Publishing House, 464 pages, NIS 119

“We have to take a good look at reality, with open eyes and the professional skill of responsible politicians − then we will discover the interior regularity that hides behind things.” There you have it, Kookism in a nutshell: politics as God’s playing field, political reality as the bearer of messianic tidings, the nonchalant presumption to understand the Almighty’s will, and the undoubting faith that our own ilk possesses the secret to deciphering the course of history.

The speaker, one of the leaders of Gush Emunim, goes on to clarify: “This regularity always and necessarily moves toward full redemption. You cannot make do with studying Gemara; you have to go out into the field. There, mainly there, religion will be revealed, the sanctity will be uncovered… Every footstep of ours, every swing of a hand, open and close electrical circuits that switch on lightbulbs in the upper worlds.”

Even these few words enfold the essence of Kookism: the absolute confidence in the approaching salvation, the sanctifying of the profane, and especially the hills of Judea and Samaria, the relocation of the center of religious life from studies to messianic activism, and the arrogance that turns every settler into a kabbalist mystic who mates sephirot (the kabbalistic emanations) and sets processes in motion in the upper worlds.

Gideon Aran brings these quotes straight from the field. Albeit this field no longer exists, since Aran galloped over the hills of Judea and Samaria together with the folks of Gush Emunim in the mid-1970s, and they have long ceased to be bald rocky hills in between docile Arab villages. The Gush Emunim settlement movement no longer exists either, although it had a much longer and more significant life than Aran anticipated. When he joined it as a young doctoral student in sociology, Aran saw before him a movement that was “exotic and charismatic” and a bit “moonstruck.” As someone wanting to specialize in the study of extremist cults, he expected to write about a small group, document the rise and fall of an anecdote. He did not know he was about to become a witness to the religious-social movement that would alter the face of Israel.

Aran shadowed the Gush Emunim people between 1975 and 1978. He joined them in their trips through the occupied territories, in their internal debates, observed their reactions to political and international developments, their formulations of Kookist theology, their joyous occasions, their tragedies, their demonstrations and their clandestine activity. The book before us is the fruit of Aran’s riveting research, which formed the basis for his doctoral dissertation. The readers are therefore exposed to Aran’s documentation and analysis from more than 30 years ago.

The decision to leave the material unchanged has advantages and disadvantages. Ostensibly, the book depicts a picture that has since faded away, a childish innocence, that, when we sobered up from it, we were no longer able to take seriously. On the other hand, that is precisely what makes this sort of primary documentation so important. Rarely is a scholar privy to the formative stages of a religious movement, certainly such a meaningful religious movement. Here stand before us the young and charismatic Hanan Porat, the fervent Moshe Levinger, Yoel Ben Nun when he was still a prominent leader of that public, Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook in the very days he was formulating his political-religious thought.

The new scriptures

Rabbi Zvi Yehuda KookThe story of Gush Emunim, according to Aran, begins long before the Six-Day War, in the religious pioneer group Gahelet ‏(Hebrew acronym for Garin Halutzim Lomdei Torah − “cadre of Torah-learning pioneers”‏), in the early 1950s. There began to grow a religious awareness that seeks to subsume everyday reality, that wants to be in the most literal sense religious Zionism.

Two catalysts brought about the formation of this group, the first of which was the establishment of the State of Israel. We are dealing, then, with a messianic movement that arose not out of destruction, but rather out of redemption. The second catalyst was the disdainful and dismissive treatment religiously observant Jews were subject to in the early days of the state. It is hard today to grasp just how contemptible observant Jews seemed then in the eyes of the secular Jews, who huffed Zionism and puffed socialism. Contempt for the “Exilic” religion and derogatory epithets such as adukfistuk ‏(devout pistachio nut‏) created a sense of inferiority, without even the Haredi consolation born of closing themselves off from the rest of society.

Out of this experience arose the members of Gahelet, who tried to redefine the relationship between religion and state. Youngsters like Zephaniah Drori, Yaakov Filber, Zalman Melamed and Haim Druckman − some of the most important rabbis of religious Zionism in our day − enrolled as a group in the Merkaz Harav yeshiva in Jerusalem, at that time a marginal and lesser yeshiva. There they found the philosophical-religious foundation that would feed their nationalist ambitions.

That foundation was built, as we know, on the writings of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Hacohen Kook. These became the new scriptures, and their interpretation − the weaving of a messianic-Zionistic theological political tapestry. The sides of Rav Kook’s thinking that dealt with private religiosity and general philosophy were usually silenced. The preoccupation with the nation’s uniqueness and the world’s redemption was highlighted ‏(Kookism, therefore, is not really the doctrine of Rav Kook‏). The role of official explicator of Rav Kook went to his son, Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, who was then also head of the yeshiva. It was he who put Kookism into words and deeds, and gathered the new students around him like disciples around their admor ‏(a Hebrew acronym for “our master, our teacher, our rabbi”‏).

Aran devotes space to the “admorization” process of Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook. In the eyes of Gush Emunim the latter became a restorer of faith, a Light unto the Nations ‏(Gush members recount that he instilled Torah in “gigantic negros and beautiful models”‏), a healer of the sick, a Torah prodigy, proficient in the world’s languages, knowledgeable in philosophy − and finally a prophet. The late Hanan Porat is quoted as having described Zvi Yehuda Kook’s house as “the center of the world. There is the source of the electric current that sets in motion the machine called Gush Emunim, through which Israel and all of humanity will be illuminated.” Kook’s best-known prophecy was pronounced three weeks before the Six-Day War. In a conversation with his students, he cried out that the people of Israel had forgotten the Land of the Patriarchs, namely the West Bank. A month later, that same land was already in Israel’s hands, and the people of Gush Emunim could set out to enlighten Israel and all of humanity.

Settling in Judea and Samaria became the national expression of Kookism. Before the 1967 war, the Gahalet people were busy ‏(aside from with their Torah studies‏) with a war against “missionaries” in Jerusalem: disrupting a concert performance of the St. Matthew Passion at Binyanei Ha’uma, vandalizing church property, and disparaging clergymen who happened to cross their path.

Rabbi Zvi Yehuda and Ariel Sharom placing the corner stome for the Elon Moreh settlmentLiberating the Land of the Patriarchs was perceived as a command by the minister of history to go out and make history − or, more precisely, to bring about the end of history by way of full redemption. The land was transformed into a holy vessel, and settlement into a ritual. In Kookism, Aran writes, there occurs “a kabbalization of Israeli nationalism, and in its wake a ritualization of political activism, which makes it possible to bring Zionism to its final conclusion, and at the same time also to disarm it of its practicality and absolve it of its responsibility, which are the basis of its historic revolutionism.” If Zionism turned Judaism from a theology into an ideology, then Kookism seeks to go one better and turn Zionism itself into a theology. The sanctity was to be found in the settlement operations.

From here on, pitching tents was a mitzvah. Kookism is set apart by its contention that salvation can arrive before the people of Israel has repented, and even without the Messiah. “Redemption of the land” takes on a new meaning, of redeeming reality in its entirety. Kookism also knows in advance and with certainty the course of events. Another dunam and another dunam mean getting ever closer to the End of Days, when the law will go out from Zion and all the nations will look to it.

Israel’s uniqueness ensures the success of Kookism, but the salvation ushered in by the Gush Emunim people does not pertain solely to Jews. Rabbi Levinger explains to Aran that “by making concessions to the Arabs and the Gentiles of the world, by stopping settlement and withdrawing from the territories, we cause our neighbors harm. Not only would their material situation not be improved, but there would occur a spiritual deterioration that would prevent them from understanding the supremacy of our people and acknowledging its sanctity. Thus, with our bare hands, we would block their redemption.” The Kookists know better than you what’s good for you, and they will impose that good on you whether you like it or not. They don’t do this for their own sake, but rather as loyal envoys of the Almighty; who serve as his vessels and obey his orders in silence and certainty.

From this we can also grasp the depth of the crisis that could occur if the people of Israel were to turn its back on them, if the State of Israel were to bid farewell to occupied territories, if the redemption process were to do the incredible and reverse direction.

Back to Hebrew salvation

Hanan Porat celebrating establishing the camp at Sebastia, 1975We find crisis not only at the end of Kookism. Aran’s innovation lies in analyzing the rise of Kookism precisely as a response to crisis. This is the crisis that stems from the dissonance inherent to the very existence of a successful secular State of Israel. Unlike Rabbi Z.Y. Kook, his successors could not see the divine sparks hidden, supposedly, in the hearts of the secular Jews and in the “inner” layer of their actions. A Jewish state that operates in a secular manner is a contradiction in their eyes, and so they set out to reform reality. “We stand before a national disaster of enormous proportions,” Aran quotes a Gush Emunim supporter as saying. “[The state is] a paradise of messianic realization − ‘Apocalypse Now’ − that makes Judaism redundant.”

The realization of the religious dream, the establishment of a Jewish state, endangers religion. The Kookists sought to restore Judaism to the center of Israeli life, and if necessary − by force. The faith-based tension reached its climax in the Six-Day War: Secular Israel won a glorious victory. The Temple Mount was in our hands, and the cafes in Tel Aviv were full of IDF generals basking in the sunlight. The Kookists interpreted the events as they saw fit and sought to explain their meaning to secular Israelis. The tension between the success of secularity ‏(with the Lord’s help, of course‏) and its unwillingness to draw the obvious conclusion ‏(and become religious‏) was too great. Tension creates movement. Crisis creates birth.

It is an accepted and clear principle in the field of religious studies: Faith-based dissonance generates a desire for harmonization, and that desire creates action. Belief and reality are like two bicycle wheels standing one beyond the other, without touching and without support on the side. Anyone who maintains such a structure in his psyche understands intuitively that if he wants it not to fall, he has to push and move forward. Gush Emunim took to the field as a movement that sought to wed faith to reality ‏(the problem being that the back wheel will of course never reach the front one‏). The terrible blow Israel suffered in the Yom Kippur War gave an additional push, and the Kookists channeled the messianic energy into settlement. Hanan Porat summed up the matter: “Gush Emunim is the yearning for the revelation of God in the world.”

In setting out to realize Judaism as a national religion, Kookism revived the ancient Hebrew notion of redemption: political salvation that finds expression in a sovereign kingdom. Kookism did not invent this ideal, but merely translated the biblical aspiration into a modern tongue and action, and added to it Hegelian dialectic and kabbalistic interpretation. It thereby set itself against the processes of Protestantization that world religions are undergoing in our era, in the course of which religion becomes the personal ‏(and psychological‏) business of the individual. The mystical spirituality of Rav Kook was forgotten, and Kookism was left with only a theocratic Jewish messianism, inflexible and destined to break.

Aran presents the reader with historical facts, a plot, and brilliant interpretation. His writing is creative and graceful, and reading the book is a pleasurable experience. It also has a few problems: The lack of an index is a serious oversight, and the lengthy explanations at the beginning about the formation of the Zionist movement at the end of the 19th century are superfluous. The passage of time is evident in the explanations pertaining to matters of kabbalah and mysticism. But as a whole the text is fascinating, and the book’s editor, Amit Shoham, did an admirable job in reducing the dense abundance typical of a doctoral dissertation into the earthly reality dictated by the constraints of publishing a book.

Aran’s research reveals to us how vivid and innovative Kookism was at its inception: sanctifying the profane, sanctifying the IDF, sanctifying nationalism, the blinding faith in the righteousness of its path, its contempt for passive religiosity, the theological interpretation − in real time − of every political occurrence. His study also reveals to us how great was its failure, how pale its decline. Today the most devout Kookists − Rabbi Zvi Yisrael Tau and the yeshivas under his leadership − have withdrawn from the public arena and severed themselves from Israeli society. Who better than Naftali Bennett, the high-tech ace from Ra’anana who became the new shepherd of religious Zionism, to herald the end of Kookism as a vibrant social movement. Thirty years after it was written as an introduction to a young movement’s worldview, Aran’s juicy text is now being published as its summation.

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Published in Haaretz, 5.4.13

Inside the mind of Rav Kook: Redeeming not only the world, but one’s soul

“Tzadik Yesod Olam: Hashlihut Hasodit Ve’ha’havaya Hamistit shel Harav Kook” (“Tzaddiq Yesod Olam: Rabbi Kook’s Secret Mission and Mystical Experience”), by Smadar Cherlow. Bar-Ilan Press, 435 pages, NIS 135

Considering the immense influence that Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook ‏(1865-1935‏) has had on the fate of the State of Israel in our day, it is surprising how few scholarly books have been devoted to him. The thinker who lay the foundations for the national-religious viewpoint that sees in the state the beginning of the budding of Jewish redemption − and in its sovereignty over its territory reliable signposts marking the progress of this redemption − has indeed been the subject of several doctoral theses. But in bookstores the number of titles about him and his philosophy does not exceed a single digit, and approximately half of these are more than 20 years old.

As the subtitle of Smadar Cherlow’s book attests, her work presumes to expose a hidden and secret dimension of the life and importance of the figure known popularly as Rav Kook: his mission as a tzadik yesod olam, literally, a righteous man who serves as a foundation of the world. This mission led him to view himself as one who had been endowed with prophecy − and ultimately also as a tzadik in the role of a messiah waiting for revelation.

Cherlow introduces these characteristics of self-perception from a close reading of Rav Kook’s diaries ‏(which were made public only a dozen or so years ago in the volumes “Shmona Kevatzim”‏), and via a reading of the words of his close students Rabbi David Cohen ‏(“The Nazirite”‏) and Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Harlap. Delving deeply into “Shmona Kevatzim” enables Cherlow not only to suss out what is hidden in Rav Kook’s heart, but also to weave his statements into a chronological axis of development.

Messianic expectations

After publication of the Balfour Declaration in 1917, and the subsequent end of World War I, messianic expectations from Rav Kook reached their height. These hopes emanated from Rav Kook’s own view of himself as a tzadik, and in fact tzadik hador− the righteous man of his generation. Cherlow brings a variety of his statements, which point to the mission to which Kook saw himself as enlisted as early as his tenure as the rabbi of Jaffa, starting in 1904.

Rav Kook determined that the secular immigrants of the Second Aliyah ‏(wave of immigration‏) − “the impudent transgressors of roads and fences,” as he put it, who came to the Land of Israel between 1904 and 1914 − were the ones who, by their actions, were implementing the divine plan that called for the return of the people of Israel to its land. If to date the preoccupation focused on these views, then in the new book the emphasis is on the mystical intuitions behind them. With the help of assorted quotations from his diaries, Cherlow shows how Kook’s self-perception as tzadik hador led him to perceive himself as responsible for “raising” the pioneers’ enterprise and inserting it as another stone in the evolving tablet of the priestly kingdom that was taking real shape.

About his own times, Rav Kook asks: “Then what are tzadikei hador to do?” and answers himself: “Rebelling against the spirit of the nation … that is something one cannot … but they have to perform great work, discover the light and the sanctity in the spirit of the nation, the light of God that is inside all these” ‏(“Shmona Kevatzim,” 1:71‏).

Kook expresses himself in the third person, but his writing style elsewhere tells us that he is referring to himself, and from his view of himself as tzadik hador, he rolls up his sleeves to try to discover the light of divinity in the actions of the heathen Jews.

It is worthwhile juxtoposing these statements by Rav Kook with the position taken at the same time by Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, the first rabbi of the ultra-Orthodox Edah Haredit in Jerusalem. With reference to Kook, Sonnenfeld stated that, “the path of this one is not straight in my eyes. What have we got to do with their inner lives? The Lord sees into the heart, but we, human beings, we have but things that are visible and to rule according to the law and the halakha ‏(traditional Jewish law‏).”

Sonnenfeld recognizes that the venerated rabbi is developing his theological method in accordance with “inner sight,” and finding in the secular pioneers a divine spark that is not evident in their actions. From the Haredi rabbi’s standpoint, however, we are talking about a presumption to vision into the Holy Spirit, and he refuses to play on that field. In contrast to him, Rav Kook saw himself as a lead player on that same field.

Later on, Kook exhibits a prophetic and even messianic self-perception. The rabbi’s diaries contain a wealth of terms that describe religious revelation, starting with tzefiyah ‏(vision‏), through tiyul bapardes ‏(a walk through the orchard; pardes, lit. orchard, signifies mysticism), and ending with ruah hakodesh ‏(the holy spirit‏) and nevuah ‏(prophecy‏). Cherlow points out the increasing frequency of these phrases following Kook’s immigration from Russia to Israel and the start of his tenure as the rabbi of Jaffa, based on the assumption that a complete prophecy is only possible on Israeli soil. That was when the rabbi wrote: “… and I shall listen and hear from the depths of my soul, from the heart’s emotions, the voice of the Lord calling” ‏(“Shmona Kevatzim,” 4:17‏). Because of its audacity, the sentence was censored when Kook’s words were transferred from his diaries to the book “Orot Hakodesh.”

Rav Kook’s self-perception as a tzadik and prophet developed into a self-perception as messiah with the end of the Great War. The terrors of World War I inspired him to hope that it was in fact “the war to end all wars,” as it was dubbed at the time. In similar fashion to the impact that the horrors of the Holocaust had on Chabad rabbis, the sensation grew on him that out of such great darkness must burst forth light, and he saw himself as responsible for spreading that light. To that end he worked to found a spiritual-political movement and to revive the Sanhedrin.

Contact with the divine

Rav KookCherlow’s formulation of these insights was done based on things − explicit and insinuated − contained in Kook’s diaries. This method is dangerous sometimes, since scholars tend to find in writings whatever they are looking for. But in many cases there is no other choice, for rarely will a mystic ‏(let along a Jewish mystic‏) relate in a simple manner what he feels and the image he has of himself. Cherlow is aware of these dangers. She focuses in her book on Kook’s experiences, at the expense of looking at his activity or his philosophic and halakhic writings. This choice underscores the mystical dimension in his life − i.e., his constant striving for immediate contact with the divine.

One of the interesting insights that arise from this study pertains to the image of Kookian mysticism, which focuses on one’s subjective inner life. The prophetic source as far as Kook is concerned lies in the depths of his psyche. His world is divided into the subjective interior and the objective exterior. This also gives rise to the tension between the inner revelations and hovot ha’evarim − the duties to be performed by the bodily organs, which is to say the mitzvoth and social ties by which he is bound.

Cherlow devotes two chapters to examining the strains in the rabbi’s life between his inner identity as a mystic and his social role as a public leader. Again and again, Kook writes about the sorrow caused him by the necessity to go out into the world, and even by the obligation to be a stickler for halakha. His words suggest that his mystical self-perception is utterly different from that shared by mekubalim ‏(mystical masters‏) in the past, in whose eyes the mitzvoth are the mysticism − i.e., that their mystical journey ‏(which includes mating of spheres or impregnation of souls, prophetic revelations or elevation of sparks‏) takes place by means of the mitzvoth, and out of an affiliation with a group of mekubalim around them.

Rav Kook presents a modern mystical consciousness, which he shares with other Jewish figures who were active in the early 20th century, such as Martin Buber, A.D. Gordon, Hillel Zeitlin and the Grand Rabbi of Piaseczno. In a spiritual world such as theirs, mythic thinking, which unites inside and outside, and above and below, gave way to a modern consciousness and a perception that makes a harsh distinction between consciousness and action, between the subjective world and the objective world. Their reunification is precisely the challenge facing the mystic, and meeting it is perceived as the height of mystical accomplishment.

In the eyes of the Jewish mystic, that is a new situation, the first signs of which appeared in the Hasidic movement. From Cherlow’s book emanates Rav Kook’s passion not only to redeem the world, but to redeem his soul as well, through the total unification of the aspects of his life − the mystical, the halakhic, the social and the national. Rav Kook, a dedicated optimist, was convinced it was possible.

מןך

Published in Haaretz, 23.1.13


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