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Beliefs & Perspectives Judaism

Orot (Lights) From Rav Kook

Apropos of Hanukah, the Festival of Lights, let me share with you some of the light from Orot, the seminal work of the illustrious Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook.

Orot (Lights), has been translated and brilliantly annotated by Rabbi Bezalel Naor, who rightly says in his introduction, “Rav Kook’s thought is intended to be the sum, the synthesis, of all Jewish thought preceding it. Beyond that, it attempts to provide the last, premessianic word on that entire tradition.”

Before continuing, it is important to bear in mind that the original edition of Orot was published in 1920, shortly after First World War—till then the bloodiest war in human history. Another significant matter: Rabbi Naor refers to Rav Kook as “The man who wore tefillin all day—and Nietzsche.” I wrote my masters thesis on Nietzsche, and having read Orot many times, what links Rav Kook and Nietzsche is their denial of antinomies on the one hand, and their “yes to life” philosophy on the other. Whatever one may think of Nietzsche, probably no gentile philosopher better understood Judaism, and few admired Jews more than the author of Thus Spake Zarathustra.

When Nietzsche says in Zarathustra, “God is dead,” he meant the God of Christianity. Lo and behold, Europe is now witnessing the demise of Christianity. The First World War, which pitted one Christian nation against another, a war in which Europe soaked in its own blood, suggested to Rav Kook that Christianity—the religion of love—was on its death bed.

Profound criticism of Christian thought is prominent in Orot partly because Rav Kook believed that the decline of Christianity and the cataclysm of the First World War heralded the rebirth of Israel and Torah Judaism.

Happily, Rav Kook’s son, Rav Zvi Yehudah Hakohen Kook, wrote a most helpful outline of Orot. I will quote and annotate some passages of this outline as an introduction to future articles on Orot itself. Let us begin.

* * *

1) “The Land of Israel is not a means to an end of collective solidarity but rather an end in itself. It defies nationalism, it is a mystical dimension. The hope of the Land of Israel is what gives [many Jews in] the Diaspora the strength to continue to exist. [The present writer would now add that the survival of at least of Evangelical Christianity in the United States very much depends on the Land of Israel, hence, on Israel’s survival.] The essential difference between the Judaism in the Diaspora [where Judaism is merely a religion] and that of the Land of Israel [where Judaism is meant to be an all-embracing way of life, i.e., a religious nationality that transcends both religion and nationality].

2) Jewish mysticism (Kabbalah) [properly understood, exalts and will eventually magnify] life in the Land of Israel. Rationalistic approaches to Judaism place no special value on the Land of Israel [which is why, under secular Zionist leadership, the Land of Israel is being truncated].

3) [There are] two aspects of Jewish existence: particularism and universalism. In exile, the universalist side gains prominence; in Erets Yisroel the universalism is expressed through the medium of particularism. Jewish history, which began on a universalist note [via Abraham], comes full circle. [Rav Kook is a philosopher of history.]

4) At the hour of the downfall of Western civilization, Israel is called upon to fulfill its divine mission by providing the spiritual basis for a new world order.

5) The phony sophistication of Western civilization is as nothing compared to the innocence of humanity’s childhood—Israel.

6) The excellence of Judaism consists in its subjugation of will to intellect and law. [Today, unrestrained imagination rules, but this is preparation for the restoration of prophecy as well as of reason—hence, an overcoming of the dichotomy of reason and revelation.]

7) Whole god-knowledge entails the integration of soul and body. The application of this idea to national psychology [is discussed in Orot]. [Materialism and empiricism render the nations unready for this approach.]

8) Economics are the essence of other national entities; God is the heart of Israel ….

9) The first generation of the redemptive process prepares the material basis for the spirituality that will follow.

10) National tendencies will not be dislodged by science [nor by economics]. Israel’s natural instinct is godliness.

11) The Chosen People, Israel, which bestowed ethics on the world, will now bestow enjoyment and vivacity as well.

12) In Exile, the Nation could make do with foggy notions of God. With the national renaissance, the concept of God must be purified. This is the raison d’être of the passing phenomenon of atheism.

To be continued.

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