Lecture #12b: Letter 44, Sections G-H

  • Rav Tamir Granot


By Rav Tamir Granot



Lecture #12b:

Letter 44, Sections G-H



            We shall now continue with sections G and H of Letter 44, along with explanatory notes.


G. It seems to me that there is no need for me to speak with you in detail about the wondrous matter of the Ayin,[1] and of the conundrum of the unity of opposites.[2] All this derives from a casual look within and an unwavering [look] outward.[3] The exalted Jewish thought will not tolerate the disunity of opposites,[4] for how could it be possible for us to see in the entire sensible world that life and all ordered properties are built by the collection and harmonization of opposites – positive and negative,[5] cold and heat, male and female[6] – while the world of ideas is a wilderness, barren and desolate, decomposed and rotten, without connection and relation, only turmoil and confusion.[7] They are certainly mistaken, those who think that there are no opposites and that everything is revealed in one color.  This is intellectual color-blindness.[8]


But how true and clear it is that the lofty partzufim[9] throughout the spiritual world, revealed in all percipients' souls,[10] in any place and level where there is soul and cognition,[11] join and unite, harmonize and connect as they do in the lower world, and invisible colors become revealed as perceptible hues.[12] How good, how pleasant, how true, and how joyful is this great and strong law that guides man beyond mortality.  "When you walk, it will lead you; when you lie down, it will keep you; and when you awake, it will walk with you."[13] It is simply and straightforwardly understood that all we see, hear, and feel about any subject, especially about moral and intellectual matters, and even more so about divine matters, are mere guises and appellations, under which lies the true content, more enduring and more alive and united, through which all things unite.[14] All cognitions are particular facets of the inner form, partially revealed by inner images,[15] in the manner that one part of the ocean is revealed to someone standing beside it.[16] Only by connecting many perspectives can we approach the perception of the whole, even though [its parts] certainly seem to contradict one another. If this is the case in the objective world,[17] how much more so in the subjective world,[18] where we must see only the beauty, the compatibility, and the inner picture,[19] about which our mere ability to explain and unite them unites and connects them.  Only a deficiency of outlook can seek to disrupt and separate, or even be lax in unifying, as this, too, is a philosophy of indolence.[20]


Even if our words serve to broaden the intellect and augment the courage only of those who stand within [those who are religious], who are whole of heart even without us, it is also extremely beneficial, in that if these people are themselves [kept] healthy, they will also be able to heal and uplift others…[21]


H. Were I to write a "book," [of philosophy] I would certainly explore the depths of the content of the mind, to propose a system [explaining] why it is that we should not fear all the divisions of heretical diatribes.[22] Not only have we nothing to fear, but, on the contrary, we should be joyous, for we can show that these very tendencies that seem harmful and contradictory to the cumulative foundation of any belief and religion only bring the world closer to the house of the Lord of Jacob, exalted and lofty.[23] All the intellectual heresies deal only with that aspect of imagination that is found naturally connected to feelings of faith,[24] and this aspect of imagination must come to an end and disappear, but the good thing that it causes in the world must be left established and well-rooted.[25] Clear and firm concepts, free of any misleading fantasy, can only be found according to the profound plan of the purified divine unity, which is the basis of Israel's source.[26] In a "book," one must certainly explain everything in detail, according to one's ability, to indicate what fundamental idea are and how we can approach the, by refuting misleading fancies and showing how [by their purification] they can together be vibrant, reliable, and delightful, strongly influencing the living and real world.  But such a "book" would have to be extremely long.  Even were it as short and concise as possible, it would be practically impossible to accomplish the task properly in one book and one generation.


Therefore, our main aim must be raising the glory of Israel's inner wisdom,[27] drawing it from wherever it can be drawn, so that not even a drop will be lost from this well-sealed cistern.  [It must be] not only a  body of moral literature, or research , or philosophy, or kabbala, each single-faceted, but rather a raising of the value and broadening of knowledge of Jewish and human thought from its deepest roots, ascending beyond all the ideas of the world, beating out with a strong hand all that doctrines and religions, their principle roots, ramifications, and pathways, confidently scanning their essences and purposes, and putting them all into an ordered, hierarchic system, until it finds the cumulative Partzuf of mankind, the "Book of Adam,"[28] completely and fundamentally, until it unites the revealed with the hidden, the past with the present, and both with the future.[29] And with all this continually widening expanse, it confidently approaches Israel's particular treasure of life, wherein it finds all, all the seeds of growth from bliss and life, until it need kill nothing. It transforms all into light, darkness to brilliance bitterness into sweetness. This is the Torah completed by the head of the yeshiva in the palace of the Messiah. But I have written only articles, just simple observations, poor and insignificant. That will only help awaken the heart of wise, exceptional men. The awakening of the heart will bear its fruit. This, with its mighty proclamation, must begin in the Land of Israel. This is my desire and hope.


The letter continues from this point and addresses things that we already saw about socialism and liberalism as well as several other incidental comments. We will conclude our study of it here.


[Translated by Elli Fischer]

[1] On one hand, we say "there is nothing but Him,” thereby nullifying the realness of the existence of our world (acosmism), but on the other hand we are cognizant of its real and multiple being. How can these opposites be reconciled?

[2] More generally speaking, the problem (which has roots in kabbala and chasidut [especially Chabad and R. Tzadok Ha-Cohen of Lublin] and in the new philosophy [especially the idealists – in Rav Kook’s context Hegel and Schelling in particular should be mentioned]) is the contradictions between true ideas: how can one account, from an analytic perspective, for the existence of opposing theories about the universe, goodness, truth, etc.? The doctrine of the unification of opposites attempts to provide the metaphysical or logical hardware for the incorporation of opposing ideas.

[3] In other words, the world of phenomena is given the status of absolute truth, and they do not consider things from the perspective of inner wisdom, the contemplation of the interiority of things.

[4] From the perspective of theology, as will be clarified below.

[5] He is referring to magnetism. This is the primary model used by the German philosopher Schelling in his philosophy of science.

[6] The coupling of the opposites male and female does not negate; rather it is the source of life.

[7] Since in the material world the encounter of opposites is the basis of life, it can be hypothesized that this is the case in the spiritual world as well. The lack of fruitfulness of contradictory ideas and the conception that they cannot coexist do not only cause contradiction and confusion, but also a trampling of God in favor of a barren and unproductive spiritual world.

[8] Rav Kook vehemently rejects dogmatic, unambivalent philosophical positions. IN the world of ideas there is room for opposing opinions and even different worldviews; the failure to understand this truth is an intellectual failure.

[9] In this metaphor, Rav Kook also alludes to the well-known principle of Lurianic kabbala that Divinity can appear as five partzufin (faces): the Arikh Anpin (‘long face,’ Keter), Abba (‘father,’ Chokhma), Eema (‘mother,’ Bina), Ze’eir Anpin (‘short face,’ the six lower sefirot), and Nukva (‘female,’ Malkhut). Each partzuf is a different facet of the Divine revelation, and this is indeed one of the meanings of the unification of opposites: the single, indivisible source is disclosed in various ways.

[10] This is also a kabbalistic principle, emphasized in chasidut and especially Chabad: the multiplicity of partzufim in the spiritual realms (see the previous note) is also manifest as the multiplicity of partzufim in personality and intelligence, since a human in the nether worlds is a model of Divinity above. The principle of an essence, a basic soul, that has various modes of expression and action, is preserved in all worlds.

[11] 'The lower world" (alma tata'a) means this world. This apparently refers to the harmonization of opposites in the natural world, as described above.

[12] One day, Rabbi Shimon was sitting together with his son R. Eliezer and R. Abba. R. Eliezer said: “This verse that states, ‘And I appeared to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov…’ (Shemot 6:2) – what does ‘and I appeared’ mean? It should have said ‘and I spoke’!?” [R’ Shimon] said to him: “My son Eliezer, this is a deep secret. Come and see, there are visible colors and there are imperceptible hues, and both these and those are the highest secrets of faith, that people do not know and do not consider. Mankind did not earn these (perceptible) colors until the patriarchs came and considered them. For this reason, it says, ‘and I appeared,’ for they saw the revealed colors. What are these colors that were revealed? These are the colors of E-l Shad-dai (ibid.), which are colors of the highest vision (alt. version: for they are the highest vision of colors), yet they are visible. But the higher, inaccessible, imperceptible colors, no man considered other than Moshe. Regarding this it is written: ‘yet My name YKVK is did not make known to them’ (ibid.); I did not reveal Myself to them with the higher colors. Moreover, the patriarchs did not know them, except that they knew them through the revealed colors.” (Zohar II:23a)

To explain this, I will cite what I found in the Pitchei She’arim:

The explanation of this matter relates to how we understand the eye of inferior man, which we may then use as a model for understanding the lights of Atzilut. It is known that the sense of sight originates in the brain through the brains membranes and pipelines that continue into the inner pupil, where the power of sight makes its impressions. All sight is along three lines – red, green, and white – as alluded in the verse “as a hart (ayal = adom, yarok, and lavan; red, green and white) pines for brooks of water,’ which are the neveh levels of eyes, as I will explain below. But they are yet spiritual, and when they are enclothed in the eye itself, the colors are impressed upon it actually. Thus, the issue of vision is that the light breaks through into the eye to the object of consideration and then rebounds, and the object considered is impressed into the eye itself, and that is vision. In truth, if the sense of sight were to pass through the eye without becoming enclothed, it would have not boundary or color. It would continue to the ends of the earth but would not be able to return with the image of the object considered. But once there is a barrier and screen on vision, the spark that passes from the eye to the object considered has a boundary, and it returns as reflected light to be impressed in the eye itself.

Thus we find that the eye has three levels, each of which is of three, that the power of vision when it leaves the brain is very spiritual, imbued with the power of the soul and including the matter of the three colors. But there, before they spread out, they are included in one, for there is no differentiation of color there. When it reaches the eye, the three colors begin to be distinguished. But it is still not sensed until it passes from the eye and returns in the form of reflected light from the object considered back to the eye itself.

We have similarly found these same three levels in sunlight. At first is the actual initial light that was created on the first day on which He looked from one end of the world to the other. He then hid that light, as stated in an aggadic midrash that the light was hidden within the sun itself, and this is the second level. The third level is when the sun shines through the clouds, and the sunlight is then impressed on it and reflected back through the mask created by the cloud, when all three colors are clearly impressed upon the cloud. These are the three colors of the rainbow, as it is written, ‘and I shall see it and remember the everlasting covenant.’ (Pitchei She’arim, Netiv Partzuf Avraham Avinu, Gate 16)

            The visible colors are the colors that are discernible: various hues, different aspects of behavior or modes of expression. The imperceptible hues are the source of the visible colors, but are in a state of being part of the source – the soul, light, Divinity, mutatis mutandis – such that these unique aspects cannot be seen by human sense or thought. The patriarch attained understanding of the Divine unity through the expressed colors and ideas (the various sefirot related to them). Moshe, who saw ‘through a bright glass,’ grasped the unity of opposites that exists within the Divine perfection itself, at its root.

[13] Mishlei 6:22. I do not know why this verse was brought here.

[14] This is essentially an explanation of the idea of partzufim that was cited above. If we view the world as an enclothement and know that it expresses an inner fundamental in all its levels – matter, spirit, emotions, ideas, etc. – we may know its basic unity.

[15] The "inner images" are kabbalistic metaphors that teach us about the various facets of Divine manifestation within reality: partzufim, sefirot, etc.

[16] The ocean has many aspects. Those who stand by it on different coasts and different corners will apprehend it – its size, shape, or color – differently, each according to his own horizons. Each sees a partial image. Only by combining the horizons of the many observers  - which would seem to be in dispute with each other if we allowed their words to oppose each other without knowing that they indeed refer to the same ocean but that each observer only saw part of it – only such a combination can give us a complete picture of the ocean.

[17] Science and even ontology.

[18] Spiritual concepts, ideas, feelings, etc.

[19] Rav Kook presents three examinations here: a. “beauty” = harmony: the opposites do not need a solution. On the contrary, their very opposition must generate a beautiful, aesthetic spiritual world whose beauty lies in its variety; b. “compatibility” = coherence – the various opinions complement each other and create solidarity; c. “inner picture” – the manner in which we comprehend the ideas and explain them; through interpretation and reworking, something contradictory can be transformed into a reinforcement or complement.

[20] I.e.: philosophy remains with the superficial view of contradiction and makes no effort to clarify the root of the matter.

[21] Rav Zvi Yehuda Kook notes that several words are missing here, and it is indeed difficult to understand the last sentence, though it does not hinder the general progression of ideas.

[22] The new Orthodoxy called itself “Chareidi” – trembling.” The basic meaning is, of course, to “tremble at the word of God” (cf. Yeshayahu 66:5), but it also ‘trembled’ from the anti-religious polemic and its contexts.

[23] This is a prophecy of Yeshayahu’s prophecy: “And it shall come to pass in the end of days, that the mountain of God’s house shall be established as the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills… And many peoples shall go and say: 'Come, and let us go up to the mountain of God, to the house of the God of Yaakov; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths.' For out of Zion shall go forth Torah, and the word of God from Jerusalem” (Yeshayahu 2:2-3). Rav Kook refers to the fact that the nations will learn faith, as prophesied by Yeshayahu, from Israel alone, and therefore the heresy in the religious musings of the nations actually brings them closer, paradoxically, to the possibility of accepting the true faith.

[24] This is Rav Kook’s basic idea regarding heresy: heresy is not against faith itself, but against the various imaginings of the Divine that folk religion created – which is essentially an expression of man’s natural religious inclination and not based on pure intellect, and certainly not on revelation.

[25] Religious feeling is basically positive, and it has a positive effect on culture, whereas the concepts created by religion are often false. The positive results of the religious inclination must be preserved, but its erroneous concepts must be replaced.

[26] As explained above at length in this letter.

[27] This does not refer to kabbalistic literature narrowly defined, since later in the same sentence Rav Kook mentions kabbala as one of the particular sources of truth. Rather, it refers to methodology, the inner contemplation that tries to get to the root of the various categories and opinions and to create a worldview that has room for all manifestations of ideology and culture in general. See the first sections of Part A of Orot Ha-kodesh.

[28] One of the sources of the “Book of Adam” is the following: “R. Nechemia says: Whence do we derive that one human is equivalent to all of creation? For it says ‘this is the book of the generations of man’ (Bereishit 5:1) and later it says ‘these are the generations of the heavens and the earth upon their creation’ (ibid. 2:4); just as later there is creation and action, so too here there is creation and action. This teaches that God showed Adam all of the future generations that will descend from him as though they are standing (and playing) right before him… a parable to which this can be compared – to one who took a tree and wished to draw many forms, but there is no space to draw so he is pained, but he draws on the ground and then goes on and makes a great separation. So too God, may His great Name be blessed forever, created the entire world in His wisdom and understanding and created the up[per and lower heavens and earth. And he created in man everything that he created in the world” (Avot de-Rabbi Natan ch. 31). This midrash, to which Rav Zvi Yehuda refers in a footnote, beautifully expresses the idea of the unity of creation. The world is the book of man in two senses: first, all of creation is made according to the human model; secondly, humanity is an organic whole, and its multiplicity reverts back to its source – symbolized by Adam. The kabbalists supplemented this idea when they described the expressed Divinity as having a human form, that is: the basic code of creation is made in the form of man, and thus all expressions of culture and the human spirit are different aspects of the archetypal human expression.

[29] This turn to inner wisdom is not coincidental. It makes sense that its main purpose is unity, and the turn to all the various sources and to all the realms of time and culture is its original character.