Lecture #26c: Isolationism vs. Socialization - continued

  • Rav Tamir Granot



By Rav Tamir Granot


Isolationism vs. Socialization (continued)



Chapter 2


In this shiur, I will attempt to present the essence of ideas that are the subject of whole books – by Rav Kook himself and by his many commentators. Some of what appears here is based on sources and/or articles which the reader may refer to as directed in the footnotes.[1] My aim is to present the main foundations of Rav Kook's theology and their ramifications for the concept of the "kodesh" (holy), which is central to his philosophy, from the point of view that is important for our discussion here.


The difficult philosophical problem underlying Rav Kook's idea of the holy arises from the encounter between the following two assertions:


a.   Rav Kook's theology is basically immanent: that is, the world with all its layers and phenomena, is a multi-hued manifestation of Divinity. Both nature, which is manifest as a circular necessity (the circular principle), and manifestations of will are part of the "Infinite Light" – in other words, to put it simply, they are different forms of Divine manifestation. To define it negatively, what this theology means is a negation of classical theism: the idea that Divinity is an essence/entity/consciousness in its own right which is fundamentally different from tangible reality. God is not transcendental to reality, but rather is the locus of the world, and "there is no place that is devoid of Him," but even these statements do not fully convey the idea that everything is God. Reality is a sort of gateway through which we peek at the Palace (metaphor borrowed from "Ha-Tzimaon le-El Chai," in Zer'onim, chapter 1).


b.   The concept of the holy – both normative and existential – identifies essences in the world (in the realms of place, time, and man) which are holy and others which are profane. For example, there is Shabbat and there are the days of the week; Israel and the nations; Jerusalem with the Temple and the rest of the world, etc. The simple significance of identifying something as holy is the recognition that it is Godly, or as representing the basis or platform for a manifestation of Godliness. Whatever is not holy is neutral in the metaphysical sense – i.e., it is not Godly.


These two perceptions are mutually contradictory, and it is their reconcilement which Rav Kook viewed as the basis for his entire religious philosophy. How can it be that our perception of holiness or of the holy contradicts our principle of Divinity or Godliness? How can it be that the pursuit of our theological theory leads us to the conclusion that Godliness is manifest in the world and there is nothing other than Godliness, while our pursuit of the concept of holiness establishes that reality, for the most part, is not Godly?


The first stage of understanding the problem is the distinction which needs to be made, to borrow Chabad terms, between our perception of reality and "His" perception of it.[2] Or to borrow the terms of Kantian epistemology, we must distinguish between the world of phenomena (the world as perceived through our categories of perception and consciousness) and the world as it is in itself – the absolute perspective. The main significance of this distinction is that we should not, on the basis of what we perceive, conclude anything about true reality.


Kant's discussion focuses mainly on scientific regularity and the sensory world. The importation of the Kantian hypothesis of consciousness into the realm of religious ontology is of great significance. Rav Kook concludes, on the basis of Sefer Ha-Tanya, that not only are our perceptions subjective, but even the subject's own self-perception is part of the world of phenomena – i.e., it is real only from the subject's point of view.[3] "Its point of view" – i.e., reality as it really is – does not recognize the duality of me and God, because in fact no duality exists. Every "I" is a manifestation of the Divine. The transcendental "I," from this point of view, is merely an illusion. The "relative, subjective nature" of consciousness, as Rav Kook refers to it, is the essence of the sefira of Malkhut[4] – which, according to the kabbalists, is not substance, but rather a form of perception, the foundation of man's perception, which is not absolute. Sefer Ha-Tanya explains that the Malkhut aspect of Divine emanation requires the creation of creatures that will accept God's Kingship – for "there can be no king without a nation" (i.e., subjects). However, he takes the metaphor a step further, teaching that the word “am” (nation) is derived from "omemut" (dimming) – meaning that God's Kingship is dimmed in the resulting reality. This is the condition for the existence of full Kingship – that there be those who enjoy personal independence and accept the kingship upon themselves. The sefira of Malkhut is referred to as "zot" and "ani" because it is the source of the creation of concrete existence ("zot") and the appearance of the consciousness of "ani" (I, myself) – in other words, the existence of a personal, subjective reality outside of Godliness.[5]


Even at this early stage, we may raise the partial hypothesis that the "kodesh" is conspicuous against the background of the "chol" only from within the prism of Malkhut, while in truth everything is "kodesh." This is the dialectic between the sefira of Yesod, which is the essence of the inner quality of reality (the kodesh), and Malkhut, which is the manner of the manifestation and reception of that reality and the impression which it makes upon us. This may be compared to the difference between the source of light, which is white, and its multi-colored refraction. What we encounter is not the source, but rather the refraction.


The second stage is the understanding that there is a chasm separating our theoretical knowledge about reality and Godliness (theology and ontology), and our ability to perceive, experientially, that which is known to us.


The significance of this understanding is that the distinction between "kodesh" and "chol" is important specifically within our world of perception. The manifestation, or appearance, of "kodesh" is something different from its essence. We are aware that in truth nothing exists outside of Godliness, and therefore there is no real difference between different times, different places, different objects or people. However, this knowledge has the status of speculative metaphysics, which is understood but not (experientially) perceived.


There is scientific information which we relate to in the same way – starting with our knowledge that the sun's position is fixed (relative to us) and the earth revolves around it, all the way to our knowledge of Einstein's Theory of Relativity. Although this information is certain and able to be proven, it contradicts the manner in which we perceive the world. We may therefore say that the theology of immanence is an example of this sort of knowledge, which contradicts our most profound perceptions.


The third stage in solving the problem is establishing the role of each of these perspectives. If I have information about the world which is inconsistent with the manner in which I perceive the world, what do I do with that information?


To answer this question, we may refer to precedents which have arisen around various issues. One of the classic debates in religious thought concerns the relationship between Divine decree and man's free choice. A fatalist believes absolutely in predetermination – i.e., he believes that everything that happens in our world is the result of a primal Divine will. How does this person relate to the idea of free choice? Obviously, we intuitively perceive freedom of will as a fact; we perceive ourselves as beings with the ability to make choices. When someone is shown the truth about Divine Providence, how should he conduct himself on the level of his own choices?[6]


Different answers are proposed for this question. Some seek to diminish somewhat the scope of the Divine decree or of free choice, so as to leave space for both; others accept the fatalist conclusion on the existential level, too. For the purposes of our discussion, I would like to focus on a third position, which compartmentalizes the two statements (there is Divine decree, and there is free choice), viewing them as applying to two different levels. The knowledge about God's decree is true, but it need not influence our actual consciousness. In other words, since we see ourselves, in our perception, have free choice, we must act accordingly, ignoring the theoretical knowledge as to the nature of that choice.


Rav Kook adopts the same sort of "compartmentalization" in addressing the ideological (and non-philosophical) stage of the issue of the "kodesh.” The compartmentalization has a sociological aspect and a psychological aspect. In terms of the former, Rav Kook differentiates between the masses – including the great majority of talmidei chakhamim and "regular" tzaddikim – and the supreme tzaddikim. For the great majority, the distinction between "kodesh" and "chol" is vital, and any blurring of it spells destruction. The masses cannot relinquish the identification of the "kodesh" in comparison with the "chol."[7]


In terms of the psychological aspect, the distinction is between the level of action and choice, on the one hand, and thought and poetry on the other. We shall dwell for a moment on the source for this distinction, since it is of fundamental importance in understand Rav Kook's teachings.


In a central section of his discussion of the concept of overall unity,[8] Rav Kook juxtaposes theistic theology (Divinity as an exclusive entity, transcendental to existence) and pantheistic theology (immanence, the world as a manifestation of divinity). He does not subject them to discursive investigation – i.e., there is no questioning of their theoretical truth. Rather, he explains that the theistic worldview causes a weakening of thought, owing to the terror and the sense of insignificance and nothingness which it imposes upon man, which may manifest itself in a pathological way, even as jealousy.[9] The view that the world is a Divine manifestation, in contrast, fills and satisfies man.


Upon reading this excerpt one might have the impression that the conclusion is quite simple: theism is an erroneous theology, as proven by its negative results. Some of Rav Kook's commentators have indeed arrived at this conclusion. But it is wrong. Later on in the same section, Rav Kook explains why it is only through theism as a vessel, a form of perception, that the pantheistic view is revealed. We cannot reject theism even after discovering that it is only imaginary. The reason for this is that theism is the only manner in which we are able to maintain a realistic world view along with fear of Heaven. Pantheism nullifies our subjective consciousness, the distinction between good and evil, and – to a certain extent – even between choice and necessity. The world that we perceive is a world of distinctions and contrasts, a world of duality – first and foremost, the duality of the perceiving subject (I) and that which is perceived (you or him/it). This duality, in kabbalistic terms, is expressed in the relation between Malkhut, which is not an integral part of the Divine essence, the human "I," and the sefira of Tiferet, which represents the Tetragrammaton, the "You" from the human perspective.


The possibility of our knowing the theological truth that there is nothing but God arises from our ability to arrive at knowledge of the world through dimensions that lie beyond immediate human perception. These dimensions are (philosophical/theological) thought and poetry (as an expression of the Supreme will and imagination) – which here again is a metaphor for the profound psychological revelation of a person who has an inner sense of reality that passes over the usual sensory, perceptive process. The transferring of this inner knowledge to the practical realm – certainly in the public realm – may lead to real religious or axiological nihilism or, alternatively, to idolatry. The obvious conclusion is that on the practical level and on the public level, the theistic concepts which draw an absolute distinction between our world and the Divine reality are necessary and must prevail.


The Halakha, which is the practical expression of the Oral Law – these, according to Kabbala and Rav Kook, being manifestations of the sefira of Malkhut within our reality – creates a model for normative relations with reality, reflecting this practical consciousness. Of course, the Halakha draws a clear distinction between "kodesh" and "chol" and between "good" and "evil." Halakha also distinguishes between Jew and non-Jew; Kohen, Levi, and Yisrael; and even between a scholar and an ignoramus. It would be true to say of Halakha that it also reflects our intuitive perception on the religious and moral level, which distinguishes between values but at the same time also molds them.


However, all of this applies not only in relation to Halakha in the narrow sense, as a defined codex of rules, but also to the entire guidance of our conduct. Every decision on the practical level, as well as every ideological position that is directed at action (as opposed to being limited exclusively to the world of inner thought and poetry), must reflect our simple perception of reality, and not the knowledge that we possess concerning the true essence of things. Blurring these areas leads to destruction.[10] 


From the sociological point of view, only unique individuals, whom Rav Kook calls "tzaddikim elyonim" (supreme tzaddikim), whose consciousness has expanded completely beyond the simple perception such that the recognition of the "kodesh" in reality fills their consciousness and their emotions, can live on the level which transcends differences and distinction. Even they experience difficulty when they encounter the practical halakhic obligations which, as noted, reflect the human perception that is on the level of Malkhut and not the fundamentally true reality.[11] According to Rav Kook's description, these supreme tzaddikim experience distress and constriction. Everyone else must conduct themselves and be guided as required on the practical level. Even these tzaddikim themselves must know how to pass from one level to the other when they seek to involve themselves in public leadership. The difficulty of this is obvious, and Rav Kook describes it at length.[12]


This insight is the key to reading many of Rav Kook's letters. There are sections which we might call "personal," in which Rav Kook describes his own consciousness or experience. In these instances, we hear the echo of the inner consciousness of a "supreme tzaddik" (to use his term), to whom all of reality is revealed in its Divine manifestation and who therefore finds truth in every opinion, goodness in every person, and holiness in everything; all the duality in the world means nothing to him. There are other sections of Rav Kook's letters which we might call "esoteric" or "ideological," in which we hear the voice of Rav Kook as leader and educator, or the voice of this consciousness. Most of the contrasts in his writings may be traced back to this dual aspect. His public writings (articles, letters, or complete works) certainly reflect more of the aspect of practical leadership, while his diary writings (the eight collections as the "Orot" books comprising them) reflect more of the personal aspect, but this distinction is not absolute.


Before dealing with the main problem of the article, I propose – based only on this understanding – a way of looking at Rav Kook's halakhic oeuvre, from within his teaching concerning the "kodesh."


To my mind, we should not expect Rav Kook's halakhic works to reflect or realize his eschatological or mystical vision, since Halakha is, as stated, the expression of the practical, historical aspect. As such, Halakha must be aware of man's weaknesses, of the slow and convoluted nature of historical processes, the yetzer ha-ra, manipulations, etc. In short, it must be responsible and cautious. The conclusion to be drawn from this estimation is ultimately a conservative one. The renewal and creativity characteristic of the time of redemption take place more inwardly – i.e., in thought and emotion. Eliezer Malkiel[13] has analyzed Rav Kook's ruling concerning the "heter mekhira" for the Shemitta year and has shown how his various rulings in this regard reflect the anticipation of redemption, but also – and perhaps principally – the understanding that the End of Days is still far off. To put it differently, until such time as God is One and His Name One and the screen that conceals the Divine appearance is removed, Halakha – with the principle of constriction and limitation so central to it – is essential.


It should be noted that in all of Rav Kook's important and lengthy teachings concerning Torat Eretz Yisrael, the unification of Halakha and Aggada, the Written Law and the Oral Law, etc., there is not a single sentence about a change required in halakhic practice. Rav Kook pointed out the difference between the Jerusalem Talmud and the Babylonian Talmud, but continued to rule in accordance with the latter. He called for prophetic influence on halakhic decision-making, but his methodology follows the classic legal, halakhic tradition. Any change that took place was on the level of consciousness, emotion, and desire, but not on the level of practice.


The fourth and final stage: Finally, we must ask whether the religious perception (theism on the level of "Malkhut") is actually influenced by the recognition of the absolute truth of the overall unity (everything is Divinity), or whether these are two separate, parallel levels of relating which can be brought together only at future eschatological time.


I believe that the general answer here is certainly positive – that is, there is an influence – but there are important differences between different issues and different situations, and the ways of influence are not always clearly and unequivocally defined.


An obvious example of this is the question of the proper attitude towards the secular Zionist pioneers. A halakhic definition of them would, of course, be negative. Rav Kook, who clearly viewed them as lofty souls ("souls from the world of “tohu,” according to Zer'onim, section 3), as idealists, as people whose profound (if unconscious) desire is to extend the "kodesh" to the "chol," treated them on the practical level, too, in a manner that went beyond purely normative-halakhic codes. His sympathetic attitude, his famous visits, his real cooperation, are to a considerable extent the result of his profound, inner consciousness concerning them. When real halakhic issues arose (see the eulogy "Al Bamotenu Chalalim"), the conflict between the two levels became particularly difficult. In our next shiur, we shall see what the answer to this question was in the realm of the socio-educational issue that is at the center of our discussion.


(To be continued)


Translated by Kaeren Fish

[1]  See Tamar Ross, “Musag ha-Elokut shel ha-Rav Kook,” Da'at 8-9 (5742), pp. 39-70, 109-128.

[2]  See Tanya, Sha'ar ha-Yichud ve-ha-Emuna, chapters 3-11.

[3]  See Orot Ha-kodesh, part II, 397-401.

[4]  The following brief background review is meant for readers who are not familiar with the relevant kabbalistic terms and their meaning:

Kabbala describes the coming-into-being of the world as a process whereby existence emanated and emerged from Divinity, rather than as the result of the Creator's free will, ex nihilo. The Divinity which preceded Y-H-V-H is usually referred to as "Einsof" (Infinity), expressing our inability to perceive this reality. Creation, or atzilut ("emanation"), means particular, discrete appearances, separate from the undefined Einsof. These appearances, which are actually modes of Divine manifestation and influence, are referred to in Kabbala as "sefirot." The kabbalists speak of 10 such sefirot, with multiple internal nuances. The first sefira is Keter, expressing the most hidden dimension, beyond grasp; it is followed by Chokhma, Bina, etc. The sefirot which reflect the main aspects of Divine manifestation are Chessed (right side) and Gevura (left side), with secondary manifestations in the form of Netzach (right) and Hod (left). The sefira which combines these opposing aspects and embodies the unity of Divine action, despite its contradictions, is that of Tiferet, which is sometimes called Emet (perfection) or Rachamim (combination of Chessed and Din). These five sefirot bring down abundant beneficence into the world via the sefira of Yesod, which is the source of the Divine abundance and fertility in the world. The final sefira is Malkhut. Malkhut is, on one hand, one of the qualities inherent to Divinity, but on the other hand it is external and dependent on God's subjects (meaning all that exists, but principally mankind) who accept upon themselves the yoke of God's Kingdom. In practice, Malkhut is the aspect of Divinity that requires the creation of entities with separate awareness. The very creation of anything at all, and of mankind in particular, is part of the wholeness and perfection of God's manifestation. However, the fact that they possess a non-Divine consciousness, that they are self-conscious beings, is already no longer part of the positive manifestation of God's attributes (Chessed, Gevura, or Tiferet), but rather the creation of the necessary conditions for the appearance of Malkhut, which – by definition – is a social, inter-personal function. Malkhut is also referred to by other imagery, including "kalla" (bride), Knesset Yisrael, Shabbat (evening), and others.

[5] See Iggerot ha-RAYA"H I, letter 44, and the sources cited in note 4.

[6]  A materialist faces a similar problem. If everything may be reduced to chemical and physical processes – including all our thoughts and emotional experiences – then freedom of choice is, once again, merely an illusion. Is the conclusion to be drawn here that man has no moral responsibility?

[7] This distinction between the masses and a small cadre of tzaddikim or philosophers rests, of course, on precedents within both Jewish and secular thought. An obvious example is to be found in the Rambam's metaphor of the "apples of gold in silver filigree" in his introduction to Moreh Nevukhim, as well as in part III, chapter 28. Plato understood the difference between "the good" and "the true" and spoke about the beneficent "lie" and its importance for ruling a country. Both the Rambam and Rav Kook would reject the use of the term "lie," but they agree with the idea of different levels of truth and the need of the masses to suffice with a truth that is partial or limited.

[8]  Orot Ha-kodesh II, p. 399.

[9]  Ibid., p.397

[10]  Orot Ha-kodesh II, p.311, and especially II p.119 and elsewhere.

[11]  This is a level which Rav Kook often refers to as the "clear glass" of Moshe Rabbeinu – or, in its ideal form, the "supreme estate of Adam." It is also referred to by the precise term, "supreme Divine cleaving," and it is compared to the ideal set forth by the Rambam in his Moreh Nevukhim III: 51, where he attributes it to the level of the forefathers. See Arpilei Tohar pp.16-17; Orot Ha-kodesh II, p.493; Orot Ha-kodesh I, pp.278-9.

[12]  It is important to emphasize the historical dimension of this argument. At the End of Days, the difference between the two types of consciousness will fall away. But in our world, which is still far from achieving perfection, we are still busy with the stage of clarification, for which the distinction between "kodesh" and "chol" is vital. See Iggerot, vol. I, pp. 173-177. To my view, this is an exalted expression of the other dimension of Rav Kook's perception of the "kodesh," and not must the tension between two opposing elements in his thought; see Ross, 69-70.

[13]  Eliezer Malkiel, “Ideology and Halakha in Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Ha-kohen Kook's Heiter Mekhira," Shenaton Ha-mishpat Ha-ivri 20 (5757), pp.169-211.