Lecture #26e: Isolationism vs. Socialization - continued

  • Rav Tamir Granot



By Rav Tamir Granot


Shiur #26e:

Isolationism vs. Socialization (continued)


Chapter 4


            We are left with two questions that must be addressed:


1.    In what way does a person or a society that lives a life of sanctity reflecting a profound world-view of sanctity influence the surrounding society or the nation at large? Or – as Rav Kook would put it – how do we fulfill the second part of the kabbalistic principle, "concluding with unity"?

2.    Is this influence a one-way affair? In other words, assuming that the ordinary people who live a regular life, with a simple, superficial world-view are influenced by the "sanctified" society or by the "righteous" individuals, is there also some sort of effect or dependence in the opposite direction as well?


We shall address these two questions below.


            The individual or society that has managed to attain a consciousness of kodesh influences the public in diverse ways, but these do not necessarily need to have practical expression. In other words, Rav Kook does not mean something like, "Study at a yeshiva for ten years and then go and teach in a development town or at a high-school in north Tel Aviv." If a person is indeed engaged in spiritual thoughts and the consciousness of the kodesh has indeed impacted on his innermost essence, then he will find it difficult to return to a society whose language and everyday reality is so different from his own. However, it is clear that sometimes there is a need for influence and practical cooperation. On the individual level, this means that the person who previously separated himself is now required to come into contact with and maintain discourse with his environment. Speaking personally, Rav Kook meant by this his own personal obligation to assume a position of leadership. This is certainly not a natural course of action for someone who has devoted much effort to nurturing spirituality, and it often requires a constriction and "lowering" of one's consciousness, but it is vital.


            On the public level, a society of scholars and people devoted to the kodesh is likewise required to share the yoke borne by the public. The instruction that R. Tzvi Yehuda Kook, Rav Kook's son, gave his students, asserting the obligation of military service but limiting it to the minimum necessary, may be understood as an expression of this awareness. There are instances in which Rav Kook seems to be calling for a balance between the pole of isolationism and the pole of practical influence and connection (Orot ha-Kodesh, III, 268).


            What, then, are the ways of influencing?


a.            The "Overflowing Cup" Model (Orot Ha-Kodesh II 439)


            The turning inwards creates a nation, or an elite, or an individual, with a unique identity that also has the power to radiate that uniqueness outwards. The activity of the elite – its way of thinking, its personal example, the inspiration it gives, etc. – all influence the environment. This is not a matter of preaching or propaganda; rather, it is a normal social situation in which a personality or group whose way of life has charismatic force will naturally become a model for emulation and a source of inspiration. By virtue of its very existence as part of society, it exerts influence:


But within the depths of this distinction is connection and generalization… They are hidden, included in its generality. The powers scattered in all directions, from which the separated one separates, go and act for the good with the supernal selfhood of the complete and separated essence, and the aspiration causes an internal noble movement, which sanctifies everything in its realm… The unique nation, the treasure among the nations, in guarding its eternal specialness, in separating from all others, is prepared to become a light unto the nations and the salvation of the entire world… The elite individuals, in separating from the ordinary people, guard their lofty aspirations, which are far greater than all regular values, and become the bearers of abilities and ideas. In their growth, they are a source of blessing for the public, and in their establishment of themselves, life itself is established and finds its value, traveling on the path that leads to its eternal and temporal goal. (Orot ha-Kodesh, II, 439)[1]


b.            Unity Through Nullification of the Self – A Psychological Model

The greater a person is, the more he must search himself and the more he is distant from his recognition of his deep soul, to the point that he must recluse himself a great degree in order to elevate his ideas, deepen his thoughts, and free his intellect, until finally his soul is revealed through the slight illumination of its light… And by lowering himself to the point that his spirit is lowered to the extreme, to the point that the form of his personal image is negated – “I am a worm and not a man” – to the point of complete self-abnegation within him – “And what are we?” He will then recognize any point of truth, any bolt of righteousness, wherever it may be. All will be gathered to him, without any hatred, jealousy, or competition.” (Orot ha-Kodesh, III, 280)[2]


            Rav Kook believes that it is specifically a turning inwards that may bring a person to discover the points of contact between himself and all of reality. Consciousness, we recall, creates a barrier between the self and the environment; it defines a person by his separateness. However, the essence of a person (his soul) is the point where his personal reality exists within the general reality without any separation. The source from which poets draw their inspiration would seem to lie outside of man. A person discovers that he is capable of listening to reality and absorbing much more of it than his consciousness is able to contain within a self whose sensory, intellectual, ideological, and existential limitations prevent him from taking in that which lies outside of his boundaries. Hatred, jealousy, and competition towards opinions or people is the result of self-definition and the setting of personal or social boundaries. Broadening the self, extracting it from its own concealment and exposing it to all of existence, may allow it to achieve unity with everything.


c.            Unity Through Thinking about the General Good – The Model of Prayer


A person whose soul illuminates within him must isolate himself (meditate) extensively. The habitual company of other people, who are usually coarser in relation to him in their spirituality, too, dulls the bright light of his supreme soul. This causes his important work to be diminished, and instead of the benefit that he could have brought to society by isolating and distancing himself from it most of the time – and during that time, the spiritual relationship would not be broken, and he would have in mind the entire generation, to pray for them and to maintain an image of their elevation, the treasure that is within them – instead of this he causes them to fall through his own fall, because of the shadow that is cast over his spirituality in their distracting presence. A learned scholar must makes himself like an adornment around the neck, which is both seen and unseen. (Orot ha-Kodesh, III, 271)


d.            Action Through Will, Reflecting Man's Essential Unity – The Mystical Model


There are times when a person feels that his entire spirit has entered deeply within himself; at such times, he is intensely focused on his own essence; the outside world has no effect on him, he is tied to the depths of his inner meditation… And it may be assumed that the living, vital point within him acts, without his knowledge, on the environment with greater effect than any noisy agitation could achieve. (Ibid. 269)


Here, Rav Kook is talking about influence that is not dependent on a particular action, such as prayer, which is a deliberate and conscious attempt to bring good to everyone. Rather, it springs from the very existence of a tzaddik who lives a life of sanctity. Therefore, I refer to this manner of influence as "mystical."


Two important concepts are important in order to understand this point and the preceding one:


            1. The concept of will is central to Rav Kook's thought. Will is the most primal manifestation of essence – including of the Divine Ein-Sof, according to kabbala. From this perspective, it should be viewed as the foundation of reality, and all of reality – both material and spiritual – is in fact a manifestation of will.[3] The more developed a creature is – inanimate, plant, animal, human – the more direct its connection with the source of will. Admittedly, human will is a weak echo of the Divine will. But when a person achieves a state of nullification of his individual self and a sense of empathy with all of existence, his will in fact reflects the general will that animates existence. In other words, his will becomes a medium through which the Divine will is revealed and exerts influence. This understanding of the connection between the will of the individual and the Divine will also allows us to understand the ability of the individual to influence reality through will itself. The Divine will creates; it has power, it is a source of energy. The human will of the individual is mere will, and as such is illusory, because it is torn from its Divine source. The individual whose will is informed and filled by the general will, and who acts by virtue of that general will of all of existence, turns his will into a source of power, with the ability to influence.


            This is the essence of the power of prayer to make a difference, since prayer, according to Rav Kook, is a movement of revealing will. The spoken words are merely its external expression. When prayer goes beyond its private framework, the individual worshipper highlights and expresses the will of the community, the nation, humanity, and the cosmos – and thereby adds to its power. Since the will of the individual acts and exists within a social context – i.e., the wants and thoughts that create the will arise from a certain spiritual atmosphere, from people with whom the individual is in contact – a person is never cut off, in his innermost essence, from the real existence that surrounds him. Therefore, it is specifically the turning inward, allowing an elevation of the will and its connection to the higher and more general sefirot of reality which are far removed from the thinking and consciousness of the masses, that imbues the individual with the power of acting on and influencing society – and even reality in general. Thus, the movement of separation from general society and creating boundaries is transformed into an act that is not directed for the sole benefit of the individual or society that is separating itself, but rather is a general need. Clearly, then, the influence takes place only on the spiritual, mystical level.[4]


Exactly the same model of influence exists in relation to a group that separates itself from a nation and the nation of Israel that separates itself from the culture of the other nations, which harms it:


That which applies in relation to the individual applies also in relation to the nation as a whole. When the spirit of Israel turns inwards towards its own inner self, it feels a supreme completion within itself; it then builds its world, not seeking to make a noise in the world, but its spirit in its innermost being is renewed, its life beats strongly, and it knows its strength. Then it acts in the world through its acting on itself. (Orot ha-Kodesh, III, 269)


e.            Tikkun Through "Raising Sparks"


I make use here of a classic kabbalistic-Chassidic formula in order to express the idea, expressed by Rav Kook, that a tzaddik has the power to raise up actions or views which appear within a negative or material context or garb. In other words, the tzaddik connects himself, in his will and his thoughts, by means of prayer and meditation, to the general feeling of the masses or their view, thereby imbuing them with a new spirit:


But the thought of the great intellects also unites with the public inclination, and all the more so with the inclination towards love of work and substantive labor, which is already a spiritual inclination and upon which the spirit of God hovers. When there are righteous people in the generation, upon whom the light of God always appears, they unite their souls with the soul of all the people; the internal thoughts of the laboring masses unite with their thoughts.

The negative aspect of labor, which results from jealousy of one another, hatred of others that draws in great measure from the war of life in its cursed form in the lowly world, slowly diminishes, leaving the realm of cursed and becoming blessed. Sometimes, the righteous have the power to give holy light to labor to the degree that it has power akin to that of Torah, which brings one to eternal life, repairs damage, and brings those involved in it to complete repentance. “One who benefits from his own labor is greater than one who fears heaven.” Just as there is the power to perpetuate the holiness and divine internal light through labor and to remove them from cursedness, there is also a power to create a holy light in all of the languages and wisdoms in the world. The great righteous ones must pray that the pleasant light of God should spread throughout all the wisdoms and in all the languages, so that the honor of God will be present in every place and the rays of the light of Torah will spread in every place. The prayer of the righteous and the illumination of their will makes a great impact, without end. In particular, one must turn his prayer to this when one see the great inclination to languages and sciences, and it is impossible to battle all those who turn to them. The times indicate the need. It is then that the deep righteous ones rise to save, through their concealed service, and with great and unique devotion, they come and open the blocked channels, in order to transfer the secret of God to those who know Him. And those who know God are everything in the world, and in particular everything in it that contributes to the repair of the world, and they arouse the holiness in every language through the power of Yosef.


            2.         As for the question of whether the influence is a one-way street: On many occasions Rav Kook expresses the idea that the masses also influence the tzaddikim. To put it in more general terms, the general public, with its world-view and its lowly, more primal feelings, has certain qualities, by virtue of its way of life, attitude towards values, and intuition, that the individual or society that elevates itself in emotion and thinking tend to lose – specifically because of its elevation. Thus, for example, the ideal of simplicity is guided by simple feelings of innocence and uprightness, loving good and negating evil, courage, etc. – all of which may be lost or weakened in a person who ascends in his journey and perspective of unity. The "practical" nature of the sefira of Malkhut is also the reason why we depict, from within it, a reality that is limited and separate:


But this distancing from the masses and their spiritual orientations causes a natural weakening, which is common among those who are engaged in spirituality; they need to add psychological vigor through the influence that they receive from the simple innocence of the masses, which follows its own nature. Despite all their coarseness and ignorance, the ordinary people have many firmly established holy tendencies, which are worthy of serving as broad bases for the spiritual attainments of those who attain supreme knowledge. (Orot ha-Kodesh, III, 372)


This perspective is important because it shows us the other side of the relationship between general society and the elevated individual or separate group. Up until now, we have discussed only the tension between the spiritual need for turning inward, separation, and elevation, on the one hand, and the value and ideal of the social whole and unity, on the other. Here we find that, at least from a certain perspective, separation is also deficient in itself.


(To be continued)


Translated by Kaeren Fish

[1]     See Dov Schwartz, Etgar u-Mashber be-Chug ha-Rav Kook (Sifriyat Ofakim, 5761), pp. 72-110.

[2]     Another example in the same direction, this time in relation to concrete society: "As a person ascends further in his spiritual growth, he has a better sense of the great value of the many; the community starts to come alive inside of him; in his heart and the depths of his will he feels the many needs of the public, the great value of the life that beats within the community as a whole, and it presents itself to him as a single entity. He feels the concrete reality of the community, as is filled with endless love and respect towards it" (Orot Ha-Kodesh, III, 157).

[3]  This idea has its root in kabbalistic teachings, which view the sefira of Chokhma as the first revelation – an inversion of the first two letters of the word “chokhma” produces the expression "koach ma," which is the manifestation of will. As noted by the "Nazir" – R. David Cohen, Rav Kook's foremost disciple – this idea also has roots in the religious philosophy of R. Shomo Ibn Gevirol, which is centered altogether around the Divine will, as well as in the philosophy of Schopenhauer, who identified the "thing in itself" that is beyond the world of Kantian phenomena, with the will. (Rav Kook explained that this will of Schopenhauer is blind and directionless; thus, the philosopher merely pointed in the right direction, but did not grasp the matter completely.)

[4]  This teaching of Rav Kook should be viewed against the background of the theurgic aspect of kabbalistic activity. The kabbalist prays, directs his thoughts, and attempts to influence certain Divine powers through concentrated focus on specific Divine Names and essences. The flow and renewal of Divine forces can also, of course, bring Divine abundance and blessing into the world. In Chassidut and in the teachings of R. Chayim of Volozhin, this concept was given a different interpretation. Chassidut usually looks to simple, wholehearted prayer, as in the Ba'al Shem Tov's famous story about the illiterate boy who succeeded in opening the gates of heaven when he whistled from the depths of his heart in the synagogue on Yom Kippur. (Many stories on this theme are to be found in Shivchei ha-Besht, the stories of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, etc.). Nevertheless, prayer – and especially the prayer of the tzaddik – has the power to arouse Divine powers; that is, they have a theurgic effect, despite the absence of the specific relevant kavana, or even in the absence of knowledge of it. R. Chayim of Volozhin describes at length the ways in which man influences all the worlds – even all the way to the world of Atzilut – by performing mitzvot. Here too, he achieves this even without any sort of mystical kavvana (see Nefesh ha-Chayim, part 1, chapters 4-10). Against this background, Rav Kook introduced his teaching about will, with an ontological explanation for man's creative power and influence. The immanent theological assumption about the world as a Divine manifestation and the idea that the essence of the world is a single "organic" unity, while multiplicity and division are merely the way in which the world appears to us, together allow Rav Kook to view the will of the individual as an organic part of the Divine will of all of existence and to present the individual's power of influence from within this monistic picture of the world without appealing to a willful Divine reaction. (This also solves the problem of a change of the Divine will in the wake of prayer.)