Lecture #4: The Election of Israel - Letter 44, Section A
RAV KOOKS LETTERS
This shiur is
dedicated in memory of Israel Koschitzky zt"l, whose yahrzeit falls on the 19th
May the world-wide dissemination of Torah through the VBM be a fitting tribute to a man
whose lifetime achievements exemplified the love of Eretz Yisrael and Torat Yisrael.
The Election of
issue that we will expand upon in this lecture, having read the first section of
Letter 44, is the election of
Additional aspects of this section will be raised in future lectures.
The first question that must be discussed is the fundamental meaning of our being chosen. what, essentially, is the meaning of the phrase, You have selected us from every nation and tongue? To clarify, we are not asking about the results of this selection, nor the rights and responsibilities that stem from it, nor how or when it occurred. Our question is more basic - what is it?
Kooks position on this issue develops the conception of R. Yehuda Ha-Levi
(Rihal) as propounded in the Kuzari, and in certain respects the
conception of the Maharal as well. In the first part of the Kuzari, Rihal
explains that the election of
position of Rihal contrasts with the view of the Rambam and, to a certain
degree, of R. Saadia Gaon as well. They saw the election of
Kook accepted Rihals view that the election of
Rav Kook, however, was not and could not be content with Rihals theory of natural capability. In part, this is rooted in factors described in the introduction to the letter, the introduction regarding European culture and humanistic and enlightened values in general.
importantly, Rihals view, simply stated, is difficult from a theological
perspective as well. A conception of Divinity as being connected to the world
Kooks theology is, of course, different. We will expand on this in other
lectures, but, in a nutshell, Rav Kooks worldview is absolutely monistic: all
existence is a singularity, and that singularity is Divinity. In other words,
all existence, with all of its expressions, should be seen as various
manifestations of Gods singularity. That being the case, it is impossible to
say that the Divinity is essentially connected with Israel alone, not with other
nations, since there is nothing other than Divinity and no place is devoid of
and this holds true, at least in potential, regarding the gentile nations as
well. This leads to the conclusion that the definition of
This seems like an intractable problem: something has to give either theology or chosenness. Rav Kook solves this in his usual way. He constructs his view on the basis of opposing ideas and finds the solution to this opposition in an additional dimension, which unifies both of the seemingly opposed ideas at a higher level.
In the present discussion, the added dimension is the principle of realitys constant development and elevation. This is a central tenet of Rav Kooks thought, and we will expand on it in future lectures as well. For the present discussion, it need only be said that all levels of reality (nature, technology, culture, religion) are engaged in a process of constant development. This developmental process is necessary since it stems from the tension, inherent in existence, between actual manifestation and potential perfection. In actuality, existence is full of flaws; the True and the Good are only partially revealed in it. It is incomplete! In reality, however, it is Divine existence; the most basic impetus of the universe is its potential perfection. This is because the hidden, undisclosed essence of existence its Divine essence is perfect. This tension is the source of the constant, incessant motion of development and elevation of all creation.
Thus, the expressions of technological advancement and cultural and ethical sublimation are the necessary and meaningful steps that the natural and especially human world takes toward its own perfection. Although this perfection has not actually been fully achieved, it has been revealed through the course of history, especially during the modern era.
light of this, the meaning of chosenness should be understood as follows:
informed the people of
We are duty bound to praise the Master of all, to extol for He has not made us like the nations of the earth for they worship vanity and emptiness and we kneel and bow and thank the Supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He He is our God, there is nothing else. For us, this is already the case. For the other nations, however, it will be true only in the future: All flesh will call out in Your Name, to turn all the earths wicked toward You. All inhabitants of the world will recognize and acknowledge and God will be King over all the earth. On that day, God shall be One and His Name shall be One.
and His Name are not yet One for the gentile nations, since they do not call out
in his Name. The Divine element is within them, but it is hidden - it is not a
Name (the expression, the explicit articulation). The nation of
Kook expresses this idea in his sermon on leaving
It is habitual to speak of Jewish development nowadays, but this is only one side of the coin. It is convenient to speak of that aspect in which there is equivalence between Judaism and the outside world, but when will we look after our own and speak freely of that transcendent side, through which we are differentiated from all nations on earth? How long will we continue to be so self-effacing as to view with suspicion all of the praises and high qualities stated about us in our most important sources? Had these things been said about any other nation or tongue, they would boast about it with great pride and arrogance and would know how to always point out their special feature. We, on the other hand, from the moment that the poison of external liberalism began permeating us, we know of nothing else but how to erase our truly prominent features, which differentiate us so essentially from all nations, a difference that cannot be reduced even one iota from the Kuzaris definition of a fifth species.
No, everything develops. Humanity in general does until it realizes its character, but not Judaism. Judaism is the inner essence of humanity and of reality in its broadest sense, and development only controls style and attire, not the inner content.
highest unity, as it shines from one end of the world to the other, also unifies
psychology with general cosmology. The former must reach self-consciousness,
until it is aware of its unity with the Highest Source, the source of life and
strength, where the most resplendent freedom and morality are etched in all
their delightful hues. That national
psychological illumination flashed all at once, instantaneously, during that
wondrous ascent of the Exodus from
unique psychic national creation is indeed that of
other words, the Exodus from
Regarding Rav Kooks claim that the essence of Israel had already been revealed by Avraham, R. Alexandrov notes in his letter of response that there is an explicit verse: I did not make my Name, YKVK, known to [the patriarchs] (Shemot 6:3). This implies that the spiritual level of the patriarchs was lower than that of Moshe and the generation of the Exodus. Rav Kook responds that this very verse proves his point: The verse speaks of the manner in which the Name is revealed. Thus, it is a clear expression of Rav Kooks claim that the Divine element is revealed in varying degrees of power and clarity, but the element itself is contained within the national spirit:
Your question, my friend, about the words I wrote, that the Israelite movement is virtually unchanged since the days of Avraham, from the explicit verse I did not make my Name, YKVK, known to them - I am amazed, for I have written that at times it is concealed, which implies that at times it shines with brighter light and at times with dimmer light. What further comment is necessary? Is it not true that the difference between the various Names of a single lofty concept is only a difference between the definitions of its illumination, between the level of bright light and the level of dim light, or according to the changes in the level of the details of illumination? The elementary movement, though, which is the Divine core, is not just a core but also the foundation of everything, which encompasses all objectives from beginning to end in a highly concentrated state, like a microcosm. This will not change, but will broaden and rise until its glory fills the earth. (Letters I:134)
Kooks view of the essence of the election of
second main point that emerges from this section is the question of the
definition of the essence of
the text of the letter we explained that here, too, Rav Kooks words continue
the distinction developed by Rihal (Kuzari, Essay 4) between the God of
Avraham and the God of Aristotle. Rihals distinction is between a philosophical
conception of the Divine, which sees God as a function of the universe, as its
cause or form that is, as a vital ingredient of the mechanism of existence
and the Jewish conception of God, which entails a personal relationship with God
(the Tetragrammaton Gods proper Name) and according to which the God of
Israel purposefully operates within history. (In other words, he distinguishes
between the Divinity of creation and the God Who is revealed to
Rav Kook formulated this spiritual identity in a paragraph of Orot:
Two things illuminate within Israel: Pure morality in all of its strivings in the entirety of the world, in man, all life, and all being; and the knowledge that everything stems from calling Gods Name Morality without its source is inner, central light with no scope, no natural environment, and which will ultimately diminish, and its value and durability are also lessened. The spiritual manifestation of the Divine link, when morality and its value do not illuminate properly, is comprehensive content with no center. Yisrael and Yeshurun include both scope and interior, morality and its Divine source, which will be victorious, will tilt the balance of the whole world, and will shine the light of the Messiah. (Orot, p. 140)
Rav Kook is speaking here of two prominent features that illuminate within the people of Israel, features that are recognizable and revealed in the historical life of the nation as opposed to those of other nations and also constitute the main motivation for its actions, whether the action of its individuals or the actions of the Jewish community at large.
The first feature is:
A. Pure morality morality is the striving for good. Rav Kook defines the essence of this striving as pure (as usual, this is only a metaphor; its purpose is to exclude other possibilities). This is an aspiration to do good and to be good that is sterile, that does not involve aspects of national or personal interest, that does not intend to aggrandize the ego, and is not utilitarian, but is pure its essential character is the desire to do good. Rav Kook goes on to define pure morality as a universal and even cosmic morality; the moral impulse is not particularistic and is not limited man and nation strive to be beneficent to all and to elevate all.
The second feature is:
B. The knowledge that everything stems from calling Gods Name Calling Gods Name is the source of morality, the idea or the conception of reality upon which morality is based. Make no mistake about Rav Kooks words - he is not speaking simply about faith. Rav Kook is not saying that morality is contingent upon faith, and the desire to do good need not stem from the fact that God commanded us to do good, and not even from the very fact of faith in God and the desire to imitate Him. In the spiritual sense, morality needs no justification. It flows independently from the individual or national good will. However, as an idea, morality needs an environment, an ideational context within which it can be based and rooted. The idea that grants morality the ontological environment within which it can flourish is calling out in Gods Name, in its precise sense. According to what we defined earlier, calling out in Gods Name means indicating the Divinity within existence, that all phenomena and existent beings, from inanimate to human, from greatest to smallest, are expressions of God (YKVK), Who brings all into being. Gods Name is revealed to man through descriptors and emotions. We comprehend different aspects of Divinity through our senses, imagination, emotion, and intellect. These aspects pass through the prism of our consciousness and all signify the supreme existence, which is their source.
Calling out in Gods Name is the surrounding light the outlook or worldview generated through contemplation, education, and thought. Morality is an inner light an essential natural tendency that bursts forth out of the core of the personality. Alone, these two lights are deficient. The monikers Yisrael and Yeshurun are respectively names for the surrounding light and the inner light two pillars on which the House of Israel stands.
Regarding the significance of calling out Gods Name being the basis of pure morality, we will make do with a short explanation here and address it at length another time. Calling out Gods Name is essentially the exposure of the essence of existence as a single, great, Divine singularity. Existence is a sort of giant organism with a single soul, the various parts of which are the various limbs of the great organism: inanimate, vegetable, animal, and verbal. Rav Kooks claim is that pure morality stems only from the conception-sense of the unity of being. As long as existence is grasped as an infinite proliferation of essences, entities, or personalities, the fundamental movement is survival and therefore struggle not morality. Within a fundamentally multiple worldview, morality can appear only if it is based on the welfare of the self (personal or national). Utilitarian ethics and eudaemonist (hedonistic) morality justify morality from the egocentric, subjective perspective; in this, however, they basically negate themselves, for one who acts on behalf of his own utility or happiness is not doing it because it is good, and this is therefore not really morality (this is why Rav Kook specifically relates to pure morality). Only recognition that the various details are not completely foreign to each other and that their separateness is essentially an ontological and sensory illusion can constitute a basis for the beneficent desire that will spread throughout human society and over the world as a whole, straying from the narrow boundaries of the self.
Rav Kook described the weakness of European morality. The European world attempted to construct a morality for itself based on all sorts of foreign elements, which presented it with various obstacles and challenges. These words were stated particularly about the period in which national (romantic) thought was renewed, since the national subject is focused on its own happiness and good, and its moral consciousness therefore progressively weakens. Christianity failed to establish morality because it viewed God as a transcendent idea and essence, not of this world, and did not really know God the Lord, God of the world and so the European nations despaired of their faith.
Europe rightly gave up God, Whom they never really knew. Humanistic individuals became accustomed to the supreme good, but no complete nation. No nation or tongue can comprehend how to aspire to the Good, for the All, and it goes without saying that it is unable to stamp the foundation of its existence with it. (Orot, p. 52)
As we explained in the text of this section, this quality of loving the Name of God is the fundamental quality of Avraham the man of great love. Avraham, whose characteristic virtue was love, represents the sefira of chesed in the world; it is his essential quality. Avrahams overflowing love was directed toward God and man. Love of every person and calling out in Gods Name that is, announcing the Divinity that is revealed in existence were two sides of the same coin for him.
relationship to Avraham is not only genealogical. Avrahams quality is the basic
calling out in Gods name is the essential quality of
In the next lectures, we will see that this basic quality of the People of Israel has many and varied expressions, but that this does not alter its fundamental definition.
are we to establish this basic quality of loving Gods Name on its two lights
(pure morality and calling out Gods Name)? Wisdom plays a role in this, albeit
a secondary one. Rav Kook wrote in the section of the letter that we read that
it is true that philosophy has the power to refine and develop ideas, and it is
likely that there are, within
In conclusion, the path of Israels repentance and repair in a generation of heresy and skepticism is not through the adoption of theoretical philosophy, through enlightenment even if the objective of studying them is the attempt to illuminate internal concepts but through the reinforcement of the fundamental qualities of Israel, whose practical expression is: a. basing national and individual life on their Divine point of origin, the love of the Name of the Lord, God of Israel; b. educating and influencing toward the observance of all mitzvot lovingly as an expression of love for God, the nations authentic feelings.
Sources for further study within Rav Kooks writings
1. The essay On the Progression of Ideas in Israel, pp. 102-118 of Orot, deals at length with the relationship between what Rav Kook calls there the national idea (the concept of nationhood as such, culture, politics, etc.) and the Divine idea (the source of religion and faith, absolute values). In that essay, Rav Kook expounds a complete historiosophical approach in which he explains all of Jewish history from the perspective of the relationship between the Divine idea and the national idea.
2. Orot Yisrael (printed in Orot), pp. 138-142. The selections that appear on these pages pertain to the issues we have addressed, some of which we will address in future lectures.
 This is a fundamental principle in the writings of R. Shneur Zalman of Liadi, Chabads Alter Rebbe, and in the writings of Rav Kook.
 I am not getting into a precise formulation of this view right now, but I certainly do not mean that Rav Kooks theology is the same as Spinozas, with whom the concept of pantheism is identified. We will examine Rav Kooks theology with greater precision in the future. Suffice it to say for now that all existence is viewed as a singularity, as an enormous personality with a soul, and its soul, its essence, is its Divine source the Tetragrammaton which brings all into being.