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Rejection of Torah

  • Rav Hillel Rachmani

The concept of denial of God arose, in Rav Kook's time, in connection to aliya and Eretz Yisrael. The abandonment of religion which came in tandem with the settlement of Eretz Yisrael troubled Rav Kook greatly. One might have supposed that he who understands the obligation to settle the Land of Israel would also possess fear of God, but this was not the case in Rav Kook's time. As a result, Zionism and aliya met with much opposition from religious Jews. For this reason, Rav Kook felt it was necessary to deal with this issue.


What led to the denial of halakhic Judaism? What have the effects of this denial been, and what is the remedy or cure needed to re-establish Judaism based on the Torah?


The rejection of religion at the time may have stemmed from a desire for freedom, from the desire to feel oneself free from a society which imposed its will upon the individual, or perhaps its cause was the seeming irrationality of the mitzvot in the modern era. Whatever the cause, Rav Kook always referred to this denial of religion as an illness, "a cruel, dry, devouring horror," which severs Israel from its roots. In Rav Kook's opinion, the desertion of God is the desertion of life. The destruction of the First and Second Temples, for example, were, according to Chazal, the result of the desertion of God.


What would cause a person to leave the "source of living water," the source of life itself? In Orot (192), Rav Kook states that among the other nations, too great a focus on materialism leads to destruction. Among the Jewish nation, however, an engraved unawareness allows it to absorb the materialism from its surrounding societies. This phenomenon so corrupts the nation, and is so damaging to it, that it led to the destruction of the First Temple. By the Second Temple period, the nation was still not cured of the disease of materialism, which, at that time, manifested itself in the form of causeless hatred (sin'at chinam), which resulted in their exile from their land.


Rav Kook explains (Orot Yisrael, section 159) that in exile the Jewish nation drifted away from materialism (chomriyut), and concentrated on spirituality (ruchaniyut). This shift was necessary, since it was materialism which led the Jews to idolatry in the First Temple period, and caused the baseless hatred (sin'at chinam) in the Second Temple period. The ensuing exile separated the nation from its materialistic side, its land. At this point the nation could focus on its spiritual side, and thus the vast majority of Jewish literature was written in exile.


However, this left the nation with only the spiritual facet of its national life and thus it lost the "glory" of life. There was no longer a physical body for the glory to adorn. When one dwells solely in spirituality, one loses the beauty which has to be laden on a physical receiver. The nation without the land is like a soul without a body.


Thus, in exile the nation has no way of expressing itself. Consequently, after a certain amount of time, the nation naturally begins to return to its land. The need for materialism is exposed, and the materialism once again takes over. It is expressed in people's desire to have a connection with the land, as well as a more natural existence. At this point, spirituality will seem to have disappeared.


However, Rav Kook maintains, the movement toward materialism is only temporary. He employs a parable to explain the situation. He compares Am Yisrael to sediments in a wine barrel. Most of the time, these sediments are at rest. They lie at the bottom, giving taste and pungency to the wine, but not clouding its clarity. The Jewish people, similarly, aspires for a balanced existence where the powerful life-forces of creativity and building the Land contribute health and vitality to the nation without totally dominating the national life. These forces must be the basis for the ascent of holiness. Every now and then, however, the barrel is shaken, and the sediments are caught in raging storm. At this stage, Am Yisrael turns its sight to materialism. However, this phase is only temporary, and when the storm is over, the sediments will come to rest, leaving Am Yisrael in a state of perfection - its head in the sky, its feet on the earth.


Rav Kook saw in the return of the nation to the land a sign from God that the nation had been cured of its suffering. However, Rav Kook emphasized that in the land of Israel they should seek the spiritual light within, which is found in the ideal combination of all the seeming opposites of the world. Within the physical drive, there is spirituality. Holiness is a combination of both the body and soul. One should not fear that his physicality will take a primary role, and thus his spirituality will be rejected. Rather, he should look at this process optimistically, with the realization that through the physical, the spiritual is enhanced.


The return of Israel to its land, therefore, is not only a quest for a homeland, but also a search to discover who we are both as individuals and as a nation. This process, which occurs in the times of the Messiah, when the individuals will merge into a nation, is accompanied by a negative side effect, in a loss of spirituality. Slowly, however, the 'residue' will sink to the bottom to help enhance the wine. Currently, these sediments play an integral part; ultimately they will be a means to an end. This process is tedious and difficult. It involves much breaking of the old to arrive at the new ultimate ideal.


We mentioned previously that materialism caused baseless hatred between people. Why is this so?


Rav Kook understood sin'at chinam to be a result of the strengthening of a person as an individual. When a person feels very strong within himself, he begins not to care about other individuals. Materialism tends to be a source of individuality and disunity, which leads people to jealousy of other people's possessions. Eventually, since an undercurrent of animosity already exists, people begin to dislike each other without true cause. This is sin'at chinam.


As opposed to materialism, spirituality focuses on big issues, and small issues matter less. It is these small issues which are usually the cause of social tension. In addition, spiritual ideals often require the individual to sacrifice his individuality for the good of the community; thus individuals begin to work in unity.


In section 159, mentioned above, the shift from ruchaniyut to chomriyut is a gentle one. Gradually Am Yisrael slips into a mode of ruchaniyut, which, when too over-powering, leads the people to a desire for chomriyut, and thus the cycle continues. In section 44, however, Rav Kook paints an entirely different picture. He describes a time when people will be satisfied with merely the material things in life. They will feel they have everything they want and need. At this point individuals' souls have become very small, there will be no aspiration for the spiritual, but rather "reikanut ruchanit," a spiritual void.


This lack of ruchaniyut, though, cannot be sustained. Am Yisrael will wake up, and realize that chomriyut without ruchaniyut is worth nothing. Rav Kook compares this awakening to a storm, in whose wake people will be led back to their spiritual source. At this time, the people will realize that their strength lies in the holy. This section, as opposed to 159, describes a revolutionary process which will elevate Am Yisrael from the depths of materialism onto a higher spiritual plane. Rav Kook writes that the reason behind the great focus on materialism is "chevlei mashiach," the troubles preceding the Messianic era.


It is unclear from these passages which of the two scenarios Rav Kook thought was more likely to take place. However, most times when Rav Kook desca revolutionary or harsh process he uses the words "alul likrot" (liable to happen), and when he is describing a gentler process, he uses the word "yikreh" (will happen). Therefore, even though in both these passages he writes "yikreh," it is more likely that he thought that the evolutionary process, discussed in section 159, was the one which would probably occur.


Until this point the explanations of heresy have been found in chomriyut and a lack of ruchaniyut. However, in section 47, Rav Kook discusses an entirely different cause of heresy. In the time leading up to the era of the Messiah, people's souls will be very great. They will have a great desire to see the "Or Eloki" (the Godly light). People's yearnings for ruchaniyut will be very great. Individuals, without being prepared, will attempt to reach the Or Eloki. This, however, is very dangerous. It can be compared to a man who wants to look directly at the sun: he will be blinded. The "Or Eloki" will be too much for him, and despite his aspirations for ruchaniyut, he will be forced to turn away from the light. Thus, his over-enthusiasm for ruchaniyut will lead him to turn away from God.


However, it is possible for people to reach this "Or Eloki." They must, however, be strong in other areas first. The most basic improvements must occur in both body and mind. Despite the fact that these are physical, the material will be the base for the spiritual, and therefore it is imperative that the chomri is able to bear the burden of the ruchani.


The next level is to place the spiritual into the everyday world. One must see how the day-to-day mitzvot which may appear to have no connection to the "Or Eloki," in fact serve a spiritual purpose.


At this point, one is ready to search for the "Or Eloki." But it must be like a pyramid which, as explained above, is "mutzav artza ve-rosho magiya ha-shamayima" (is based on the ground, but whose top reaches the heavens).


(This lecture summary was prepared by Saul Bloom and Neil Greenbaum.)