Rav Kook – Universalism ‎ ‎ ‎

What is the Meaning and Purpose of Life? | Total Comments: 0 | Total Topics: 0

			Rav Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook was the epitome of multifaceted. More than anyone else ‎from the rabbinic world, he spoke of the awakening nationalist yearnings of the Jewish ‎people. But more than anyone else in Judaism, he spoke of universalist goals of all humanity, ‎of which Judaism was just one part. He could write with equal eloquence about the spiritual ‎role of the non-religious pioneers in Israel and of the spiritual emptiness of religious Jews ‎living outside of Israel. Just when one thinks one finally has a handle on what Rav Kook ‎really believed on a given issue, one finds some letter or some essay that seems to say the ‎exact opposite. He was unfathomably deep and he was unsettlingly broad-minded. He was an ‎enigma. ‎
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Zionism was just a dream when he was born. It was little more than a dream when he became ‎a rabbi. When he finally immigrated to Palestine in 1904 to assume the post of rabbi of Jaffa, ‎it was a reality. His life’s work was spent developing a religious philosophy that not only ‎accommodated nationalism, but enshrined it as the core around which everything else ‎revolved. He was never afraid to challenge mainstream rabbinic thinking on returning to Israel ‎and building a nation despite the glaring problem of the messiah not having arrived. This was ‎an impossibly huge obstacle in the rabbinic world of Rav Kook’s time. He was almost alone in ‎insisting that Zionism was the fulfillment of Judaism and the end of nearly 2000 years of ‎exile. ‎
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His core philosophy was religious Zionism, but weaving in and out of the nationalism is an ‎ever-present theme of universalism, in which the Jews and the fulfillment of their national ‎dream is only a steppingstone to a greater message for humanity as a whole. One constantly ‎sees in Rav Kook’s vast writings references to light, hidden or revealed. Light is his metaphor ‎for godliness, and godliness resides within everything, whether or not it can be detected. The ‎Jews and Israel reveal some of this light, but all of creation reveals an even greater light. The ‎inevitable tension between these two potentially conflicting sources of godliness is one of the ‎great enigmas of Rav Kook’s writings. He even hints at this in asking the purpose of creation: ‎
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‎'What is God's Will? What is the ultimate goal of creation? To meditate on God's will by ‎considering the multitudes of peoples and nations that God created - for what purpose did ‎God create all of these souls stamped in His Divine image? Surely God intended that ‎ultimately, they will be elevated, raised from the depths of ignorance and brought to the level ‎of the righteous that delight in God and His goodness. According to this view, the mission of ‎the Jewish people is to inspire all nations to strive for Divine enlightenment and a life of ‎holiness. The ultimate purpose in keeping the Torah and its mitzvot is not to elevate the ‎Jewish people, but for the more universal goal of benefiting all of humanity. The focus of ‎one's life should not be love of one's people but love of God and His Torah, for the Torah ‎encompasses the true goal of elevating all of humanity, and love of Israel is merely a means to ‎this end.' ‎
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Analysis ‎
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This is from the man who embodied religious Zionism more than any other. God’s ultimate ‎goal in creation was to elevate humanity ‘to strive for Divine enlightenment and a life of ‎holiness’. If that is truly the case, who needs Zionism? For that matter, who needs the Jews? ‎Perhaps the Torah is needed for this ultimate goal, but certainly it would have been more ‎effective to give it to all humanity than to restrict it to one small group, influential as they ‎may be. How does this square with the rest of Judaism? ‎
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There is no question that while others saw the ‘light unto the nations idea’ emanating from the ‎Torah itself, and the Jews as the vehicle to show that it works, Rav Kook saw that same ‎system coming to its true realization only as an independent nation in their own land. ‎Anything short of that would be incomplete. All Torah activity, as great and as enlightening ‎as it may be, is not the real thing. This means the Talmud Bavli, the bulk of great ‎commentators and mystics, the philosophers, the Hasidim, the Lithuanian rabbis and their ‎successors, the secular scholars, the scientists, the writers – everything – was only a passing ‎phase to get to the final stage in which things would come to fruition. As difficult as this may ‎be to accept, this was, and perhaps still is to some degree, the true spirit of religious ‎Zionism. Rav Kook emphasized this in his writings: ‎
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‎‘The basis of keeping all the commandments, from the aspect of their inner and ultimate being ‎can take place only in the land of Israel. Those commandments not specifically related to the ‎land of Israel, which apply as well outside the land, are not intended to attain to their ultimate ‎purpose outside the land. Rather, they bring the Jewish people to the land; they guard our ‎holiness, so that when we return, we will not need to begin from nothing, like a young ‎nation which only recently has come to the altar of life. They will ensure that our path in life - ‎eternal and temporal - will be firm before us, as is proper for a powerful and ancient nation, ‎whose sources are primal, from the beginning of the world.’ ‎
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How is it all supposed to work? The Jewish state is the medium for the Jews to be a light to ‎the nations. According to Rav Kook, the state of the Jews was not to be a country like any ‎other country. It was to be an ideal society, a utopia, in which all the goals of the Torah ‎would be realized. Any other nation would be able to look at this Jewish state and see the ‎manner of life that human society was capable of attaining. Justice, equality, freedom, culture, ‎personal and national fulfillment – all these were to be shining in blazing colors amidst a ‎Torah-abiding people who cherish spirituality not as a luxury but as a necessity. Rav Kook did ‎not see the secular intellectual and artistic abilities of the Jews, in opposition to Torah values, ‎as did many of his rabbinic peers. He considered them to be complementary to the wisdom of ‎the Torah, essential for human progress and for human understanding. ‎
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It all sounds very idyllic and wonderful. One wonders when reading all this if Rav Kook was ‎just dreaming. The modern state of Israel is indeed successful in many ways. It is a fully ‎functioning modern society with world-leading technology. It has survived and thrived ‎despite facing almost impossible odds. Of this there is no denying. But it is equally ‎undeniable that it is not what Rav Kook envisioned. It has problems just like any other ‎country. The society is far from perfect across the spectrum from religious to secular. Social ‎and personal morality, rather than being a light to the nations, is more of a blight. Even in the ‎religious world, corruption and nepotism rule the roost. Even within the various religious ‎factions that perpetually battle one another, unity is rarely found. ‎
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Nevertheless, Rav Kook’s dream is still alive. Who knows what is in store for the ‎future? Maybe Rav Kook’s vision still has a chance. He knew that messianic hopes and ‎dreams could only come about through convulsions that force introspection on a national ‎scale. He saw that Israel was only a steppingstone for the true Jewish mission, which was ‎nothing short of the salvation of the world. It takes a wider scope to appreciate the magnitude ‎and the gravity of this mission. Not everyone will be able to see through the haze. Some get ‎caught up in their own lives, some in the local community. Some go beyond the community to ‎the national scale. And some go beyond even that. In Rav Kook’s immortal words: ‎
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‎‘There is a person who sings the song of his soul. He finds everything, his complete spiritual ‎satisfaction, within his soul. There is a person who sings the song of the nation.  He steps ‎forward from his private soul, which he finds narrow and uncivilized. He yearns for the ‎heights. He clings with a sensitive love to the entirety of the Jewish nation and sings its song. ‎He shares in its pains, is joyful in its hopes, speaks with exalted and pure thoughts regarding ‎its past and its future, investigates its inner spiritual nature with love and a wise heart. There is ‎a person whose soul is so broad that it expands beyond the border of Israel. It sings the song ‎of humanity. This soul constantly grows broader with the exalted totality of humanity and its ‎glorious image. He yearns for humanity’s general enlightenment. He looks forward to its ‎supernal perfection. From this source of life, he draws all of his thoughts and insights, his ‎ideals and visions. And there is a person who rises even higher until he unites with all ‎existence, with all creatures, and with all worlds.  And with all of them, he sings... And there ‎is a person who rises with all these songs together in one ensemble so that they all give forth ‎their voices, they all sing their songs sweetly, each supplies its fellow with fullness and life: ‎the voice of happiness and joy, the voice of rejoicing and tunefulness, the voice of merriment ‎and the voice of holiness. The song of the soul, the song of the nation, the song of humanity, ‎the song of the world—they all mix together with this person at every moment and at all ‎times.’ ‎
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Practical ‎
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What is practical about dreaming? What is practical about singing songs about the ‎enlightenment of humanity and the unity of all worlds? Nothing, and everything. Dreaming ‎puts no food on the table, nor does it facilitate the invention of the next time-saving gadget. ‎But it does something that money-making practical-minded ideas can never do. It gives ‎people something to live for. If it’s just meat and potatoes and credit cards and faster Internet ‎service while fighting traffic on the way to work, then what is really the point of it all? This is ‎where impractical dreamers like Rav Kook come in. ‎
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Rav Kook talked to more than just Jews from Israel. His message included the entire Jewish ‎people, and on a broader scale, all of humanity. Do we ever sing the songs of our people? If ‎not, why not? If yes, do we ever get beyond the limitations of our people and include ‎everybody, not matter how alienated we may feel from them? There is no reason why a Jew ‎cannot include all of humanity in his or her dreams. Is our Jewishness just a source of personal ‎pride, or is it a motivation to be the best person we can be? Do we ever include all of creation ‎in our dreams? Do we ever sing the song of creation and sense our part in the great ‎symphony? Well what are we waiting for? This is our life, our chance to reach for the stars ‎and touch a bit of heaven. We can sing our own song and still have room to sing the songs of ‎our people, our world, our universe. It is our song, but we are part of something infinitely ‎greater. We, you and I, are children of the universe. ‎
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Food for Thought ‎
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In the end, don’t personal and national goals conflict with universal goals? It’s all well and ‎good to dream that they don’t, but is it really true? How does one really balance the two to ‎make them blend into one? ‎


		


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