by Abraham Isaac KookAbraham Isaac Kook was a famous rabbi who led the Ashkenazi Jews within British controlled Palestine. The quality of his thought and words is incredibly tolerant, and thoughtful. I’m supremely grateful for the Classics of Western Spirituality for including in their series this scholar’s writings. I would not have read them if not for their inclusion.
There is a great Preface to this book, consistent with other Classics of Western Spirituality, that summarizes the main stress of Kook’s thought. “The stress on Jewish existence as exemplifying ‘total being’ is one of the more typical modes of expression of Rabbi Kook. The message of total being is also the promise of the Jewish people to humanity. Thus he also expresses himself in his important work whose publication began in 1914 but has not yet been completed to this day; that is, the book Arple Tohar: ‘People live with intellectual secondhands, with shadows of shadows from the original illuminations that act on their spirits. The original must be of the very purest….But when the truth is neglected, everything is impoverished and people groan under the burden of the afflictions, the lusts, the sorrows, the declines, the wickedness, the deceptive loves and imaginings, and they are unable to come out of the confusion either in this world or in the next. The noble spirits of humanity are therefore obligated to proclaim the name of God, the God of the universe, in His world….For a whole people to proclaim the name of God as an expression of its being—this is found only among the Jewish people.”
Kook was a precursor to a rational and open-minded approach to religion. “Each body of thought has its own logic and all ideas are tied to each other by a systematic relatedness….There is no such thing as a vain or useless thought….since each emanates from the same source in the divine wisdom….And as man grows in the scale of perfection, he draws upon all ideas, his own and those of others, for the kernel of abiding truth. He is made more perfect through them, and they through him.”
From within “The Lights of Penitence”: “The soul of the people of Israel expresses itself in the striving for absolute justice, which, to be effectuated, must include the realization of all moral virtues. It is for this reason that any moral misdeed committed by an individual Jew weakens his link with the soul of the people. The basic step in penitence is to attach oneself again to the soul of the people. Together with this it is mandatory to mend one’s ways and one’s actions in conformity with the essential characteristic of the people’s soul.” (50)
Later in the same work, “The moral defects that originate in a deviation from the natural moral sense complete their effect in a deviation from the divine moral norm by a defection from religion. The repudiation of and rebellion against the divine law is a frightful moral regression, to which a person succumbs only through an absorption in the vulgarity of materialistic existence. For a time, a generation, or some part of it, in some countries or provinces, may remain entangled in this moral blindness, to a point of not sensing the moral decline involved in abandoning the laws of God. But the moral sense does not lose its value because of this. Penitence is bound to come and to be made manifest. The sickness of forgetting the divine order cannot gain a firm foothold in human nature. Like a muddy spring, it returns to its purity.” (58)
In chapter twelve, there is inspiration. “The more a person contemplates the nature of penitence, the more he will find in it the source of heroism and the most basic content for a life of practicality and idealism.” (85)
Kook addresses, and does not shy away from, atheism in “The Moral Principles.” “The fact that we conceive of religious faith in a distorted form, petty and dark, is responsible for atheism’s rise to influence. This is the reason that the providential pattern of building the world includes a place for atheism and its related notions. It is to stir to life the vitality of faith in every heart, so that religious faith might be brought to its highest level. By including the good that is embraced in the theoretical conceptions of atheism, religious faith reaches its fullest perfection. Then will all the damage atheism effects in the world be transmuted to good, and the domain damaged by atheism will become an area full of delight. ‘He shall make her wilderness like Eden and her desert like the garden of the Lord’ (Isa. 51:3).” (148)
Kook devotes an entire section to the “Fear of God” in “The Moral Principles”: “The fear of God, as envisioned in the soul, reflects a remarkable synthesis of two opposites in the conception of God: the absence of absolute knowledge concerning the essence of God, and the certainty of knowledge concerning His absolute existence.” (162)
His section on Tolerance is a fantastic representation of his thinking as a whole. “When tolerance in the realm of ideas is inspired by a heart that is pure and free of every kind of evil, it is not likely to dim the feelings of holy enthusiasm that are part of the contents of a simple religious faith, the source of the happiness of all life. On the contrary, it will broaden and enhance the basis of the enthusiasm dedicated to God. Tolerance is equipped with a profound faith, reaching a point of recognizing that it is impossible for any soul to become altogether devoid of holy illumination, for the life of the living God is present in all life. Even in areas where we encounter destructive actions, where ideas take the form of negation, there must, nevertheless, remain hidden in the heart and in the depths of the soul a vital light of holiness. It is manifest in the noble qualities we encounter in many of the characteristics even among our barren elements, those afflicted with heresy and consumed with doubts. Out of this great and holy perception and faith is engendered tolerance, to encircle all with the thread of compassion. ‘I will gather together all of you, O Jacob’ (Mic. 2:12).” (175)
In “Lights of Holiness” Kook talks about having love for people, based in the source of compassion. “Many times one is forced to descend to deep, dark regions, in order to find there the greatest, noblest and freest light.” (239)
It is surprising that this man was responsible for mainstream religious Zionism. His thought is very open-minded and welcoming. He embraces dialogue and criticism as essential pathways to the truth, and at many points in the book clearly articulates his love for all people. In all of these things he seems genuinely sincere.
|Title||The Lights of Penitence, the Moral Principles, Lights of Holiness, Essays, Letters and Poems|
|eBook format||Paperback, (torrent)|
|Author||Abraham Isaac Kook|
|File size||7.1 Mb|
|Book rating||4.63 (72 votes)