<I>Vayeshev</I>: Joseph's Labors in ExilePerhaps our greatest question in life is: Do our actions have true significance? The performance of <I>mitzvot</I> is metaphysically meaningful, but what about our day-to-day activities? Ultimately, how much of our lives and pursuits truly matter?
Rabbi Kook on <I>Vayishlach</I>: Ancient AgronomistsWhy does the Torah mention the agricultural expertise of the Canaanites? In general, why did God place these idolatrous and immoral nations in the Land of Israel? Would it not have been simpler if the Jewish people could have gained possession of <I>Eretz Yisrael</I> without needing to conquer it from the Canaanite nations?
Rabbi Kook on Psalm 103: Reaching Inwards to GodWe sometimes read of extraordinary spiritual journeys, of people seeking out God and the meaning of life as they scale the majestic heights of a distant mountain or withdraw to the infinite vastness of an isolated desert. The psalmist, however, indicates that a more authentic journey would perhaps start much closer to home.
Rabbi Kook on Psalm 111: Divinity in the DetailsThis psalm expresses our wonder at the beauty and splendor of God's works, both in the world of nature and in the Torah. The importance of this praise of God's works is evident in a dispute that took place between Rabbi Abahu, a third-century scholar in <I>Eretz Yisrael</I>, and an unnamed heretic.
Rabbi Kook on the Full Cup of BlessingThe Talmud (<I>Brachot</I> 51a) teaches that this cup of wine should be filled to the brim: "Whoever says the blessing over a full cup is given a boundless inheritance" and "is privileged to inherit two worlds, this world and the next."
The <I>Teshuvah</I> of Rosh HashanahWe do not recite any confessional prayers, nor do we make any promises to improve. Instead, the Rosh Hashanah prayers deal with a completely different theme: the entire world accepting God's sovereignty. How does this aspiration fit in with the overall seasonal theme of <I>teshuvah</I>?
Rabbi Kook on Psalm 82: The Holiness of the SynagogueThe Hebrew word for a synagogue is not <I>beit tefillah</I> (house of prayer), but <I>beit kenesset</I> (house of gathering). The Greek word <I>synagogue</I> also means "place of assembly". Its holiness stems from its use as a gathering place for the community.
Rabbi Kook on <i>Ki-Tavo</i>: Be Happy!Not only does God expect us to keep the <I>mitzvot</I>, but we are to perform them with joy and contentment. What is the difference between these two emotions?
Rabbi Kook on Elul: Unity and RepentanceThe Jewish people have become divided into two camps, through the categorization of Jews as <I>Charedi</I> (religious) and <I>Chofshi</I> (secular). These are new terms, which were not used in the past. In this respect, we can certainly say that previous generations were superior to ours.
Rabbi Kook on Psalm 4: Restraining Evil Impulses"Tremble and do not sin; speak in your hearts upon your bed, and be still forever." (Psalms 4:5) According to 3rd century scholar Rabbi Shimon <I>ben</I> Lakish - himself a well-known penitent - this verse outlines a four-step program how to master the temptations of the <I>yeitzer hara</I> (evil inclination).
A Sleepless Night in a Bomb Shelter With Rabbi KookRabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook's private secretary, Rabbi Shimon Glitzenstein, recorded his experiences with Rabbi Kook in a booklet called <I>Mazkir HaRav</I>, including the following description of a sleepless night in a London bomb shelter.
Rabbi Kook on Psalms 6: Crying Without TearsWhen we say the <i>Amidah</i>, we become highly aware of our true spiritual goals and aspirations. With <i>Tachanun</i>, we return to reality, and come to terms with our flawed traits and failings. The roller-coaster dive from the uplifting heights of the <i>Amidah</i> to the disheartening depths of <i>Tachanun</i> can be heart-wrenching.
Rabbi Kook on Psalms 126: We Were Like DreamersPresumably, this is a vision of the future redemption, when "our mouths will be filled with laughter." Yet, the psalmist also speaks of the past - "we were like dreamers." Is this taking place in the past or the future?
Delusions of GrandeurA rather peculiar man lived in London during the time that Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook served in the local rabbinate. What was so peculiar about him? He thought he was <I>Mashiach</I> (the Messiah).
Rabbi Kook on Psalm 81: Aiming for GreatnessThis psalm charges us to sing out in joy, as God answered our prayers and rescued us from the bondage of Egypt: "I am <I>HaShem</I> your God Who raises you up from the land of Egypt; open your mouth wide, and I will fill it." (Psalms 81:11)
Rabbi Kook on Zion and Jerusalem: The Two MessengersThe prophet Isaiah spoke of two messengers proclaiming the imminent redemption of Israel: "Herald of Zion, ascend a lofty mountain! Herald of Jerusalem, lift up your voice with strength, do not be afraid!" (Isaiah 40:9)
Rabbi Kook on Psalm 39: When Will I Die?In this chapter, the psalmist speaks of terrible suffering and pain - suffering so terrible that he feels he must forcibly 'muzzle' his mouth to restrain himself from questioning God's justice in the world. In desperation, he beseeches God: When will it end?
Rabbi Kook on Psalm 90: Teach Us to Count Our Days What consequence can there be to a fleeting life of seventy years, "or with strength, eighty years," compared to the eternity of God - "From the beginning of the world to its end, You are God" (Psalms 90:2)?
A Fatal MistakeHe asked me if I knew Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, of blessed memory. I answered that I had been privileged to benefit from his exalted Torah and inspiring discourses. At that moment, the man burst into tears and said, "What a shame! What a shame that I did not listen to him."
Rabbi Kook on Purim: "Go, Gather All the Jews"During these days of Purim, in these difficult hours, many adversities from without besiege and afflict the entire nation of Israel. Yet, the greatest anguish stems from our internal conflicts, because internal tranquility, the peace of the House of Israel, is lacking.
Rabbi Kook on Tu BiShevat: Emulating the DivineRabbi Kook was given the honor of placing the first sapling in the ground. The organizers handed the rabbi a hoe with which to dig the hole, but he threw it aside and began digging with his bare hands.
For the Honor of TorahThe news of a rabbi slapping someone across the face made a shocking impression on everyone who heard about it.
Rabbi Kook on Chanukah: The Sacred Protects Itself"People mistake the sacred and the secular for adversaries at war with one another. But in truth, national life cannot exist unless both of these values are fully developed and channeled toward building the nation. Hence, we must endeavor to fuse them and imbue the secular with the holy."
Rabbi Kook on <I>Vayishlach</I>: Pillars and SanctuariesIt appears perfectly acceptable for Jacob to erect a pillar. Later on, however, the Torah specifically prohibits all pillars, even to worship God: "Do not erect a sacred pillar, since this is something that God your Lord hates." (Deuteronomy 16:22) What about Jacob's pillar?
Rabbi Kook on the Secular Builders of the StateA delegation of rabbis once came to Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook to complain about the fact that he, the Chief Rabbi, associated with the secular pioneers who disregarded the laws of the Torah.
Rabbi Kook on <I>Vayera</I>: The Binding of IsaacWhat is so profound, so amazing about the <I>Akeida</I>? After all, it was common among certain pagan cults to sacrifice children (such as the idolatry of Molech). In what way did Abraham show greater love and self-sacrifice than the idol-worshippers of his time?
Rabbi Kook on the Atmosphere of Eretz YisraelUnder the influence of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, an American Jew came to <I>Eretz Yisrael</I> with the intention of settling here permanently. One day, however, he showed up the rabbi's house and requested a farewell blessing. For some reason, he had decided to return to America.
Rabbi Kook on the Age of the UniverseIn a letter written in 1905, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook responded to questions concerning evolution and the geological age of the world. He put forth four basic arguments.
Rabbi Kook on <I>Bereishit</I>: Tasty Fruit TreesThe Kabbalists used the term <I>"shevirat hakeilim"</I> - breaking of the vessels - to describe the many difficulties that occurred in the process of creating the world. With this phrase, they wished to convey the idea that the limited physical realm was incapable of accepting all of the spiritual content that it needed to contain.
Rabbi Kook on Rosh Hashanah: Heartrending BlastsA group of workers was pressured to complete a building in one of the neighborhoods of Jerusalem and they continued working during the Rosh Hashanah holiday. When the neighbors realized what was happening, they immediately sent word to Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook.
<I>Teshuva</I> for the Generation of RebirthRabbi Kook saw <I>teshuva</I> as an underlying force affecting all aspects of life, not only the realm of the sacred: "<I>Teshuva</I> holds a primary place in Torah and in life."
Rabbi Kook on Vegetarianism: Food for ThoughtWe need to examine the moral dilemma regarding the slaughter of animals for food. We find that the Torah expresses a certain reservation in the matter; its acquiescence to allow meat appears to be a concession to the baser side of human nature.