In this long, perhaps difficult, and immensely important blog, we will continuing our in-depth examination into the writings of Rabbi Kook, in order to understand how Jewish thinking became so distorted in the Diaspora. For example, because of the pernicious influence of Western and Christian concepts, Mashiach is erroneously imagined to be a cross between Superman, Harry Porter, Santa Claus, and Rambo who will fly out of the sky, vanquish the enemies of Israel, gather the exiles to the Holy Land, and rebuild the Temple with a wave of his wand, all in one fell sweep, without needing any help on our part. In some up and coming blogs, we will, G-d willing, set forth an alternative, healthier understanding of Mashiach. Right now, we will continue with Rabbi Kook’s teachings on the Jewish People and Eretz Yisrael. In this Samson/Fishman commentary on "Orot," we will see how Eretz Yisrael has a positive influence, not only on a Jew’s imaginative faculty, but on the intellect as well.
First, we must remember that we are a nation, and not a scattered congregation of individual Jews. We must rediscover our homeland, the cradle of our nationhood, the place we belong. And we must remember that we are the nation of prophets, with the national task of transmitting the word of G-d to the world.
The human soul is comprised of several faculties which constitute human nature. Like others creatures, man eats, moves, senses, and breathes, but he has other abilities as well. The Rambam, in his study of the human personality, in his Introduction to Pirkei Avot, describes two faculties which distinguish man: his imagination and intellect.
The faculties of imagination and intellect are interrelated. Intelligence is pure knowledge, while imagination is how to apply it. For instance, through our intellect, we know of the existence of sound waves. Our imagination is what enables us to transform this knowledge into radar and radios. Imagination puts our intelligence to practical use. Because they are both rooted in man's soul, they influence each other. Thus for the intellect to be healthy, the imagination must be healthy too.
Today, imagination is most often associated with artists, and with the talent that produces novels, music, paintings, comic books, and movies. In its original pure state, however, imagination is the faculty of man which facilitates the reception of prophecy. A person's imagination is the sense which enables him to be most directly connected to G-d.
Prophetic imagination is the channel which enables man to transform exalted spiritual messages into a comprehensible, material form, whether in visions, symbols, dreams, hearing, or speech. Only Moshe Rabenu, the humblest of men, was able to receive prophecy directly from G-d without any allegorical language. Communication between G-d and all other prophets was couched in visions or dreams.
While imagination can be a uniquely positive tool in a person's spiritual development, it can also be the most dangerous. Our imagination can easily fool and mislead us. Because of its susceptibility to pollution from surrounding sources, imagination can be distorted and false. Consequently, something essentially evil can be imagined as something good.
Imagination appears in many forms. It can be healthy, or sick. Imagination can be neurotic, paranoid, and grandiose. It can cause delusions, visions, hallucinations, dreams, and inspirational ideas. Prophecy is its highest level. Because imagination is free and unbounded, it affords the channel which prophecy needs. Yet, its very unboundedness is also its danger, enabling it to leap over moral borders and healthy restraints. The direction of a person's imagination, its health or disease, depends on the person's surroundings and his directional drives. A person with a refined, ethical sensibility and positive character traits will have a refined imagination. A person possessed of Torah and spiritual elevation will have an imaginative channel capable of Ruach HaKodesh (Divine Inspiration). Conversely, a person with impure morals will have a polluted imagination given to base, impure thoughts.
The book, "Mesillat Yesharim," describes the rigorous path toward Ruach HaKodesh. Only after a long course of Torah study and character refinement can a person hope to be granted Divine Inspiration from G-d. Ultimately, his success is not only dependent upon his efforts, but also upon his surroundings. A person can receive a doctorate in prophetic training; he can learn "Mesillat Yesharim" one-hundred times, but if he is not in Eretz Yisrael, prophecy won't come.
In our previous essay, we saw how the spiritual and cultural pollution of the Diaspora interferes with true Israeli creativity and thought. Outside of the Land of Israel, the ugly spiritual climate does not allow for a pure prophetic flow. Even if a Jew were filled with Torah and the very best character traits, the impurity of Chutz L'Aretz seals up his prophetic channel. And even if a prophecy were to occur, a person could not receive it, because of the inability to be true to one's imagination and intellect while living in an alien land. This is the reason why the Gra refused to receive the angels that came to visit him in Vilna.
We are the people of prophecy. Our greatest profession and talent is not banking, nor medicine, nor moviemaking, but prophecy.
A reader may wonder, why all of this preoccupation with prophecy? What does prophecy have to do with the Jewish people today? The question is quite understandable. For more than 2300 years, the Jewish people have not experienced prophecy. For centuries, the Divine channel in the world has been silent. We have forgotten about prophecy, as if it no longer exists. For this reason, Rabbi Kook is writing to remind us who we really are. We are the people of prophecy. Our greatest profession and talent is not banking, nor medicine, nor moviemaking, but prophecy. Today, we are a mere shadow of our true potential. Even the State of Israel, with all of its tremendous rebirth, is still in diapers, still only learning to walk, far from its mature potential as the future Kingdom of Israel with a rebuilt Beit HaMikdash, the Sanhedrin, Mashiach, and myriads of prophets. In the future, the word of G-d will go forth from Jerusalem through the prophetic channel which will return to our nation. This is the goal toward which our history is heading.
In educating a child, one has to teach the child who he is. He has to know about his family, about his country, about his history. To be successful, education has to guide the child along his unique inner paths. To help him achieve his potential, a teacher has to help the child discover himself and understand what lies before him. In re-educating the reborn Jewish nation after 2000 years of Galut, Rabbi Kook helps us to understand ourselves. Many of our foundations have been forgotten and must be restored. The Creator of the world has a plan for us which we can neither ignore nor escape. Before creating the world, Hashem decreed what would be. Our identity was implanted in our souls from the start: "This NATION I have formed for Myself; THEY shall declare My praise" (Isaiah, 43:21). First, we must remember that we are a nation, and not a scattered congregation of individual Jews. We must rediscover our homeland, the cradle of our nationhood, the place we belong. And we must remember that we are the nation of prophets, with the national task of transmitting the word of G-d to the world.
Just as there is a purpose to every individual life, there is a purpose to every nation. Every people and country has its own international role, its unique contribution to the world as a whole. Russia gives the world Tolstoy, Communism, and vodka. France contributes Sartre, perfume, and champagne. England gives Shakespeare, Churchill, and the Beatles. Japan exports advances in transistor technology. Switzerland manufactures chocolates and clocks. America fosters democracy and Hollywood dreams. And the nation of Israel brings the knowledge of Hashem to the world. Through the nation of Israel, all of the contributions of the nations are uplifted to their proper place in the Divine harmony of existence.
In light of this background, we can once again look at the words of Rabbi Kook and discover new insights within his often complex and poetic style.
"The imagination in the Land of Israel is lucid and clear, clean and pure, and ready for the revelation of Divine truth, and for the embodiment of the high, uplifted will of the idealistic trend which is found in the higher echelons of holiness. It is prepared for the explanation of prophecy and its lights, for the enlightenment of Ruach HaKodesh and its illumination."
What is Rabbi Kook saying? Simply, he tells us that the imaginative faculty in the Land of Israel is pure. It is capable, therefore, of conveying prophecy and transmitting the word of G-d to the world. It is capable of revealing Divine truths and embodying the ideal values which G-d desires to bestow upon all humankind.
The fine line between delusion and truth can also creep into Judaism. This is the illusion which can lead a Jew to call Berlin the "New Jerusalem", or America, "the Promised Land." The fine line between delusion and truth can also creep into Judaism. This is the illusion which can lead a Jew to call Berlin the "New Jerusalem", or America, "the Promised Land."
"And the imagination which is found in the land of the nations is murky, clouded in darkness, in shadows of defilement and pollution. It cannot rise to the heights of Kedusha (holiness), and it cannot afford a basis for the influx of Divine light that rises above all of the baseness of the worlds and their oppressive straits."
In contrast to the imagination of Eretz Yisrael, the imaginative faculty which exists outside of the land is clogged with pollution and unable to provide a channel for prophecy, for Kedusha, and for enlightenment from G-d.
We mentioned the Gemara which states that a Jew should always live in Eretz Yisrael, "For a Jew who lives in Israel is like someone who has a G-d, and a Jew who lives outside the land is like someone who has no G-d, as the Torah verse says: `To give you the land of Canaan in order to be your G-d'" (Ketubot 110B) In Israel we have a G-d. Outside of the land, barriers and spiritual pollution get in the way. The Gemara continues by asking, in a tone of wonderment, can it be that a Jew who does not live in Israel really has no G-d? It answers, "Rather it comes to teach you that a Jew who lives in Chutz L'Aretz is like someone who worships idols." In Chutz L'Aretz, G-d is not to be found. Of course, G-d is everywhere, but there are levels of His Presence. To find him in the Diaspora, you have to tunnel through layers and layers of darkness.
In Eretz Yisrael, our imaginative faculty is capable of providing a vehicle for the Divine Inspiration which reveals the will of G-d in the world. A person tuned into this level of Kedusha can receive the Ruach HaKodesh which comes to the world through Israel. In Galut, if he is searching for contact with the Divine, there is a danger he may tune into the polluted static of mantras, I Chings, hallucinogenic mushrooms, swarmis, Zen motorcycles, Hari Krishnas, false messiahs, and Brahma cows. In the shadows and darkness of this polluted existence, these distortions and falsehoods seem to be true. People believe they are worshipping G-d, but it is all a delusion. They are worshipping their imagination alone.
The fine line between delusion and truth can also creep into Judaism. This is the illusion which can lead a Jew to call Berlin the "New Jerusalem", or America, "the Promised Land."
This concept of geographical pollution is not merely a metaphysical phenomenon – it has Halachic consequences as well. As we learned, venturing beyond the borders of Eretz Yisrael is like setting off to worship idols. Halachically, a Jew is forbidden to leave Eretz Yisrael, except for a few specific reasons set down in Jewish law, such as marrying, learning Torah, or to do business, but to settle permanently there is forbidden (Rambam, Laws of Kings and Their Wars, 5:9). When a person leaves Israel for Chutz L'Aretz, he descends to a lower world. It is a constricted existence, or in Rabbi Kook's language, a world of oppressive spiritual enclosures and straits. This state of deprivation cannot be the foundation for the exalted light of the Divine. The Jewish people can not receive the Torah in Mitzrayim (Egypt), where they are spiritually and physically oppressed. The root word of Mitzrayim means narrow straits, the same word Rabbi Kook uses to describe the Galut. Hashem's light cannot be shrunken to fit this narrow world. Attempts to contain it lead to distorted and partial truths, to the deification of rivers, Pharoahs, crocodiles, and statues. The Divine Ideal which G-d wants for the world, the unbounded blessing and goodness and knowledge, cannot appear when the Jewish nation is scattered all over the globe. The Kingdom of G-d which Israel's existence declares cannot be established when the Jewish people are serving other kingdoms, whether it be in a democracy or a totalitarian state. For the Sovereignty of G-d to be manifest on earth, first the sovereignty of Israel must be established in its Land. And for the Sovereignty of G-d to be complete – in the world, and in the minds and hearts of all of mankind, all of the nation of Israel must be living in Israel, ruling over all of its Land.
After emphasizing the profound differences between the power of imagination in the Land of Israel, as compared with the rest of the world, Rabbi Kook explains why the air of Eretz Yisrael can lead to a greater wisdom than the wisdom which can be attained outside of the Land.
"Because the intellect and the imagination are bound up together, and act and interact one upon the other, the intellect which is outside the Land of Israel is also incapable of being illuminated with the light which exists in the Land of Israel. `The air of Eretz Yisrael causes wisdom'" (Bava Batra 158B).
The faculties of intelligence and imagination are intertwined. In Eretz Yisrael, where the imagination is clear, the intellect can also be clear. In contrast, outside of the Land, where the imagination is clouded, the intellect is clouded too. In a purely physical, technical realm like mathematics or science, the difference is not apparent. But in the finer, higher, exalted reaches of Kedusha, the discrepancy appears. The pure interaction between the mind's two faculties of imagination and intellect is what causes the greater wisdom of Eretz Yisrael. For this same reason, the Torah of Eretz Yisrael is a higher Torah (Bereshit Rabbah, 16:4), a purer Torah, a more encompassing Torah, the Torah of Clal Yisrael. Far transcending the constricted "Four cubits of Halacha" (Berachot 8A) of Galut, Torat Eretz Yisrael is the complete Torah, the national Torah of the Kingdom of Israel which sends blessing and light to all of mankind. It is the Torah of Mashiach which brings the word of G-d to the world.
This understanding is not something which Rabbi Kook invented. On the contrary, it is based on the teachings of our Sages, handed down through generations. We will quote only a few of their insights:
"There is no Torah like the Torah of Eretz Yisrael, and no wisdom like the wisdom of Eretz Yisrael"(Bereshit Rabbah, 16:4).
"If you wish to see the Shechinah in the world, learn Torah in Eretz Yisrael" (Midrash Tehillim, 105).
"Amongst the goyim, there is no Torah. From this we learn that the Torah is in Eretz Yisrael" (Sifre, Reah).
"`He has set me in dark places, as those who are long dead.' Rav Yirmiyah said, this is the Talmud of Bavel" (Sanhedrin 24A).
"You have no greater Bittul Torah than the exile of the nation of Israel from its place" (Chagiga 5B).
"Those in Eretz Yisrael have a great advantage over those in Bavel, in that they are directed more to the truth since the air in Eretz Yisrael is pure from all impurity and does not add falsehood and mistaken ideas, which is not the case in Bavel" (Chatam Sofer, Drashot, Pg. 374).
In the Gemara in tractate Shabbat, Rav Yochanon's students ask why the Torah scholars in Chutz L'Aretz dress in a distinguished, dapper style. They answer that because they are not Bnei Torah, they have to enhance their stature by presenting a distinguished appearance. But immediately, Rabbi Yochanon protests. "How can you say they are not Bnei Torah?" Rather, he concludes, they are not "Bnei Mikomam" – they are not living in their place. (Shabbat 145B).
The Gemara is telling us that Chutz L'Aretz is not the natural place for Torah scholars. Certainly, they possess vast Torah learning, but they are not in the Land of Israel where they belong. The great scholars of the Babylonian Talmud achieved their great wisdom, even in the darkness of Galut, because they knew their true place was in Israel and yearned to return. Their yearning for Jerusalem kept them attached to the Clal, and to the Shechinah, which shines on the Torah of Eretz Yisrael.
See you here soon!
Commentaries on the writings of Rabbi Kook by Rabbi David Samson and Tzvi Fishman: LIGHTS ON OROT, WAR AND PEACE, THE ART OF T’SHUVA, and TORAT ERETZ YISRAEL, can be purchased online at the bookstore of www.jewishsexuality.com