Sunday, March 11, 2007

Introduction to the thought of Rav Kook – Part 2

The Holy, The Nation and The Human
Rav Kook looked at Judaism as having many layers. One’s practice of Judaism has to go through different circles: the individual one, the national one, and the universal one.

In one of his most fundamental essays, Rav Kook writes that there are 3 layers to Judaism: Kodesh (Holy), Uma (Nation) and Adam (Human). The Kodesh is the layer of individual, religious practice, where one works on himself in order to better his personal relationship with God. The Uma is the layer of nationalism, where Judaism is looked at from the perspective of a whole Nation, Am Israel, serving God. The Adam is the layer of all of humanity. On an even higher level, we should strive for all of Humanity to be in the image of God.

Rav Kook looked around him and said that in his generation, he saw all of these aspects of Judaism practiced by 3 groups which are completely separate from each other, most of the time even in conflict with each other.

The Ultra-Orthodox section of the Jewish people was working towards bettering their individual connection to Judaism. They were living in remote locations, separated from the world, dedicating their whole days to torah learning and bettering their religious practice. The Secular Zionists were the ones taking care of the Uma, the national message of Am Israel. They were working to get the Nation of Israel back to its land, for national reasons, not religious ones. They wanted to rebuild the National Identity of the Jewish people which was lost for thousands of years in exile.

The Socialist Jews, some which were even communist, were the ones who were raising the flag of Humanity. They were the humanists who were trying to save all humans, regardless of religion or nationality. To them, the central fight was one of equality between all humans, making sure all humans could live in dignity etc…

Rav Kook said that the real message of Judaism can only be attained by combining these 3 messages into one powerful message: We are religious Jews who are part of God’s Nation who wish to rebuild our temple as a house of prayer for all of Humanity, striving for the most amazing tikkun olam for all of humanity. Only this message will be able to bring the greatest tikkun olam ever through the coming of Mashiach.

It might shock some people that I posted pictures of the anti-zionist Rabbi Sonnenfeld, the communist Totsky and the secular Zionist Herzl. All of them had incomplete messages, yet all of them had somewhat important messages. While they were wrong on many issues, they were all right on some specific points which is what this essay is about. Don’t get me wrong, there is a hierarchy of importance: in another essay, Rav Kook explained how teshuva was like a shofar: it starts narrow and ends wide. For a successful teshuva, we must first return to our individual religious self, then to our national identity, then to our humanist idealism. Therefore, Rabbi Sonnenfeld, who was mamash a talmid chacham, is not in the same league as Trotski has veshalom. The importance still is to have a message with all of these layers included inside of it and every layer is extremely important for the full powerful message to come out.

PS from ME:
While Rav Kook is not around anymore, I think we can see that the religious Zionist community (and other communities also) has, in most part, successfully created a hybrid of the religious and national messages Rav Kook was speaking about. The next challenge is to realize that all our nationalism, and all our religion, is guided towards the ultimate tikkun olam. When we realize that we want Har Habayit as a house of prayer for all nations, and not just for religious or national reasons, maybe then we will be able to build this beit hamikdash we are constantly waiting for.

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