Thursday, July 20, 2006

A Torn Soul - a man of God.

I am reading Rav Avraham Itzhak HaCohen Kook - Between Rationalism and Mysticism by Benjamin Ish Shalom recommended by Chardal. I am intrigued by Rav Kook who was a rational thinker quite aware of all the scientific knowledge of his time and still was steeped in Kabbalah which seems to be quite contrary to that type of thinking. I figure that he must have had a way of understanding it that makes sense. His writings however are very poetic and difficult to decipher. I therefore hope that this book offers a shortcut and will give me enough insight to allow me to go back to his writing and understand them.

Right in the preface there is a quote that talked to me and I wish to share it.

"Whoever said of me that my soul is torn put it well, for torn it is indeed. Our minds cannot conceive of a man whose soul is not torn. Only the inanimate is whole. But man's aspirations contradict one another, and battle is constantly waged within him. All of man's efforts are to unite the opposing forces of his spirit by means of a general idea, whose greatness and sublimity holds everything and leads to perfect harmony. That, of course, is an ideal we strive for, though not every child born of woman can reach it. Still, our efforts can bring us closer and closer, and that is what Kabbalists call "Yichudim"."

Veahavta et hashem elokecha bechol levavecha - bishnei yetzareicha. (Rashi from Sifre)


  1. Rav Kook came from a "mixed marriage." His father was litvish and his mother chassidish (chabad). The story goes that when he was born, his father gave him a bracha that he should become a great rosh yeshiva and his mother gave him a bracha that he should become a great Rebbe.

    When one of Rav Kook's students once heard this story, he commented "both were mitkayem."

    When I think of Rav Kook, I often want to cry for I then remember how there is no one else of the past 100 years that could possibly fill his shoes. If I would have been zoche to live in his generation, I would have walked barefoot to be able to drink the waters of his Torah. Alas, I must find that fountain of life only in his books.

  2. Beautiful! I have seen an abstract of that quote before but never the whole one.

    Also I was wondering, could I get a link on your blogroll on your right hand column?

    Also check out my blog for an interesting possible translation of the Rambam Shomoneh Perekim, chapter 5. What are your thoughts on that?

    Chardal, I am still waiting for you to take the challenge :)

  3. You should be careful though and not take every word of BIS as Torah MiSinai. Rav Filber wrote an article containing some serious criticism (some justified, some not) on the book.
    From experience I can only repeat the cliche that unfortunately there are no shortcuts.
    A good place to start is Rav Kook's explanations on the Agadoth Hashas, Eyn Ayah. Lots of complicated stuff becomes somewhat more clearer.

  4. Sorry, should have put my username.

  5. Thank you. I read many of the iggrot, eder hayakar, and a smattering of his other works. Orot Hakodesh I have not yet looked at. I am a very concrete person and have a hard time translating poetic and emotion laced writings or for that matter sayings into something i understand. I guess my Koach Hamedameh is supressed.

  6. Nice post --
    Although I'm not at all sure about what he was referring to with the kabbalah part at the end, I believe that this is a seminal idea in Yahadus and philosophy in general - man's pursuit to find that all encompassing idea which resolves his dichotomy and allows him to live a sublime and unified life. (Even Einstein had the bug with his pursuit of unified theory albeit it wasn't a religious pursuit.)

    The Rav discusses this idea in great depth in his Halakhic Man and Lonely Man of Faith - the idea that we are in constant conflict between our two selves - our cognitive self and our religious self.

    Personally, I have not read much Rav Kook, but that was a very nice introduction to his machshava - Thank you.

  7. Is rav Kook really the only one two have bridge the gap of rationalism and kabbalah?

    I find that hard to believe.

  8. Rav Filber wrote an article containing some serious criticism (some justified, some not) on the book.

    Do you happen to have it? I would love to read it.


    There is a fundamental difference between Rav Soloveitchic and Rav Kook is that Rav Soloveitchic saw the tension as something which a person must maintain while Rav Kook saw it as something a person must strive to resolve and harmonize. To Rav Soloveitchic, the tension IS the essence of religious life where for Rav Kook, the tension is a springboard to reach a higher and more unified religious life.

    There is more to say on this, but not on a blog thread.

  9. .the kabbalah part at the end

    That is exactly what intrigues me and gives me the impetus to read him as he seems to translate these Kabbalistic concepts into Lashon Bnei Adam. BTW it is not at all sure that his interpretation is the same as his predecessors. They are totally wrong to my simple mind. I believe that all Kabbalah including Ari, Gra etc is total nonsense and based on a faulty platonic/aristoteleian concept of science and physics, never mind their denials.I am hoping that Rav Kook will fill in the gap. will report as I go along.

  10. I also started reading this based on Chardal's recommendation. I also read Simxha Razs biography. I don't usually like reading the Artscroll style hagiographies, but I found it very moving. Especially the way even people like Bialik etc were drawn to Rav Kook. That quote (about the torn soul) is very famous, I've seen it in a number of places. Definitely all very interesting, and it makes me think that maybe kabalah is not all complete baloney after all! Also got hold of some interesting books comparing Kabalah to Jung and others.

    EX GH.

  11. > Also got hold of some interesting books comparing Kabalah to Jung and others.

    My friend Rabbi Buchman has this theory about Kabbalah that it is just a language that explains some difficult concepts. He also tried to get to it through jung. He has however not yet been able to explain it to me in such a way that it makes sense to my simple mind.

    BTW GH you are welcome to guest post here as long as you are willing to accept my critique if I feel it is necessary.

  12. >I find that hard to believe.

    Believe it! and of course Chardal;-)

  13. and of course Chardal

    Katonti ;)

  14. > BTW GH you are welcome to guest post here as long as you are willing to accept my critique if I feel it is necessary.

    Thanks, maybe I will. And I am certainly no stranger to people critiquing me! I need to get a new 'name' though.

    EX GH

  15. What problems do people have with Kaplan?

    Also, what makes you think Kabbalah is based on aristolean physics and science? To me, it looks to be more based on Quatum mechanics and string theory :P

    The book, Symbolism of Kabbalah (is that the name GH?) Does a very good job of explaining the language in a way soemone well versed in psychology would understand.

    One thing I find interesting, is that as I'm reading Matt's translation of the Zohar, I am seeing that some people believe the angels and demons to be the same as what the christains drew. However, I was always taught that angels and demons are to be understood the same way gravity or E=mc^2 is understood.

  16. GH, how about "Friends of the Sanhedrin"?

    I actually need to post on that and find out what people think on that subject.

  17. David, it's interesting. I was just reading Oros HaTeshuva last night. My thoughts turn towards E"Y now more than ever and I find that Rav Kook really was on target.

  18. I havn't found any good Kook translations, are there new ones? The old ones seem to be translated by people who want to say that Rav Kook was essentially a conservative rabbi.

  19. All of Rabbi Bezalel Naor's books are good translations. His website is

  20. Woot! Thank you.

    I don't recognize any of the book covers, which gives me good hope your telling me good.