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My Rav Kook
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#6 Seeing beyond Difference and its Meaning for Man
8Collections 2:187; Glimmerings of Holiness 2:393; Patches of Clarity

The Wisdom of Truth teaches us1 universal oneness,

that aspect of alikeness [between apparently distinct entities and states]

that is discoverable in all existence, [on every level],

all the way up to the resemblance of the form to its Creator2,

and how to walk this path of light without stumbling.3

[The Wisdom of Truth teaches us]

how physicality and spirituality, imagination and intellect, the low and the high

are all coupled4: they are united, of a piece.5

And above all, [the Wisdom of Truth teaches us]

the value of the phenomenon of our life in the universe, in the entirety of creation6:

the spirit of Man in his processes of rising,

by means of clarified consciousness and an elevated will, cleansed and mature,

exalting himself to the point of asserting his will over the universe

because of the might and importance of the First One [whom we resemble7].

This is the goal of clear divine communion8,

which is superior to all the exact sciences9

that are presently the only [modes of understanding]

through which Man’s beclouded spirit beholds his spiritual world11.12

עברית +/-
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Footnotes

  1. The Hebrew reads Lomedet ’otanu in 8Collections and melamedet ’otanu in Glimmerings of Holiness. Back to text
  2. Dimui haTzura leYotzrah. Man is like the God Who created him. This is the least this phrase means. We shall refer back to it in the realm of human Creativity, as well. Back to text
  3. That Man resembles God can be a dangerous message, and Man acting like a god has led to many evils in the world. Rav Kook is saying that there are ways for a person to live his human resemblance to God without falling into evil. Back to text
  4. To’amim, from tav-’a-m, a root used for symmetry, correlation, identity etc., but whose core meaning is ‘twin,’ i.e., identical, yet distinct. Back to text
  5. Mokshim; Rav Kook is squeezing new imagery out of an ancient word. God commanded that the Menora, the Keruvim (cherubs on the Holy Ark) and the silver trumpets for the Tabernacle were not to be constructed from modular parts but miksha, that is, sculpted whole from one block of gold or silver. See, e.g., Ex. 25:18, 25:31; Num. 10:2. Rav Kook is saying that all of being is one thought, one idea, one design/onesong. Back to text
  6. Today's biological, ecological and environmental sciences often see man as the worst thing to have happened to the world: man is the corrupter of perfection and the world would have been better without him. Back to text
  7. Mipnei ‘uzo veChashivuto shel haRishon. In context, this could be translated many ways and I have headaches from them all. Thank you to Miriam Fine of Jerusalem who gave me even more to contemplate. A translator’s lot: in the end ya gotta choose. Back to text
  8. HaDevekut ha’Elohit haBehira, i.e., ‘unclouded, understandable, light-filled Divine communion.’ The goal of devekut is to unify Man and the universe he is made of with God the Maker of all. Back to text
  9. HaMada‘im haMugbalim may mean ‘the bounded, confined, circumscribed sciences’ (g-b-l means ‘a border, a limit’) and thus allude to the divisions in the human universe of knowledge and feeling which Rav Kook discussed in Glimmering #5, “The Holographic Oneness of Knowledge.” But this same phrase could also mean ‘the definite, exact, determinate sciences’ (which in today’s Hebrew would be expressed as HaMada‘im haMeduyakim), i.e., sciences lacking the intrinsic property of paradox (the unity of opposites) which Rav Kook refers to herein, in its thought and in the world it conceives. Thus Rav Kook is probably referring to what is now looked on as the ‘classical’ or ‘Newtonian’ description of reality, which dominated scientific thought – and the human worldview – for almost 300 years, since Galileo, in the late 15th century, began to perform experiments and to combine empirical facts with mathematics. The Newtonian paradigm would begin to collapse in Rav Kook’s own lifetime (1865-1935) in the face of new understandings about both the world of the very large and the world of the very tiny; or, rather, that paradigm was shown to be applicable to a limited group of phenomena – the zone of mid-sized objects in which human beings live. The first three decades of the 20th century were the birth era of relativity and quantum mechanics, the two basic theories of the ‘new physics,’ but most of their startling implications, both physical and philosophical, were not grasped until after Rav Kook’s death; indeed we’ve barely begun to understand them almost 100 years later. The mind clings to old maps. More on the new physics – which is also a ‘path of light’ offering a fruitful vocabulary of ideas and which points towards a reality closer to Rav Kook’s vision of an amazingly united and interrelated cosmos in which man is a powerful actor – elsewhere (e.g., #4). For more on the Newtonian worldview – physical and spiritual – see note 10 below. Back to text
  10. Me‘urpal, participle of ‘urpal, ‘to be covered with fog.’ Chazal speak of three levels of darkness: choshech, ‘anan and ‘arafel, with the last being the darkest. Back to text
  11. The Newtonian universe was comprised of a stage of unmoving, unchanging, 3-dimensional Euclidean space, and universal time, which flowed smoothly from the past to the present to the future. Against this background of time, but unrelated to it, the physical system of the universe unfolds with clockwork precision, material bodies passively moving according to strict laws of motion governed by the force of gravity that acts between them. Newton mathematicized the descriptions of natural phenomena into universal formulae. His fundamental laws of motion successfully explained the movements of bodies in heaven and on earth, displaying the workings of the Great Cosmic Machine. Indeed, Newton’s laws were held to apply to all natural phenomena and were successfully transferred from explaining planetary motion to the motion of fluids (e.g., the tides) and to thermal motion (thermodynamics), thereby generating the Industrial Revolution. By the time classical physics reached its zenith of success in the late 19th century, having birthed so many of the innovations that would come to define modernity, it had become the model of what all human knowledge should be about. The aspiration of every discipline of science and all intellectual life was to emulate the rational style of physics, with its mathematical modeling and its precise modes of quantification and prediction. The ideal of fundamental laws, and the interactions of inherent forces and drives, underlay Darwinian evolution, the philosophy of Marx, the psychology of Freud and the mathematicization of any field that aspired to be called a science. How did classical physics affect people spiritually? Well, for one thing, any God of the Newtonian universe need only have created the elementary particles, the forces between them and the laws of motion. Having flicked the ‘on-switch’ of the cosmic machine, God could then retire for eternity and watch the whole system unfold, uninvolved. And once Newton revealed the divine forces and laws of motion, a scientist had, at least theoretically, a God’s-eye view of everything. This is because Newtonian mechanics describe how all physical systems evolve in time. All a person needs to know is the state of a physical system (such as the universe) – that is, the position and momentum of each of its material bodies at a given moment in time – in order to determine its state at any other time, past or future. This is because all events in the Newtonian universe consist of an infinite chain of minute consequences that could be explained and predicted if only we had enough information. Everything ever to happen in the universe was already determined at its beginning. There was no room in Newton’s universe for randomness or for free will: you may think you have free choice, but you are really impotent, merely responding passively, like all matter, to physical law. Your story and all of history are predetermined, every domino falls in its time. In addition, Newton’s laws of thermodynamics forecast the ultimate heat-death of the universe, which would eventually slow it down to a chilly stillness. Not much room for human endeavor in this universe, or for personal aspiration. The Newtonian scientific paradigm shapes the psyche/soul in profound and negative ways. And despite Kurt Godel’s Incompleteness theorems (1931), Walter Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle (1925-27) and the paradoxical nature of light (1803, 1905), all of which reveal limits to rational knowing in a world of paradox, most of us still live in a Newtonian universe which does not include consciousness or contradictions, using Newtonian minds and cosmologies; compelled by forces, and feeling restless and unfree. Back to text
  12. The editors of Glimmerings of Holiness chose to add another section here from elsewhere in Rav Kook’s spiritual diaries (8Collections 2:127), which I have chosen to omit. Back to text
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