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The Judaism of Tomorrow
My Rav Kook
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#37 Your Unique Calling, Your Unique Path
8Collections 4:6; Glimmerings of Holiness 3:221

Every person must know that he is called to serve1

in a way that is compatible with his unique way of knowing and feeling,

true to the core of his soul2;

and it is in that world [that harmonizes with his unique self],

which includes countless worlds,

that he will find his life’s treasure.

Let him not become confused by stuff3 pouring into him from worlds that are alien to him,

[material that] he cannot properly absorb,

that he is unable to agreeably integrate into the gestalt of his own life.

Those worlds will find their rectification in their [proper] place,

with people who are especially soul-qualified to build and improve them.

He, however, must concentrate his life in worlds unique to him alone,

his inner worlds,

which, for him, are filled with all and include everything [he needs].

A person is required to say: The world was created for me.4

This humble greatness validates the person

and leads him to the higher wholeness which stands and awaits him;

and as he takes steps on this confident way of life,

on his own particular path, on his own unique “route of the righteous ones,”5

he will become filled with lifecourage and spiritual joy, and Godlight will be revealed to him.

His might and his light emerge for him from his own unique letter in Torah.6

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Footnotes

  1. La‘avod (the simple form of ‘a-b-d) means ‘to work, to till the soil; to serve, to obey; to perform divine service, to worship’ (in English, work and worship also share the same root, as do cult, cultivate and culture). ‘Eved means ‘a servant, a slave, a bondsman.’ In the intensive form, ‘a-b-d means ‘to cultivate, to dress (i.e., to tan hides), to elaborate, to adapt, to manufacture.’ ‘Uvda means ‘a deed, an act, an occurrence, a fact.’ All of these meanings of la‘avod are included here by Rav Kook. Every person is uniquely called to work the world and to do work in the world; that is, to process its givens of matter and energy and physical law, to create progressive newness and service to humankind. This processing includes all forms of knowing, healing, technology, art and culture, and the most important processing of givens: the cultivation of relationships as well as the raising of children. Performing and seeking to complete this work is divine service itself. [Work as a calling, a mission, also shines through another Hebrew word for work, mela’cha (a word first appearing three times in the story of creation (Gen. 2), where it refers to the totality of God’s work of creating the world), whose root is l-’a-kaf, to send. A mal’ach is ‘an angel,’ or ‘messenger,’ fulfilling the sender’s mission (in English, message, messenger, and mission all share a root, too.).] Every person needs to know he is a messaging message, sent to inform the world with his being; and, as Rav Kook describes at the end of this Glimmering, to become part of a huge, sacred text that includes us all. Back to text
  2. Shoresh nishmato, literally, ‘the root of his soul.’ Back to text
  3. Tochanim, pl. of tochen, literally, ‘contents.’ Back to text
  4. Bishvili nivra’ ha‘olam. This Mishnaic phrase (Sanhedrin 37a) is traditionally translated ‘the world was created for my sake,’ and it certainly means that here (i.e., the rest of the world’s work is taken care of so that I can accomplish my unique task). But when I learned this Glimmering with my son Noam, then almost 18 and about to enter the Israeli army, he showed me something new. ‘Look how many words for path or road and walk and lead there are in the final paragraph,’ he said, ‘it makes you re-notice the phrase, Bishvili nivra’ ha‘olam: maybe Rav Kook is playing on the word shvil here.’ And, indeed, the preposition bishvil (for the sake of) arose from the noun shvil (path) and the prefix b, which can mean ‘along with,’ yielding the translation ‘the world was created with my path already in it [included as part of God’s Plan].’ This means knowing ‘I am not a mistake, nor defective in any way; I am just who I need to be and must get to work being it. A road awaits me on which I will be able to accomplish my giving to the world.’ An alternative offshoot of Noam’s idea, equally valid in Hebrew, uses the prefix b in its meaning of agency or means. ‘By my following of my own path, the whole world becomes created, the whole world comes into being as planned.’ Any one of these translations would yield the feeling of ‘humble greatness’ Rav Kook describes. He probably meant them all. Back to text
  5. Orach Tzaddikim, Prov. 4:18. This phrase is usually taken to mean that there is one route for all righteous people. Rav Kook is saying that every person has his own road, his own mode, of being a tzaddik. And so Glimmering #16, “New Times, New Standards.” Back to text
  6. Rav Kook shifts from the metaphor of paths and ways and routes to the beautiful image of each person as a unique letter in the text of Torah. Halachically, a Torah scroll is not kosher for use, not considered whole, if even one of its letters is not fully formed. Back to text
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