“מזהירה היא נשמת העולם.
Radiant is the world soul,
Full of splendor and beauty,
Full of life…
Proudly I ascend
Toward the heights of the world soul
That gives life to the universe.” (Notebook 3:329)
Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook ZT’L (1865-1935) presented a wealth of profound teachings about the importance of enlarging our perspective to the universal. Let us review some central passages:
“A person must liberate themselves from confinement within their private concerns. This pervades their whole being so that their thoughts only focus on their own destiny. This reduces them to the worst kind of smallness, and brings upon them endless physical and spiritual distress.
It is necessary to raise a person’s thought and will and their basic preoccupations towards universality, to the inclusion of all, to the whole world, to the collective of Israel, to all existence. This will result in establishing even their private self on a proper basis.
The firmer a person’s vision of universality, the greater the joy they will experience, and the more they will merit the grace of divine illumination. The reality of HaShem’s providence is discernible when the world is seen in its totality. The Divine presence is not manifest in anything defective. Since HaShem does not abide where there is deficiency, how can HaShem abide where everything is lacking, where all we have is the weak and puny entity, only the particularity of the ego.
This call to be committed always to the principle of universality to the divine ensemble, where all things have their being, is the essence of the soul of the righteous who walk before HaShem and whose delight is in the Divine.” (Ibid 6:214)
We must ‘liberate ourselves from confinement within our private concerns’. We can see clearly, all over the world, the consequences of human life in which each person is primarily involved in their private well being. Rav Kook is emphasizing that we must exponentially expand our area of concern.
“Great souls cannot dissociate themselves from the most universal concerns. All they desire and aspire for is the universal good, universal in its comprehensiveness, universal in its full width, height and depth….
A love for all existence fills the hearts of the good and kindly ones….They yearn for the happiness of all, they hope that all may know light and joy. They draw into themselves love for all existence…
When love-possessed people see the world, living creatures full of quarrels, hatred, persecutions and conflicts, they yearn with all their being to share in those aspirations that move life toward comprehensiveness and unity, peace and tranquility.
They feel and they know the nearness of HaShem, for which they yearn, can only lead them to joining themselves with all and for the sake of all.
When they confront the human scene, and find divisions among nations, religions, parties with goals in conflict, they endeavor with all their might to bring all together, to mend and to unite….They want that every particular shall be preserved and developed, and that the collective whole shall be united and abounding in peace.” (Ibid 1:101)
We have created a world society in which division and difference dominate. We are defined and determined by our individual identity. And others are thus truly other. And we have a ‘world full of quarrels, hatred, persecutions and conflicts.’
This is hugely destructive: “All the deficiencies in the world, both physical and spiritual, derive from the fact that every individual comprehends only one aspect of existence which appeals to them. All other aspects, which are outside their comprehension, might as well- as far as they are concerned- disappear. And the notion that whatever is outside one’s sphere of interest is disturbing and destructive registers its impact on individuals and societies, generations and epochs….The interchange of views in friendship becomes an impossibility and the feeling of general harmony, to delight the spirit, continues to decline.” (Ibid 1:637)
We must understand that we are not alone: “Universality is when a person recognizes that they are not an isolated phenomenon. We are not an essence that exists independently, but a tiny spark that shines at all times from the illumination of the [spiritual] sun in its might. All living beings are sparks kindled from this one source of light. Their existence can be comprehended only when traced to this singular source of light. This perception is the basis of morality, even of societal morality. It is the basis of science, even the materialistic and rational….
Then it will become apparent to us that every fellow-being who exists with us adds to our happiness because we share in the light of life that shines in us….This is the spiritual bliss at the heart of the holiness of peace.” (Letters 3:741)
Rav Kook is inviting and inspiring us to be agents of universal consciousness and repair: “The mission of the tzaddikim-the righteous is to strive for unification by reason and will. It is their vocation to mend, to integrate and to extend peace in the world by effecting peace in the inner realm of their own soul and by exemplifying an outlook which is comprehensive and universal. This always releases light and life in all directions….
The tzaddikim manifest a great concern for all parts of existence, a love and attachment to life’s experiences, in all their proper claims, a high level act of will and thought to embrace all manifestations of life, all theories of politics, all patterns of personal behavior, all the diverse values of religion and art, all systems of ethics and economics, all standards of aesthetics, all the paths through which truth, justice, beauty, courage and all that invests life and existence with the potency of their being.” (Notebook 1:637)
We thus become powerful agents of universal good: “The desire for a higher good, universal and all-embracing, at the same time also personal and penetrating, comes to increasing expression in practical form….The individual person is thus turned into a force that integrates everything into a fixed ideal of endless nobility, embracing all being, without losing even the slightest spark.” (Ibid 3:7)
We are experiencing worldwide the consequences of living confined in our own individual sphere. Rav Kook is emphasizing to us that the Torah is teaching us that we must ‘‘raise our thought and will and basic preoccupations towards universality, to the inclusion of all, to the whole world, to the collective of Israel, to all existence.”
BeMhera BeYamenu-Immediately In Our Days
The translations are based on the wonderful translations by Rabbi Ben Zion Bokser Z’L who heard Rav Kook speak at Yeshiva University in 1924.