PARSHAT VAETCHANAN: RAV KOOK ON ‘UNITING EXISTENCE’

In Parshat VaEtchanan Moshe Rabbeinu announces the central foundation of the Israelite worldview. 

“שְׁמַ֖ע יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵ֖ינוּ יְהֹוָ֥ה ׀ אֶחָֽד׃-Hear O Israel, YHVH is our Elohim, YHVH is One”  (Deut. 6:4)

We are enjoined to prayerfully exclaim this every morning and evening. It is often the last statement uttered before death.

Rabbi Avraham Itzchak HaCohen Kook TZ’L explains the very important meaning of this statement for our understanding of reality: 

“The affirmation of the unity of God aspires to reveal the unity in the world, in humankind, among nations, and in the entire content of existence, without any dichotomy between action and theory, between reason and the imagination. 

Even the dichotomies experienced will be unified through a higher enlightenment, which recognizes their aspect of unity and compatibility.

In the content of human life this is the entire basis of holiness. In the life of the spirit it is the light of eternity, in which the temporal and the eternal merge in one whole.

This is the most august thought among the great thoughts that a human’s intellectual capacity can conceive. It is revealed to us through our receptivity to spiritual illumination. It may take us to the height of a revelation of the Divine, by the way of reason, the knowledge called ‘face to face’. (1). (Notebook 1: 259)

Why is this thought so important? Why is it so central to the Torah’s teaching?

Rav Kook explains the implications of this statement for human behavior:

“A chaotic world stands before us, as long as we have not reached the state of higher perfection of uniting all life forces and all their diverse tendencies. As long as each one exalts themselves, saying ‘I will be sovereign, I and no one else, there cannot be peace in our midst and the Divine name is not associated with us. God Himself is designated by the name Shalom/Peace….

All life endeavors, especially the spiritual endeavors of all thought, must be directed above all to disclose the light of the higher general harmony. 

This is effected not by rejecting any force, any thought, any movement, any tendency, but by including each within the vast ocean of infinite light. There all is united, all is elevated, all is exalted, all is hallowed.” (Notebook 8:259)

 Rav Kook is emphasizing to us that we constantly affirm the Divine unity in order “to reveal the unity in the world, in humankind, among nations, and in the entire content of existence.”

He is also teaching us that this affirmation alone is not enough. It must impact our life, thoughts, feelings and actions. We affirm the ideal of unity in order to constantly remind us that “All life endeavors…must be directed above all to disclose the light of the higher general harmony.”

Humanity has been suffering for epochs and continues to suffer because of our inability to live harmoniously. Many different  forces are often in opposition and conflict with each other. This is true in our personal and collective experience. 

Our daily and nightly cry of “שְׁמַ֖ע יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵ֖ינוּ יְהֹוָ֥ה ׀ אֶחָֽד׃-Hear O Israel, YHVH is our Elohim, YHVH is One” must be our impetus to demonstrate to ourselves and the world how to unite all the diverse forces of existence “into the vast ocean of infinite light.”

Then our life together will be truly united, elevated, exalted and hallowed.

במהרה בימינו-Quickly  in our days.


Prepared by Rabbi Itzchak Evan-Shayish (Marmorstein), haorot@gmail.com, www.haorot.com

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(1) Based on Genesis 32:31 after Yaakov struggles with the angel of the night and receives the name Israel: “So Jacob named the place Peniel, meaning, “I have seen a Divine being face to face, yet my life has been preserved.”

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