RAV KOOK ON ROSH HASHANA: RENEWING THE POWER OF RENEWAL
We are beginning the 5783’rd year of our human historical experience. Our personal and collective behavior has resulted in a planetary existence that has much good and much bad, many blessings and many challenges, many joys and many tragedies.
In the process of tshuva/return we are directed to examine our behavior, personally and collectively. When we do that honestly it is very clear that many humans and much of humankind is deeply immersed in hugely damaging activity. War is our central organized and dis-organized focus. Violence is rampant as is starvation, poverty and suffering. Armies are fully financed, hospitals are starving for resources. Mindless mass entertainment receives huge budgets, schools are impoverished.
The worldwide Covid outbreak has demonstrated and continues to demonstrate the consequences of the ugly reality we are creating. Almost 7 million people have died because of it. We need a planetary health system and we are incapable of creating it.
The central mitzvah/commandment in Rosh HaShana is to publicly blow the Shofar/Ram’s horn to awaken us, personally and collectively, to stop our bad behavior and begin anew again.
Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook ZT”L devoted his life to awakening Israel and the world to activate the glorious future that the prophets described. During his first rabbinate in Zoimel, Lithuania (1887-1895), he commented on the verse we repeat before blowing the Shofar. To understand his insight, it is important to note that the word Chodesh-Month is also read Chadash-New and the word Keseh– here translated as ‘full moon’- also means ‘covered/concealed’.
Before blowing the Shofar we read from Psalm 81:
תִּקְע֣וּ בַחֹ֣דֶשׁ שׁוֹפָ֑ר -Blast the shofar on the new moon”
בַּ֝כֵּ֗סֶה לְי֣וֹם חַגֵּֽנוּ׃ -On the full moon for our feast day.
“As the year is renewed, the power of renewal adds holiness to all creatures. The concealed inner force of our souls is also revealed and it perfects the soul in thought and deed.” (Moadei HaRayah, p. 60)
Rosh HaShana is our invitation to harness the power of renewal and support our inner pure soul to emerge and actively participate in perfecting the world.
In Orot HaTshuva/ Lights of Tshuva, Rav Kook elaborated that:
“When the concern with tshuva/return is active in the heart, it confirms the important principle that the will for good is fundamental and all the abilities in the world are there for its implementation….
When the will for good abides in the soul, it transforms all life and all existence toward the good. By looking at the basic nature of existence with an eye for the good, one exerts an influence on existence and on the complicated processes of life so that they emerge from their deficiencies. All things then bloom and live in a happy state as a result of the spiritual riches and the abundance that is contained in the good will.” (Lights of Tshuva: 9:1)
What will happen when we fully harness our will for the good? In Notebook 1, written in Yaffo around 1910 Rav Kook prophesied:
“The newest power that will be revealed in the world -that will renew life with complete liberation- is the great significance of the human will for all existence when it is completely whole and perfect. For this we yearn, all our actions are dedicated to reveal the Divinity of the refined human will.
As we strengthen our will and progress in elevating and sanctifying it, we discover the Divinity embedded in the essence of will…
This ideal has never ceased in Israel, our spiritual effort is directed to elevate the human will so that it can achieve its purpose in line with the highest will of existence.
When we achieve this, the light of the Absolute Divine will reveal itself. And everything will be renewed with a great illumination.
[We will then experience] new life, new song, renewed nature, new souls, new ideas, new feelings, a renewed worldly vision, new wills, new confidence a renewed relationship with heaven and earth, with all existence, with all humanity and all creatures, with all the dimensions of life, the revealed and the hidden, the spiritual and the material, the life in the body and life beyond the body, to bounded and unbounded realizations, to individual sparks and collective lights, to the vessels and their contents.
A new relationship to all will be created as we newly discover the true significance of the human will in and on reality.” (Kovetz 1:490)
The Midrash explains to us that Rosh HaShana is the anniversary of the creation of the human on the sixth day. Each Rosh HaShana is thus a Divinely gifted opportunity to return to the purity of this moment.
In Notebook 4, written around 1913, Rav Kook explained that:
“The perception that dawns on us to see the world not as finished, but as in the process of continued becoming, ascending, developing-this changed us from being ‘under the sun’ to being ‘above the sun’, from the place where there is nothing new to the place where there is nothing old, where everything takes on new form. The joy of heaven and earth then abides in us as on the day we were created.” (Kovetz 4:127)
May we be blessed this Rosh HaShana (and always) to give renewed and new expression of our Divinely inspired will for the good and thus truly transform and perfect all existence.
BeMehera BeYamenu/Soon In Our Days.
Shana Tova Meod-To A Very Good Year
Prepared by Rabbi Itzchak Evan-Shayish, www.haorot.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Please help us share the lights of Rav Kook widely.