This volume of Rabbi Bokser’s translations of Rav Kook consists of letters, aphorisms and excerpts from essays and other writings. Together, they provide a wide-ranging perspective on the thought and writing of Rav Kook. With most selections running two or three pages, readers gain a gentle introduction to one of the great Jewish thinkers of the modern era.
Table of Contents
A Call for Unity 22
A Call to the Scholars of Israel 25
The Art of Criticism 27
The Nearness of God 30
Morality and Faith in God 33
The Lights of Faith 35
Our Separate Paths 37
The Call of God 39
The Torah and Human Culture 41
The Inner Dimensions of the Torah 45
Assyriology and the Bible 48
The Service of God 49
III. Letters 54
The Harmony of Ideas 148
The Basis of All Thoughts 149
The Hidden Spring 150
Silence and Attention 151
The God of Unification 152
The Creative Flow of the Soul I 5 3
Attentiveness to the Vision 154
The Revelation of the Soul 154
The Meeting of the Streams 155
From Pain to Delight 156
The Grief of the Soul’s Redemption I 56
The Question About the Origin of Certainty 157
The Concepts that Transcend Science 158
The Unity of Mind and Will 159
The Life that Transends Life 160
The Life of Holiness 161
The Delight of Holiness 162
The Holy Edifice 163
The Building of the Secular for the Sake of the Holy 164
The Divine Emanation 165
Everything Moves and Aspires 165
The General Trend and Divine Providence 166
The Unity of the Human Family 167
The Basic Changes in the New Thought 169
The Ascent of the Human Will and Reason 172
The Doctrine of Evolution and Divine Providence 173
General and Individual Providence 174
Progress and All Embracing Unity 175
The Higher Perfection 177
The Elevation of Everything 178
Morality and the Law 178
Morality Rooted in Faith in God 179
The Morality of Existence 180
The Unity of Morality and Wisdom 181
The Universal Will 181
The Ascent to Inner Greatness 182
Inner Greatness and Self Assessment 183
The Mending and the Fall 184
A Higher Disposition 184
A Special Path 185
Engaging in the Holy Service 186
The Higher Silence 187
The Supreme Zaddik 187
The Desire for the Good Deed and its Value 188
Good to All 189
Kindness and Inner Strength 189
V. Aphorisms 193
“God was charitable toward His world by not endowing all talents in one place, nor with one person, nor with one nations, nor with one country, nor with one generation, nor with one world. But the talents are diffused. The necessity of seeking perfection… causes us to seek an exalted unity….. In that day will the Lord be one, and His name one.” (p.202)
“One who is prepared to experience the true fear of God, toward saintliness and holiness, must know that he cannot be like other people, but must strengthen himself to follow his distinctive path.” (p. 196)
“Though we are resolute in fighting for the things that are close to our spirit, we must not be altogether committed to our feelings but realize that there is also ample room for the feelings that differ from ours.” (p. 200)
“[W]hen an idea comes to negate some teaching in the Torah, we must not, to begin with, reject it, but build the edifice of the Torah above it and thereby we ascend higher, and through this ascent, the ideas are clarified. Then, once we are free of ideological pressure, we can also actively resist the idea that challenges us.” (p.79)
Index of Sources
40 208, 209
III: 749 138-139
III: 791 139-140
III: 804 140-141
III: 829 141-143
III: 837 143-144
III: 966 144-145
11-13 28, 29
I 386-387 204
II 3 205
I :184 155
III:214 185, 196
III:274 187, 198
III intro p.24 194
III intro p.26 194
III intro p.32 179
About the Editor
Ben Zion Bokser was born in Lubomb, Poland in 1907, and raised in the United States. He first encountered Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook as a high school student when he was deeply moved by Rav Kook’s address to Yeshivat Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan.
Throughout a career that included a half century as spiritual leader of the Forest Hills Jewish Center, Rabbi Bokser turned again and again to Rav Kook, as a beacon for his own spiritual path and writings, and in his role as a translator and popularizer of the work of the rabbi he considered his inspiration.
Rabbi Bokser’s articles in Tradition and Judaism helped introduce Rav Kook to an American audience in the 1960’s.
These were followed by Rabbi Bokser’s translations of The Lights of Penitence, The Moral Principles, Lights of Holiness, Essays, Letters, and Poems as part of the Paulist Press “Classics of Western Spirituality” series.
This, his second selection of Rav Kook’s writings, was published posthumously.
Other books by Rabbi Bokser include a biography of Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus entitled, Pharisaic Judaism in Transition (1935), a study of the Maharal of Prague (Rabbi Loew ben Bezalel) entitled, From the World of the Cabbalah (1954), Judaism and Modern Man (1957), Judaism: Profile of a Faith (1963), and Judaism and the Christian Predicament (1967).
Rabbi Bokser translated and edited a prayer book for weekday, Sabbath and festival use, and one for the High Holidays.
The Essential Writings of Abraham Isaac Kook is a culmination of Rabbi Bokser’s sixty- year fascination with Rav Kook. Ben Zion Bokser was a young student when he first heard Rav Kook speak at Yeshiva University in 1924. He was immediately taken with Rav Kook and became an avid proponent of his teachings.
Newly married in 1949, Rabbi Bokser visited his new father-in-law in Jerusalem only to discover that Rav Kook’s foremost disciple, the Nazir, Rabbi David Cohen, living across the street. Rabbi Bokser befriended him, and this friendship gave him access to a direct student of Rav Kook’s. Thoughout the 60’s and 70’s, Bokser published Rav Kook’s teachings in journals such as Judaism and Tradition, introducing him to an American audience.
In 1978, Rabbi Bokser published the best-selling translation of Rav Kooks’ writings as part of the best selling Classics of Western Spirituality series of Paulist Press. Conceived as a sequel of sorts to that volume, The Essental Writings made it to press four years after Rabbi Bokser’s death.
Despite the importance of The Essental Writings—author Karen Armstrong has repeatedly cited it—the book did not remain on the market at the time of first publication due to the financial travails of the publisher.
Ben Yehuda Press is proud to reprint this volume and has added, for the first time, indices of topics and citations.
“A giant of twentieth century Jewish thought, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook was a mystic who utilized mystical ideas not to retreat from the world but to engage it meaningfully in all its aspects. This work excels both in its judicious selection of texts-all brief, pointed, and accessible-and the quality of the translation. The reader is treated to Rav Kook’s views on such topics as culture, evolution, scientific change, Torah study, holiness, morality and the Zionist revival. The volume enables readers to feel the pulse and power of this remarkable thinker.”
-David Shatz, Professor of Philosphy, Yeshiva University
“A paradoxical giant of both Lurianic Kabbalism and Talmudic scholarship, of meditative piety and active legislation. A sacred and healing balm for these troubled times.”
– Isaac Mozeson, Judaica Book News
“Ben-Yehuda Press, a relatively new publishing house, has done the community a service by reprinting this 1988 collection of Rav Kook’s letters, short essays, and meditations. The book begins with a brief discussion about the major controversies the surrounded Rav Kook’s life, including the heter mechira debate. The essays, discuss a wide range of topics, such as evolution, culture, the study of Assyriology and the Bible, and many more topics. Regretfully, the letters do not include headers giving any indication of their topic, making it difficult to find subjects that interest the reader. Despite this shortcoming, the book gives a good feel of the matters that engaged Rav Kook’s inner and public life.
“Most of the citations in this anthology come from his letters and Orot Hakodesh. This book is a supplement to Bokser’s other, larger collection of Rav Kook’s writings,Abraham Isaac Kook, which was printed in The Classics of Western Spirituality series. That book includes a translation of Orot HaTeshuvah and other major works.”
– Tradition, a Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought