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Igrot Hare’aya – Letters of Rav Kook #89 – part II

Course of Study in Contemporary Times

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Beit Din Eretz Hemda - Gazit

Shvat 1 5782
Date and Place: 21 Menachem Av 5664 (1904), Rechovot

Recipient: R. Dr. Moshe Zeidel. He was a close disciple of Rav Kook, from their time in Boisk. Dr. Zeidel was a philologist and philosopher, who asked Rav Kook many philosophical questions. His approach to Torah studies was more "academic" than Rav Kook’s, which is noteworthy in this section.

Body: Last time, Rav Kook wrote about the appropriateness of mixing new and old spiritual tools and about the nation’s broad thirst for spirituality, which caused a thirst that, at the time, was unhealthy for many. The last idea mentioned was that the people, especially those living in Eretz Yisrael, must realize their great value.

My greatest hope is that talented youngsters will become accustomed to studying the works of ethics/spirituality, first by covering ground in the classic works of matters of the heart, such as Chovot HaLevavot (of Rabbeinu Bachyei Ibn Pekuda), which summarizes what a person needs to think/feel. Afterwards they should delve into the matters in depth. The study should expand incrementally, starting with an hour or two a day, until the point that one develops a proper worldview and internal sensitivity for the Torah’s moral and philosophical elements. This will make the spirit fine and vigorous so that one will be able to investigate the depths of Torah without fear, which is unnecessary when one is connected to the light of Hashem.

Hopefully, involvement in these spiritual elements will become so successful that all young, talented students of Torah will be adept at various styles of analysis of these matters, just as the practical elements (Talmud and Halacha) are today. Indeed, spiritual study will elevate and broaden practical study. Therefore, when you share with me your scholarly investigations of matters of Torah and engage me with questions, it makes me happy. I thank Hashem that my voice is not like one shouting into the desert wind and hope that many will follow your example.

I need to point something out to you about the proper order of reaching mastery in these realms. I have claimed that one should begin with a serious amount of basic-level mastery of the classical sources of mussar (Jewish ethics). You can study them in any order because they all flow from the heart of the greatest thinkers and righteous people. Many of the in-depth analyses cannot be done properly before one has properly prepared his emotions. This is the reason that the Torah is called a song, in addition to a commandment, as one needs to use a special feeling of the Torah being the word of the living G-d, and this comes only with a pure heart. This is appropriate for the study of the Torah’s ethical elements, which do not fit well as subjects of academic-style research. Rather the idea is for the spirit to be set on its internal foundations, as opposed to trying to move to new places and pursue knowledge of Hashem.

Regarding the points you raised, although they were already addressed in the past, they need to be clarified in our times as well. This must be done by elevating the elements of wisdom to higher, wider concepts. In that way, the truth is revealed without special answers.

Whenever a person investigates an issue, he must prepare himself to be close to the matter that is being investigated. If he succeeds, he may sense the solution from his own spirit. If he does not prepare himself, he will lack something critical for uncovering the truth. To know matters of truth that are hidden in the light of the Torah, which is the image of existence in relation to practical ethics, individually and universally, first one must determine the truth and view the images as well as he can. This must be done not according to the level of a particular generation, but according to the way the ethical matter must ideally be even in other, future situations. It must always be fit to accomplish good, proper things.

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