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

Course of Study in Contemporary Times


Beit Din Eretz Hemda - Gazit

Shvat 18 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.

Body: [Last time, Rav Kook started writing about the Torah’s view of slavery. He posited that slavery was a natural fact of human society, not at all created by the Torah, and that a slave protected by regulations could be better off than an exploited worker.]

The improvements in the realm of regulating slavery by the light of Torah were helpful only until we and our fathers sinned, but from the day the Temple was destroyed and we were scattered among the nations of the world, the curses to which we have been exposed increased continually. Specifically then, the Dark Ages emerged and warped the rectitude of lifestyles. At that point, slavery became a monster, and slavery no longer worked to protect the weak in society from the powerful and wicked by making people responsible for their "property." At this point, human society decided to stop the idea of legal slavery, which was causing more damage than providing benefit. This was not enough to stamp out the practice of "natural slavery" or remedy the abuse from which legal slavery had been able to protect.

This idea needs to be hidden until the time of light when Torah will go forth [to the whole world] from Zion. At that time, the following pasuk will be fulfilled: "Ten men from all the nations will grab the corner of a Jew’s garment, saying: ‘We will go with you, because we have heard that G-d is with you’" (Zecharia 8:23). Then, the whole world will recognize, as the hearts will be fixed and will become hearts of flesh (as opposed to hearts of stone), full of rectitude and mercy, what is actually good for them. Some of the downtrodden will want to put themselves under the auspices of fine, righteous people with wise hearts, who will look out for their welfare in the way people do for their prize possessions, which will bring them contentment and security.

The social and ethical situations are interconnected based on Hashem’s wisdom. Therefore, the ones who are fit to be slaves are those who would bring bad for themselves and the world by having greater freedom. These are people whose nature pushes them toward lowly lives, so that only external pressure straightens and elevates them. One’s family pedigree plays a role. Just as good attributes are often inherited, so too lowliness is often inherited in a way that it takes many, many generations to outgrow, as it is passed on both through people’s material and spiritual side.

Therefore, the lowliness that Ham displayed was such that his descendants were more likely to be fit to be slaves than to rule their own lives. This is what the Torah describes as Ham’s cursed status. For this reason, blessed people, who have attributes that connect them to love of Hashem and a striving for wisdom, should avoid clinging to them. In order to give credence to the level of rectitude mankind should have embraced through the Torah, there was value in the laws of slavery remaining in a regulated manner. This is the impact of a law like yom oh yomayim (forbidding excess enforcement of slaves’ obligations). The punishment for taking a life must be weighed in the perspective of making the world a better place, including in the future. That which protects society and the majority of its constituents in the future, in addition to being the right thing intrinsically, also needs to be limited in a way that it is safe externally. A situation must not exist whereby punishment of sinners stops being a tool of mercy and improving society but becomes a form of revenge.
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