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Igrot Hare’aya – Letters of Rav Kook # 140

Is Israel So Different from the Nations?


Beit Din Eretz Hemda - Gazit

Tevet 5783
Date and Place : 27 Iyar 5668 (1908), Yafo

Recipient : Rabbi Shmuel Alexandrov. Alexandrov was a yeshiva-trained scholar, who was an autodidact in languages, philosophy, and science. He was a very independent thinker who at times angered the Maskilim and at times angered traditional rabbis. He was a member of the Mizrachi movement and tried, over the years, to recruit Rav Kook to take a leadership role within that movement. This is one of many correspondences between the two on matters of Jewish philosophy.

Body : That which it is so popular these days to speak of the development of Judaism is just one side of the coin. It is pleasant to speak about the side of Judaism that is similar to the rest of the nations. However, we need to find the opportunity to also speak freely about that which is different about us in comparison to all the other nations of the world. How long will we be so self-defeating that we should always suspect only ourselves [of being overly proud]?!
There are many praises and high levels of greatness that are found about us in very important sources. Other nations would have proudly raised themselves to a pedestal above all if such things would have been written about them, always presenting themselves as possessing great personal advantages. Once the venom of the imported concept of liberalism started circulating in our blood, we only know how to erase the traits that make us so prominent among our surroundings. We should not diminish the differences even by a hairbreadth from the Kuzari’s categorization of a fifth category (I:103).
Not everything develops. Humanity has developed to become what it is, but Judaism has not. Judaism is the inner essence of humanity and existence in general. In contrast, development applies only to matters of style, and external cloaking, not to inner content. The upper unity, when it shines from one side of the world to the other, unites psychology with general cosmetology. The former needs to be recognized before it can realize its full potential, which stems from life and [spiritual] power. That is where the most lofty freedom and morality show their grandest colors.
The national psychology that burst forth at one quick moment, when the nation was amazingly elevated at the Exodus from Egypt, was unparalleled in world history. The bold elevation in the nation’s psychology was so powerful that it impacted on the development of cosmetology, in the annals of human history. The generation of the desert experienced a historical episode.
It would be a disgrace to falsify our wonderful history and the special power that goes with it. The creation of a unique national psyche is especially indicative of Bnei Yisrael, which is known as "she is unique to her mother" (Shir Hashirim 6:9). Afterward, when the glow of the glorious national psyche, which was influenced by Moshe, the trustworthy shepherd, settled, a process of development began, which affected Judaism like any other nation. However, the foundational lines of elevated greatness impacted by Hashem are never erased from the nation.
The sudden spiritual elevation was lowered by the sin of the Golden Calf and the breaking of the Tablets. However, in the future, their full light will return. The paths of life will then be more visible and light emitting, and, as a result, freer and holier in regards to the sanctity of truth, which is purer than all of the fog that subdues light and presently covers sanctity.
We are now in a period in which we should show all of the lights that we have hidden in our storehouses. Even those whose practical side will not be operative until the distant future, should already be revealed to bolster our national essence, which strengthens our national character. It requires constant nourishment to grow. It would be tragic to think that we could draw the light in a purely abstract form without any practical physical expression (i.e., mitzvot).

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