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Shabbat Parashat R'ei 5781

Igrot Hareaya Letters of Rav Kook: The Reason to Write Philosophical Pamphlets Letter #43



Date and Place: 12 Kislev 5666 (1906), Yafo  

Recipient: Rabbi Yeshaya Orenstein, Rosh Yeshiva and one of the heads of the Chabad community of Yerushalayim 

Body: [This a response to an apparently critical letter to Rav Kook by Rav Orenstein.]

I was not sure whether to respond because I was concerned it might upset you, and why should I upset such a venerable rabbi? I decided to write in brief, and maybe Hashem will enable my words to enter your ears and you will not have as much pain from the existence of the pamphlets. Saving you from pain and concern would be rewarding to me.

Realize that my main intention with these pamphlets and all that I write is to awaken the hearts of Torah scholars, old and young, to delve into the inner teachings of the Torah. This can be with the study of mussar (ethics) in all the works of the holiest men, with mechkar (research or critical works) in which the giants of mechkar are presented, or with Kabala, in all the ways we have received as a legacy. It can be based on the approach of Rishonim or Acharonim, based on Chasidut, the Vilna Gaon, or Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzato.

It requires great diligence to study all the works along with the Zohar and the Midrashim of Chazal in breadth and in depth, to the same extent as it takes to learn Talmud and halachic works seriously. Not everyone is naturally ready for such study, and one who is not but has a sharp heart should spend his time on the intricacies of the Talmud with the standard commentaries and the halachic works. But one who is fit to learn the philosophical and kabbalistic works in depth should do so in shorter study sessions than he sets aside for innovative study of Talmudic works. In any case he should not neglect study of halachic analysis, which makes Hashem happy, while the main study should be to learn of his Maker.

Unfortunately, in our times, many youngsters are tempted by the smooth, non-traditional language of those in our nation who are disloyal to the Torah. It is therefore necessary to show the whole world that Torah scholars who deal in sanctity with the teachings of truth also know how to use linguistic effects. This was the intention of the holy Rav Luzzato when he wrote books with metaphors and catch phrases. I try to follow his lead, albeit with much less ability and success.

To have complete mastery in Torah, one also needs some types of secular knowledge, especially when having to answer the challenges of heretics, which is critical these days, as many of our great rabbis have taught. One should be careful to do this after studying Torah diligently and developing pure attributes and actions, especially avoiding anger, arrogance, and sadness (the root causes of bad characteristics) as well as learning the inner teachings of the Torah daily. After all these preparations, experience shows that he will not be harmed by secular knowledge, when it is acquired in measured amounts and for the sake of Heaven. To the contrary, it adds vigor to one’s service of Hashem, bringing him joy and a broader perspective.

If some people misunderstand and misapply my writings, it is still not sufficient for me to withhold them from those for whom they are fit, as the Rambam writes about “the ways of Hashem are straight.” When one studies the inner meanings of the Torah for the right reasons, it adds light, lofty love, and spiritual joy similar to the World to Come, and makes it unnecessary to frequently employ a negative type of fear of Hashem, as it provides one with light.

This is approximately what I meant in the quote you referred to. It is wonderful to be able to view the other favorably, which elevates the honor of Hashem, the Holy Land, and its Torah scholars. I, thank G-d, do not enjoy being praised and do not get angry when I am insulted, which is a result of my study of the inner teachings of the Torah. Therefore, I feel no need to be apologetic to you and am just writing to soothe your agitation, as my goal in life is to make people happy. May Hashem bless you with a productive advanced age. May we see in the joy of Zion, …

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