Thursday, June 14, 2012

Why are we here? An answer from Rav Kook

The other day I came across a poem written by a young Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook, imagining Moshe's address to Pharaoh, requesting the release of the Jews. He builds the case on the beauty of the soul, its elevated purpose, and the immorality of imprisoning that soul in a debased world. Of course, Rav Kook is not speaking to Pharaoh, but to us...

It was so beautiful I had to translate it; here is my English, followed by the Hebrew:

Moshe's declaration to Pharaoh, proposing that he release Israel

You know, mighty king,
why this Man was created –
not to resemble beasts of the forest,
not to rise early to hunt,
as well, not for vapid frivolity,
but only to establish the world with justice,
to stand upon generosity,
to act honestly, righteously,
to educate his spirit with knowledge of Gd.

This is his mission upon earth,
to elevate his heart with knowledge, comprehension and skill.

For surely the wise artisan would not put for naught
glorious power in the soul of Man,
her hand mighty, elevated to heights,
who will not cry "Enough" as she amasses knowledge of
heights of the heavens, sacred seraphs,
radiant luminaries and shining spheres,
creatures of earth and residents of the lower realms,
Man's spirit would not be sated
were he turn his heart to understand,
but he would yet increase and raise his wings,
to the Power above all powers he would speak wonders,
and his spirit would hasten to the light of the life of truth,
he would yearn and long to fly as do the sons of the flame,
to stand among the hosts of heaven,
to contemplate, to investigate their secrets,
to pleasure in the Creator of all,
to be filled with the radiance of the beauty of His desire,
the celestial beauty which eternally endures,
even to infinity its light will not dim.

It is not for naught that we envision in ourselves
a beautiful treasure, a fount of our strength,
but to give to this its due,
to afford it a broad space in which to dwell,
to increase its activities in the rooms of the heart,
until it should reach the boundary set by Gd,
for the celestial daughter to be imprisoned in her jail,
then he will begin to live the season of life,
life of truth, life that is new,
his eyes will be illuminated and filled with joy,
from the glory of the beauty of an awesome, mighty honour,
which his spirit knows not how to gauge
while she yet dwells in this lowly realm.

This is the ambition of the length of a man's days.

But to the sorrow of a heart that loves righteousness,
we do not envision this in the great multitudes;
only in darkness do the sons of Man walk.

Here, look now in the breadth of your empire,
contemplate, investigate the deeds of your nation,
if not corruption and perversity and wicked foolishness,
selling themselves for evil and all revulsion of the spirit,
for every task that is degraded and shameful for a man,
even to crime does he send forth a hand,
to strike at nobles for their righteousness,
the light of the nation's knowledge is extinguished,
and the radiance of the celestial soul is dimmed,
in knowledge they are no greater than beasts of the field,
and in wicked deeds they are still more corrupt.

You are master to your nation, can you
bear to envision this,
the celestial portion entering decay,
the spirit of Man cast after the body,
the cheating of the weak in the land,
robbery of justice at every pass and turn,
thoughts of empty vapour and wandering,
emptiness and deception,
distancing every sacred idea from themselves,
toward every sacred preserve
they cannot gaze.

מאמר משה אל פרעה להציע לפניו שישלח את ישראל

הלא תדע מלך אדיר
האדם הלז למה נוצר
לא להדמות לחיתו יער
לא לשחר לטרף
אף לא לשעשועי הבל
רק לכונן במשפט תבל
לקום על נדיבות
לפעול אמת וצדק
לחכם נפשו בדעת אלקים

זאת היא עלי ארץ תעודתו

כי יגבה לבו בחכמה בדעת ובכשרון

כי הלא לא לתהו יתן אמן חכם

כח נהדר בנשמת אנוש
גברה ידה אל על התנשא
לא תאמר הון אם תצבור דעת
גבהי שחקים ושרפי קדש
מאורי אור וגלגלי נגה
יצורי תבל וכל דרי מטה
לא תשבע נפש האדם
אם שם לב להשכיל
אך עוד יוסיף ישא אבר
עד א-ל אלים ידבר נפלאות
ונפשו תחוש אור חיי אמת
תכסף ותחשוק לעוף כבני רשף
לעמוד בצבאי מרום
להתבונן עדי חקר סודם
על יוצר כל להתענג
ולשבע זיו מנועם רצונו
נועם עליון הקם נצח
לא יועם אורו באין קץ

לא לחנם נחזה בנו

אוצר נחמד מרים לנו קרן
אך לתת לו חקו
לתן יד לו במרחב לשבת
להשגיא פעלו בבתי לבב
עדי יגיע אלי גבול שם אלוק
להאסר בת מרום בבית כלאה
אז יחל חיות תקופת חיים
חיי אמת חיים חדשים
תאורנה עיניו ותשבענה גיל
מהוד הדרת כבוד נורא עז
לא ידעה נפשו לא תוכל שערהו
בעוד שבתה הנה פה בשפל

זאת מטרת ארך ימי גבר

אבל לדאבון לב אוהב צדק

לא כן נחזה בהמון רבה
אך בחשכה בני איש יתהלכו

הן הבט נא במרחבי מלכותך

התבונן על חקר עלילות עמך
אם לא עשק ונלוז ורשע כסל
התמכר לרע וכל געל נפש
לכל מלאכה נמבזה וחרפה לגבר
גם בעולתה ישלחו יד
עלי יושר להכות נדיבים
כבה אור מדע עם
וזהר נשמת מרומים הועם
לדעת לא גברו מבהמות שדי
ובפעל רשע מהם העמיקו שחת

ואתה אדון לעמך הזאת

תוכל חזות
נחלת מרומים כי תלך תמס
נפש האדם כי אחרי גו תושלך
עשק רש במדינה
גזל משפט בכל עבר ופנה
מחשבות הבל ותעתועים
שוא ודבר מרמה
כל רעיון קדוש רחק מהם
אל כל נאוה בקדש
לא הבט יוכלו


  1. I had no idea that rav kook could write so well. and your translation is also really good. You do everyone a favor and bring more stuff from rav kook.

  2. Hazak u'varuch. I assume that you are looking at the volume אורות הראי"ה. The long preceding poem of hilhot hanukah is the one that his father was upset about, that the rav had written in Volozhin and brought home on a visit to show his parents. After that, the rav showed his father essays and hidushim; but not so much poetry.

  3. Interesting! Reminds me a little of Rabbi Nachman's Song of Delight:

  4. Adam-
    Thank you.

    R' Mordechai-
    Yes, that's the one. And I found that Hilchot Chanukah poem perplexing; it seems as though he wrote it for amusement, rather than review?

    Yes, I do see the common themes. Interesting, indeed.

  5. It is like rebbi nachman's--the exact rhythm and besides that there are other things about it that i cant describe--i do not study poetry. but the same types of usage and formations of Hebrew words. maybe an expert could see more

  6. Shkoach...
    Rav Kook, TZ"L was an extraordinary poet.
    I've been involved in a project of musically presenting his poetry.

    brachot from Yerushalayim

  7. Yasher koach! Is this poem from "chadarav"? Your translation is good, but it would be nice if there was a taste of the rhyme and alliteration of the original. I understand that there is more poetry of Harav still in manuscript but there is unfortunately a machloket about publishing rights.

  8. Itzchak-
    Thank you; interesting work! I just listened to Techiya.

    Thank you! It's printed in Orot haRa"ayah; I don't have much else on it.
    I agree regarding the rhyme and alliteration, but it's beyond me at this time.

  9. This was amazing. I think there's a market for translations of Rav Kook's poetry.

    I know the old Paulist Press translation of Rav Kook's writings has a few poems in it.