Sunday, July 22, 2012

Rav Kook on Individualism in the Jewish Community

As part of a shiur on Sunday evening on recognizing and valuing individualism, I'm going to cite and excerpt from אל חכי שופר [To my mouth, a shofar], a poem of Rav Kook; here is the piece I am going to use. It is an ode of respect for the individual's path in life. The whole poem is just beautiful; I should translate the entire poem someday soon:

We will not measure every acquisition by our personal measure.
We will know that each individual is only a unit,
one portion, a share of our community,
and how could the whole judge but little?

One whose work is in Torah, in fine points of law,
if he would depart to sing songs, to examine poetry,
his profit would be balanced by his loss in these tasks,
and his work would ascend in smoke, and his learning would be uprooted.

Or one whose task is in examining wisdom,
to be transported to the heavens in the deeds of Creation and Merkavah,
in the war of pure ideas his intellect battles.
This is his portion in his life, which his soul loves.

Or one who loves to seek in knowledge and philosophy,
to birth ideas in parables,
to open streams like channels of water in the desert,
upon the plain of exegeses his hand founded her.

Or one who turns his heart to analysis of history,
in books of generations and chronicles of days.
There, too, he will find gold and precious coins;
there he will build a temple to knowledge in the heights.

And one whose heart is given to mundane wisdoms,
to medicine, to nature, to mathematics, to chemistry,
and his heart thirsts and broadens like the depths,
to enjoy the benefits of branching, fruitful knowledge.

Those who pursue insight in parables, seeking ability and insight,
if they seek only insight, honestly, in righteousness,
seeking pure insight, not straying or desecration,
then the voices will cease and the protests will halt.

Those who love labour, when they raise their voice,
if in truth they will raise their banner in love of labour,
to increase production among our nation they will give their strength,
then as illuminating stars, over our heavens they will shine.

Guardians of Torah and mitzvot, who reign with Gd,
if to strengthen the law they raise their voices,
why would not all turn their ears to them?
Who would be cruel to them, summoning against them a group?

Those who love the holy language, the beloved language,
if they will give a hand in the name of benefiting the language,
who will not accept them with great love?
Who would not support them with one heart?

Or one who has strength in his loins, a full arm,
and to all manner of production his heart turns,
will travel his path, aiming for the hair's breadth,
to broaden labour and find his life therein.

Each person toward his heart's desire will travel and succeed,
and from the fruit of their hands, their nation will be elevated.
Each in his trade will breathe the breath of life;
when he builds for himself a home, the ruin of our people will be erected.

And here is the Hebrew:
אל נמוד כל קנין רק לפי מדתנו.
נדע כי כל אחד הנהו רק פרט,
חלק אחד, אחוז מקהלינו,
ומה יוכל על הכלל לדון, הלא מעט.

אם העמל בתורה, בחקרי הלכות,
אם יצא לשיר בשירים, מליצות לבקר,
יצא שכרו בהפסדו באלו המלאכות,
ויגיעו יעלה בעשן, ותלמודו יעקר.

או מי אשר מלאכתו לתור בחכמה,
להרקיע שחקים, במעשה בראשית ומרכבה,
במלחמת מושכלות מופשטות בינתו לחמה,
הנה זה חלקו בחיים, שנפשו אהבה.

או מי אוהב דרוש במדע והגיון,
להוליד רעיונות בדברי הגדה,
לפתח נחלים כפלגי מים בציון,
על ככר המדרשים ידו יסדה.

או מי שם לב לחקר קדמונים
בספרי תולדה ודברי הימים.
גם שם ימצא זהב ואדרכמונים,
שמה יבנה מקדש לחכמה ברמים.

ומי לבו נתונה לחכמות החול,
לרפואה, לטבע, להנדסה, לחימיה,
ונפשו צמאה ותרחיב כשאול,
להתענג על טוב חכמה ענפה, פוריה.


המשכילים למשל דורשי כשרון והשכלה,
אם רק להשכלה ידרשו, באמת, בצדקה,
להשכלה צרופה, לא זונה וחללה,
אז חדלו הקולות ותשבת הצעקה.

אוהבי מלאכה, עת ירימו קולם,
אם באמת באהבת מלאכה ידגלו,
להרבות בעמינו החרשת יתנו חילם,
הלא כככבי אור על שמינו יהלו.

שומרי תורה ומצוה, הרדים עם א-ל,
אם לחזק את הדת קולם ישאו,
למה לא יטו להם אזנים כל,
ומי אכזר עליהם, מלא יקראו.

חובבי שפת קודש השפה האהובה,
אם בשם טובת השפה יתנו יד,
מי לא יקבלם באהבה מרובה,
ומי לא יתמכם בלב אחד.

או מי כחו במתנו, מלא זרֹוע,
ולחרשת כל מעשה תטה לבתו,
ילך בדרכו אל השערה לקלע,
להרחיב מלאכה למצא בה חיתו.

כל איש לחפץ לבבו ילך ויצליח,
ומתנובות כפימו עמם ירוממו.
כל אחד במקצֹעו רוח חיים יפיח,
בבנותו לו בית, הריסות עמנו יקוממו.

9 comments:

  1. Shkoach....this is an extraordinary poem.

    ReplyDelete
  2. In this poem it seems to me that Rav Kook borrowed from Rebbi Nachman. Here you see an emphasis on the autonomy of the individual and a strict warning about "criticizing."-And his approach to secular studies, at the end of the poem also seems to confirm this. He speaks well them but with a warning which seems to be borrowed from Rebbi Nachman about the "lower wisdoms" needing to be attached to the "higher wisdom" (at the end of the Lekutai Moharan)

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is a beautiful poem that reflects a person's need to find fulfillment in serving a cause greater than themselves, whether it be the cause of the nation or the "cause" of G-d, or both. But is there a need for an individual to achieve self-fulfillment for his/her own sake? (Notice how here, R. Kook does not question why the nation should be served for its own sake; serving the nation is implicitly compared to serving G-d.)And, more importantly, is there a need for the community to help the individual achieve his own contentment?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Itzchak-
    Thanks!

    Adam-
    Could be.

    Joseph-
    To approach your last question - I think the answer is yes, but perhaps only because this will strengthen the community...

    ReplyDelete
  5. But again, why should the community, made up of individuals, be served unconditionally, but the individual should be served only under certain conditions?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My feeling - Because this is Rav Kook's approach to the nation as a whole.

      Delete
    2. So it's a question for R. Kook. But we, as the recipients of his message, need to figure it out.

      Delete
  6. Wow, this is amazing. Thanks for translating it. Is the shiur available online, yet?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Neil. It's on-line here. Not a great shiur, but it may have a point.

      Delete