Notes on Rav Kook‘s Zironim (זרעונים)
Over the next month I’ll be giving a short talk on Rav Kook each morning when we begin studying in the beit midrash. I’m thinking through this material as I go and I’d love to hear what people think….
A Thirst For the Living God (צמאון לאל חי)
English trans. by Ben Zion Bokser.
I’ve changed the order of the text and skipped some sections.
Rav Kook gives a list of things in which elohut – divinity – is revealed: beauty, glory, consciousness, life, culture and state, the sea and the sky, thought, creativity, imagination, courage. What does it mean that these things reveal elohut? As we’ll see, for Rav Kook, elohut is the source of all good things. Every time we encounter something ultimately valuable, like life and love, we encounter a revelation of elohut.
In other places, Rav Kook explains that the reason that people so often confuse good with evil is due to the fact that the faculties that allow us to perceive elohut are often underdeveloped. Our lack of development – cognitive, rational, spiritual, moral, scientific, philosophical – distorts our perception of elohut and sends us in the wrong direction.
Here Rav Kook describes elohut as like a great sea that’s far off in a distant land so that we can’t see or reach it, but which sends rivers of life, consciousness, beauty, justice and all the other good things into our lives.
In what way are these things like rivers flowing from an unknown sea? I think this image reflects the way we experience them. Love, beauty, justice etc. are like rivers because we draw from them the meaning of our lives; they irrigate and sustain us. And they flow from a great unknown sea because we feel that even as they are the reason we live we cannot fully understand or grasp them. They are both beyond our grasp and bigger and more important than we are. But even though we can’t see there, we can feel in what direction they point. They point at more perfect love, justice and beauty than we can know; they point our minds towards the place from which they appear. And so it’s like they are rivers that flow from a great mysterious sea. The image of the sea and the rivers is a metaphor. The thing itself is the way elohut functions in our minds.
Let’s conclude with the first sentence of paragraph 4 again. Rav Kook says that even though we can’t reach the great sea from which elohut flows, we want to: we want to be swallowed up into it, we want to be gathered to its light. We feel with our very being that in the place from which love, justice and beauty come, there is something more sublime than we can imagine. And we know that if we draw close, it touches and changes us, it draws us higher.