5 Minutes on Rav Kook at the Conservative Yeshiva (Part 2)

A. I. Kook (d. 1935), Chief Rabbi of Palestine

A. I. Kook (d. 1935), Chief Rabbi of Palestine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the end of paragraph 4 of Zironim (Chapter 1) which we discussed in Part 1, Rav Kook says the following thing:

ולפרקים תפקדנו בברק עליון מזיו של מעלה מאור עליון שמעל כל רעיון ומחשבה. השמים נפתחים ואנו רואים מראות אלהים, – אבל אנו יודעים שזהו מצב ארעי לנו, הברק יחלף והננו יורדים לשבת עוד לא בפנים ההיכל כי אם בחצרות השם

At times, moreover, we are privileged with a flash emanating from the higher radiance, from that higher light which transcends all thought. The heavens open for us and we see a vision of God. But we know that this is only a temporary state, the flash will pass and we will descend to dwell once again not inside the palace, but only in the courts of the Lord. (Trans. B. Bokser)

I’m sure that Rav Kook had many experiences of God that I can’t fathom, and that he means by these words many things about which I don’t know anything. However, I think he also means here things that all of us have experienced and that we do know about.

Years ago, I tried to make sense of an experience that I’ve had when looking at my wife’s face. Its happened to me that I’ve looked at her face, and all of a sudden I’m so enthralled by how beautiful she is that I can’t think. It’s like all of the beauty in the world, as well as my love for her and for my kids, and for the life that we’ve put together, well up at once and cause my brain to freeze.

I think of this as more or less what happens when I open too many hyperlinks in Firefox: there’s just more information than my computer can handle, and so it freezes. In that moment when the full meaning of my wife and family and life, and all the beauty and pleasure that I know, all come up at once before my eyes, my brain freezes because it just can’t handle it, my regular thoughts are shut out, and I see the meaning of my existence.

After trying to describe this experience in words, I ran into Abraham Maslow’s characterization of a “peak experience”. One of the things that he says is that in peak experiences, people feel like all the beauty and goodness that they know come together in one visual symbol for just a split second, and it just knocks them over. While I’m sure that Rav Kook meant lots of things by “the heavens opening up” that I don’t understand, I think he also means this kind of peak experience. What happened when my brain froze was that I saw, in my wife’s face, the face of God.

I think that everybody reading these words has had some variety of this experience. And thus we have all been inside “the palace” of God (as in the quote from Rav Kook above). At the end of the section, Rav Kook says that we don’t regularly live inside the palace, but rather just in the courtyards of God. That’s because we don’t live in peak experiences but rather in our day-to-day state of mind. But the Elohut, the absolute value, that wells up in those peak experiences, is what sustains us all the time. It is revealed Elohut that gives meaning and direction to our lives. That’s why, while we don’t live inside the palace, we live in the courtyard.

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2 thoughts on “5 Minutes on Rav Kook at the Conservative Yeshiva (Part 2)

  1. Pingback: 5 Minutes of Rav Kook at the Conservative Yeshiva (Part 3) | Thoughts on Torah Theology (and other assorted things)

  2. Pingback: 5 Minutes of Rav Kook at the Conservative Yeshiva (Part 4) | Thoughts on Torah Theology (and other assorted things)

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