The Religious Genius in Rabbi Kook’s Thought: National “Saint”?

Dov Schwartz

The spirited interest in saints and the religious genius associated with the postmodernist experience and its active study can be traced to three main causes, each of which relates in some manner or other to the instability and fluidity characteristic of this experience:

(1) A moral anchor: the postmodernist questioning of universalism and absolute truth undermines traditional moral conceptions. “Saintliness,” in the characteristic sense of the activity of the “saint,” is expressed in behavior, and not in an abstract moral principle.@01 It therefore makes ethical education possible, despite the lack of accepted moral principles.

(2) Metaphysical dialectics: the modern world focuses on man and his existence, while metaphysics is shunted aside. Since postmodernism emerged from the conflict with modernism, then the concept of “man,” that was at the center of modernity, is no longer universal and stable. Postmodernism champions the legitimate voice of the different, the Other, and the individual, which was allowed no expression by the modern world. Postmodernism explores the boundaries of metaphysics, employing irony and nostalgia.@02 To a certain degree, this nostalgia ensues from the need for certainty, identity, and meaning in a world in which the stability of time has been undermined (the present facing the future, and so forth). “Saintliness” expresses nostalgia for the metaphysical.

(3) The quest for asceticism: additionally, the postmodernist discourse on sexuality, as expressed especially by Foucault, demands an anchor with which to withstand temptation.@03 The saint presents a way of life that contends with temptations and overcomes them.

The Western religious world felt no need to provide a historical and realistic definition of saints, except for the scientific research of positivist questions. The saints, at the rise of Western religion, were primarily martyrs, that is, individuals who gave their lives for their faith. The cult of saints gave the flocks of the faithful of the new religions the resolve to endure. The saint was perceived as a figure standing in the background who is present for the believer.@04 Over the course of time, this perception came to include the individual who lived a life of faith, and thereby was devoted to his fellow (healing, miracles, and the like). For example, the first four khalifs, until Ali, were perceived as saints in the Islamic literature. Their ways of life were seen as worthy of study and emulation. The uninterrupted tradition of the Western religions thus contains the unchanging adoration of saints. From time to time the Catholic Church announces the addition of saints to the existing list. According to Catholic doctrine only God can proclaim saintliness, but the Pope manifests the divine will. In the postmodernist discourse, the saint appears where general moral principles have lost their validity, and the emotive is the only channel for ethical education. The saint lives a life of sentiment, that enables imitation and internalization. The questions that arise in the study of the modern relationship to sainthood are both scholarly-objective and reflective. Some examples of such questions:

(1) How is saintliness to be defined in the reality of the postmodernist world?

(2) Can the attributes of the saint serve as a common basis for religions?

(3) How are the character traits of the saint to be charted in a world in which abstract research is no longer an absolute criterion for truth and consensus?

These questions are the subject of intensive discussion by philosophers and scholars. In this work I will seek to reexamine them indirectly, that is, by the personification of the topic, in an analysis of the figure of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook as saint. I will define below the meanings I find in the “saint,” but I will already state we are engaged in a study of religious genius, namely, perfection and the exceptional dimension in his religious inspiration. Saint and religious genius are not identical, since the former is a realistic figure, while the genius tends toward the ideal. In the following discussion, however, we will not distinguish between the two.

Since there is no authoritative proclamation of sainthood in the Jewish world, the basis for the image of the saint is, primarily, acceptance by broad circles. The saint is perceived, first and foremost, as one who gave his life for his faith and for the community. The paradigm of saints is those who die for Kiddush Hashem (literally, the “sanctification of the name of God”), that is, dying a martyr’s death when given the choice of conversion or the sword, or when forced to transgress the laws of Judaism (Rabbi Akiva and the other sages killed by the Romans, the German pietists who committed suicide in the Crusades rather than convert, etc.). Another paradigm focuses on a life of Kiddush Hashem, that is, those individuals who are seen as selfless, and whose very being and activity are directed in their entirety to the public good. The term “kedushat ha-hayyim” (the sanctification of life) was coined during the Holocaust referring to survival in face of the Nazi machinery of destruction.

In the religious Zionist public in Israel, Rabbi Kook is seen as an unquestioned spiritual and altruistic authority. There are differing opinions within this public on the question of the degree to which his praxis is to be followed, and the extent to which his life was a program for religious Zionist life in purity. Unquestionably, however, he is revered by the entire religious Zionist camp, as one who devoted his life to the people as a whole, and to the national rebirth. In the secular camp, he shares a place of honor as one of the Zionist founding fathers, whose actions changed the standing of the Jewish people in the world. Among the nonreligious, he is profoundly admired for his support of Zionism, in contrast with the majority of Orthodox rabbis. Furthermore, a large part of his opponents among the non-Zionist Orthodox public unreservedly state that his motives were “holy.” I do not intend to relate to the historical parameters that present Rabbi Kook as a saint, rather, we will examine his character traits as a saint through an analysis of the texts that he authored, and their incorporation in his rich spiritual and cultural world.

  1. Methodology

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook lived in a modern world. To a certain extent, he began to experience the undermining of humanism in the First World War.@05 Rabbi Kook died in Mandatory Palestine in 1935, and did not live to see the total collapse of normative systems that occurred in the Second World War. Specifically because he did not know the postmodern world, he meets the nostalgic criteria of the saint. As I mentioned above, the figure of the saint in the Christian world begins with official recognition by the Church. That is to say, the element of public recognition is a component of the image of the saint. While, originally, an official body declared sainthood, beginning in the twentieth century one could also speak of saintliness in the context of consensus, that is, public acceptance. Rabbi Kook is indeed viewed in broad publics as an exceptional figure. Generations of religious Zionist pupils are educated to follow in his path, and the members of his close circle saw him as a supreme charismatic authority. In secular publics he is perceived as the premier spiritual representative of religious support for the Zionist enterprise.

Another consideration in this context is that the saint, in the Catholic sense, is proclaimed as such only after his passing. Orthodox Jewry in the Diaspora did not acknowledge Rabbi Kook as their spiritual guide during the years of his activity. The evidence shows that even in the 1940s, his writings were not known in Europe, although European Jews had heard of him. Rabbi Kook became a saint figure only after intensive educational work spanning decades, the great part of which was encouraged by the leaders of state religious education in Israel.@06


The saint – with his traits, image, and activity – is a central topic in Rabbi Kook’s thought. For our purposes, I define “saint” as a religious personage with characteristics that border on the perfect, who possesses an exceptional religious consciousness, and who acts in an altruistic manner for the elevation of the world and its redemption. Rabbi Kook added the national dimension to these characteristics, as we will see below. His discussions of the saint clearly tended to the obsessive, in terms both of his analysis of the characteristics of such a figure and that of his revealing confessions. From this respect, Rabbi Kook is exceptional in the landscape of religious Zionist thought and that of modern Orthodoxy.

The image of Rabbi Kook as religious genius is composed of at least two strata:

(1) historical activity, that is constructed from testimonies and evaluations. His activity was based mainly on his connection with the new and old Yishuv (roughly speaking, the new Yishuv refers to the Zionist-inspired Jewish community in the Land of Israel, and the old Yishuv, to the pre-Zionist Jewish community there), on the one hand, and on the other, with the Zionist movement and its personages. Scholarly research has discussed the question of the altruistic motives of Rabbi Kook’s activity.@07

(2) texts: Rabbi Kook barely engaged in methodical writing. His style was generally aphoristic, and was composed of a lengthy series of random paragraphs on various issues. His writings include letters, commentaries, and, mainly, collections of passages.

The following discussion will be based mainly on textual analysis. I ascribe great importance to the few compositions that are methodical, and that compelled Rabbi Kook to engage in consecutive writing. I especially refer to two works: “Eder ha-Yakar” (“The Noble Sum” – from Zechariah 11:13) and “Ikvei ha-Tzon” (The Tracks of the Sheep” – from Song of Songs 1:8), each of which was published in 1906, and which were reprinted in a single volume. These essays are infused with the consciousness of the saint and the exemplary individual.

The other sources in Rabbi Kook’s writings that are relevant for the religious genius, but not in methodical fashion, fall into two categories:

(1) revealing personal passages, in which the author attests to his propensities, desires, and visions. The image of the singular individual emerges from within these passages.

(2) random philosophical passages, that enable us to compose the portrait of the exemplary individual.

Rabbi Kook ascribed great importance to the perception of the tzaddik (the spiritual leader of the community) in Hasidism. In great degree, the figure of the Hasidic tzaddik is the starting point for the variegated and rich perception of the saint. The Hasidic influence penetrated as far as the notion of the worth of the tzaddik‘s eating, that appears from time to time in Rabbi Kook’s collections. He found nothing wrong in the giving of a monetary donation to the tzaddik, “in the manner of a gift expressing sublime honor.”@08 Rabbi Kook developed a sort of restorative historiographic theory, that “Torah scholars” and the “righteous” were the leadership in ancient times. A series of historical events, first among them the Exile, eroded the standing of those individuals. Hasidism restored the standing of the tzaddik: “The recent Hasidism came and strove to rectify this, to restore the living worth of the righteous individual and his unique activity. This notion [of such activity] is both mystic and social, and much attention must be devoted to its positive and negative aspects.”@09 The end of this passage teaches of a certain reservation, and Rabbi Kook’s conception of the saint is not just another version of the Hasidic tzaddik, but a rich and variegated development of the Hasidic figure.

Phenomenological Methodology

Our discussion will be influenced by methodologies from the phenomenological school of the philosophy of religion that arose at the beginning of the twentieth century in Germany and Austria. Rudolf Otto, Max Schiller, Friedrich Heiler, and Gerardus van der Leeuw each argued in his own way that the religious consciousness must be understood and described from within itself. Psychology, sociology, and politics can aid in understanding the religious world, but the religious act is understood, first and foremost, from within religion. They explained holiness and the image of the saint in a similar manner. In the Jewish world, this approach especially influenced Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik@10 and Abraham Joshua Heschel,@11 whose philosophical orientation vastly differs from that of Rabbi Kook. Nonetheless, Rabbi Kook adopted the conception of the existence of a universal religious consciousness, which he called the “holy sentiment” or the “general sentiment of religion,” just as he spoke of universal morality.

I use phenomenological methodology as a tool for understanding the image of Rabbi Kook as “saint,” from within his profound religious experience and religious consciousness. I intent to set aside the specific time and place in which he was active, to disregard his leadership of a circle of followers and the thinkers and series of interests that guided him in his activity, and examine the features of his personality itself in terms of religious genius. I am aware that a study of Rabbi Kook’s ideological circles would contribute greatly to an understanding of his conduct as a saint, but in the current paper we will focus exclusively on his writings.

From an interpretive aspect, our methodology will be twofold. Rabbi Kook’s creative spiritual activity was obviously conducted within a defined conceptual framework. He drew upon Kabbalistic and Hasidic sources, and was influenced by European philosophical approaches such as those of Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, and Bergson. Evaluating Rabbi Kook’s thought on the background of its sources will be the platform for our discussion of its meaning. Evaluation is the first interpretive phase; in this paper, we will seek to the explore the additional significance of Rabbi Kook’s thought, namely, as an expression of the “saint.” The image of the religious genius is built on a methodical platform, and constitutes an additional interpretive stratum.


In his examination of the hermeneutic traditions of Western culture, Kepnes distinguished between the “destructive tradition,” whose postmodernist representatives are Deridda and Foucault, and the “constructive tradition,” that is represented by Gadamer and Ricard. The former tradition is concerned with the formational conditions and processes of cultural meanings, while the latter discusses the new possibilities of meaning in cultural products.@12 We cannot examine the deconstructive dimension of Rabbi Kook’s teachings by itself. Although it is extremely important to understand the archaeology of the text aided by Freudian, Marxist, and other theories, Rabbi Kook’s text contains distinctly constructive dimensions, and the meanings it contains open the way for countless new possibilities.

I argued on various occasions that Rabbi Kook’s writings do not strive for systematization.@13 This is a tremendous collection of passages that may be defined as religious poetry, that expresses his religious mood. Rabbi Kook did not refrain from expressing differing, and contradictory, intuitions. His character supports the argument that religious greatness of spirit of certain types is not restricted to the confines of method or school. The thought of such an individual is conducted in open and parallel tracks. Specifically for this reason, Rabbi Kook’s writings anticipate the postmodernist spirit. We cannot impose only a single interpretive tradition on his writings. Furthermore, the argument that Rabbi Kook did not attempt to formulate a defined philosophical method means that we should not search for an underlying textual motif that will explain the text as a whole. Since his writing is usually aphoristic, in which each text is self-sufficient, then we must seek its meaning in every subtle motif and in every citation of a Biblical verse and literary ornament that appear in these texts. That is, from the outset, Rabbi Kook did not want to restrict the reading of his writings, and therefore related to them as poetry. He wrote explicitly: “I cannot restrict myself to one topic, to one matter, to a single level, or to a single style. Rather, I must draw upon all styles, all matters, all the levels, everything. If I see a single path that I like and am drawn only to it, afterwards I see how the other ways demand their role of me.”@14 In consequence, almost every conceptual passage in his writings takes on a wealth of meanings in different strata. This is how I analyze Rabbi Kook’s writings.

Moreover, the traits of the saint require a deconstructive reading of Rabbi Kook’s writings, since I argue that he planned, from the outset, to enjoy total freedom in his writing, that is, he refused to be subjugated to any one method. The study of the meanings in his writings includes the stratum of personality; such an assumption would seem to be obvious. We should add Rabbi Kook’s own intuition: he was aware that his personality is a necessary component in the construction of conceptual intuition. He wrote in his letters that

when a person begins to conduct some study and research, he must always prepare himself, according to his ability, to be close to what is examined; if he can, he should draw so close to the subject that he can sense it from within himself, from his soul, and from the depth of his feelings. Then, if he will not do the most he can, an essential condition will be lacking of the conditions necessary for discovering the truth.@15

It has already been noted that Rabbi Kook’s creative capacity was much greater in the Land of Israel than in the Diaspora.@16 The element of personality, with its feelings and emotions, fashion ideas. One of the reasons why Rabbi Kook did not act on behalf of Degel Yerushalayim (literally, “Flag of Jerusalem”), the alternative federation led by Torah scholars that he wanted to establish in place of the religious-Zionist Mizrachi movement, was his unwillingness to remain abroad on behalf of the new movement. That is, not only is the personality involved in meaning, the venue of the writing is of importance, as well.

To return to our deconstructive reading of Rabbi Kook’s writings: one of the traditions that Rabbi Kook absorbed was the medieval esoteric tradition of Maimonidean rationalism (see the extensive discussion below). Many fourteenth-century interpreters of Maimonides, by way of example, preferred to reveal the nature of his Guide of the Perplexed, not from its methodical chapters that discuss defined topics (the Creation, Divine Providence, and the like), but rather from his causal references to these topics in chapters that are concerned with entirely different issues.@17 Rabbi Kook was quite familiar with the tradition of the interactive reading of a text, in which “the sky is the limit,” and this might quite possibly have paved the way for the manner in which he himself chose to write. He did not, however, absorb this tradition as it was. An example of how Rabbi Kook significantly differed from the medieval rationalist tradition is his deep esteem for aesthetic creativity, while the medieval tradition thought lightly of art and music; this, too, will be discussed below.

Basic Characteristics

An initial list of the personality and conceptional motifs that are to be found in Rabbi Kook’s character would include the following:

(1) rationalism: Rabbi Kook was the author of intriguing philosophical and religious ideas;

(2) mysticism: he possessed the religious consciousness that seeks unio mystica with God;

(3) prophecy: he was charismatic, with the consciousness of a prophet;

(4) nationalism and altruism: he supported the national idea, against the stance prevalent in the rabbinic circles to which he belonged;

(5) leadership: he served as the first Chief Rabbi in Mandatory Palestine, and gathered a circle of students around him;

(6) openness and resistance to change: he exhibited openness as regards his cultural sources, but was conservative in his halakhic ways;

(7) unification of opposites: he experienced, and formulated, swings between extremes.

In each of these categories, however, Rabbi Kook was not unique in his time. Other Orthodox Jewish thinkers, both in the Land of Israel and abroad, also offered conceptional, mystical, and prophetic insights. Additionally, the behavior of some could be understood as exceptionally altruistic. This said and done, the combination of all these traits was not commonplace, and explains our attitude to Rabbi Kook as “saint.”

In his thought, Rabbi Kook anchored the saint in the cosmic reality. That is, all of existence is dependent on the saint for its proper working, on the one hand, and on the other, for its rectification and elevation. The saint is perceived as the one by whose merit the material existence endures. Without him, the world would once again be absorbed in the divine light. In Rabbi Kook’s terminology, the saint is responsible for the “quantitative” aspect of existence.@18 He creates the merging of the qualitative (= the light) with the quantitative. Accordingly, the saint is envisioned as a partner in the act of Creation, whose decisions are accepted by the Master of the Universe. Rabbi Kook enhanced the Biblical and midrashic traditions of exceptional individuals, and fully exploited the theurgic element at the basis of Kabbalah. We cannot overestimate the importance of the saint in Rabbi Kook’s thought, and in this paper we will examine the details and meanings of the saint’s cosmic responsibility.


An additional note is in order at this juncture. This paper is based on the fundamental assumption that the deep infrastructure of Rabbi Kook’s thought is Kabbalistic.@19 I argue that many passages in Rabbi Kook’s writings were composed, from the outset, with multiple meanings, at times parallel, while in other instances one is built on another. It was axiomatic for Rabbi Kook that the Kabbalah itself requires clarification and a prosaic formulation in modern Hebrew, for the following reasons:

(1) esoteric tradition: throughout its history, the Kabbalah was perceived as a teaching transmitted from one individual to another, and therefore was not formulated in writing;

(2) depth: the messages of the Kabbalah are seen to be complicated, hidden, and must be unveiled;

(3) difficulty: the Kabbalistic teachings are deemed abstract, while formulated in a thicket of symbolism.

Rabbi Kook also thought that the need to clarify the Kabbalistic teachings arises in the generation of Redemption, as opposed to previous generations. His mission lay, so he believed, in disseminating the secrets of the Kabbalah to his generation. For him, the revelation of secrets was one of the markers and needs of the process in which the redemption will be realized. He wrote to Rabbi Isaiah Orenstein (1854-1909): ” His eminence should know that my entire intent in my notebooks, and in all that I write, is solely to arouse the minds of Torah scholars, old and young, to engage in the study of the inner meaning of the Torah.”@20 Rabbi Kook argued in the article “Worship,” that he wrote in 1906, that the great and perfect individual is entrusted with the study of “the divine wisdom.” He writes:

Consequently, the obligation that is imposed on the greatest Torah scholars at present is inestimable, and whoever has the faculty and inclination for sublime spiritual matters should set his study and inquiry mainly in the heights of the divine wisdom, which comprises the aggadah in its entirety, as the outstanding individuals in all the generations cried out continually in this respect, from the scholars in the various and ramified aspects of Kabbalah, Hasidism, philosophy, inquiry, ethical teachings, in all the generations.@21

Rabbi Kook noted the tradition of the gradual uncovering over time of the Kabbalistic secrets to the broad public, to the generation of the “footsteps of the Messiah.”@22 Rabbi Kook’s antinomian conception (that will be discussed below in Section 8) is based also on the attraction to engage in the Kabbalah, at the expense of particular halakhic study. An important interpretive element of Rabbi Kook’s writings is Kabbalistic.

I therefore maintain that, in large part, Rabbi Kook’s writings are built of at least three interpretive layers:

(1) the first layer is Kabbalistic, and usually depicts the process of the Sefirotic emanation, which occurs in the world and in the soul;

(2) the second layer contains the philosophical ideas with which Rabbi Kook occupied himself, from the medieval rationalist orientation to modern Kantian and post-Kantian thought;

(3) the third layer comprises the series of prosaic and literary ideas that he formulated in poetical language, and the ideas that were raised in the historical and nationalist-messianic environment in which Rabbi Kook was active and in which he expressed his thought.

I assume that the characteristics of the saint in Rabbi Kook’s thought are woven of a combination of the three layers, and it is in this light that I will relate to his writing and to the wealth of nuances, incorporation of Biblical verses, symbols, and motifs that compose it. If we take this assumption to its logical conclusion, we find that Rabbi Kook’s literary corpus is built for the continuous meeting of writer and reader. The text’s meanings are not based solely on the layer of the author’s intent, they also incorporate the layer of meaning of the reader, who wants to analyze and internalize the text’s contents and messages. The reader himself moves between the different interpretive possibilities, and the result can be formulated as wordplays. Rabbi Kook’s writings assume a great deal of author-reader interaction, and he was also aware of this type of writing from the classical medieval literature (the writings of Judah Halevi, Abraham Ibn Ezra, and Maimonides). Thus, the methodology of phenomenology, which constitutes the object in accordance with the subject and the subjective consciousness, is suitable for a reading of Rabbi Kook’s writings.

  1. The State of the Research

The character of the saint is present in different ways in Rabbi Kook’s ideas. He frequently refers in his writings to “those possessing spirituality,” the “great noble ones,” the “great souls,” the “universal souls,” the “noble souls,” the “great masters of spirituality,” “exemplary individuals,” and the “great ones of the world” who are active in the messianic era. These are only some of Rabbi Kook’s appellations for the saint. A comparison of these passages with Rabbi Kook’s life reveals an inescapable parallelism. Rabbi Kook referred directly to himself, wrote an outline for his spiritual biography, and thereby reflected the religious genius in his personality.

A number of scholars sensed Rabbi Kook’s exceptional personality, and used various tools to explore the reasons for this feeling. Most related mainly to the ideas of this great thinker, and wrestled with the question of the nature and genre of his thought (philosopher-Kabbalist; systematical thinker-poet). Any examination of his personality was usually by chance. Examples of scholars who adopted such an approach are Zvi Yaron, who reviewed some insights of the conception of the righteous individual in Rabbi Kook’s thought;@23 Benjamin Ish-Shalom, who note the balance in the image of the righteous one;@24 and Avinoam Rozenak, whose biography of Rabbi Kook was written within a climate appreciative of Rabbi Kook’s personality.@25 We will now survey two approaches that related directly to his image as a religious genius.


Semadar Cherlow focused on Rabbi Kook’s personality, based on a broad range of testimonies and texts.@26 She explained in her book that she did not intend to present Rabbi Kook’s “approach,” “method,” or “doctrine,” she rather sought to sketch his portrait as a mystic. With this as her aim, she was influenced by the direction developed in the last decade by scholars of Kabbalah such as Moshe Idel, Yehuda Liebes, Elliot Wolfson, Ron Margolin, and Boaz Huss, that the character of the mystic is to be understood as part of the understanding of his theoretical and mystical message – and the reverse holds true, as well. Cherlow paints a sweeping portrait of the exceptional individual and researched its characteristic features. She accepts the primary meaning of Rabbi Kook’s writings as Kabbalistic, but argues that this meaning is a basis for the self-image of the righteous individual, the generation’s leader, and the redeemer. For example, she challenged Schweid’s approach, that Rabbi Kook sought to return to the Biblical model of prophecy. For her, Rabbi Kook’s consciousness is, first and foremost, mystical, as is his circle.

Cherlow presents a narrative, and did not attempt to create a new informative structure. In great degree, she gave pride of place to experience and consciousness, before the study of contentual and informative message. She writes of her research:

A new reading of Rabbi Kook’s writings reveals a new story. At the center of this new story stands Rabbi Kook’s mystical mission as “the tzaddiq is the foundation of the world,” following the meaning that the term “tzaddiq” was given by the Kabbalah and Hasidism.@27

At times, therefore, she is concerned with the question of the existence of a model of religious consciousness or religious experience common to all religions, which is adopted by each in accordance with its own special characteristics, or perhaps such a pure model does not exist, and instead different religious consciousnesses exist alongside each other.

In summation, the personality model that she sets forth is mainly that of the righteous individual in the Kabbalistic senses. The importance of Cherlow’s discussion for this paper lies in the attention it draws to personality and consciousness. Even though this direction already was present in scholarly research (and mainly in the hagiographic literature), a bit here and a bit there, Cherlow unquestionably infuses it with greater strength and insight. From now on, any study of Rabbi Kook will have to be based on the achievements of her study.

The New Man

An additional course in Rabbi Kook’s image was laid in the discussion of the new man in Zionist thought. The Zionist movement sought to create a new Jew, who was totally different from the diasporic (in a disparaging sense) Jew, and Rabbi Kook imparted a clearly religious and messianic dimension to this notion. In another place I discussed the image of the new man in religious Zionism and in the thought that it produced, and attempted to chart this model as envisioned by Rabbi Kook.@28 I wrote that many of the traits that Rabbi Kook ascribed to the ideal new man are actually a reflection of his own personality.

The following are the qualities that I listed there, that reflect the new man in accordance with Rabbi Kook’s thoughts. These features sketch the image of the saint; some will be discussed at length below.

  1. The esoteric:

(1) mystic: the new man experiences ecstatic ascent to the peak of the reality, and descends in order to lead.@29

(2) revealing the hidden: the new man uncovers the sublime degrees of the Godhead.@30

(3) theurgy: the new man seeks to effect a state of harmony in all the worlds.@31

(4) immanence: the new man discerns the divine presence within him.@32

  1. Attitude to one’s surroundings:

(5) cosmic and national sense: the new man unites with the universe and with “the entire nation.”@33

(6) involvement: the new man must be sensitive to the generation’s spiritual needs.@34

(7) family life: the new man sanctifies family life.@35

(8) inspiration: the new man possesses the spirit of divine inspiration, which is a stage in the path to prophecy.@36

(9) humanism: the new man is characterized by his love of man. “He loves people.”@37

  1. Ethos:

(10) freedom: the new man breaches boundaries, and does not fear the limitations of religious conservatism.@38

(11) sanctification of the material: the new man ascribes great worth to material activity and physical health.@39

(12) Renaissance man: the new man is not restricted to any one field of creativity, but rather aspires to master them all.@40

  1. Personality:

(13) intuition: the new man discerns essence through the material envelope.@41

(14) austerity and self-negation: the new man has no “self-will at all.”@42 He is characterized by his humility,@43 but this is not asceticism.@44

(15) self-confirmation: the new man is aware of his abilities and worth.@45

(16) dialectic: the new man combines opposing traits.@46

(17) optimism: the new man is characterized by his constant joyfulness.@47

(18) psychological unification: the new man’s will and thought are unified.@48

I argued in that article that Rabbi Kook presented a restorative messianic conception. For him, the new man in the messianic era in actuality returns to himself. His “original” self includes these qualities, that during the course of history were heaped up and concealed under epistemological and tangible coverings. The new man no longer remans in isolation; the gap between him and the masses shrinks, and he becomes the paradigm of the entire generation of Redemption. We will extensively discuss these statements in relation to the image of the saint.

Rabbi Kook used these elements to chart the ideal model of the saint. Nonetheless, the new man is one of Redemption, and it is unclear whether all these elements, or their incorporation together, are suitable for the saint, who acts in a worldly and temporal reality. Whatever the answer to this question, in that article I outlined the new man, and indirectly also the personality of the saint.

An Open Reading

The starting point of my exploration of the image of the saint in Rabbi Kook’s thought differs from scholarly research to the present in my multidimensional interpretation of his writings. I maintain that a reading of his writings in accordance with a central leitmotif misses both their wealth, in their own right, and the author’s intent. Rabbi Kook most probably wanted, from the outset, to enable interpretive openness that creates a dialogue with the reader. The result is a mosaic of ideas and open horizons that complement or parallel each other. The image of the saint contains different but concurrent dimensions, that are clarified by the application of the interpretive principles presented above. In terms of methodology, as was noted above, my starting point is the phenomenology of religion, that assumes the existence of independent religious consciousness, experience, and ability. We will examine the expressions of this consciousness in the personality of Rabbi Kook and his environment.

Etymology is not our concern here. Rabbi Kook’s innovative language is deserving of a study of its own, as was already indicated by Menahem Zevi Kaddari.@49 Rabbi Kook generally used the term “kadosh” (literally, “holy one”; rendered here as “saint”) as synonymous with the perfect or righteous person. Furthermore, most of his uses of “kedushah” are adjectival, and do not refer to a specific type. He distinguished only rarely between the tzaddik (“righteous one”) and the “kadosh.” For example: “The great righteous ones [tzaddikim] must be holy [kedoshim], they must cleave to the great light, that satisfies and delights, that sanctifies and purifies, from whose brilliance all the worlds draw.”@50 He further declared that the tzaddik “continuously bears the sanctity of the world and the sanctity [kedushah, in both instances] of life in his soul.”@51 Sanctity is perceived as a quality of the righteous one. Thus, Rabbi Kook’s style requires a separate examination.

Now we will turn to the characteristics of the exceptional figure, the outstanding individual, and see what, according to Rabbi Kook, makes a person a “saint.” It is noteworthy that Rabbi Kook himself did not present the saint as a homogeneous figure. At times he distinguished between different types of saints,@52 and left the reader to decide to which category he himself belonged.

  1. Moral Genius

Rabbi Kook did not provide any consistent mapping and hierarchy of a typology of saints. The types close to this figure are the “righteous one,” the one “of noble soul,” and the like. He did, however, establish a firm basis for describing the individual who approaches human perfection, the genius. Genius is not usually a factor in the discussion of saints. Rabbi Kook’s personality, however, cannot be comprehended, nor can we project from it to the image of the saint, without the conception of genius, and not only in order to draw a dividing line between genius and saint. The genius reflects a distinct rational dimension that is present in Rabbi Kook’s ideas, one that he was loath to abandon when describing the exceptional individual. Moreover, Rabbi Kook turned the genius into a sort of saint by formulating a type not commonly found in the Jewish sources: the moral genius.

The Definition of Genius

Rabbi Kook was probably familiar with the discussion of the figure of the genius in modern thought, who was seen as one blessed with aptitude that is not subject to predetermined rules, and all that he produces is original. Kant wrote: “Genius is a talent for producing that for which no determinate rule can be given,” and added: “consequently that originality must be its primary characteristic.”@53 Artistic genius is easily revealed. The meeting of the stormy soul and intuitive perception as characteristic of the artist-genius is highlighted in the writings of Schopenhauer and other thinkers.@54 Rabbi Kook ascribed great importance to art and music as expressions of spontaneity, on the one hand, and on the other, as a means to become aware of realms that cannot be known by scientific and discursive cognition.

Rabbi Kook depicted the image of the saint in a eulogy that he wrote in memory of his father-in-law, Rabbi Elijah David Rabinowitz-Teomim (1842-1905), or as he was known, “the Aderet.” In this section I will analyze the eulogy’s references to the genius and the righteous individual, and examine their relationship to the saint. In the beginning of his portrayal of the genius we find two statements that require explanation:

(1) the definition of genius: genius is the combination of two factors, one congenital (a “gift”), and the other acquired (“labor”).

(2) the two types of genius: rational-epistemological genius and moral genius.

The opening of his eulogy will be followed by our discussion of these two statements.

Genius is connected to the world, by means of a gift and labor.@55 Whether the genius and aptitude of the intellect, or that of morality and justice, either is present only when these two are joined together in the genius soul: God’s gift of an extra and wondrous soul,@56 that stores within it a great sum of spiritual traits and sublime power by its very generation [toledatah],@57 with diligence and the loving acceptance of the yoke of labor to develop one’s faculties, to realize the concealed property.@58 At times, too, we find excellent geniuses who attained what they are only by much labor and great toil, of wonderful industry. Whoever casts a discerning eye will find a difference between natural genius and that which is acquired, like the same difference that usually exists between nature and labor.@59 Moreover, the excellent inclination for diligence and love of labor, in order to reach the lofty and sublime goal – this, too, is one of the attributes of genius when present in great degree.@60 Accordingly, in the final analysis, the cause of genius is the quality of creativity, which man is capable of increasing or decreasing, as he chooses.@61

First, the definition of genius: Rabbi Kook maintains that genius is not limited to faculty and ability. The genius knows struggles. He fights “obstacles that stood in the path of the development of genius.” The heart of genius, however, is God-given (“quality”). Rabbi Kook found no expression that more faithfully portrays the congenital trait than the aesthetic, and only poetry and song accurately reflect the spirit of genius. In Shemonah Kevatzim, the image of the righteous individual is characterized by poetry.@62 The righteous one is engaged in poetry,@63 and his knowledge of God is characterized by “the delight of every melody and song.”@64 In Eder ha-Yakar he stressed the poetic nature of the genius, as he writes in the continuation of this eulogy:

But the poetical nature may elevate the soul, without excessive reasoning. This is the product of genius in the might of its magnificence. If we are successful in removing the shroud that is drawn@65 over the innerness of the wondrous soul, that by the lot of Shaddai in the heights@66 He placed within the genius, that is especially present in the true genius, who is created for greatness.@67

The aesthetic connection of genius is worthy of a discussion of its own.

Poetical Nature

What is the meaning of Rabbi Kook’s defining genius as poetry? In order to answer this question, we will briefly examine his conception of poetry. Rabbi Kook channeled the aesthetic discussion to the clearly epistemological realm: poetry and music first and foremost express (and are so presented in his writings) an epistemological and experiential access to the profound, inner, broad, and infinite realm beyond rationality and the scientific thought that reflects it. This sphere is dynamic and fluid, and as such cannot be expressed by the language and thought of logic. The realm beyond the consciousness manifests the divine presence and the heavenly vitality that ripples throughout the natural and human reality.@68 In this respect, Rabbi Kook gave theoretical and philosophical expression to Hasidism’s characteristic emphasis of divine immanence. Obviously, Hasidic thought was not the first to present the inner divine presence. It, however, transformed this divine presence into a central conceptional link, the “center bar” (a term intially used in the context of the Tabernacle – see Exodus 26:28), and the meeting point for other ideas. For Rabbi Kook, rational knowledge is incapable of absorbing this lively, flowing inner divine presence. The realm that is transcendent to the consciousness (and immanent to the natural reality) is what he calls “holy” (kodesh) in his writings.@69 The following are contentual, literary, and formal features of the holy in these writings:

(1) the holy expresses a realm that is beyond rationality, although not necessarily contradicting it.

(2) the holy refers to the theosophical plane that is depicted in the Kabbalistic literature (the Sefirot and divine emanation).

(3) the holy is parallel to “the thing in itself,” in Kantian terminology.@70

(4) the holy relates to an inner, dynamic, and vital examination of the reality (“life”).

(5) the holy reflects the divine presence in the reality.

(6) the holy cannot dichotomized, and is universal.

(7) the holy is perceived as concealed content.

Poetry and song are seen in Rabbi Kook’s writings as representing the manner in which the holy is conceived and perceived; this, however, refers to intuitive, spontaneous, and mystical contemplation, and not to rational conception. Additionally, this refers primarily to the perception of symbols and their representation. Symbolic perception, that is portrayed in poetical and musical terms, is capable of penetrating the hidden layer of the reality. We know from the mystical literature that the realm of the secret is generally expressible only in symbols.@71 On occasion, poetry and music characterize the realm beyond reason, as well, and not only the approach to this sphere, and at times they represent the combination of rationalism and mysticism.@72 For Rabbi Kook, poetry is, first of all, an epistemological and contemplative representation. Here, too, we hear the echo of the distinction between Rabbi Kook and the Hasidic sources with which he was familiar. The Hasidic thinkers sought the experiential in the hidden realm. The dominant value for them was conjunction with the divine presence. Rabbi Kook, in contrast, strove primarily to know the holy. Accordingly, music and poetry for the Hasidism are, first of all, a way and means for uniting with the concealed, while for Rabbi Kook, they are clearly epistemological values.

In Rabbi Kook’s writings, poetry and music stand for the activity of the pure sentiment, “the poetical sentiment,”@73 while at the same time they express an aesthetic dimension of epistemological perception and experiential consciousness. Following Kant’s Critique of Judgment, and similar to the philosophers who advocated idealism of various sorts (such as Schilling and Hermann Cohen), Rabbi Kook, too, believed that the aesthetic sense can be subject to philosophical discussion, with its definitions and schematism.@74 Aesthetics characterizes both the entity and the conception, and therefore can be subject to positive discussion. He most likely was also influenced by thinkers who set forth cognitive theories of art, such as Schopenhauer and Schilling.@75 Aesthetics was an important component of the philosophical conceptions of these thinkers. Traces of the conception of music of Nietzsche,@76 who sharply attacked the cognitive conception of art, are to be found in Rabbi Kook’s discussions, as well. Rabbi Kook used aesthetic criteria to a dual purpose:

(1) the definition of ontological and moral values;

(2) delineating the way to know or experience these values.

The main functionality of poetry and music lies in their use as a metaphor of consciousness: the realm that Rabbi Kook called the holy is characterized by the very fact of its being sung. At times he also used the term “harmony” to mean balance in the realm beyond thought. This terminological usage, along with “poetry,” attests to the musical dimension of the lyric. Sound, poetry, and melody reflect what transcends human logic and the approach to it. In a number of instances Rabbi Kook set forth a scheme of gradual emanation or formulation: the nucleus that is inexpressible in thought – the holy – is symbolized in song and in melody, and when it develops or descends and materializes, it can be expressed in thought and speech. Conversely, when the mental perception ascends, it is transformed into poetry and melody. Rabbi Kook connected the realm of the holy (that is expressed by means of music) with the image of the perfect man. For him, this sublime individual naturally and primally expresses himself in poetry.@77 He writes:

The righteous individual always stands between God and the world. He connects the silent and dark world to the divine speech and light. All of the true righteous one’s senses are given over to the divine connecting of all the worlds. All his desires, wishes, inclinations, thoughts, actions, conversations, practices, movements, sadnesses, joys, distresses, and delights, leaving nothing, are chords of the holy music, which are used by the divine life – which flows through all the worlds – to give it its fierce voice. Endless souls, the limitless treasures of life, fill all that exists; only they, by their exertion to ascend from the bottom of the depths of the desolation of their baseness to the sublimity of the divine joy of freedom – the source of pleasure and delight@78 – propel all the deeds of the righteous one, who is always employed in the service of the holy, for his entire life is sacred to the Lord.@79

The righteous individual’s existence is an expression of the holy. His mental and physical activities are depicted in musical terminology (“chords”). Consequently, the righteous one occupies the middle ground: on the one hand, he is a corporeal and worldly creature, while on the other, he is an expression of the divine realm, that is poetical, lyrical, and musical. Rabbi Kook concluded from this that the functional stance of the righteous individual is one of mediation: he connects the world to God. The motive force of the righteous one is the elevation of the reality, in which he succeeds because he is planted in the transcendental world.

Rabbi Kook argued that righteousness also entails paradox: the aesthetic faculty of the righteous “is multiplied mightily.”@80 That is, paradoxically, it is specifically the righteous one, who does not ascribe much worth to material life, and is not limited to the corporeal reality, who is capable of appreciating the sublime and the beautiful in both the visual and musical spheres (“that is in sights, that is in song”). The righteous individual’s conduct, as a personality which contemplates and acts in the depths of psychological and natural phenomena and life itself, is constantly characterized by the terminology of poetry and harmony. Rabbi Kook writes:

Divine poetry constantly plays in the harmonic laws in the inner chambers of his [= the righteous one’s] soul.@81

Divine perfection, the tremendous and pure morality, the wonderful divine harmony with all its brilliance and pleasantness, is always the happiness of the lives and pillar of their [= the great souls’] spirits.@82

The soul of the righteous “is always present within the [heavenly] sphere of the singing of the music of the melody of the holy pleasantness.”@83 The righteous ones’ experience of the divine presence, too, is characterized by musical strains. The righteous individual walks with the Shekhinah (the Divine Presence) “freely, in an excursion […] replete with delicate pleasures, the fragrances of spices, a multitude of lyres and lutes, the secret utterance, the song of shananim [a class of angels], and the exalted gentle voices of the holy angels.”@84 Music reflects the righteous one’s value of freedom (“freely, in an excursion”), and not only his conjunction. His pure aesthetic sense encompasses music.

As regards “those of noble soul,” Rabbi Kook states that “their poetry is constant,”@85 and attests of himself: “I must necessarily be a poet.”@86 He describes the aesthetic foundation of the righteous one as follows:

Intellectual and emotional righteousness is a special art, that must be constantly improved and developed by the one fit for it, and it itself will bring about the practical righteousness which has the standing of craft, and is not on as high a level of art as that of emotion and intellect. The happiness of the world is dependent upon the self, the facility of righteousness, which is the good heart, and the inner clarity of perception of the righteous who are the foundation of the world. The nation, and the whole world, are firmly grounded on the proliferation of the quality of righteousness.@87

The quality of the righteous individual is an inner dimension. It corresponds to art, and in the continuation of this passage Rabbi Kook called it “the poem of the righteous.” He writes of this poetry: “when it is magnified and is blessed from its godly source, it brings the joy of the worlds to humans.”@88 He draws the following distinction: intellectual righteousness and emotional righteousness are “art,” while practical righteousness is “craft.”

This teaches that the divine emanation that infuses his inner self impacts upon the righteous one, and this emanation has an aesthetic dimension, that is, such an inner effect upon the individual is expressed in art and poetry. This divine emanation also inspires the environment of the righteous one. His inner emanation enables other people, as well, to receive this (“song [= emanation] to those who sing [i.e., receive the emanation]”).@89 The practical righteousness, which is technical, comes into play here; this is the outer and “superficial” expression of the inner content. The song does not only reflect the processes of emanation within the Godhead, it also extends to such processes on the part of man. In other words, the various sorts of emanation have a distinctly aesthetic dimension. The righteous individual, who is also the leader in the messianic time, is sensitive to the singing, in which he participates.

Song and Genius

To return to the description of the piety, righteousness, and genius of the Aderet, a portrayal that is replete with musical motifs. Rabbi Kook writes:

He [= the Aderet] viewed the Torah and all its commandments, with all their sections and clauses, in life, in study, and in action, as a great and mighty divine song, a love song.@90 Each commandment and each halakhah [law] has a special musical trait, to which Knesset Yisrael [the personification of the nation of Israel] is attentive and in which it delights, “It shall blossom abundantly, it shall also exult and shout” [Isaiah 35:2]. We must merely remove the seal from the ears of our children, “the thorns and thistles that encircle the supernal rose.”@91 Song will strike waves in their heart, and raise their souls with the same natural elevation experienced by all those who see fit to develop the nature of their Jewishness. The natural Jew, in the full sense, was the genius, the righteous one, the Aderet, of blessed memory. The natural harmony, that comes forth from the entire practical Torah in all its branches, would sing inward within his soul. Accordingly, he was bound by love to every commandment, whether minor or major. “Happy is the man who fears the Lord, who delights greatly in His commandments” [Psalms 112:1].@92

The inner, vital world, of which each commandment is its outer and practical expression, is exposed in the genius’s divine service. For the genius, the Torah is song, and the observance of the commandments is its melody. Rabbi Kook presented this song as playing from itself, leading him to connect it with nature (the “natural Jew”). The genius can listen to song, that is, to the divine presence that is revealed through his divine worship. And thus, too, the influence of the genius upon the generation: in the end, the inner, vital dimension of divine life will radiate on the surroundings (the “children”), as well. This teaches of the patently aesthetic dimension of righteousness and genius, a dimension that is expressed in musical terms. The more tangible Rabbi Kook’s description of the image of the genius (the Aderet), the more it was dominated by its musical characteristics (musicality, melody, attentiveness, harmony).

We learn from this that genius, as “poetical” nature, is a congenital trait, that enables the genius to know the transcendental realm intuitively. The genius immediately perceives the holy, while other people must toil to this end their entire lives. The genius knows the divine presence in the reality directly, that is, he is gifted with a contemplative spirit. He has penetrating sight, that sees the divine structure of the reality. This congenital trait can be described only in aesthetic terms. Rabbi Kook emphasized that the poetical aptitude is natural, and is opposed to any purposeful interests. Rabbi Kook wrote in a letter from 1907 to his son Rabbi Zevi Yehudah that “no poetical works were written to any [concrete] end […] the pure poetical spirit is not present in songs that are written for some aim.”@93 We find an allusion in Rabbi Kook’s writings to the distinction between genius and inspiration, which are concerned with the autonomous ability to uncover the concealed, and righteousness, to which the hidden is revealed following heteronomous divine manifestation.@94

The “poetical nature” therefore finely elucidates that character of genius and righteousness. The aesthetic dimension of genius leads us to come to know it, within the context of its effect upon the environment.

Types of Genius

In the following analysis of the eulogy delivered by Rabbi Kook, we will examine the two types of genius he describes (“the genius and aptitude of the intellect”; “the genius of morality and righteousness”). Rabbi Kook first spoke of intellectual genius. This conception has diverse sources. For some Enlightenment thinkers and Romantics, scientific innovation was no less creative than a work of art. Newtonian physics, for example, was included in the integrated and comprehensive philosophy of Friedrich von Schlegel, who sought to remove the partitions between the different disciplines and integrate them. According to Schlegel, founders of modern physics should indeed be viewed as artists rather than as philosophers.@95 In his doctrine of aesthetics, Kant compared nature to a work of art, and the firm foundation of the creative imagination to the basis of both mathematics and geometry.@96 Rabbi Kook, however, added another sort of genius, who is characterized by “morality and justice.” That is, there is genius in morality and altruism, as well. In this sense, the characters of the saint and the genius merge. Rabbi Kook used the wording “the faculty of the genius of righteousness” to refer to the righteous individual.@97

In the eulogy, Rabbi Kook first distinguished between the genius inherent in man’s nature (“natural”) and the genius acquired by toil and labor (“artificial”). If we apply this division to moral genius, we find that there is a natural moral genius, that is, a person who is naturally inclined to justice and altruism to a creative and exceptional degree, and an artificial genius, namely, a person who reached the zenith of his morality through his toil and exertion. The natural moral genius is a paragon of moral perfection.

Rabbi Kook did not specify what he meant by the “genius of morality and justice,” but he let the reader assume the existence of a special form of inspiration, a sort of spontaneous creativity and brilliant intuition, in morality, as well. Was his intent to “pure” altruism,@98 in the sense of activity without the intervention of any egoistic consideration? And if so, is “moral creativity” needed to attain such a state,@99 and what type of creativity?

In his writings Rabbi Kook coined the terms “compassionate genius” and “the genius’s generosity.” He writes:

In all genius, the eye of clarity, that penetrates to the spiritual content that is the cause of action, sees the grandeur of the spirit of genius in its self, in the might of its valor, in the splendor of its magnificence. In the compassionate genius of the greatly charitable individual, for whom lovingkindness and benefiting [others] are his ideal and the crowning glory of his life, his inner contemplation is cognizant of the inherent brilliance [ziv]@100 of lovingkindness, which is something very precious and uplifting, more sublime and lofty than all the acts of lovingkindness and benefits that are realized in the actual act. We all will rejoice if the light of lovingkindness is spread among us. The world will rejoice, humanity will rejoice, and the nation will rejoice, when the sight of the genius’s generosity is manifest in one of its sons. The holy spirit of generosity is the treasure of life, that gives tremendous worth to all, the breath of life@101 for every individual soul in the nation, which it embellishes in its entirety with the crown of everlasting beauty. At times this genius of lovingkindness is manifest among the poor of the land;@102 only, at times the holy glory of a life of lovingkindness dwells constantly within their hearts, while at other times it is actualized in practical generosity. When the aptitude of generosity meets the ability for this, when embodied in action, this spirit is even more wondrous. Those, however, who appraise life in its true worth, the philosophers and thinkers of pure thoughts, are conscious of the majesty of lovingkindness, even when it is wrapped in many veils@103 that prevent its manifestation.@104

In this passage Rabbi Kook presents the way to reveal the foundation of genius. At least two interpretive strata present themselves in this passage:

(1) On the literal level, an analysis of moral genius (a term that appears in his work Eder ha-Yakar) uncovers an inner faculty of lovingkindness. The moral genius is blessed with the capability, and substrate, of lovingkindness, which is infinitely more sublime than actual acts of lovingkindness. The existence of this lovingkindness faculty is the cause of happiness and elevation for the whole world.

(2) On the symbolic level, contemplation of genius reveals the divine nobility that emanates lovingkindness. In other words, an examination of the righteous individual reveals the theosophical source of his inspiration and sweep of vision. The Jewish people, specifically, and the world as a whole are made fruitful by the bringing down of the divine emanation, through the righteous one.

We will now discuss the symbolic stratum of the “genius of lovingkindness.” A careful analysis of the Kabbalistic symbols in Rabbi Kook’s writings reveals a process within the Godhead of emanation. This process begins with Binah and concludes with Malkhut:

Binah (“Intelligence”)

Hesed (“Lovingkindness”)@105

Tiferet (“Beauty”)

Netzah (“Lasting Endurance”)

Hod (“Majesty”)

Malkhut (“Kingdom”)


This implies that the moral genius is built of two dimensions, the inner and the outer:

(1) the meaning of the inner dimension is that the genius is capable of absorbing the divine emanation of lovingkindness-without-bounds in his soul. That is, the genius is gifted with the pneumatic ability to be a receptacle,@106 to be a substrate for divine inspiration. At times this faculty is hidden, and requires an act of explication. Rabbi Kook states at the end of the eulogy that philosophers, theologians, and Kabbalists succeed in perceiving this ability and properly defining it.

(2) the outer dimension means that the divine emanation is now channeled outward, when it also influences the genius’s surroundings.@107

According to Rabbi Kook, some geniuses were gifted only with the inner dimension, while others succeeded in influencing others, as well. In either case, genius is patently expressed in the ability to absorb and transmit lovingkindness to the surroundings. He stressed the national environment (the “single soul in the nation”) of the genius of lovingkindness (see below).

Moral Genius and Redemption

Since Rabbi Kook includes morality within genius, we should examine the image of the genius as a moral teaching for the public at large. In other words, the very discussion of genius is of educational value. The portrait of the genius goes beyond the realm of intellectual curiosity, and becomes an object for emulation. In the continuation of his eulogy for the Aderet, Rabbi Kook writes:

As regards the benefit to be derived from knowledge of the toledah@108 of some genius, there is practical benefit, and theoretical benefit. The practical benefit is a sort of “the jealousy of scribes increases wisdom,”@109 such that the reader, who sees the inner splendor and majesty, sanctity, and grandeur@110 attained by the great man, will have the inner desire aroused within him for him, too, to try his strength, to follow in his ways. And if he is incapable of fully emulating him, at any rate, it is impossible that he will not at all be moved by this from the place of his lowliness to ascend to upper [realms]; that, he, too, will choose some such good ways and precious acquired virtues; when he exceedingly labors in them, this nature increases. The theoretical benefit is the greatness of the soul that increases at the foot of every sublime vision, majestic in holiness, that presents itself before him. The great vision itself elevates the soul and refines the heart, even if he [= the reader] will not think to adopt the practical ways to resemble what is much higher and loftier than him.@111

Rabbi Kook described the double influence of the genius: active influence, that is, the emulation of the genius by the public around him; and passive influence, that is, the spiritual elevation of the public in the face of genius.@112 We should address the question of the context and the motifs that Rabbi Kook incorporates in this passage. To denote the passive influence of the genius, Rabbi Kook uses the expressions “high and lofty” (Isaiah 6:1; 57:15); “majestic in holiness” (Exodus 15:11), and “lowliness.” These three expressions appear in the blessing of redemption that immediately precedes the morning Amidah prayer.@113 Rabbi Kook understood the events of his time as stages in the last Redemption. He might have sought to imply that the approaching Redemption, to which the blessing of redemption alludes, is also dependent upon the influence of the genius, that is, Rabbi Kook himself, or at least those who share his paradigm. Moreover, the Redemption is being realized by the secular, who threw off the yoke of religious observance. Rabbi Kook was convinced that the latter were tools in the hands of Divine Providence. The motive force, however, that caused them to realize the divine plan is the passive influence of the genius. Rabbi Kook accordingly stated in the above passage that the genius passively influences those whose soul is in a “lowly place,” which he raises to “upper [realms].”@114

The motif of incorporation of wording from the blessing of redemption links genius with redemption.@115 Rabbi Kook summarized that “the inner tziyur of the portrait of the great soul is undoubtedly a heavy labor.”@116 “Tziyur” usually means “concept,” although at times Rabbi Kook used it in its visual sense (i.e., picture); here, it is the act of depicting.@117 Thus, genius and its characteristic mental and theosophic processes are not easily depicted. This is especially true regarding moral genius. If we listen to what Rabbi Kook incorporated in Eder ha-Yakar, we learn that he alluded to a new conception of genius in the messianic era.

Moral Genius and Heresy

As we saw above, the genius’s passive influence is significant for both his immediate environment and the national and messianic plane. Rabbi Kook spoke explicitly of the former, while he merely alludes to the latter. Rabbi Kook continued to set forth the ways in which the genius passively influences the national plane, focusing on the question of belief and heresy.

The distinction that Rabbi Kook drew in Eder ha-Yakar between scientific and moral heresy was discussed once or twice in the scholarly literature,@118 and requires further clarification. In short, scientific heresy is atheism, while moral heresy is the perception of religion as immoral.

Rabbi Kook asserted that two factors determine the progress of the human race: ability (intellectual and scientific achievements) and moral will (the good). If these factors develop in tandem and with mutual adaptation, the result will be the “general and perfect good,”@119 and “the natural divine love”@120 will be revealed. If, however, ability develops without the corresponding development of the moral will, this will result in materialism and heresy, that have their roots in self-love and narcissism. Rabbi Kook then turned to explain the ways of heresy.

Rabbi Kook identified scientific heresy with the denial of God’s existence, and moral heresy, with the claim that religion@121 harms the moral development of the human race. He advanced two arguments regarding these two types of heresy:

(1) scientific heresy is a child of the modern age. Greek philosophy believed in the existence of gods, and it discussed the question of providence, that is, whether the gods are involved in what occurs in earthly existence.@122 Moral heresy, in contrast, is both an ancient phenomenon (the Epicureans) and a new one (socialist and Marxist notions).

(2) Scientific heresy is based on moral heresy; the former has “no independent basis.”@123

The second argument implies that the effective effort to rout heresy must be directed primarily to moral heresy. Rabbi Kook maintains that the response to moral heresy’s infiltration of the Jewish people must be twofold:

(1) the active response: dissemination of the argument that the Torah does not harm man’s morality; if it seems otherwise, the flaw lies in man’s understanding of the Torah, and not in the Torah itself.

(2) the passive response: striving for religious perfection in the personal realm influences one’s surroundings. “Consequently, whatever improve the deeds and attributes of those upholding the Torah and the faithful will lessen natural moral heresy, and its decline will be matched by a similar decline in its scientific derivative.”@124

The passive response is the dominant one and is led by those individuals who have attained religious perfection, that is, the exceptional individuals. This conception provides the framework for a discussion of heresy in Eder ha-Yakar, which it opens and ends. Rabbi Kook writes at the beginning and end of this discussion:

[1] The natural divine love, which is confirmed in the ways of life, was always manifest in Israel among the exceptional individuals, even in the most wretched times. For individual examples, that indicate the general picture, we may use the acts of the righteous@125 and their state of mind.@126

[2] For only moral good deportment, with good deeds and good attributes, that comes from righteous and God-fearing observers of the Torah, is the most correct guarantee for removing the erroneous element of moral heresy. When it is removed, the weakness of scientific heresy is revealed, and the imaginary iron yoke@127 of negativity, that weakens the strength of Israel, is broken on its own, and obviously, the divine light returns@128 to illuminate the souls, the national forces@129 unite, and the blessing of life and peace@130 nears Israel.@131

This teaches that the main passive influence is wielded by the perfect individuals. Although all those who “uphold the Torah” and the “faithful” influence their surroundings, it is the righteous individual who removes the influence of heresy. Thus, the discussion of heresy is joined to that of genius. In the final analysis, it is the moral genius who routs moral heresy by the force of his personality and its passive influence.

These passages reveal a bit more of the moral genius’s influence on the public at large. We already mentioned the distinction between the cosmic divine love and narcissistic love, which is the cause of heresy. Rabbi Kook says here that as soon as moral heresy and scientific heresy have vanished, the divine light “obviously” envelops souls. This echoes the fundamental Kabbalistic model that evil has no inherent existence, and is only secondary to the good. As soon as the divine spark is exposed and evil is differentiated, it is put away and disappears.

But here an additional aspect is portrayed. The divine emanation, that is expressed in the metaphors of “love” (passage [1]) and “light” (passage [2]), is beneficent to all equally. Heresy, that emphasizes the individual and his self-love, conceals and clouds over the divine emanation. Rabbi Kook might possibly allude to the workings of the moral genius: since the moral genius acts on behalf of all, and also influences all by his very personality (passive influence), then he drives out self-love from his soul until it vanishes;@132 and the moment that self-love disappears, the cosmic love – which is emanation – shines forth. Rabbi Kook ended by writing that the righteous individual’s action and passive influence also have an effect on the national level. Here, too, love of all pushes aside love of the individual.@133 The righteous individual unites the “national forces” by his overcoming self-love in favor of influence over the society as a whole. This, then, is another instance of Rabbi Kook directing our attention to the period of the national renaissance.


Rabbi Kook’s discussion of the genius and his traits in his eulogy for the Aderet is based on four assumptions:

(1) genius is divided into rational genius and moral genius;

(2) genius is described in aesthetic terms;

(3) genius exerts both active and passive influence;

(4) genius is indirectly connected with redemption.

The inclusion of the idea of the moral genius within the aesthetic realm (“song”), and the allusions to the passive influence of such genius in the redemptive time, make a substantial contribution to the conception of the saint. Rabbi Kook concluded his eulogy of the Aderet with a discussion on the attribute of piety, reiterating the existence of “clean, exalted, and pure” piety,@134 within a clearly national context. Lovingkindness to one’s fellow is also lovingkindness to God.@135 The eulogy opens with the image of the genius, and ends with that of the pietist; the eulogy offers a journey from moral genius to the praxis of lovingkindness. The feature common to both the pietist and the genius is their influence on others, from the individual level to the national. The eulogy is an important document, because Rabbi Kook collected in it his thoughts on the person who is morally exceptional. Although much remains hidden, and Rabbi Kook left the range of meanings of moral genius to the imagination and speculation of the reader, his formulation remains clear and focused.

We should take into account Sitz im Leben, that is, the historical and social background of the eulogy. The allusions to the genius that Rabbi Kook embedded in the text teach of the manner in which he viewed his own contribution to the national revival ca. 1906, the year in which Eder ha-Yakar was published. Rabbi Kook had immigrated to the Land of Israel less than two years earlier, and he was still under the influence of his first exposure to the national awakening there. He referred to the Aderet, but he sketched an outline that enables us to understand the personality of a genius, in general, and specifically, his own personality. The question of whether he did so consciously or not is not relevant as regards the self-image of the saint. His contribution to this issue is his presentation of moral genius, which refers to the altruism that results from inspiration and creative brilliance, in light of the stormy messianic reality. This inspiration can be described in aesthetic terminology.

As was noted above, passive influence is extremely important for understanding Rabbi Kook’s character. He quickly learned that he did not substantively and actively influence the nonreligious public. The dialectics of the elevation of the soul in the presence of Zionist activity, on the one hand, and the abandoning of religious observance by the halutzim (pioneers), on the other, characterized him since his arrival in the Land of Israel. Avinoam Rozenak already noted the revival of Torah effected by the unification of opposites at the time.@136 Accordingly, all that remained for Rabbi Kook was to pin his hopes on the passive influence wielded by the genius, and on the latter’s intimate service of the Lord.

  1. Profile

To now we have examined a certain type, the genius, and his contribution to fashioning the image of the saint. This discussion is of importance, because Rabbi Kook was intensively occupied with such a figure in an essay that he himself readied for publication. We will now turn to an exploration of the structural lines of the image of the saint in Rabbi Kook’s thought, this time with an analysis of conceptual thoughts, and not only typological ones as we did regarding the genius type.

The Reflection of the Godhead

In Kabbalistic and Hasidic thought, processes within the Godhead were copied to the soul, as in the use of the Sefirot of Hokhmah, Binah, and Daat in the depiction of the cognitive process. At times, the transferal moved in the opposite direction, as in the anthropomorphic portrayal of the primal divine structure (“Adam Kadmon” – primordial man) after Tzimtzum (the act of divine “withdrawal”). Rabbi Kook, too, transferred processes within the Godhead to the saint, and the perfect man became the reflection of the supernal world. It seems, however, that he did so in an unusual and extreme fashion, in both stylistic and contentual terms. In this he was guided by the figure of the saint. The following passage draws a parallel between the suffering of the righteous individual and that of the Shekhinah:

The great anguish that each righteous one feels within himself over the diminution of the divine conjunction that he senses within himself, that does not satisfy his great thirst. From this anguish all his limbs are shattered always, out of his longing, and he has no rest from any delight or pleasure in the world. This is the actual anguish of the Shekhinah.@137 The content of the life of all the worlds longs for the supreme divine perfection that is revealed in them.@138

Just as the worlds thirst for elevation and the revelation of the divinity within them, so too, the righteous one desires conjunction with God. And just as the fact that divinity is not fully manifest in the world distresses the Shekhinah, so too, the fact that the righteous individual does not attain the highest levels of conjunction is the cause of his limbs going slack and his unease. Rabbi Kook, however, adds that this is “the actual anguish of the Shekhinah.” That is, the personal and the cosmic processes are united. The righteous individual feels God’s anguish, and in this respect he is a reflection of the Shekhinah.

The saint undergoes processes parallel to those of the divine Sefirot:

For he [the true holy righteous one] always ascends in his thought and will to the spiritual supernal world, in which there are no limitations,@139 in which all can enter, and obviously, all that is good can gather together. He acts with his supernal power,@140 so that the good that is dispersed among all the individuals in Israel, and in the entire world, and in all the worlds, will assemble together. There are unfathomable degrees in this trait. The most righteous man encompasses the most comprehensive breadth, and he has no contraction of strict judgment.@141 For he, in his entirety, is replete with compassion and many mercies, and truly desires the good of all. He loves to find merit for all people, and hates to find guilt in them and convict them. The world is incapable of recognizing this degree of righteousness, and every paramount righteous one must enclothe his supreme righteousness in many garbs, since after they restrict the light, people can derive benefit from him.@142

We should take note of the Kabbalistic symbolism in this passage. This would seem to be a routine process of emanation, such as Rabbi Kook described in many places, and the likes of which we discussed above. The saint brings down the divine emanation from Binah (“his supreme righteousness”) to Malkhut (“righteousness”). Wordplay is at work here in Rabbi Kook’s choice of words: the righteous individual effects emanation from the supreme Tzedek to the lower Tzedek (Binah and Malkhut). In schematic form, this is the process:

Binah (“supreme Tzedek,” a portion with “no limitations”)


Tiferet (“many mercies”)

Yesod (the “righteous man”)

Malkhut (“degree of righteousness [tzedek]”)

The saint succeeds in bringing down the divine emanation because of his adherence to the trait of lovingkindness, that is, he loves all people and contains them, despite their being many and diverse. Rabbi Kook wrote that the righteous individual does not experience any “contraction of strict judgment.” His endless love and giving remove this Sefirah from the process of emanation. Rabbi Kook mentioned elsewhere that even if the righteous one is angry, this anger is on the level of external expression and behavior, and not on the deep level.@143 Since the righteous individual has a comprehensive view of the reality (which is all light and good), he finds no real reason to become angry.@144 Only a righteous individual who does not know himself in depth falls to “the anger of fools.”@145 The personality of the righteous individual is all love. As Rabbi Kook noted about himself, “Great is my love for all creatures, for all the reality.”@146 The righteous individual loves the entire reality, on the one hand, while being anguished at its lacks, on the other.@147 If, however, we return to the claim that the righteous one does not experience the contraction entailed in strict judgment, this might be an allusion to the level of such an individual, that reflects the state of Ein-Sof before Tzimtzum, which, for example, is frequently mentioned in the Habad literature. The righteous individual transforms the “divine Ayin [naught]” to “Yesh [being].”@148 In any event, the righteous one is a reflection of processes that occur within the Godhead. In many passages Rabbi Kook presented the righteous one as a reflection of the universe, who “elevates the inner nature [of the reality] by his elevation of himself.”@149 Here, however, the righteous individual is a reflection of the Godhead itself. With this approach, Rabbi Kook stretched the microcosm metaphor to its limits.@150

An analysis of this passage reveals the symbolic dimension of Rabbi Kook’s discussion. We should also, however, consider the two additional strata of the passage:

(1) the realistic meaning: the righteous individual is distinguished by his love of the nation, and his advocacy of it. He derives the good from all members of the nation, and channels it to national and messianic missions.

(2) the magical sense: the righteous one brings down the divine emanation, through his profound knowledge of its channels; he is gifted with “supernal power.” In the first stage, he engages in activity resembling the gathering of the divine sparks, the significance of which will be discussed at length below. In the second stage, he brings down the divine emanation.@151

Rabbi Kook then identified the divine emanation with the inspiration of the saint. Now, the godly illumination, that expresses its presence in the worlds, is the same illumination possessed by the righteous individual. Rabbi Kook writes:

All the opinions, movements, wars, preparations, foundations,@153 literatures, and social and personal aspirations prepare life, how to have the fresh light – in which the supreme holiness in its full glorious freedom lives – be absorbed within them and infuse them.@154 This is the light of the righteous, the supreme mighty ones, who are armed with the pure supernal might, the holy might of the brilliance and splendor of life, as they appear from their source, full of splendor and burnished finery.@155

According to this portrayal, the righteous are a sort of personification of the divine emanation. The multifaceted reality in its entirety is a preparation (disposition, in medieval terminology) for receiving the righteous individual’s emanation. Rabbi Kook must have taken into account the perfect man’s bringing down emanation by means of his theurgic and magical activity. In this passage he further alludes to the representation of the light by the righteous individual, and concludes, in dialectic fashion, with the might of the righteous, who at times must use the forceful attribute of strict judgment. Indeed, Rabbi Kook uses the term “gevurah” (see below) three times in the conclusion of the passage.

To draw this into closer focus: Rabbi Kook had fervently argued (above) that the saint does not experience strict judgment. Now we see the dialectic nature of this argument. Rabbi Kook finds the saint rooted in lovingkindness, but, notwithstanding this, he undoubtedly also acts in the limited path of strict judgment. As one example of this, Rabbi Kook compared the sinners of Israel to those drowning in the sea, whom the righteous one saves:

Additionally, all the souls that seem to be drowning in the depths of the tempestuous sea, all the souls of the basest sinners of Israel, all, without exception, strive, swim, and flow, cry out from the depths of the sea to those mighty in strength [see Psalms 103:20], the righteous of the world, to come to their aid, to throw them a life buoy, a rope to grasp. The righteous, the mighty ones of the world, the servants of the Lord, who fulfill His word with love, mercy, and great courage, are filled with compassion, and in their great compassion throw them the means of rescue and protection, and food to sustain them alive, as long as they struggle with the waves in the darkest places, in the depths [see Psalms 88:7].@156

Rabbi Kook mentions the nobility of lovingkindness, strict judgment (“great courage”; the term gevurah has both meanings, each of which relates to power),@157 and beauty (“compassion”). The metaphor that he employs is reminiscent of that provided by Rabbi Saadiah Gaon in the beginning of his philosophical work Beliefs and Opinions.@158 Rabbi Saadiah compared himself, as the author of a book on matters of faith, to one who extricates those who are drowning in a sea of doubts. Both infinite love and fixed and unyielding strict judgment are bound up in the act of rescue. Occupation with strict judgment is a fall for the righteous one; the saint pays a price for saving the drowning. As Rabbi Kook writes elsewhere, the saint’s “slightly leaving” lovingkindness suffices for him to experience “filth,” “bitterness,” “darkness,” and a fall.@159

The symbolic meaning finely expresses the standing of the saint as reflective of the divine processes. The responsibility for the generation felt by the saint motivates him to use various theurgic and forceful means, at times even against his nature. On occasion lovingkindness enjoys exclusivity in the work of the saint, while at times he employs a combination of lovingkindness and strict judgment. In either case, the saint reflects processes within the Godhead, and his proximity to the latter sometimes leads to a blurring of the distinction between the two.

Inclusion and Toleration

The saint can be comprehended from his interaction with all the worlds, which is the heart of the idea of the microcosm: the saint is the reflection of all creation. Both the divine world and the material reality are reflected in him. The saint contains “many aspects of life.”@160 Furthermore, he is the purposeful dimension of the world, namely, he imparts meaning and purpose to all the universe. Rabbi Kook wrote that “the world lacks aim, as long as the supreme soul does not shine in it. When it comes and casts its precious light,@161 then the world advances, and Heaven and earth rejoice is the joy of their creation.”@162 In Aristotelian terminology, the saint is the formal cause and purpose of all existence.

Consequently, the saint contains all. On the epistemological level, he absorbs the different perceptions, even if they contradict one another or are inconsistent. Furthermore, his ability to embrace also extends to notions that do not suit the style and nature of his character. Such an approach indirectly assumes that the saint seemingly contracts his personality, in an act of withdrawal, in order to contain all. On the religious, social, and national level, this saint also receives those who have cast off the yoke of religion and its attendant observances. Rabbi Kook frequently wrote of the inclusiveness of the exceptional individuals. At times, he did not hesitate to speak in such a vein of himself, such as: “I must absorb all.”@163 The following representative passages present the impression of all existence in the soul of the saint:

The great souls are ready@164 for the all-encompassing vision to shine in their inner self.@165

The great souls feel in the depths of their being that they belong to all the reality, and certainly to all the people that they know, and certainly to every man.@166 These ideas, that are powerful and very inclusive, give strength to rising and falling power@167 that examines the most individual lineage,@168 of them and their families, their people, and such lineages. The details of the genealogies join together and generate a new way of life.@169

The great righteous ones include all in their soul.@170 They possess all the good of all and, also, all the evil of all; they suffer tribulations on account of all, and they derive pleasure from all; they transform all the evil of all to good. By force of their being elevated by means of the sufferings they endure, all is elevated by them, for in the root of their soul are all the very vast branches of all the souls,@171 of which the righteous are the foundation.@172

The individual with a “great soul” undergoes a process of ascents and descents. He descends to the particulars, examines the general dimensions within them, and thereby succeeds in containing them. The descent to particulars causes him to suffer, and their inclusion, that is, revealing their shared root, heals this suffering.@173 To a certain degree, we have here the Sabbatean and Hasidic notion of the righteous one who descends to the husks [the surrounding evil] to extract from them the sanctity within them, albeit in a general model.@174 In another place, Rabbi Kook states that the service of some of the righteous lies in their occupation with particulars and their rectification, while others act in a more general realm.@175

According to these passages, the saint’s inclusive power is expressed in a number of interrelated matters:

(1) the soul of the exceptional individual is reflective of all.

(2) this soul encompasses all.

(3) this soul is not private, it rather belongs to all.

(4) this soul acts on all.

(5) this soul derives benefit from all, and suffers on behalf of all.

One of the meanings of the connection between the saint and universality that should be highlighted is its intellectual sense. The saint acquires all knowledge, from “the most profound depths of the profundity of halakhah” to “all the languages and their literatures” and “human science in all its aspects.”@177 The intellectual side of this inclusiveness is especially expressed in Rabbi Kook’s consciousness in his rationalist conception of Divine Providence. He writes:

Maimonides rejoiced when, for him, the nature of Divine Providence acquired an intellectual level. This is worthy of rejoicing, since as long as this belief, that is the basis of the life of the world,@178 remains without an intellectual description, it is not involved with all the living waves of the wise soul,@179 that seeks intellectual cognition. Once, however, it has received its intellectual form, then it takes root in the depths of the soul, in all its chambers@180 and depths, and man finds himself happy, when his spiritual self is joined into a single entity.@181

According to Maimonides (Guide of the Perplexed 3:18), Divine Providence applies to a person in accordance with the knowledge he has attained. Maimonides’ rationalist students in the thirteenth century already disagreed regarding the degree of naturalism in this conception.@182 In my opinion, Rabbi Kook’s starting point was Kabbalistic. He mentioned “the depths of the soul,” which is a mental level higher than that of nefesh (= “soul, life force”)-ruah (= “spirit”)-neshamah (= “breath, soul, soul-breath”).@182a He felt, however, that the works by the Kabbalists lacked the rationalist dimension. They disregarded the longing to acquire scientific knowledge, while medieval rationalism viewed scientific law as the intellectual content of cognition. Most of the Kabbalists rejected the ideal of intellection as man’s goal in life. For Rabbi Kook, the Kabbalists’s conception was one-dimensional. He therefore used the motifs of rejoicing and happiness. For him, completeness, even if based on notions with tension between them (mysticism and rationalism), expresses the emotion of joy and elevated spirits.

Much has been spoken about the metaphysical dimension of inclusion in Rabbi Kook’s thought. He, however, also applied inclusivity in the ideological-political realm. Relating to the Uganda controversy (as a possible location for Jewish resettlement), Rabbi Kook wrote that “it is a bad sign for the party if it thinks that it is the exclusive source of life, of all wisdom and all integrity, and that anything beside it, ‘all is vanity and a striving after wind’ [Ecclesiastes 1:14 and more].”@183


We saw above in our discussion of genius that at times this standing is acquired following tremendous efforts and labor. Such an acquired standing, however, is inferior to the one blessed with this from birth. In contrast, when Rabbi Kook discussed the righteous individual, he both directly and indirectly negated the acquisition of such a status through toil. The righteous individual is substantively distinguished from his surroundings. He writes:

The righteous weary themselves in spiritual toil when their belief in themselves is diminished, and then they think that they are like all the masses of people. Even if they imagine themselves to be the most rectified and learned among them,@184 then, too, they are not saved from inner humility. Only, they must know that the quality of their soul is a completely different supernal quality, for the holy light and divine conjunction are demanded of them every moment,@185 and they must constantly influence all souls, that are succored by drawing upon their great and encompassing soul.@186

The truly righteous, the holy ones of the Most High,@187 inherently soar above all labor and toil. Although they would be desirous of all labor and toil, all tribulations and distress, all self-sacrifice, and all exhausting labor in the world, just in order to do the will of the living God, the everlasting King,@188 the Creator of their soul, the King of Israel, its Redeemer,@189 the Master of all people,@190 the God of all souls,@191 despite their will, they are replete with repose and contentment, and a plethora of delights constantly flows through their holy soul.@192

The saint is gifted with intuitive thought, speedy and immediate perception, and congenital faculty. In this respect, he differs from other humans. Even if he wanted to toil like other people, he cannot.

Furthermore, the saint must have self-confidence and self-confirmation.@193 He must relate to himself as being a cut above ordinary people, including the best among them. An egalitarian image of the saint and other people results in his humility.@194 Rabbi Kook further alludes at the end of the first passage that if the saint loses his self-confidence, this will likely harm his role and the mission that is imposed upon him. The saint’s influence on the surrounding society is dependent upon confirmation of the mental distance between him and all others. Rabbi Kook used the term yenikah (translated above as “drawing upon”) because he drew a parallel between the processes within the Godhead (ibbur [“impregnation”], yenikah [“suckling”], mohin [“intellect,” “aspect of consciousness”) and those that occur within the soul. Consequently, the influence on others is effected by yenikah. While the righteous one is not dominant in Lurianic Kabbalah, for Rabbi Kook the regularization of these processes is dependent upon such an individual. The next section examines the relationship between the saint and the masses.


In his metaphysical teachings, Rabbi Kook explained that perfection is the unity of opposites. In this respect, his perception of the soul reflects metaphysical doctrine. The great soul, the holy soul, is of a containing and uniting nature. He declares that “the true holy righteous one unites within himself all the opposites.”@195 He attests of himself:

I am full of joy, full of greatness, full of abjectness, full of bitterness, full of pleasantness, full of delight, full of love, full of jealousy, full of anger, full of lovingkindness, full of good to all; “Happy is the man who listens to me” [Proverbs 8:34], happy is the one who gives me the inner worth that suits me, according to the loveliness of my virtues. He [the righteous one] will lift up, yea, bear, he will be exalted above all poverty,@196 he will sanctify and purify, and the Lord our God is with him.@197

Polarization and oscillation are common traits of mystics. Rabbi Kook, however, raised this to a theoretical discussion, as we see from the motif of the uniting of opposites in his Ikvei ha-Tzon (1906). Rabbi Kook treated the issue of fear at length in this essay. He wrote that the fear characteristic of the Jewish people throughout the ages ensues from two causes:

(1) the external element: the anti-Semitism and persecutions during the long years of Exile;

(2) the inner element, namely, apprehension of the ascent to perceive the unified stratum of existence. Rabbi Kook attributed this apprehension to the influences of the imaginative faculty, that distorts reason,@198 probably referring to reservations about studying Kabbalah.@199

Although the external cause of fear still threatens, Rabbi Kook believed that it was about to disappear following the national awakening. In contrast, the inner element, which was the focus of Rabbi Kook’s thought on this point, is still at the peak of its strength in the light of secularization. Furthermore, Rabbi Kook understood secularization among the Jews as the beginning of the process of liberation from fear. He anticipated the return of prophecy – and a trembling prophet cannot prophesy. It is at precisely this juncture that we find the activity, and duty, of the perfect person:

In the End of Days, in the footsteps of the Messiah, when the divine light stands behind our wall,@200 the beginning of all the preparations is the removal of thought’s excessive fear from the universal soul,@201 especially from the souls of the outstanding individuals, who are blessed with good intellect,@202 with the aptitude of sanctity and righteousness. They are more susceptible to fear and weakness, impelled to this by the opposite power – the power of impertinence that must increase at this time, with no fear where it manifests itself.@203 Even though it [impertinence] comes from the side of baseness [see Ezekiel 17:24], from the side of intoxication and tumult, as distant as the skies are distant from the earth@204 from that courage that comes from Heaven’s blessing of the soul’s riches and the strength of its righteousness. Nonetheless, it [the power of impertinence] acts with its fierce power to take from itself the good part, the sparks of holiness, the innermost contents – [this is] the prevention of the intellectual fear of the promised power that is concealed in the treasury of our life. Then the power [of insolence] will be set in the holy frame, and thought will blossom.@205

This passage teaches of the soul of the saint, who possesses “the aptitude of sanctity and righteousness”: the higher the saint’s level, the greater his inner fear. The tearing down of the walls by the secular halutzim (pioneers), who are driven by pure ideology, shines on the saints, as well. By merit of the halutzim, the saints are released from their fear. Rabbi Kook established a polar hierarchy, which is the framework for the essay he wrote on this fear:

(1) man: fear increases in accordance with his thought’s breadth of vision and scope. As Rabbi Kook writes elsewhere in this essay: “As man’s aptitude to understand and acquire wisdom increases, so too, does his imagined fear of intellective acts grows.”@206

(2) the people of Israel: the Jewish people’s intellectual advantage lies in its mission to contain and find unity in multiplicity: the Jewish people “gathers and connects all that is scattered and separate in the sublime and the holy into a single comprehensive unit.”@207 The fear increases in light of the daunting dimensions of this task, thereby requiring special courage from the people when faced by a pagan world, in which evil is rampant.

(3) the saint: the soul of the saint, which is the zenith of the people of Israel, is more polarized and torn than the two previous levels. The saint oscillates between the way of absolute truth, that demands corresponding behavior, and fear and aversion.

In this passage Rabbi Kook suggests a therapeutic method that alludes to the fourth of the eight chapters in Maimonides’ Shemonah Perakim, that was written in accordance with the principles of Aristotelian ethics. For a limited period of time, the saint must act in the opposite manner (that of insolence). Fear is at one pole of the hierarchy of traits, and impertinence, at the other. In the period of the beginning of Redemption, which is the transitional period from Exile to Redemption, the saint must act extrovertedly, impertinently. But what causes this change in the behavior of the saint?

Between the lines, we can understand that it was the halutzim who impart the faculty of impertinence to the exceptional individuals. That is, in their blunt behavior, with no sense of commitment to the traditional generation of their parents, they paradoxically serve as an example for the saints, whom they might also spur to act in an extroverted manner. Their casting off of the yoke of religion is a model of “the opposite power”: extroversion (“impertinence”) as the routing of fear. The saint, too, must adopt this extroversion. In practice, he is to situate this impertinence and extroversion within holiness (“in the holy frame”). He must transfer this daring and “courage” from secularization to religion. Rabbi Kook is speaking to himself. The saint must manifest his personality, and reach the entire community.

Rabbi Kook further explained that the saint’s activity is directly addressed to the collection of the “sparks of holiness” – the sparks of light that, in Lurianic Kabbalah, fell during the breaking of the vessels, and were captured within impurity.@208 The Redemption will come to pass when these sparks will return to their source. This restoration of the sparks means the collapse and disappearance of impurity, because the spark paradoxically revives impurity. Rabbi Kook understood the selection of the sparks as an act that elevates the world. The selection of the holiness (= spark) from the impurity is perceived as the work of the perfect individuals. “They [= the righteous] are capable of selecting from every speech and from every movement, from every report and from every occurrence, the worlds of the living God.”@209 Rabbi Kook felt that he was acting during the messianic era, which is the time of the collection of the sparks.@210

This teaches us a few points about the saint as a character who oscillates between the poles:

(1) personality: the saint is characterized by the dialectic between self-confirmation and fear.

(2) interaction between the saint and his community: at times the saint requires the extroverted behavior of his surroundings, in order to draw strength and learn modes of action. Here, as well, the holiness-secularization dialectic is the source of the saint’s activity.

(3) purposefulness: the saint engages in the selection of the sparks, which is a dialectic occupation which encompasses impurity and purity at one and the same time. The righteous individual descends to impurity in order to uncover purity.

The saint is a dialectic personality, and his way of life is dialectic, as is obvious from every detail of his conduct. For example: “When the true righteous one speaks in his own praise, he is filled with very great humility.”@211 When Rabbi Kook depicted the unity characteristic of the “great soul,” he listed these poles: “All the wars are incorporated in the ladder of peace; all the impurities, in the level of the saint; and all evils, in the summit of good.”@212 Thus, there is a purpose to all these movements. In the end, all the dialectic is resolved, but the perfect resolution will be attained only in the messianic future. We see, therefore, that the dialectic “envelope” (some of whose elements were defined in Ikvei ha-Tzon) is typical of the way of the saint. Tension and fluctuation characterize both the relationship between the saint and society as a whole, and the intimate sphere. Indeed, Rabbi Kook did not erect any partition between the saint as individual and his mutual relationship with all people.

Manifest and Hidden

Although Rabbi Kook did not formulate a hierarchy of saints, here and there in his writings we can find the foundation for such a gradation, especially when he referred to prevalent Jewish traditions. He distinguished between a revealed righteous individual and a hidden one.@213 According to this division, the revealed righteous one contends with the given reality, in which contraction and illumination, limitation and expansion, evil and good, are all intermingled. The hidden righteous one, in contrast, strives for illumination without limitation, which is called in Habad Hasidism, for instance, “the light of Ein-Sof before the Tzimtzum.” Rabbi Kook called the primal state of illumination, before its contraction, the “good that is above any measure and extent,” “the foundation of all the expanses,” “the light of all lights,” and a “portion with no limitations.” According to this, the descriptive “hidden” does not refer exclusively to this individual’s actions and relationship to society, but also, and perhaps mainly, to his aim, that is, the attaining of the deepest dimension of existence (the light of Ein-Sof, Binah, and the like), and the restoration of all existence to it. Rabbi Kook states in a series of passages that there is a hierarchy of the righteous that begins with the “pure” hidden one and continues to the revealed righteous individual.@214 The distinction drawn by Rabbi Kook reveals his view that the righteous individual who acts in an intimate manner and conducts the work of rectification far from the sight of others constitutes the highest level in this hierarchy. His influence on the surroundings is substantive. Furthermore, Rabbi Kook left an important place also for the revealed righteous who have their roots in the concealed. In this manner, he did not limit his description of the righteous to any one type.

The Saint and Inspiration

The profile of the saint cannot be properly understood without taking into account the aspiration for prophecy in an era perceived as messianic. In the following passage, Rabbi Kook delineated the boundaries between saint and prophet, or alternately, between the saint who is within nature and the one who is above it.

The arm of the Lord is outstretched to us in this manner:@215 we see that, in the depths of the soul, Knesset Yisrael [the personification of the nation of Israel] has almost been healed in the part affected by its moral illnesses,@216 [that is,] its former iniquities.@217 The lengthy, terrible, and awful Exile had an iron crucible@218 that refines and purifies, with all its frightful tribulations, “like a smelter’s fire and like fuller’s lye” [Malachi 3:2] […] [the nation] was burnished and purified. The heart is a new and pure heart,@219 the heart [kelayot, literally, kidneysl is ready for all that is lofty, sublime, and holy.@220CUT Nothing, however, is actualized, coming from the potential to the actual, that which is concealed in the heart of the people and its hidden powers – this is the work of the sages of the generation, the righteous ones, preachers, sages and scribes, to whom will be added through the ages,@221 more sublimely, poets, with the Lord’s spirit on His people, visionaries, prophets, the mighty, in accordance with the future elevation, degree by degree, “Arise, shake off the dust, sit [on your throne], Jerusalem” [Isaiah 52:2].@222

In the end of this passage, Rabbi Kook distinguishes between two types of perfect individuals. The first category includes those superior individuals blessed with special, unique faculties, while the second refers to those who, in addition to natural ability, also possess charisma, the quality that comes from heavenly inspiration. Rabbi Kook writes of “the Lord’s spirit,” that is frequently used in reference to Samson,@223 whose strength was divinely inspired. He also uses the wording “through the ages,” and afterwards, “degree by degree,” which signify continuity. Consequently, the appearance of these charismatic individuals will not be sudden, just as the Redemption itself emerges from within the conclusion of the Exile. The visionary and the prophet are the direct continuation of the genius and the righteous one. For Rabbi Kook, the present-day saint leads directly to the saint who is blessed with the divine gift of prophecy. The saint of the present time is of a degree that approaches the saint who receives “feedback,” that is, actual inspiration from Heaven.

  1. Faculties

One of the topics that most interested Rabbi Kook was the mental structure of the saint. Each saint has defined mental faculties that drive his behavior and influence. Rabbi Kook was especially interested in the physical, intellectual, and creative abilities of the perfect man. He was not, however, satisfied by these traits, and demanded universality. He therefore discussed a personality faculty that is not limited to the definitions of other faculties.


Rabbi Kook draws our attention to the material and physical dimension of the perfect man. Scholarly research has already noted Rabbi Kook’s calls for a renaissance of physicality as part of the national awakening, and the importance he placed on physical fitness (exercise) as an act of repentance after the long years of Exile in which the Jew was seen to be weak.@224 In a few places Rabbi Kook discussed the value of the righteous individual’s eating, which he maintained was a “noble” and “ideal” activity.@225 We further learn that the perfect man is included in physical repentance. Rabbi Kook writes: “There are righteous ones whose entire repentance must be maintaining the fitness of their body.”@226 Such statements are not straightforward. The saint contains an ascetic dimension, since his consciousness is heavenly-directed. Rabbi Kook adopted a Neoplatonian style and ascetic tone when he asserted that the soul of the righteous is unwillingly connected to the body; only the divine mandate makes possible the material life of “the congregation of the righteous.”@227 The righteous individual’s physicality is therefore tense. Rabbi Kook writes:

Strength, the body’s power, must be present in the righteous, the upright,@228 so that the appearance of the desire for the good will be decisive in the world. The weakness of the strength of the righteous, who must be girded with might,@229 attenuates the light of the world.@230

The return to physicality is one of Rabbi Kook’s tidings, and is anchored in his messianic conception of the national renaissance. Besides his drawing attention to the quality of the saint’s physical existence, Rabbi Kook deemed important the very mention of this individual’s physicality and worldliness. He writes:

The righteous must truly be natural people, with all the natural features of the body and the soul present in them, as a trait of life and health. Then, in their self-elevation, they will be capable of elevating the world and all existence together with them.@231

If the righteous individual were divorced from the world, it is questionable whether he could elevate it. The need for physicality and physical and mental health follows from the task that is imposed on the righteous one, and the responsibility for the world that he is to feel. The elevation of the world includes the material, worldly dimension, and the righteous individual reflects and advances this process. His physical weakness is a consequence of both his still not having attained spiritual perfection and the fact that the spiritual world, by its very definition, is more sublime than the material one.@232

Thus, Rabbi Kook presented a moderate psychosomatic approach,@233 in which body and soul somewhat correspond to one another. The degree of the body’s health and strength is matched by the power of the soul’s emanation. Rabbi Kook formulated the body’s closeness to the soul as follows:

The body listens to the sounds of the soul [tziltzelei ha-neshamah]@235 above, it senses the mysterious plethora, how it flows, how it emits rays full of great brilliance, how it penetrates and descends until it comes to the verbal sense, how speech knocks,@236 and it absorbs within itself the supernal essence, how life is poured within every speech of lips.@237 It listens and trembles, hears and overflows; it knows that it yet has much to do, it must exert itself and toil, it must expand the bounds of the light and the holy, it must be filled with greatness, faith, humility, courage, and life, and the word of the Lord will be known to him.@238

This passage portrays the descent of divine emanation from the uppermost levels of the soul to the body, and the opposite process of elevating the body. Those party to the descent of this emanation are Binah (“life”), Hesed (“greatness”), Din (“courage”), and the like. The body itself seeks to overcome its physical state, to “overflow” and unite with the level of the soul. Elevation, meaning that the vessel draws near the light, and the material, to the divine emanation, is a recurring motif in Rabbi Kook’s thought. The process of elevating the body is depicted as the way from the idea to the word. Mental elevation (“the supernal essence”) is the source of the idea, and the material linguistic action of speech connects the idea with physicality.

Besides its psychophysical depiction and its Kabbalistic meaning, the passage also contains a messianic layer of meaning. It is the second in a pair of passages that are concerned with physicality; in the preceding passage (3:302), Rabbi Kook wrote of “the sound of the shofar [ram’s horn] of Redemption” following “the sign that already intrinsically refines the flesh.” Rabbi Kook adopted the apocalyptic messianic conception that nature would change in the future world. This thought also gave birth to the notion of “the refined body,” according to which in the messianic era the body will be purified, and will have no need for eating or for secretions. The Habad sources went so far as to claim that the future body would have both conception and cognition.@239 Rabbi Kook claimed in a similar spirit that “the flesh of the Israelite body is actually holy, as the holiness of the soul.”@240 This statement apparently also bears messianic significance: in the future the body would verge upon the soul. Three strata of meaning of the elevation of physicality parallel one another: the psychophysical, the Kabbalistic, and the messianic. It is noteworthy that the above passage concludes with the return of prophecy following the intensification of the divine emanation.

It should similarly be noted that Rabbi’s Kook’s discussions of the worldly nature of the saint are usually written in simple and direct prose, thus teaching of the importance he assigned to his emphasis of the saint’s involvement in the material and the physical.


Rabbi Kook never freed himself of the influence of medieval Jewish rationalism., and especially not from the decisive influence of Maimonides. The Guide of the Perplexed directed him to the same extent as he was influenced by Kabbalah. Obviously he could not adopt the Maimonidean principles as they had originally appeared, in their historical environment. He saw the saint as an intellectual, who values the acquisition of knowledge. In Rabbi Kook’s thought, as in the medieval rationalist environment, this conception is given a clearly elitist coloration. Rabbi Kook writes:

For a great man, the refined contemplation of the act of Creation and Maaseh Merkabah,@241 psychology, ethics, and all the supreme spiritual views can serve as Talmud, and when this is joined by recitation@241a and the diligent study of the Bible and the Mishnah, he only infrequently is in such great need of the casuistry of the Talmud. This was the opinion of Maimonides in the study regime, in accordance with his book,@242 for the singular exceptional individuals. This path, however, is possible only after the one of this standing has already acquired deep and considerable knowledge of the casuistry of the Talmud, and has acquired expertise in the order of [Talmudical] argumentation and the ways of its sugyot [discursive units]. Then he need not be so constantly absorbed in them that they will keep him from his elevated contemplations. [Rather,] he will set special times for them [i.e., Talmud study] when he will find his spirit suited for expansive occupation with matters of Talmudic argumentation. His soul, however, will be mainly bonded to the place where it naturally aspires to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to frequent His temple [Psalms 27:4], the pleasantness of worship and esoteric intellection.@243

Rabbi Kook gives a singular interpretation to two main concepts in the life of the perfect man:

(1) Torah study;

(2) setting fixed times for Torah study.@244

Rabbi Kook stresses in the beginning of this passage that, for the perfect man, the study of theoretical disciplines (physics, metaphysics, psychology, and ethics) is like Torah study, with the consequent redefinition of “setting fixed times for Torah study.” The original and intuitive meaning of this concept is leaving aside one’s mundane affairs in order to engage in Torah study on a fixed basis. According to Rabbi Kook, this means forgoing these other realms of knowledge in favor of Torah. Thus, the perfect man, who has already acquired broad knowledge of Talmudic methodology and its application, spends most of his time engaged in the theoretical disciplines. His consciousness is directed to the acquisition of abstract knowledge in physics, metaphysics, psychology, and ethics. “Setting fixed times” now means that at certain fixed times this individual returns to classical Talmud study. Rabbi Kook’s adaption of the Maimonidean conception to his own ideas is especially striking in the end of this passage, in which he incorporates “esoteric intellection,” that is, Kabbalah, within the context of rationalism.

From many aspects, the perception of the perfect individual as an intellectual connects many of Rabbi Kook’s ideas. In the essay “Worship” (that appears in Ikvei ha-Tzon) he relates to rite, whose applied dimension seems to be a collection of practical directives. Rabbi Kook drew an analogy to corporeality. Judaism rejected corporeality, but frequently used it in its sources, especially in the Bible and in Kabbalah; by the same coin, worship is “worldly” and base, but expresses the most sublime experiences.@245 The analogy, in graphic form:

earthly stratum corporeality worship
noble stratum sublime “inner apprehension” “religion” and universality


Now, for Rabbi Kook’s situating of the exceptional individuals in this analogy, while paying attention to his complex style:

And just as the low corporeality is the antithesis of Judaism, the Torah nevertheless spoke in such free language,@247 with no curb or limitation, with all its attributes.@04 It is specifically these which have led us, together with the intellect and wisdom – the two of which together are forever “the lamp of the Lord in the earth”@248 – to the heights of the purist perceptions, by which the exceptional ones among us in each generation are living and endure. Similarly, the universal perception, that is usually called “religion,” which is the concept of “the service of God.” This@05 is like “a stairway was set on the ground and its top reached to the sky, and angels of God were going up and down on it” [Genesis 28:12].@249

This passage portrays a process in which the base and worldly existence undergoes a process of purification, and manifests itself, with a different countenance, in a sublime and refined existence. The standing of the exceptional individual in this process is presented in two thoughts, one implicit in Rabbi Kook’s writings, and the other stated outright:

(1) The exceptional individual reveals the lofty and refined meaning of the mundane. He uncovers the profound symbolic significance of corporeality (usually by means of Kabbalah), thereby explaining its frequent use by the Bible and Midrash. At the same time, he extracts the deep meaning of religious action, namely, the observance of the commandments (ethical, magical, and theurgic ramifications). The one of great spirit connects the halakhah (Jewish law) with aggadah and the other components of the Jewish corpus, and thereby reveals its universality.@250 This intellectual task entails abstract symbolic thought, and it is the saint who engages in this.

(2) The exceptional individual is exemplary (“witnesses” – see Isaiah 43:12) in that he lives an elevated life within the world. This individual lives an experiential life both by force of the symbolism in corporeality and by force of the observance of the commandments.

We now can present the righteous individual in the analogy as follows:

earthly stratum corporeality worship “flesh-and-blood” saint
noble stratum sublime “inner apprehension” “religion” and universality heavenly influence

The inclusion of Jacob’s ladder in the end of the passage shows the saint’s sense of mission. He connects the bottom and the top of this stairway, that is, the diametrically polar strata of reality, and sets them in a unifying light.@251 The saint fulfills this mission by means of his intellectual activity.

In his “Worship” essay Rabbi Kook discussed at length the concept of “dilug [literally, “skipping”].” This concept, that originates in Hasidic thought, refers to the gap that exists between one divine world and the next, and which is bridged by the divine influence.@252 Rabbi Kook connected this concept with the orientation of Islamic theology (Qalam) that the reality also includes phenomena that are not subject to scientific rules (“for there is everything in the reality”).@253 Rabbi Kook also referred to the steps of the Redemption, while in his collections, he directed this principle to the rational. He wrote:

The great ones must skip, in order to enter the great thoughts. A man must be cognizant of his inner faculty, and know by himself if he was created for great things. Let him not be alarmed by the iniquity of pride, as he is cognizant of the level of his intellect, and the value of the inclination of his will. To the contrary, one must take greater care regarding invalid modesty, which represses the soul,@254 and blurs the divine light in the soul. When the great ones experience intellectual elevation, all the world is elevated together with them, by sensing [the influence of the saints], in accordance with the common nature of all human souls. To a greater degree, however, this shared nature is active among Israel, who enjoy absolute unity from the aspect of the soul.@255

This passage discusses the influence of the intellectual achievements of the perfect ones. It categorizes the influence of the latter as passive: when the perfect ones have intellectual accomplishments, they advance the entire human race, and especially Israel. Rabbi Kook further asserts that the saint must possess self-confirmation and self-confidence. This is a mental process. He additionally wrote in his collections that “whoever is capable of studying the sciences of the world but does not do so because of some weakness in his soul, diminishes the image [of God], for it is said, ‘For in His image did God make man’ [Genesis 9:7].”@256 In accordance with this, Rabbi Kook distinguished between two types of the righteous: those “whose worship is by means of the intellect and inquiry, and who are filled with wisdom and logic,” and those righteous “whose entire character consists of the worship that consists of simple feeling.” Rabbi Kook asserted that the former are preferable, since they are aware of worship based on the emotions, but think that intellectual activity is superior. The latter, in contrast, are not cognizant of intellectual activity, and therefore attack rationalism, which they deem to be dangerous.@257

In his writings Rabbi Kook frequently mentioned the centrality of the intellectual dimension of the saint’s worship. One expression of this is the mainly contemplative nature of the perfect man’s prayer (“the depth of clear knowledge”), in which the imagination does not play an essential role.@258 Additionally, the saint literature sometimes describes states of mystical conjunction in terms of prayer. For example, Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) called the first stage of such union the “prayer of quiet.” Unlike verbal prayer, this is the meditative stage of a sacred ceremony or event from the life of the saints. This results in an experience of proximity to God. She termed the second stage the “prayer of full union,” which is marked by the manifestation of the divine presence within the soul. This results in the union of God and the soul in a mutual embrace. The third stage is the ecstatic.@259 According to this depiction, prayer is merely a reflection of the different levels of the mystical experience. Rabbi Kook viewed prayer as an expression of the saint’s mystical influence on his surroundings, in a clearly intellectual context. He writes:

The great righteous ones must pray so that the light of the favor of the Lord@260 will be drawn into all sciences and all languages, so that the glory of the Lord will appear everywhere, the beams of the Torah’s light will shine everywhere, and the prayer of the righteous and the illumination of their will will make an impression so vivid that it have no end or conclusion. They must especially direct their prayer to this when they see the great attraction to languages and sciences, and it would be impossible to struggle with all those who turn to [these fields], […] – then the inner righteous arise to effect salvation, with secret worship, and greatness of spirit [to the levels of] hayah [and] yehidah; they come to open the blocked channels,@261 to reveal the presence of the Lord within all His sciences – and the Lord’s sciences are everything in the world, especially whatever effects the rectification of the world.@262

Prayer is a response to the rise of the intellectual disciplines and sciences that attract men’s minds. The response of the saint is to infuse these wisdoms and sciences with the divine emanation, and to turn them into a tool for the rectification of the world. Such activity is to be done by means of prayer. Rabbi Kook depicted the spiritual ascent to the levels of “hayah” and “yehidah,” which in the Kabbalistic literature denote the levels of the soul closest to the Godhead. Spiritual ascent succeeds in drawing down the divine emanation, and enables the channeling of the disciplines to the aim of the rectification of the world. This elevation and drawing down are effected by means of prayer. Yet again, Rabbi Kook formulated the saint’s passive influence. The latter does not come into conflict with scientific accomplishments, nor does he struggle with the influence of science. He draws within himself and engages in mystical activity, in this case, mystical prayer. Prayer is discussed in the context of the acquisition of knowledge. Consequently, the image and influence of the saint hardly appear in Rabbi Kook’s commentary to the prayerbook, Olat Re’ayah. A comparison of Olat Re’ayah with other works, such as Ikvei ha-Tzon or Shemonah Kevatzim, reveals the relative absence of the saint from this composition. This is because prayer, in its institutionalized form, is conducted with the masses (in a quorum of ten), and because of the central place of supplications in prayer. The righteous individual is mentioned by Rabbi Kook only in the context of contemplative prayer.

We see from many of Rabbi Kook’s discussions that at times the intellectual ideal is not the pure ideal of the acquisition of knowledge, but a mix of science, ethics, aesthetics, and especially Kabbalistic cognition. Saints “should make great efforts to increase the desire to explore the greatness of the Lord, in all the great, intellectual, moral ways.”@263 Such a mix is at the basis of the intellectual activity of the righteous. Rabbi Kook, however, viewed the acquisition of knowledge to be of great intrinsic value. He maintained that intellection requires restraint and tranquility. The stormy overflowing emotions that are typical of many righteous individuals do not enable proper intellectual perception.@264 Rabbi Kook frequently drew upon the medieval rationalist literature, from which he adopted the distinction between the perfect man and the mass (see Section 6, below). He frequently used the appellation of medieval rationalists for perfect individuals: “the remnants who invoke the name of the Lord.”@265 For Rabbi Kook, the saint is subject to the tension of the relationship between belief and reason. On the one hand, he does not experience any conflict between reason and belief,@268 while on the other, the lack of correspondence between human thought and ideas and the perception of God and conjunction to Him causes the saint inner shame.@267

Thus, Rabbi Kook ascribed great importance to the saint’s rational dimension. We will see below that the saint acts upon the entire universe, and succeeds in mediating between the upper and lower spheres. Rabbi Kook naively believed that scientific development would eventually provide a full explanation for the action of souls on other souls,@268 which would make possible the comprehension and mapping of the regularity of the influence wielded by saints. He deeply believed in the capabilities of human thought and its development. In his heart of hearts, he awaited the time when the esoteric teachings would become scientific truth. We can easily understand that the intellectual dimension of the saint is an important building block in the edifice of his personality.


The saint does not only address existing creative forces, he also turns to those that are dormant. For religious and social reasons, aesthetic creativity did not occupy a central position in Jewish history.@269 In a certain sense, it could be said that aesthetics was repressed, and to the extent that it arose, it was concentrated in quite specific visual and musical fields (synagogue art, cantorial music, kleizmer music, and the like).@270 In our discussion of genius, we already spoke of Rabbi Kook’s return to aesthetics, and we cannot distinguish between the interpretation of present events and the aesthetic renaissance. Rabbi Kook writes:

At the time of the people’s failure,@271 which is, concurrently, the time of [national] revival and renaissance, we must engage in great spiritual labor, that of the extraction and purification of sentiments and opinions, and especially, the labor of the extraction of the aesthetic sense, the limitation of the imaginative faculty, [followed by] its strengthening on faithful foundations, to the extent that it is beneficial and strengthening, but to remove it where it breaches its fence@272 and walks on a road not built up.@273

Once again, Rabbi Kook used terminology typical of Lurianic Kabbalah, that was given much broader meaning in Hasidic teachings, namely, the “labor of extraction.” We spoke above of the collection of the sparks that were captured by the shell and their uncovering. The labor of extraction is particular. It requires the righteous one to relate to distinct events and defined publics and to derive the good.@274 The labor of extraction relates to all fields of activity and creativity, but with emphasis on the aesthetic faculty. For Rabbi Kook, the extraction of the divine spark, in the aesthetic sense, means enclosing creativity and setting bounds for its freedom and passion.

Rabbi Kook frequently wrote about the place of aesthetics in the existence of the perfect man. As we saw above, he systematically discussed the image of the genius. He also argued that freedom is a condition for creativity.@275 According to him, the righteous individual confirms the material world, because its beauty is a reflection (“pure brilliance”) of the supernal beauty, and the way to attain the latter. The righteous are gifted with “the sentiment of loveliness and beauty” of the material world,@276 and their worldview, in great degree, is aesthetic. He writes:

Even a secular artist sees the entire world in a completely different way, more magnificently, than it is seen by all other viewers; and this is certainly so for the righteous, who see with the spirit of divine inspiration – the entire world appears before them with the attribute of supernal beauty and magnificence [tiferet], such as the splendor [hod] that no eye has seen, O God, but You, who act for those who trust in You [Isaiah 64:3].@277

Now aesthetic creativity has become a worldview for the perfect ones. The end of this passage also anchors such creativity in the divine emanation: from Tiferet to Hod and Yesod, the Sefirah that expresses the righteous individual himself. By focusing on aesthetics, Rabbi Kook related to the creativity that had been dormant among the Orthodox public, certainly until his time.

In his occupation with renewal (“the flow of renewal”), Rabbi Kook was especially concerned with the “great souls,” who are “creative masters.” He depicted renewal as a continual process of illumination and emanation (“riches”). The highest level of the soul illuminates and emanates to its lower dimensions. He writes:

Riches so increase until they come to the geniuses of thought, the masters of abstract thought [tziyur],@278 to such a marvelous degree that many are amazed by the insights that are manifest from the fruit of their thoughts, even though the revealed part must necessarily be the inferior soil in the core of Creation.@279 But the concealed Creation, the wonders of its acts, the speed with which the streams of the intellect flow, do not enable us to perceive the inner nature, essence, and details of these flowing streams. The greater aptitude consists of penetrating the depth of our self.@280 This penetration – all that one must know is the ease with which it is conducted,@281 the degree to which the labor and toil of the soil harms the noble heights,@282 the degree to which the [creative] one must be attentive to the need for inner tranquility.@283 To this degree the brilliance of the content of the creative work will increase, and the holy sparks will begin to shine on all life and its spiritual ramifications. At every moment we create, either knowingly or unwittingly, a measureless multitude of creations; if we were only to learn to sense them, to bring them to the realm of our heightened awareness, to become accustomed to bring them into the context of the expressions suitable for them, then their splendor and majesty will be revealed, and their effect will be seen over all of life. The eternal truths will become a flowing spring [that emanates] from [the highest degree of] the soul that knows not vanity and falsehood; it is derived from the torches of truth,@284 and all that shall stream from its light is truth and justice, forever.@285

According to this, the saint is capable, primarily, of contemplating, and being attentive to, his own self. The faculty of introspection is perceived as genius. The introspective process of contemplation is dialectic to a certain degree; it is a receptacle or conduit, and at the same time, self-confirmation. These are the inner elements of renewal to all of which Rabbi Kook alludes in this passage:

(1) withdrawal: the genius withdraws within himself, in a seeming act of humility. He contemplates the source of emanation, namely, the soul, without the use of any preexisting mental patterns. This is a purely introspective contemplative action.

(2) self-assurance: the action described in (1) paradoxically ends in self-enhancement, since this contemplation uncovers the creativity of the genius, who possesses a “great soul.” In other words, this is a process of self-confirmation. The genius is cognizant of the fount of innovations, and is aware of their nature.

(3) reflection: nonetheless, the “innovation” is not an expression of personal originality, but rather of the emanation that comes from the divine Sefirot. The soul’s emanation is actually a reflection of theosophic and cosmic processes.

Rabbi Kook sought to formulate the saint’s process of innovation and the ways to understand it, and resolve its tremendous self-confirmation with its humility.@286 Innovation itself is an action of the highest level of the soul. It can be perceived intuitively, while the other ways diminish it and pose difficulties for its comprehension.


One special faculty with which the saint is blessed – universality – can hardly be defined by the criteria we have already used. For Rabbi Kook, the higher the level of a person’s cognition, the more general his perspective. The perfect man has an inherent propensity for all existence, and he encompasses all. This inclusion is based on a special faculty, that has two aspects:

(1) the cognitive aspect: the ability to acquire all the sciences, wisdoms, and knowledge; the ability to absorb cognitive, ethical, and aesthetic knowledge.

(2) the emotional aspect: the ability to love all. The soul of the saint is, in effect, the reflection of all. The faculty of love applies, first and foremost, to humans, but it expands to include all existence.

The emotional faculty is altruistic in large degree. Since the life of the saint is channeled to his fellow and to all that is outside him, he must be prepared to waive his independent personality on behalf of the other (“self-voiding”).@287 The saint’s altruism is his formative and defining trait. He is uplifted above his being an individual person, with wills and desires. “Whoever has a moral-poetical soul always thirsts to be engaged with the general”;@288 “the saint’s love and thirst is not for himself alone, but for the entire world.”@289 Rabbi Kook pointedly emphasized the saint’s inability to limit himself to a certain orientation, he rather includes all. In one passage he labeled the individual characterized by self-voiding as follows: “Who is from the attribute of Malkhut […] this individual is capable of absorbing all within himself.”@290 Such a saint is a “receptacle.” As was noted above, the saint loves all people.@291. This aspect of the saint has a special national aspect: “The soul of the righteous one is comprised of the totality of the souls of Knesset Yisrael.”@292

This teaches that such inclusiveness is possible thanks to a special faculty. Rabbi Kook wrote that “those of great soul cannot be separate from the more comprehensive totality, their entire desire and aspiration is always for the good of all, the all in its full breadth, height, and depth.”@293 In this same passage, he defined inclusivity as a special faculty. When the saint is faced with disagreements, quarrels, and struggles, he embraces all. That is, he understands that the opposites ensue from focusing upon details. He therefore engages in the action of embracing, “to include all, to stitch together, to unite.”@294

We should now ask: what is the mechanism of inclusion? How does the righteous individual elevate the reality to the level of the general and absorb it in his soul? Three keys were given to the exceptional individual:

The cognitive key for the act of inclusion consists of revealing the uniting factor within a multitude of details. The perfect man examines historical, social, and national processes, and uncovers the general dimension that is the root of all the individual events, and that is nothing other than the good. The exceptional individuals are capable of “always receiving the best, the healthiest, and the most refined in every collective, and planting it in the soil of the all.”@295

The emotional key for the act of inclusion is love. Rabbi Kook definitely ascribed great importance to love of the nation. He mentions in many passages that love of Israel is the motive force for the activity of the perfect man. By the same coin, however, the saint’s absolute dedication to humanity cannot be understood without his love of every man. Rabbi Kook set forth a hierarchy of love: in his writings he emphasized love of man and nature,@296 but focused the love within the perfect man on love of the nation, that is, all Israel.@297 We may reasonably assume that the passive influence that the righteous individual radiates to his surroundings is probably anchored in his love of the nation, even though Rabbi Kook expanded its meaning to active love.

The psychological key for the act of inclusion is the interaction between the strata of the soul. The perfect man is blessed with psychological harmony. Rabbi Kook writes that

whoever is greater in thought, the more closely interconnected are the parts of his soul and all the values of his life; and his power of speech, and all his movements, are connected in a larger fabric, that is sensed with an inner sense in his entire inner being, and the greater this is, [the more intimately he is connected] to all existence.@298 It is impossible for one of original thought to permit himself to engage in worthless talk, or to participate in a conversation on mundane affairs,@299 and whatever he says must be filled with Torah and knowledge.@300

The “noble souls” are a paragon of the unity of thought and action.@301 The mundane use of mental powers leads to two consequences: (1) the undermining of the mental harmony: (2) the undermining of the cosmic harmony. The missions incumbent upon the saint in the personal and national spheres are rooted in his unified mental structure.

Finally, the inclusion mechanism is anchored in the metaphysical notion of the saint’s responsibility for all, and especially, in his willingness to suffer on behalf of all. Rabbi Kook included this inclusion mechanism in the emotional key: “The saint’s suffering the iniquity of the generation, and his atoning for them by his tribulations, is an emotional matter.”@302 The saint is responsible for the entire generation, and this responsibility entails sacrifice and suffering.


Rabbi Kook did not forgo the dimension of the saint’s negation of his self and will. Due both to his unique personality and the weighty responsibility and tasks imposed on him, the saint retreats from any expression of egoism. At times, the faculty of inclusion is anchored in this withdrawal from personality. Rabbi Kook expressed this self-abnegation and total reliance on God (quietism) when he spoke of the perfect man’s prayer:

For the great righteous ones, prayer is very difficult, for they have no will of their own, and their greatest perception is connected to their pristine faith, the light of divine lovingkindness, which ameliorates everything for them. How will they pray to be saved from any distress, since they have no distress in reality? After the profound contemplation@303 that follows [self-]elevation – for, in the final analysis, man and his needs, the world, life, and all their connections, all the emotions, all the inclinations, and all the natural demands, life and the love thereof, their possessions and their value, all these are the stratagems of the [divine] light, of the great lovingkindness of which He said the world will be built,@304 and prayer itself, its utterance, its directions, and the very nature of the desire to order everything in the world according to their nature and character, life, honor, wealth,@305 children, peace, joy, satiety and repose,@306 and above them, wisdom and the sanctity of will and delight, all these are manifestations of the supreme lovingkindness, whose full worth is accentuated by prayer at any time, and especially in time of distress; and the outer will that is revealed by the light of inner will of the righteous, who are the foundation of the world, whose soul is continuously revived by the supernal divine manifestation, is in itself one of the foundations of life and the construction of the reality, as breathing air, as eating and drinking, as building and sowing, as healing and bathing – by this the spirit of prayer will once again stir the righteous, the upright of heart, and they will abandon the supernal [strict] judgment@06 that infuses all the treasures of life, facing which [human] will is negated,@308 and they will remain servants of their Maker, who pour out their hearts like water,@309 seeking will, life, physical health, and the supernal light.@310

The perfect man’s divorce from his will and any personal interests voids prayer of its meaning. Rabbi Kook undoubtedly meant the institutionalized structure of prayer, that includes the supplicatory blessings in the Amidah prayer, which relate to a person’s physical and mental needs. Additionally, not only does the righteous one ignore material needs, that are meaningless to him, he also disregards troubles. The latter make no impression on him, even though, physically, he might experience suffering and pain; to the contrary: the saint reaches a state of equanimity.

In the first stage, prayer is of no concern for the righteous individual, while in the second he once again takes an interest in it. This individual’s “return” to prayer results from the revelation that, in the final analysis, physical and mental needs, and tribulations, are an expression of God’s lovingkindness. The righteous one realizes that, just as his special soul and the emanation that he receives are a “natural” law, that ensues from divine lovingkindness, so too are needs and troubles such a law.

All that the saint requires is the attribute that is an expression of divine lovingkindness. He lacks self-will, and his entire activity is guided by the needs of society and the universe. For his part, he would relate to himself in accordance with strict judgment, which would mean the total negation of his existence in the face of the Godhead. He prays only when he discovers that his personal supplicatory prayer elevates the entire world. And even when he returns to pray, the very act of prayer is difficult for him. This understanding of prayer is consistent with Rabbi Kook’s antinomian conception.

From Faculties to Ideology

A discussion of the faculties of the exceptional individual would not be complete without any reference to ideology. Rabbi Kook asserted that the perfect man’s faculties are made fruitful and ascend when they are anchored in the national condition. In other words, nationalism is an integral component of the nature of the perfect person’s faculties. He writes:

When the light increases in the soul of the heads of the nation, the choicest of the sons, those of great faculty, emanation flows, the great lives begin to flow, to be revealed in spiritual and material circles, in literature, in society, in generation and temperament, in the pleasantness of souls and generosity. Supernal splendor will begin to spread the brilliance […] and the grandeur of its glory, and the Lord’s great name will be seen once again over His people.@311 The hidden treasure will emerge and rise against all its detractors and refuters. All the peoples of the earth will see that the Lord’s name is proclaimed over you [Deuteronomy 28:10], and all who see them shall recognize that they are a stock the Lord has blessed [Isaiah 61:9].@312

The national awakening amplifies the various faculties possessed by the saint. This awakening pertains to his physical dimension, that is, his physical nature (“generation and temperament”), as it does to intellectual and aesthetic creativity (“literature”). Now the spiritual leaders, “those of great faculty,” will also be “the heads of the nation.” The impetus of the exceptional individuals and the intensification of their faculties reveal the nation’s special quality, that had been dormant for so many years (“hidden”). This discussion leads us to the national dimensions of the saint.

  1. Rabbi Kook as Religious Genius: Discussion

In this section we will examine the extent to which the image of Rabbi Kook as saint conforms with the traits that enable interreligious discourse. The discussion will follow the outline set forth in the position paper on religious genius and its implications written by Alon Goshen-Gottstein.@490 We will also clarify what Rabbi Kook added to the conception of the saint, and see what from these teachings provides a basis for the broadest possible discourse.

The Moral and Aesthetic Aspect

The position paper teaches that the strongest position that facilitates interreligious discourse is the moral stance. The three Western religions, for instance, ascribe altruistic qualities to exceptional individuals. Eastern religions, as well, present a common moral basis for the saint discourse. The discussions of the saint in the context of moral philosophy are based on the assumption that the saint can be emulated (the “logic of imitation”). This assumption also underlies the interreligious dialogue related to saints. In this respect, the image of Rabbi Kook represents a certain tension. On his own part, Rabbi Kook was convinced that he represented a congenitally superior individual. Congenital faculty cannot be imitated. Nor does the distinction between exceptional individuals and the masses allow for emulation. On the other hand, the religious genius is perceived as an educator, whose influence does not have an exclusively mystical basis, it also has an effect in the social and religious realms. In other words, the saint is not one-dimensional. He possesses a dimension that can be emulated, and another that cannot.@491

Rabbi Kook’s inclusion of the aesthetic factor made an important contribution to the moral discourse on saints. According to him, altruism is not a single, stable value, that is expressed in diverse ways in the behavior of saints, but is subject to creativity. For Rabbi Kook, the saint is not measured solely by his endless dedication on behalf of the individual, the nation, humankind, and all existence. Nor is the saint epitomized by the voiding of his personality in the face of the missions that he takes upon himself. The saint is also a moral genius, and characterized by moral creativity that results from outstanding intellectual inspiration. In the final analysis, the rational-aesthetic element present in Rabbi Kook’s writings also impacts on the altruism of the saint. Others also mentioned the creativity of the saint,@492 but Rabbi Kook emphasized genius, that is, he situated the discussion within the aesthetic sphere. Thus, the discussion of saints extends to a new realm, one that allows for discourse.

The Personality of the Saint

Rabbi Kook presents a model of the saint who manifests exceptional abilities in various realms. He constantly stressed that the true saint absorbs all. He cannot be limited to altruism, for example; creativity, genius, intellectual cognition, music, theurgy, and the like, all are within his purview. From this respect, he corresponds to an expansion of Robert Neville’s conception,@493 as Goshen-Gottstein suggested in the position paper. The saint reflects the perfection of the will, the intellect, and the heart (and not only the last, as Neville sought to claim). Heavenly inspiration and intuition are central faculties, to the same degree, of the experience of the saint;@494 and, indeed, Rabbi Kook set forth important insights regarding both these faculties, as we have seen. For him, however, the character of the saint far exceeded intuition and inspiration. To mention a few examples:

(1) the saint is a productive figure.

(2) the saint possesses tremendous interpretive faculties for historical events.

(3) the saint is characterized by self-confirmation (congenital faculty, ontological distinction between himself and the masses, and the like).

Additionally, Rabbi Kook presented the saint as having a dynamic and dialectic personality. He adopted the classic traits of the saint, while at the same time indicating this individual’s constant wrestling with the opposite attributes. For example: the personality of the saint withdraws before the universe and the Godhead.@495 He experiences a sort of self-voiding, and is thereby able to include and love all. Parallel to this, however, Rabbi Kook asserted that the saint is characterized by self-confirmation. He knows his worth and is cognizant of his special personality. Consequently, the saint is not a finished entity. He presents an ethos of endless movement. The saint’s social power is similarly depicted:@496 on the one hand, he devotes himself to elevating his surroundings, while on the other, he substantially separates himself from this environment. Rabbi Kook presented a dynamic and oscillating model.

Rabbi Kook understood the saint as one who gives meaning to life, which is expressed not only in his personal qualities, but also in the tasks that he takes upon himself. Even when the saint gives his life in an act of martyrdom, this is planned in advance, considered, and serves his goals.@497 An example of this is Rabbi Kook’s discussion of Rabbi Akiva, whose self-sacrifice was within the context of his desire to preserve the standing of the Rabbis.

These observations suffice to indicate that Rabbi Kook significantly expanded the discussion of the personality of the saint. At this juncture we should raise the question of methodology and systematization:@498 Rabbi Kook’s thought shows that, at times, a lack of systematization is the proper tool for a discussion of the saint. He did not deal with questions such as: does the saint’s moral inspiration precede his religious development, or whether his intellectual faculty blossoms together with his altruism.@499 On the other hand, he enabled the reader of his works to understand that his concept of the saint emerges in tandem with the formation of his intuitions regarding the “spiritual reality” and the inner dimension of reality.@500 Moreover, Rabbi Kook allows the reader to understand that religious genius is not to be divorced from cosmic and spiritual insights. He did this by refraining from systematic analysis, and providing only a “local” description. The system of tensions and dilemmas that he included in the image of the saint allows for a broad and complex basis for the personality of the latter, one that is familiar to us, for instance, from the portrayals of Christian saints. Consequently, Rabbi Kook’s image diverts the discussion, in large degree, from “saint” to “religious genius,”@501 even though we have not distinguished between the two.

Our discussion has been mainly concerned with Rabbi Kook’s philosophy. We could just as easily have analyzed his historical personality and its implications, as is frequently done by hagiographers and historians. It should be mentioned that, ideologically, Rabbi Kook supported the Zionist enterprise. His personality, however, included almost all the religious orientations, and he therefore refused to be politically identified. He sought a political identity his entire life, but in vain (he participated in the Assembly of the ultra-Orthodox Agudat Israel, sought to establish the Degel Yerushalayim federation [see above, Section One], refrained from active membership in the Mizrachi movement, etc.). He bravely withstood attacks by the ultra-Orthodox for his support of the Zionist undertaking. Love and altruism were undoubtedly important components of his personality.

The Discourse of Saints

Rabbi Kook’s image and thought are a phenomenon of the religious world. From this aspect, the saint is part and parcel of institutionalized religion.@502 We saw, however, that Rabbi Kook did not accept this affiliation as self-understood. He believed that the restrictions and commandments of the specific religion frequently burden the perfect man. In other words, the religious genius frequently emerges from within a certain religion, but his central aspiration consists of fulfilling his personality in accordance with its unique character traits, that are not fully realized within such a specific religion. The fulfillment of personality, as we learn, is universal.

We now can address the question: will Rabbi Kook’s image as a saint provide a satisfactory foundation for interreligious discourse in a postmodern world? The current project aims to find a common denominator of saints, that also relates to religions that are not based on such individuals, or in which saints have no place.@503

The phenomenological approach regarding saints enables us to isolate the substantive components of the saint in Rabbi Kook’s thought. The universal aspect of the saint compels us to rise above environment and historical context. It is doubtful, however, whether the saint as personified by Rabbi Kook can be subjected to a full phenomenological analysis, since his character cannot be divorced from his national conception and messianic interpretation of events in a given period.@504

We similarly would have difficulty in discussing Rabbi Kook’s concept of the saint apart from his singular conception of art, in which Kabbalistic models are blended. Theurgic activity is an element in the image of the saint; this activity could be seen as altruistic, since it is conducted for the public good, but it can be interpreted only on its mystical background. Notwithstanding this, we can speak of an important advantage in Rabbi Kook’s notion of the saint, namely, channeling the exclusive focus on religion as theological doctrines or religious praxis and ethos toward personality. Now, the religious genius is no less important, and perhaps more, than abstract conceptions of religion for understanding the religious consciousness. Rabbi Kook fits into the Hasidic tradition of tzaddikim, for example, that positioned the religious genius alongside belief. Now, religion is no longer solely speculative. Furthermore, since the saint is the mirror of the reality and the Godhead, transcendence and personality unite.

To return to our fundamental question: does the character of Rabbi Kook facilitate a discourse of saints? The factors mitigating against this may be listed immediately: first, Rabbi Kook was a national thinker. He felt that the saint’s life at the present time cannot be understood without the image of the Jewish saint; and such a saint lives according to a hierarchy, in which the ontological preference of the Jewish people has substantive  pride of place. Second, Rabbi Kook advocated the unbridgeable chasm between the saint and the masses. A saint is not an attainable paradigm. His level is mainly congenital, and not acquired.

Taking into account his national thought, does Rabbi Kook’s image as saint detract from universal love?@505 Rabbi Kook himself thought that the hierarchy of the saint’s consciousness is built of layer upon layer, each of which has independent value, and value that is anchored in the existential hierarchy. That is, for his part, he loved man as such; his soul absorbed all the ways of human existence. Love for all humanity is the primal layer in the character of Rabbi Kook. He believed that on such a layer an additional one could be laid, that of the special attitude to the Jewish soul, over which the layer of the saint is to be placed.

The questions that arise in this context are: what is the actual connection between these layers? Can the primal layer, that spans all humankind, be isolated, and thereby establish the common basis for interreligious discourse? Common sense says no. The other Western religions, too, have such a two-layered structure, in which the member of the specific religion has a special place. Can the interreligious discourse focus on what is shared? if the answer is positive, then the image of Rabbi Kook as saint significantly contributes to such a discourse. A series of truly altruistic traits, on the one hand, and on the other, those of universal religiosity, join together in this figure. Importantly, we should add a reservation here: Rabbi Kook’s viewpoint is always anchored in his approach to the reality in its entirety: the love of man is anchored in love of nature, and love of nature, in love of the universe, which in turn is enrooted in love of God and the aspiration for conjunction with Him. Such an approach will likely expand altruism, but it might also limit the love of man as such, and present it as a mere element.

At any rate, the image of Rabbi Kook is a paradigm of the saint in a world without stable and defined values, as in Wyschogrod’s central thesis.@506 Rabbi Kook had the stature of saint in the Jewish world of his time and later. He is seen as such by broad sectors of the Jewish religious public (albeit some of them, who are not Zionists, regard him as a “naive saint” or “erring saint”). He is not perceived, at the present time, as a “global saint,”@507 although he possesses the potential to express such an image.

The perception of the saint as the mirror of the Godhead and as a tangible expression of processes within the Godhead enables a return of metaphysics, as least as nostalgia. Rabbi Kook did not waive the imprints left in his soul by the philosophical, ethical, and aesthetic schools. For him, nationalism was not a limiting factor, but an inbuilt component within the cosmic and divine universality; he was convinced that nationalism does not dim universality. Was his viewpoint objective? Probably not. But, we might be able to say that it is an alternative in a postmodern world. Rabbi Kook challenged the model of the saint presented in the position paper. On the one hand, he presents a complex model, that does not accept the shared basis of the discourse of the saint as such; while on the other, he enables us to face the particular in the religious experience.

  1. Rabbi Kook as Religious Genius: Summation

Rabbi Kook’s writing repeatedly incorporates passages from the Jewish sources, and presents a plethora of meanings. At times, the implied motifs that are embedded in his passages express profound statements, that in themselves create a conceptional framework. From this respect, an interpretive reading of his writings justifies the negation of the Leitmotif in favor of a mosaic of meanings, each of which is no less legitimate and important than the others. Just as nationalism, for example, is a Leitmotif, prayer, too, is such, and to the same degree; and just as the Kabbalistic meaning is significant, the concrete social meaning is substantive to the same degree. The image of the saint is constructed, along parallel lines, from within a series of interpretive and meaningful horizons. I wish to raise a number of thoughts as we conclude our discussion of the image of the saint.


We mentioned at the beginning of our discussion that Rabbi Kook did not seek precise and hierarchical definitions of types of saints. At times, however, we find an implicit hierarchy of saints. We mentioned a number of broad outlines:

(1) the saint who is attracted to rationalism, and the one who follows emotion;

(2) the saint who is attentive to details, and the one who is drawn to general principles;

(3) the saint who is capable of approaching the masses, and the one who cannot descend to such a level;

(4) the revealed saint, and the one who is concealed;

(5) the saint who is gifted with heavenly inspiration, and the one who does not experience revelation;

(6) the universal saint, and the Jewish one.

Rabbi Kook used different synonyms when referring to the saint, and he did not distinguish between his different types. This teaches that he did not attempt to create a classification of saints, just as he did not seek to systematize the other thoughts he advanced. Establishing hard and fast rules would limit the discussion, and for Rabbi Kook, freedom was of importance for the saint’s activity.


Rabbi Kook continued a rich tradition of thinkers who referred to themselves in the third person.@508 Restraint and exteriorization of the personality of the saint, however, do not overshadow his self-image. The world and all the fullness thereof are dependent on the image and activity of the saint. Writing in the third person paved the way for Rabbi Kook’s description of the religious genius, since he himself related to his persona as such, and never intended to conceal his thoughts about himself. It is on this background that we are to understand Rabbi Kook’s continuing the tradition of philosophers and mystics whose path was characterized by rift and dialectic. In most instances, Rabbi Kook did not experience existential tension in the senses that were highlighted in existentialist philosophy (finality-eternity, objectivity-subjectivity, and the like). The tensions he depicts are mainly those between the individual and the collective, and between freedom and religious and social frameworks. The tensions that Rabbi Kook expressed in the image of the saint are mainly the following:

(1) psychological tensions: hesitancy versus decisiveness, introversion versus extroversion. The central classic oscillation in his writings and personality is activism versus passivity. On the one hand, the saint initiates. He unites the general rift, he performs magical activity to draw down the divine emanation for the general good. In the intellectual realm, he definitely reveals his activism. On the other hand, the saint influences in a passive manner. His distance from the public and his exceptional and unique character influence indirectly.

(2) experiential tensions: the classic tensions of the religious literature, such as the pendulum swing between self-confirmation and -negation, greatly occupied Rabbi Kook. He was concerned with the issue of the self-awareness of the saint. For him, the saint’s self-image includes the system of congenital faculties and acquired accomplishments. The righteous individual is also capable of classifying himself on the scale of perfection. At the same time, however, the saint negates himself before the source of divine emanation, and he is also dedicated to the public, especially in order to elevate all Israel and the entire world, to the extent that his personality loses its distinctness.

(3) social tensions: on the one hand, Rabbi Kook portrayed the gap between the saint and the masses as an actual chasm. The masses cannot be understood by the saint, and the distinction between them is analogous to the distinction between man and other animate creatures. On the other hand, Rabbi Kook posited the gradual convergence of the saint and the masses, and even let the reader realize that the two would unite in the future.

The tensions described by Rabbi Kook are eventually resolved. Moreover, these tensions are perceived as stages in a preplanned process, and therefore have a clearly teleological dimension. Descent is for the purpose of eventual ascent, depression serves happiness, conceptualization leads to abstraction, the descent to the masses is for the purpose of their elevation, the focus on details leads to generalization, and so forth.

Tensions do cause anguish, because the way to harmony is one of opposites. The saint, as perceived by Rabbi Kook, is a purposeful individual. At times he is indecided, and experiences insecurity. His dominant feeling, however, is purposefulness. The saint knows that the opposites are transitory. He reads the map of events, and these opposites are the path that he must take in order to implement his program for these events.


Rabbi Kook’s perception of the saint is altruistic. In contrast, say, to the model of the perfect man in medieval rationalist thought, who is primarily “egotistical” (conjunction with the Active Intellect and the immortality of the intellect are completely individualistic goals), Rabbi Kook’s saint acts on behalf of his fellow. Such a saint dedicates his time and skills to radiate light and lovingkindness on the entire world. He struggles with evil in order to banish it from the cosmic life.

Notwithstanding this, the saint, in Rabbi Kook’s version, is not purely altruistic. We can indicate at least two reasons for this:

(1) For Rabbi Kook, the dominant dimension of exceptional individuals is to be found in their dedication for all Israel more than for individuals. He famously ended manifestos and letters with the wording “servant of the holy people,” thereby blurring the boundaries between altruism and nationalism.

(2) Rabbi Kook constantly emphasized that the intellectual and creative dimension is inherent in the exceptional individual. For him, the saint acts mainly in the speculative and intellectual realm, which is a personal one. Rabbi Kook was too deeply enrooted in the rational and mystical traditions to be purely altruistic.

Rabbi Kook’s altruism was mingled with a ramified system of national and messianic considerations. Moreover, he wanted to preserve the image of the saint who lives on behalf of society, and who sacrifices himself for all existence. There is a pronounced “ecological” dimension in Rabbi Kook’s thought, one that usually does not appear in the classic depiction of saints. In Rabbi Kook’s understanding, the saint is anxious for the fate of the universe as a harmonic framework. Human beings are an important element of the cosmos, but not the only one. Obviously, Rabbi Kook also adopted the theurgic model, in which the saint is responsible for the perfection of the divine world. The environmental aspect, however, is new. Rabbi Kook’s altruism does not fully correspond to the image of the saint as it is presented in Western religious literature.

The Collective

We will continue to examine the national and theurgic activities of the saint. The main innovation in the discussion of Rabbi Kook as saint undoubtedly lies in his being anchored in the collective (the nation) and in time. In most instances, saints were concerned about other individuals or the community. Rabbi Kook himself wrote that the saint is engaged in the extraction of the sparks and the rectification of the souls of the entire nation.@509 Here, however, matters take a turn. In Rabbi Kook’s thought, the saint is connected to the collective, not only as a collection of individuals, but rather as an independent entity. In the theosophical realm, the saint is connected with the divine emanation that rests over the entire world, and especially over the Jewish people. In the national sphere, the saint is enrooted in the renewed Jewish nationalism. If until then the saint had been seen as elevated above particularism and nationalism, now he finds his roots in them. Rabbi Kook maintained that all the branches of Jewish thought, from understanding regular divine activity to the definition of repentance, require revision in light of the national revival. Such an argument has direct implications for the saint and his traits. It also secures his special standing in light of historical development, in which cracks appear in the mythological and perfect existence of the saint in the past, and the image of the saint now accords with a public whose level rises and improves.

Rabbi Kook provided a full, and mainly consistent, explanation for the Jewish national renaissance. His explanation includes extensive interpretation of contemporary events. The saint has a key function in the national sphere. The role of the saint does not consist solely of his being an object of emulation, or even of his very existence, despite the substantive weight of his passive influence. Behind the scenes, it is the saint who truly effects national change. This assumption is based on the clearly theurgic activity of the saint: he brings down the divine emanation, and thereby drives the historical process. The activism of the saint is not limited to his heading the camp (such as the establishment of the Degel Yerushalayim movement). Saints bring about the elevation of the worlds. Admittedly, they are not alone in this task; the interaction between them and the collective is essential. Their main activity, however, is far from the limelight. The saint draws down the divine emanation from the Sefirot, thereby elevating the surrounding world. The process of national renaissance cannot be understood without the standing of the perfect individuals.

Saint and Prophet

We should take note of an intriguing fact. The restoration of prophecy is an important motif in Rabbi Kook’s thought. He and the circle of his closest students regularly sought after heavenly revelations, using diverse techniques.@510 The image of the saint in Rabbi Kook’s conception, however, is distant from that of the angry prophet who “reproaches in the gate.” The saint mainly effects the most substantive changes in passive and intimate fashion. That is, he is engaged in bringing down the emanation from its divine source, thereby succeeding in elevating the nation, and even the entire world. Rabbi Kook accordingly frequently used the motif of illumination to describe the effect of the saint. “Illumination” denotes passive influence, as distinguished from active involvement. Additionally, lovingkindness dominates the saint. Although he is capable of using strict judgment, and to engage in harsh struggles, lovingkindness is the guiding principle of his personality.

Rabbi Kook constantly stressed that saints are not all stamped from the same die. There are different types of saints; and furthermore, the saint experiences a dialectic between forcefulness and passivity. He wavers between the image of the charismatic military leader and the introverted Torah scholar and intellectual. The truth, however, must be said: the saint who acts in a passive, inward manner, with endless goodness and love, is dominant in Rabbi Kook’s thought.

We can only assume that Rabbi Kook viewed the prophet in a manner different from what emerges from the Biblical books of the prophets. The modern prophet elevates his surroundings out of love and consent. He wages the harsh and dialectic struggle with himself; reproach is reserved more for his personal idolatry, and less for his environment. Both ancient prophecy and the modern saint aspire to attain the spirit of divine inspiration. Rabbi Kook devoted much attention to the question of charisma, that is, the modes of supernal revelations (voices, lights, and the like) that bring the holy closer to the prophet, which we have not examined in our discussion. This rounds out the prophetic dimension of the saint.


This work focused on the consciousness of the saint in Rabbi Kook’s thought and actions. Rabbi Kook already attracted a circle of students and admirers during his lifetime, and a complete study should also discuss Rabbi Kook’s consciousness as saint in their eyes, as well. The mystical and philosophical aspects of the circle’s consciousness has already been extensively explored by myself and other scholars such as Semadar Cherlow, Uriel Barak, and Jonathan Garb. As an example of interaction between Rabbi Kook and his circle, the saints literature speaks of rebirth following revelation or some other charismatic event. A regular person undergoes a metamorphosis or conversion, and becomes a saint.@511 Rabbi Kook did not experience such an occurrence, but some of his students describe events resembling a personality metamorphosis. This is a single example of the circle’s enrichment of the conception of Rabbi Kook as saint. The circle’s intervention in the editing of Rabbi Kook’s writings, too, has been examined by myself, Avinoam Rozenak, and Meir Munitz. Since, however, I elected to conduct a phenomenological examination of the image of the saint, and because Rabbi Kook himself left many writings that document his substantive experiences, we can discuss his self-image, that is, his consciousness as saint, as we showed above. In the current work I did not explore all the aspects of the saint. At times Rabbi Kook alludes to various facets of the saint in his writings, one example of which is the cult of the saint. Rabbi Kook wrote of saints, “whoever receives them, it is as if he receives the actual Divine Presence.”@512 Although the Rabbis frequently express a similar thought, here it borders on encouraging the active adoration of the saint. Rabbi Kook, however, did not go beyond such allusions.

Clearly, Rabbi Kook created a new type of saint in Jewish tradition. His innovativeness does not lie in its originality, but in diversity and open horizons in the image of the saint. The portrayal of the saint is built of one layer over another, and one tradition over another, without a single central Leitmotif, which is the source of its force and contemporary relevance. Rabbi Kook hardly waived a single hue in the existence of the saint; nor, however, did he insist on necessary and unequivocal traits for such a figure. He evaded absolute statements. He (the writer) and the reader together build the stature of the saint. In practical, social, and political terms, the saint has a clear and purposeful agenda; of this there can be no doubt. The attainment, however, of the national and messianic goals was merely the lower chamber in a rich and variegated image, one that refused to fit into any standard mold or pattern.