Thursday, May 27, 2010

R' Kook on natural law and on the importance of open-mindedness

Following is my inexact translation of the first part Chapter 22 of the recently leaked ms. of R' Kook לנבוכי הדור. See here for the background of this book and here for a great analysis of its contents.

The most alarming matter of all, that which causes the great confusion of ideas in this world, and dominates with great commotion - even today the time of the explosion of ideas, is the tendency to limit ones outlook on life within the confines of ones own group.

The delusion of the observer is that in regard to a certain subject, be it in the sphere knowledge, ethics or actions; political or personal, only the particular idea that is beloved by him and is accepted by his group is important, and one need not pay any attention to any of its other aspects. If these other ideas that are not accepted by his group will seek by their nature, to expand, in more detail and to flourish, then there will arise from every side great opposition, as if [this new thing] is coming to swallow and overtake the aspect that is beloved by him.

As is understood this very commotion causes other groups to act in extreme ways as well in order to defend their own party and to view everything coming out of the [other party] as a destructive item that will damage the world, or at the very least, as unimportant or craziness. This trait exists among man in general, and among us the Jewish People in particular.

When will these men open their eyes and see that there is no need for this destruction. We need to add to the structure not lessen. It is enough that we are forced into natural conflict, which becomes necessary when two subjects, each worthy in its own right, come into conflict, and time and strength do not allow both of them to receive their due. Then the question arises which is pushed away before the other. However even this battle must be carefully calculated, so as not to lower unto dust the value of the issue that must be pushed away because the other issue is more important right now. It is the opposite, we must make known that the reason we are pushing away this other subject, which has value to us as well, is not because of there is no merit in acquiring that information, action, or ethics, but because of a lack of ability on our side to accept all the desirable things, so that we must choose one over the other. This is the path of careful thought that is built on foundations of truth which will also bring the blessing of peace on the part of those choosing.

This desire to destroy and to eradicate something where it is not completely necessary, is rooted in the evil inclination of a man, and an exaggerated self-love that causes him to hate everything else. The prohibition “do not destroy” stand up sharply against this character trait. Already, in the earlier days of the expansion of ideas, through the influence of the Haskalah in our nation, there was an explosion of this kind; instances and branches which continue on in each generation.

That which is understood on its own, the personal and pure ethics, and the laws, that is the laws of the Torah, when looked into can easily be seen to be two distinct subjects. But the idea that there must be conflict between them comes only from partisan blindness.

Those with inner understanding that looked into internal ethics and desired [only] the completion of a man through good ethics based on righteous and natural reasoning, when they should realized that the laws [of Torah] provide great assistance in the development of the ethical sense of pure humanity, and so there are many great benefits that the law gives us. Therefore if we are to turn to another group, that in our terms is wider then the simple desire to keep the law alone, it is worthy to constantly seek the path of peace, to keep both benefits at once – the benefits of natural ethics, and of the upkeep of the law. If we were to look into it, we would see that the ethics of keeping the law not only do not encroach on natural ethics but is actually at its base and expands upon it.


Anonymous said...

shalom. i would like to know if there is any way of accessing more translations of Rav Kook's writings. new or old.

Wolf2191 said...

There are some on this site -

and all Rabbi Naor's books are very good. If you contact me ishimshittos at I may be able to get you some more

Yitzhak said...

More background, from Alan Brill.

Itzchak said...

these two books have excellent translations of Rav Kook:

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