March 3, 2009


From Ben Zion Bokser’s translation of selections from Orot HaKodesh (“Holy Lights”), in his anthology “Abraham Isaac Kook” (Paulist Press: Classics of Western Spirituality series).

Rav Kook On Solitude

Withdrawal and the Revelation of the Soul

The greater the person, the more he must seek to discover himself. The deep levels of his soul remain concealed from him so that he needs to be alone frequently, to elevate his imagination, to deepen his thought, to liberate his mind. Finally his soul will reveal itself to him by radiating some of its light upon him.

Then he will find his happiness. He will rise above all lowliness. He will elevate himself above the flux of events by submitting to and uniting himself with the events. He will humble himself to the level of the lowest, to a point of nullifying his ego, of being able to say, "I am a worm and not a man" (Ps. 22:7). He will nullify his own particularity by entering the depths of his own being, like Moses who said: "And we -- what are we?" (Exod. 16:7). Then will a person recognize every spark of truth, every spark of equity, wherever it makes its appearance in the world.

And all will be drawn to him, without hostility, jealousy and rivalry. Peace and courage will dawn on him, compassion and love will shine in him. A zeal for accomplishment and work, a desire for action and creation, a yearning for silence and inner contemplation will join together in his spirit. He will become holy. (Vol. III, p. 270)

Withdrawal and Sociability

The person with a radiant soul must withdraw into privacy frequently. The constant company of other people, who are, for the most part, crude in comparison with him, even in their spirituality, dims the clear light of his higher soul. As a result his important work will diminish. He might have been able to benefit the people, his society, by frequent withdrawals, without terminating his relationship with them even then. He would have kept the needs of his generation before him, to pray for them, to delineate their virtues, the treasure of goodness that is in them. But they will suffer decline through his decline, through reducing his spiritual potency as a result of their distracting closeness to him.

It is very difficult to suffer the company of people, the encounter with persons who are totally immersed in a different world with which a person who is given to spiritually sensitive concerns, to lofty moral aspiration, has no contact. Nevertheless, it is this very sufferance that ennobles a person and elevates him. The spiritual influence that a person of higher stature exerts on the environment, which comes about through the constant encounter, purifies the environment. It lends the graces of holiness and freedom on all who come in contact with him.

And this nobility of a holy grace returns after a while with stronger force and acts on the person himself who exerted the influence, and he becomes sociable, abounding in spirituality and holiness. This is a higher attribute than the holiness in a state of withdrawal, which is the normal fate of the person to whom the higher spiritual concerns are the foundation of his life. (Vol. III, pp. 271-272)