The Holy and the Secular

  • Rav Hillel Rachmani
      YESHIVAT HAR ETZION VIRTUAL BEIT MIDRASH PROJECT(VBM)
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             INTRODUCTION TO THE THOUGHT OF RAV KOOK

                      by Rav Hillel Rachmani


              LECTURE 3:  THE HOLY AND THE SECULAR


	Rav Kook discusses the relationship between the holy and 
the secular throughout his writings.  In order to gain an 
understanding of Rav Kook's approach to this important topic, 
we will attempt to do two things: to compare the various and 
multi-faceted descriptions of the holy and the secular in Rav 
Kook's writings and attempt to synthesize and understand them, 
and then to incorporate our conclusions into the context of 
our discussion until now.

	Let us quickly summarize our previous discussions.  In 
the past two classes, we have developed two models which 
appear in Rav Kook's writings, that of the tree and the fruit, 
and that of the light centre and the dark surroundings.  Both 
of these models relate to the ends and the means, the 
instruments used and ultimate goal, or in other words, the 
holy and the secular.

	This topic is of the utmost importance in Rav Kook's 
teachings.  During Rav Kook's lifetime, a Jewish societal 
framework not based on holiness appeared for the first time.  
A world of tremendous strength and of stimulating vitality, 
characterized entirely by secular values and concerns, 
suddenly emerged into existence.

	Rav Kook's approach to this phenomenon stood in contra-
distinction to the position adopted by various leaders in 
Jerusalem at the time.  These leaders completely turned their 
backs on the secular and all that it encompassed, closing 
themselves within the walls of the Bet-Midrash.  Rav Kook, on 
the other hand, saw a clash between the world of the Zionist 
pioneer and the world of classical Judaism, and felt compelled 
to react.

	(At this time, we will not deal with the historical 
aspect of this issue - rather we will attempt to analyze the 
relationship between the holy and the secular on a purely 
conceptual and spiritual plane.)

	Jewish thought has dealt with the relationship between 
the holy and the secular throughout the ages.  The discussion, 
however, was always limited to the question of how to relate 
to the problems posed by those daily activities that are not 
in and of themselves holy.  Even the Chassidim did not speak 
of "the secular," but rather, they provided an approach which 
allowed man to relate his individual mundane activities to the 
encompassing world of holiness.

	Rav Kook, on the other hand, wished to analyze the world 
of the holy and of the secular separately, attempting to 
confront and understand the role of the secular in itself.  In 
this respect, Rav Kook innovated an approach to the secular 
world.  (I heard this point from Rav Yosef Avivi.)

	While Rav Kook wrote many, many articles on this subject, 
we will only be able to focus on a few.  In the following 
passage, taken from Ma'amarei Ha-Reiya, Rav Kook speaks of 
three conceptual categories: the secular, the holy, and the 
holy of holies.

"There is a world of the secular, and a world of the holy, 
worlds of secularity and worlds of holiness.  These worlds 
contradict each other.  Obviously, the contradiction between 
them is relative:  Man, in his limited comprehension, is 
unable to harmonize secularity and holiness, and is unable to 
neutralize their contradictions.  They are, however, 
reconciled in the higher world, in the place of the holy of 
holies."  (p. 400)

	We have here three strata, the secular, the holy, and the 
holy of holies.  As we take a closer look at this passage, we 
notice that these three concepts are not presented as building 
blocks, one placed upon the other, with the holy placed upon 
the secular.  Rather, they form a pyramid in which the secular 
and the holy form the base, with the holy of holies as the 
pinnacle, binding the other two aspects (the secular and the 
holy) together.

	Here we have an incredibly innovative idea - the secular 
is placed on the same plane as the holy, and it is only the 
holy of holies that stands above them.

	Rav Kook spoke about the secular, the ordinary holiness, 
and the holy of holies.  We live in a world in which our 
experiences seem to emerge from two different realities 
(secularity and holiness), both in an ideological sense and in 
an existential sense.  However, the tension that often results 
is not due to the inherent reality of these two different 
worlds, but rather from a limited understanding which has 
difficulty forging a synthesized existence.

"One of the purposes of the disclosure of the esoteric 
mysteries of the Torah in this world - is to view the secular 
from the vantage point of the holy, to realize that in truth, 
there is nothing totally secular in this world.  On the other 
hand, all of the dimensions of holiness are themselves secular 
in comparison to  the exalted light of holiness which emanates 
from the Ein Sof (the Infinite).  The result is that these 
concepts come together, and the unity of these worlds stands 
out, and the spirit of man grows greater and greater, and his 
actions grow and become glorified in the foundation of an 
upper existance." (pg. 399)

	Revealing the "mysteries of the Torah" creates a world 
that is not merely black and white; rather, it is a world 
comprised of a myriad of colors.  If until now we have spoken 
about the secular, the holy, and the holy of holies, we now 
speak of the secular, the revealed holiness, and the holy of 
holies that attaches itself to the world of mysteries - of 
eternity.

	The world in which we live defines life in simple terms: 
the holy and the secular.  Each is placed against the other: 
the secular is empty because the holy is full, and the result 
is that there is no connection between them.  Rav Kook 
stressed that we cannot view life in such simplistic terms.  
We must look deep and penetrate beneath the surface, and find 
holiness in existence.  Much of it may be hidden within the 
secular.  And even within the holy, aspects of the secular may 
be found.

	 It is in this way that we may perceive the connection 
between them.  In other words, while we see things that may 
appear to be secular, in truth they do not necessarily 
contradict the world of the holy.  It is a superficial 
understanding that cannot reveal the essence of what life is 
all about; a broad and penetrating vision, however, allows one 
to understand the inner, secret world - that of various 
aspects and evolving mysteries.

	Slowly, as we progress in future lectures, we will find 
that a full grasp of the inner nature of God, that is, from 
the perspective of the "holy of holies," becomes much deeper 
and broader, to the extent that Rav Kook was able to write the 
following astonishing sentence:  "There are times when we may 
find a heretic who possesses a powerful, inner enlightening 
faith which emanates from the holy, elevated source [note -
which is parallel to the 'holy of holies' discussed above] who 
is greater than thousands of 'believers of weak faith.'" 
("Believers of weak faith" refers to people whose only concept 
of holiness is holiness in its regular sense, as opposed to 
the idea of the "holy of holies."  We will elaborate on this 
point in the future.)	

"In all paths of life, it is the secular which awakens first, 
and then the holy is compelled to awaken, to complete the 
renewal of the secular, to beautify it and to redeem it from 
dirtiness and filth.  Woe unto the secular if it considers 
using its power of the first-born, the power of the fact that 
it was born first into the light of the world and activity, 
and to say because of this 'I, and there is no other' - if it 
has no desire to know anything about holiness, about its 
precious brightness and its radiant appearance.  And woe unto 
the holy if it says 'Since the secular came to the world 
first, it is infringing on my boundaries.  Therefore I must 
know only to fight against it, to destroy what it builds, to 
uproot what it sows.'  The content of life, and a clear 
perspective of existence, will teach us otherwise, completely 
otherwise.  Thus is destiny: the secular will march first on 
the platform of life. It is true that in its innerness, it 
draws from the elevated holiness, the holy of holies, also in 
these first steps. But the values of the holy are not at all 
recognized in clarity and understanding in the beginning of 
the appearance of the secular, and after the first strides of 
the secular, the holy must inevitably come, to radiate its 
light and to appear in its glory." (pp. 403-404)

	The secular is that which is created first; 
chronologically, it precedes the holy.  The tree grows before 
the fruit, and only afterward does the holy come and perfect 
the secular, giving it meaning, and preventing it from 
degenerating into ugliness and confusion.

	Ideally, Rav Kook maintains, the holy should prevent the 
secular from believing that since it came first, it is the 
reason for the world's existence.  On the other hand, the very 
existence of a relationship between the holy and the secular 
ought to ensure that holiness will not view secularity as 
limiting its own expression.

	Unfortunately, it is those very sparks of holiness within 
the secular that give the secular the false impression that it 
does not need holiness.  The problem of the secular world is 
that its hidden, inner holiness only realizes its potential 
upon contact with other, revealed sources of holiness.  Left 
alone, not only do those sparks of holiness within the secular 
remain hidden, but the entire entity may even be spoiled by 
the external, negative aspects of secularity.  Furthermore, 
because the holiness cannot see what is hidden inside the 
secular, the holy denies legitimacy to the secular. In return 
the secular becomes aggressive and violent, and a battle 
ensues.

	Rav Kook considers this war between the holy and the 
secular to be dangerous and wrong.  Secularity without 
holiness is brazen and empty.  And, just as we need air to 
breathe, holiness needs secularity to act upon.  When the holy 
rejects the secular, it becomes dry and arid.  Therefore we 
need to place ourselves in both worlds, to penetrate into 
their inner depths and elevate them both.  Thus we will 
prevent the fall of both worlds.

(This lecture was adapted by:  Jonty Blackman) 

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