Category Archives: Rav Kook Teachings

Psalm 90: Adaptation of Rav Kook Teaching

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Psalm 90: Teach us to Count Our Days

What value is there to our lives, which “stream by like a dream“? What significance can there be to mortal man, who sprouts like the grass in the morning, only to wither away by nightfall? What consequence can there be to a fleeting life of seventy years, “or with strength, eighty years,” compared to the eternity of God — “From the beginning of the world to its end, You are God” (90:2)? This psalm, a prayer of Moses, confronts these fundamental questions of life.

Toiling for the Other Side

The psalm’s first eleven verses are indeed discouraging, stressing both the futility of our transient existence, and God’s disappointment and anger at how we waste what little time we have. “For all our days pass away in Your fury; we waste our years like an utterance”  (90:9). The word fury (in Hebrew, evrah) comes from the word eiver, meaning ‘the other side.’ This fury reflects a Divine frustration that we expend our efforts on inconsequential matters — toiling on ‘the other side.’ We work for fleeting goals that are the opposite of what our aspirations should be.

What does it mean that our years are wasted “like an utterance“? When our days are filled with deeds that counter ratzon Hashem, God’s intent for the universe, then the sum total of our years are just a single incoherent utterance. All our deeds over the years are like a cacophony of noise, the sound of our strivings and labors. But their combination contains no significance, no true meaning. The sounds do not form intelligible words and sentences. All our efforts were squandered in our labors for ‘the other side.’

We are sadly prone to delusions. “The days of our lives are seventy years… and their pride is toil and deception” (90:10). When compared to eternity, any finite length of time is of no value. If we know how to direct our ephemeral lives toward eternal goals, then our days may be uplifted and permeated with significance. But when human arrogance succeeds in blinding our vision, we can be misled into thinking that there is ultimate meaning to temporal, superficial life. Such a mistaken view can bring about terrible toil and deception, for there is no limit to man’s greed when chasing after a life dedicated to worthless goals.

Prophetic Enlightenment

But how can we know what is God’s purpose for the universe? If our minds could grasp God’s intention as to the goal of life, then we could use our intellectual powers to connect our lives to their inner purpose. But our knowledge and powers of reasoning are limited, while God’s purpose in creating the universe is boundless. We are not even aware of the extent of the disparity between our physical wants and the brilliant light of Divine will by which God governs His world.

How then can we know how to live a meaningful life? As the psalmist pleads, “Teach us how to count our days” (90:12) — reveal to us how we can make our days count!

Our actions are the product of limited understanding; we are constrained by our physical nature. Only the enlightenment of Divine knowledge, the gift of prophecy, can save us. When the light of Godly knowledge shines on all aspects of life, then our actions will have eternal import. Life’s details will take on true significance, and its overall direction will be governed by Divine wisdom.

Now we can understand why this psalm is “a prayer of Moses, the man of God.” This psalm is appropriate for a unique personality like Moses, whose overriding ambition was to cleave to the Life of all worlds. Only Moses, who demanded at Sinai, “Please show me Your ways,” truly grasped the connection between human existence andratzon Hashem. The master prophet understood that living a life of meaning requires prophetic knowledge of God’s will. “Teach us how to count our days, so that we will attain a heart of wisdom”  (90:12). The phrase “we will attain” (in Hebrew, navi) could also be translated as ‘prophet’: “Teach us how to count our days — as a prophet [with] a heart of wisdom.

Awareness of Divine Purpose in Our Lives

A superficial take on life is the result of unawareness of the Divine purpose in the universe. We may have difficulty sensing the ultimate purpose, but this meaning will be fully revealed in future generations. Thus we pray, “May Your work be revealed to Your servants,” but it is possible that “Your splendor will be revealed [only] to their children”  (90:16) — in future generations.

The psalm concludes with a prayer that our actions should correspond to God’s intent for the universe. Then we will feel a holy joy and pleasantness in our lives.

“May God’s pleasantness be upon us. Let the work of our hands be established for us; the work of our hands, let it be established.” (90:17)

Why is the phrase “the work of our hands” repeated? It is not enough that our actions advance positive and significant goals. We pray that the actions themselves should have a sublime sweetness due to the Divine light infusing them, as we feel their inner significance. “May God’s pleasantness be upon us.

(Adapted from Olat Re’iyah vol. II, pp. 69-74)

Copyright © 2006 by Chanan Morrison

Journal entry 575

Journal entry 575: “The True Holy Tzadik (righteous person) unifies within him/herself all the opposites, and all the good that is scattered throughout the world. Where in the small minded reality each one contradicts his friend, for when they come to stand together in meeting, in one vessel, he/she (Tzadik) unites them with his/her great, broad, and encompassing strength, because he/she is always raising his/her thoughts and will to the supernal spiritual world, where there are no constrictions, and everything is able to enter, and automatically all the good is able to gather there. And he/she acts with Supernal strength, so that the good which is scattered in all the individuals of Israel, and in all this world, and in all of the worlds are gathered there together. And in this attribute (of the Tzadik) there are levels without end , and the Tzadik who is more supernal emabraces a breadthe that is more encompassing, and there is no constriction of judgement in it because it is filled with kindness and much mercy, and he/she truly desires the good of all, and loves the merits of all the peoples, and hates their evil acts. However, the world is unable to recognize the attributes of this Tzadik, and every Supernal Tzadik must clothe (hide) his/her Supernal Righteousness in many clothes, for only after they diminish the Light can the people enjoy it.”

Translation by David Friedman

Journal entry 65

Journal entry 65: “There are two ways of thinking about G.dliness:

One way where we speak about ‘A Creator’ and ‘the creation’, as if each was it’s own separate topic, but they are joined together in that ‘The Creator’ animates ‘the creation’ and the creation receives life from the Creator;

And the other way where there is no existence of ‘creation’ whatsoever and the name ‘creation’ is only borrowed form our side, we only ‘create’ ourselves because of the constriction of our perception, and in truth everything is ‘Creator’ – G.d, but it’s all a different content that has no relation to the partial revelation because G.d is explicitly everything, and not a part of parts, these two ways of thinking have a particular effect on the ‘spirit of man’.

Logic and accounting come from the way of relating to the world and the creation as something other than G.d, but poetry and the soul’s longing come from the second way of looking, where nothing exists outside of G.d, and G.d’s Glory fills all. Mussar is a branch that combines logic and poetry/song in the proper blend. If one power is lacking it cannot stand.

Therefore when we think according to the first way and differentiate between G.d and the world, we see a vision of G.d’s Righteousness, of the greatness of the mussar that is revealed to us when we think about G.d, and the laws of this mussar are filled with logic and accounting. Then when the second way of thinking about G.d comes Whose Righteousness and full splendorous mussar have already been established properly in the soul, poetry/song is strengthened by the higher, ecstatic depiction of ”there is nothing else besides Him”, and this adds the fruits of blessing to the mussar.

But, if the beginning of thought is only imprinted from the one side of “there is nothing else besides Him”, there wouldn’t be any place for a depiction of mussar in relation to Godliness to act upon us. We cannot recognize a moral value in relation to one thing from its side to itself, but rather in relation from it to others.

Even though the exalted height of this second thought is higher than the entire vision of the value of mussar at all – as it is higher than all thoughts and limitations – in any event, a person cannot grasp a thought that is higher than his limited comprehension in its full majesty, and values of mussar always have to be looked for where they are awakened and then returned and awakened in all the paths of life – thus terrible danger can spread from having the second thought overpower the first.

However, if the first thought whose wings are clipped overpowers the second, that could cause the spirit of man to sink, and by sinking he could lose many delightful things. Therefore there is no other remedy except to arrange the idea in such a way that the first thought always enclothes the second, and the first is only revealed as a garment for the second which is higher than it – ze’er anpin (small face of G.) – is a garment for arich anpin (large face of G.d) – and YHVH is Elohim.

Translation by David Friedman

Journal entry 312

Journal entry 312: “The Higher Joy strengthens, explicitly, through the complete nullification of one’s self because the soul starts to recognize the entire mistake that there is a separate self, and (as an effect) one’s desire strengthens to become absorbed in the body of the King (G.d), in the Infinite perfection of Supernal Pleasantness.

And this is the complete humility and the deep lowliness, where a separate sense of self would be a ‘remnant’ – an incomplete aspect that remains not included in the Supernal Perfection where ‘one makes one’s self a thing of the past’. This feeling is a feeling that is particularly associated with Israel who humble themselves with every greatness that is given them.”

Translation by David Friedman

Journal entry 573

Journal entry 573:

Because peoples minds are too “small” to encompass the general principles of the various opinions and world views and – the breadth that unifies them – (because of this) all the different generations and groups repeat and revolve around their specific point of view as being the most powerful spiritual perspective, and each one imagines that there’s no hope to build up their perspective (and retroactively the progress of the world) without the extinction of all other perspectives that are not in line with it.

And it does not expand the mind to say, “the entire world is reflected in just one view point”… rather it (each view) is only one part of it (the whole) and (in truth) every part is needed and (integrally) makes up the whole building. And the (energy of) contradiction doesn’t come from the side of positivity of perspectives, but from the side of negativity, the side that negates; it is the side of the stumbling arrogance of, “I rule and nothing else”, that each of these perspectives took (and continue to take) in their time and sphere.

Translation by David Friedman

Journal entry 566

Journal entry 566: The true Tzadik (righteous person) – all his desires are are for the true G.dly devekut (attachment/merging/union) – which rises above ideas and thoughts and is exalted above all bounded and limited aspirations. For when his/her soul is oppressed by holding back this mighty longing when dealing with finite matters that to him/her are mundane… This pain is felt by a very many worlds, and many souls beyond count suffer from his/her inner pain. And afterwards when the gates of light open and he/she returns with teshuva (repentance/spiritual return to G.d) from love, and the light of the joy of ruach hakodesh (holy spirit/divine influx/type of enlightenment) shines and sparkles upon him/her – then, with a very loud voice of exalting in eternal joy, many souls are raised up out of their deaths and many worlds with their heavens and earths are filled with might and joy. When the righteous are in abundance the nation is happy.

Translation by David Friedman

Pinkas 13, page 63, #79

Pinkas 13, page 63, #79

In the generations when humanity was young, mankind in general had “small” minds; (And) The excellent ones were giants in order to raise up the coarse masses. The more time that passes, the more knowledge spreads to the masses. And because of this the excellent ones become smaller.

This is because Perfection is always balancing and equating these two forces (the individual and the collective). There is an attribute that is set down by the Supernal Providence for the Perfection of Humanity and it (mankind) is being led according to Its Ways.

Therefore when mankind was young the individual had to be raised up in excellence, but as the value of the masses increases and is raised up so too the value of the excellent ones is leveled off and equated until mankind in general will be completely uplifted and will be on the level of, “a man will not teach his brother nor his fellow to know God because they will all know me from young to old” (Jeremiah 31).

Translation by David Friedman

Pinkas 13 page 85 #116

Health must be greatly valued and loved because only a healthy body has place for wanting delight. When the body is sick there is no desire but for the pain to be removed. Therefore only with health on a truly good path can one delight upon God.

Translation by David Friedman

Journal 1, entry 669

Journal 1, entry 669

Sometimes there is a great leader but the generation is not rectified, and other times the opposite is true, the leader is less great but the generation is rectified. The generation of Shlomo was greater that Moshe’s, but this higher level was not because of the generation itself, but rather because of the general Order of the Universe, and according to the Order of the Universe, everything then was rectified – ‘the Moon was Full in the days of Shlomo’.

However, there is a sweetening of the Universe from the perspective of the inside; and a sweeting of the Universe from the perspective of the outside. In general, from the perspective of the outside, since the Destruction (of the Temple) each day is more cursed than the day before it; but from the perspective of the inside, the world continues to become more and more sweetened.

And the Heels of the Messiah is a state of a fallen outside, and a sweetened inside, that is why it brings about the Light of Messiah with which everything will be filled – even the sweetening of the outside – because when the inside is sweetened, it is very easy to sweeten the outside.

The Masters of the Secrets have to let the world know that its descent is only external, because on the inside everything is ascending and is being greatly illuminated, and the crux of souls is that they are great – and even in the Chutzpah there is greatness and holiness – ‘and when affliction comes like a river, the spirit of God lifts it high (or makes it miraculous’, Isaiah 59: 19).

Teshuva in this time is always a higher teshuva – a teshuva from love – where intentional sins become complete merits. Sins are unable to harm as much as in the earlier generations, because there has been so much sweetening of the Universe, and because of the abundance of mercies and kindnesses that radiate in it.

And the tzadikim in the generation can draw down an influx of such great Chesed that it can completely erase all the sins of the generation and transform them to actual merits, even without a revealed teshuva from the side of the generation, but rather through the teshuva that is in the minds of the tzadikim alone. Because they do teshuva for the entire generation, and in their thoughts they connect themselves to all the souls of the generation, so that all the souls are connected to them and all become complete and refined.

The external shine they were lacking is attained immediately – from the radiance of the light that is in the souls of the tzadikim – which was impossible to achieve at the time that the inner sweetening was lacking.

Translation by David Friedman