Rav Kook Torah

Psalm 12: Circles and Straight Lines


“סָבִיב רְשָׁעִים יִתְהַלָּכוּן; כְּרֻם זֻלּוּת לִבְנֵי אָדָם. (תהילים י"ב:ט)

“The wicked walk around; and the exalted is scorned by people.” (Psalm 12:9)

Why does the psalm describe the wicked as those who “walk around"? What exactly is this exalted matter that is unappreciated and scorned? And what is the connection between the two parts of the verse?

Two Realms

The Kabbalists distinguished between two realms in the universe: the realm of Circles, and the realm of Straight Lines.

The natural world is a world of Circles. The heavenly bodies are spherical, rotating and revolving in space. In this view of reality, there is no right or wrong; just constant, eternal movement along the never-ending cycles and gears of natural processes.

The purpose of the world, however, is its moral and spiritual progress. When we recognize this inner direction, we are perceiving the realm of Straight Lines. When we use our free will to choose the correct path, we gain perfection for ourselves and for the entire universe. The realm of Straight Lines is the inner reality of linear progression, of right and wrong, of purpose and meaning.

The Power of Prayer

The Talmud (Berachot 6b) explains that this verse is specifically referring to prayer. Prayer is a wonderful, exalted gift. Many, however, belittle and even ridicule the value of prayer. Why is prayer not properly appreciated? Because people perceive the world through the viewpoint of Circles. They only see the continual, unchanging, and amoral aspect of the universe. In a world ruled by the laws of nature, what good is prayer? Can prayer change God’s Will? Why should praying influence the outcome of natural processes?

That is why the psalm describes the wicked as “walking around.” They follow the cycles of the natural world, perceiving the universe as a harsh reality of unforgiving laws of nature and immutable fate.

But the enlightened are able to discern the realm of Straight Lines within reality. They sense the world’s inner purpose and moral direction. They realize that we are meant to advance the goal of universal perfection through proper application of our powers of free choice.

With this outlook on the world, the efficacy of prayer is clear. Prayer is highly effective in refining our desires and directing our choices. It is an integral part of the purposeful world of Straight Lines.

(Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. I, p. 26)

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