Rav Kook Torah

Psalm 24: Climbing and Standing

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“Who shall climb God’s mountain? And who shall stand in His holy place?” (Ps. 24:3)

What is the significance of these two activities, climbing and standing, on God’s mountain?

Ascending in Knowledge

We use our legs to advance, to walk and climb. We also use them to stand in one place. Each of these two functions, climbing and standing, is a metaphor for a specific form of Divine service.

Climbing God’s mountain suggests a spiritual ascent, through intellectual enlightenment and refinement of character. Torah study in particular is associated with spiritual advance, as one gains knowledge and ethical insight. Therefore Torah study is referred to as a derech, a path upon which one advances. As Hillel taught, “One who does not increase his knowledge — decreases” (Avot I:12).

Standing in Prayer

Which Divine service corresponds to ’standing in His holy place'?

When we walk or climb, our legs are apart. We make progress, but our position is less secure and less stable. When we stand, on the other hand, our legs are joined together. Standing indicates a state of stability and balance.

Spiritually, to stand is to absorb that which we have learned and grasped. It is a critical part of Divine service, when we reinforce our spiritual acquisitions. By ingraining these attainments in the soul, we ensure that they will stay with us, despite life’s trials and vicissitudes.

If Torah study is the way we climb God’s mountain, then prayer is the way we stand in that holy place. In fact, the central prayer is called the Amidah — the standing prayer. For the function of prayer is to internalize our spiritual accomplishments, as we examine ourselves and meditate on our true goals and desires.

For this reason, the Sages taught that one should pray standing, with one’s legs together. In this service we are like the angels, who are described as having a single, straight leg — “their leg was a straight leg” (Ezekiel 1:7). Angels do not progress in holiness. Their very essence is one of maintaining their level of spiritual perfection. When we pray, we emulate the angel’s stance of unity and harmony, of being at one with our spiritual state.

In Torah study, we aspire to attain higher levels, to ascend God’s mountain. This requires great exertion and effort, like one scaling a high mountain. Standing, on the other hand, indicates a more relaxed, natural position. This is the state of the angels, effortless in their inherent holiness. Through prayer, we aim to internalize our spiritual attainments, until they become natural and ingrained traits in the soul.

(Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. I, p. 61)

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