Because of their poetic and mystical nature, Rav Kook’s writings are difficult even for readers who are fluent in Hebrew and rabbinic texts. Sapphire from the Land of Israel uses a clear, succinct style to provide the reader with a window into Rav Kook's original and creative insights.
A companion volume to Gold from the Land of Israel on the Torah, this book presents more of Rav Kook's thoughts on the weekly Torah reading (parasha). It elucidates his views on many topics, including:
Anyone who wants to discover deeper meanings in the weekly parashah should read and re-read this wonderful collection.
As the Scriptural quotes at the beginning of Rabbi Morrison's new book suggest, sapphire is a mystical color. How appropriate for the title of a collection of teachings related to the weekly Torah reading culled from the writings of Rav Kook. As the reader will see, Rav Kook was uniquely able to communicate the mystical depths of the Torah to modern Jews, showing how the Torah's narratives are indeed expressive of eternal truths. And among the interpreters of Rav Kook, Rabbi Morrison is uniquely able to impart those teachings to contemporary English-speaking Jews in clear, yet elegant prose.
Here, we are initiated such mysteries as the fall from unitary perception to dualistic thinking (Vayeitzei and Vayigash); how personal growth is essentially bound up with spiritual perfection of the universe (Lech Lecha); how it is that One God has many holy Names, and that the "Essential Name" is bound up with the holiness of the Land of Israel (Va'eira); a meditation on the symbol of Mashiach's donkey (Bo); the meaning of the knot of "God's Tefillin" (Ki Tissa); a prescription for spiritually-illuminating art (Vayakheil); dreams through angels versus dreams through demons, and freeing ourselves from the shackles of small-mindedness through dreams (Beha'alotecha); and Rabbi Akiva's martyrdom and the expiry of his soul with the word "Echad (One)" (Va'etchanan), to mention but a few.
Like its wonderful predecessors, Rabbi Morrison's latest work will no doubt stimulate many an animated discussion at the Shabbat table, and inspire spiritual seekers to continue to mine the gold, silver, sapphire and other treasures of Rav Kook's thought.
Rabbi Shlomo Aviner (Rosh Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalayim and rabbi of Bet El) has spoken of Rav Avraham Yitzchak haKohen Kook as being not simply the Gadol haDor - the leading scholar of our generation - but the Gadol haDorot, the leading scholar of generations. This is because the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of the Land of Israel had a dramatic impact not only on his generation, but on all those that followed. It was Rav Kook who was able combine many ideals - Torah Judaism, loyalty to the Jewish Nation, Zionism - into a unified philosophy that continues to impact the Jewish people decades after his passing. His steadfast love of all Jews made him a role model even for those who disagree with his philosophy. Furthermore, his students, and the students of his students, have occupied many positions of leadership in Israel, thus spreading Rav Kook's influence. Rav Kook was indeed the prominent scholar of these generations.
Still, there is much work to be done in order to continue to spread Rav Kook's light through the world. For many years, Rabbi Chanan Morrison has been engaged in the holy work of spreading Rav Kook's Torah to the English speaking world. Rav Kook's writings are difficult and require explanation even for those who are fluent in Hebrew. A mere translation into English would not do justice to the depth of his thought. Therefore, Rabbi Morrison has worked not merely to translate the thoughts of Rav Kook, but to explain and put them in context for his readers.
Rabbi Morrison's third book in his series, Sapphire From the Land of Israel, continues his wonderful work. For each weekly Torah reading, he has selected a text from Rav Kook's writings that deepens our understanding of that portion and provides a window into Rav Kook's thought. As in his prior books, Rabbi Morrison's explanations are clear and meaningful. He provides lessons from Rav Kook that impact our religious and practical lives.
For example, in writing about Parshat Beresheet, he recalls the Nephillim, the great men who fell. He cites a letter Rav Kook wrote to his son, HaRav Tzvi Yehuda Kook, who had asked him about studying foreign languages. He told his son that while studying languages may have practical importance, they are simply a tool for furthering personal and communal moral growth. He noted that the Nephillim were great men of words. Yet they used their talents for ill and therefore fell. On the other hand, Moses, while describing himself as having difficulty speaking, was the great moral giant in world history. This theme of the value of skills and wisdom being not in those areas themselves, but in how they are used, is central to Rav Kook's thought and oft cited by Rabbi Morrison.
As we know, however, Rav Kook did not simply focus on the perfection of the individual. He focused on the perfection and destiny of the entire Jewish Nation. Rabbi Morrison selects texts that reflect this, as well. For example, in Parshat Lech Lecha he notes that God compares the Jewish people both to stars and sand. He notes that the stars are unique and special as individuals. So, too, every individual Jew (and indeed every human) has unique gifts to offer the world and a unique destiny. Every individual life is precious. Grains of sand are different. An individual grain is worth little. However, as an entire group, they have a critical role in the world. The Jewish people are not only individuals. We are a unique nation with a unique destiny. Thus, Rav Kook is teaching us our importance as individuals and as a nation. Similarly, in his selection on Parshat Nitzavim, Rabbi Morrison introduces us to Rav Kook's Orot HaTeshuvah (Lights of Repentance) in which he teaches that not only must individuals return to their proper path and destiny, so must the entire Jewish people. For Rav Kook, the unity and destiny of the Jewish people are critical. This is reflected in Rabbi Morrison's work.
Rabbi Morrison's scholarship is impressive when one is reminded that with the exception of one book (Midbar Shur), Rav Kook did not publish specifically on the weekly Torah portion. Rabbi Morrison therefore collected thoughts from throughout Rav Kook's writings that relate to the individual Parsha.
I have found Rabbi Morrison's work inspiring and intensely meaningful. It is my great hope that he will continue to publish new material so that he can further his holy work of spreading Rav Kook's thought to new generations.
Rabbi Shmuel Jablon, Jewish Media Review
Such an uplifting collection of essays... a wonderful gift.
The writings of Rav Kook, with their allusive mix of Chassidic and Talmudic learning, are impenetrable to many readers. That is why Rabbi Morrison authored this book, whose goal is to summarize Rav Kook's views on these topics, interspersed with excerpts from his writings.
Talk about uplifting. When it comes to the Jews and the Jewish people, it's hard to imagine anyone more upbeat than Rav Kook.
He lived at a time when, and in the place where, mainly secular Jews were building up the Land of Israel, And yet, as Chief Rabbi, he did not denigrate their accomplishments. In fact, he fended off its critics from the religious world, noting that living in the Land of Israel was a critical act, in-and-of-itself.
There is no need to to check the level of kashrut of those who come to what was then Palestine, he wrote, for "one may find in every Jew, even the most unworthy, precious gems of good deeds and positive traits. Certainly the Land of Israel helps elevate and sanctify them. And if this is not evident in them, it will become so in their descendants.
Although Rav Kook died well before the founding of the modern state, he believed that 'the dawn of redemption' (atchalta de'geulah) - which is a process that advances in stages - is upon us.
Rabbi Morrison has done a remarkable job in presenting the teachings of Rav Kook — a giant of twentieth century Jewish thought — in a clear and approachable fashion. I highly recommend this book for anyone seeking a good introduction to the inspiring wisdom of this preeminent scholar.
– Rabbi David Samson
Rav Kook zt”l was one of the outstanding scholars of his time, and his teachings and writings are the cornerstone of Jewish life in Israel today. By entering the realm of Torah as presented by Rav Kook, one strengthens his bonds to Eretz Yisrael.
Not only is this book a tremendous boon for English-speaking readers, but the translation of Rav Kook’s writings enables them 'to awaken the holiness hidden in each language.'
– Rabbi Yehoshua Magnes
– Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins
Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935), the celebrated first Chief Rabbi of pre-state Israel, is recognized as being among the most important Jewish thinkers of all times. His writings reflect the mystic's search for underlying unity in all aspects of life and the world, and his unique personality similarly united a rare combination of talents and gifts.
Rav Kook was a prominent rabbinical authority and active public leader, but at the same time, a deeply religious mystic. He was both Talmudic scholar and poet, original thinker and saintly tzaddik.
After graduating with a B.A. in Mathematics from Yeshiva University (New York), Rabbi Chanan Morrison studied for several years at Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav, the Jerusalem yeshiva founded by Rav Kook in 1924. He was ordained after completing rabbinical studies in the Ohr Torah Stone (Efrat) and Midrash Sephardi (Jerusalem) rabbinical seminaries.
Rabbi Morrison taught Jewish studies for several years in Harrisburg, PA, before returning to Israel. He and his family subsequently settled down in Mitzpe Yericho, an Israeli community in the Judean Desert.
In an effort to maintain contact with former students, Rabbi Morrison began emailing weekly articles on the weekly Torah portion based on the writings of Rav Kook. Over the years, this email list grew at a phenomenal rate; it now benefits thousands of readers from all over the world. He is frequently featured on the Torah section of the Arutz Sheva website and his work can be read on his own website at http://www.ravkooktorah.org.
His first book of essays of Rav Kook's writings, Gold from the Land of Israel, was published by Urim Publications in 2006.
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