Rabbi Kook’s Understanding of Israel and Humankind

Editor’s note: What’s attractive about this piece is the way it highlights the universalism in Rabbi Kook, whose teachings were twisted by his son into being a cheerleader for right-wing politics. Yet what still remains troubling is the insistence that the people of Israel have a special role, which can only make sense if we redefine Israel to include those of all nations committed to a world of peace, justice, love and generosity of spirit and action.–Rabbi Michael Lerner


Rabbi Kook’s Understanding of Israel and Humankind

Selected and translated by Rabbi Itzchak Marmorstein

Comments by Dr. Yitzhaq Hayut-Man

Among the greatest admirers of Rav Kook’s teachings are, naturally, those who studied at Merkaz haRav and are the spearhead in the settlement movement. So there is a widespread impression that Rav Kook’s teachings are chauvinistic -nationalistic, seeing Israel as a nation set-apart not considering the nations. But in truth, Rav Kook has a most universal vision, yet one in which the nation of Israel has a special role in, producing a particular gift for the greatest benefit for all humankind.

We shall present here just two quotes from the many in Rav Kook’s inspired writings, with a little commentary on each:

“It is proper that all humankind (Enoshiyut) would unite into one family, and then will end all the quarrels and all the bad characteristics that derive from the division of nations and their borders. But the world requires that essential refinement through which humankind is improved by the richness of characteristics unique to each nation. This need will be fulfilled by the Assembly of Israel (Knesset Yisrael), which is characterized by a great treasury of spirits that include within its midst every talent and elevated spiritual tendency. All the good that emerges from the division of nations will be preserved for the world, through the full completion of the community of Israel, and especially through her connection with the whole world. There will no longer be any need for actual division, and all the nations will become one collective, and upon them, as a holy treasure, a kingdom of priests and holy people, a treasure from all the nations, as HaShem spoke…” (Notebook I-808).

(Commentary: The fulfillment of Israel is not as “a nation that dwells alone, not heeding the nations”, as in Bil’ạms curse (Numbers 23:9), but as essentially a servant nation[1] for all humankind, “a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation”, as promised to Moshe (Exodus 19:6). The unification of humankind into one family is right and proper – provided this should not lead to universal and mediocre uniformity. The development (and Rav Kook would not be afraid to say “evolution”) of humankind comes through the unique special characteristics of all nations. It is here that the Assembly of Israel has a special, even unique role. It is partly because of the exile of the Jewish people and sojourn among all the nations that they have absorbed the cultural achievements of the diverse nations, and are now bringing them to synthesis through the re-gathering in the Land of Israel (which happens to be the very geographical center of the earth’s continents).

We should note here that “The Assembly of Israel” (Knesset Yisra’el) [2] that Rav Kook was referring to is something still greater than “the Jewish People”. In order to contain its requisite variety,[3] the restored true assembly of Israel should have the complement of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, of which the Jews are but a (leading) part. In our time, which Rav Kook saw as the beginning of the world’s and Israel’s Redemption, the Jews have started that cultural process by the regathering in the Land of Israel. The complete process would be through joining of people with the characteristic of all national traits into the universal Assembly of Israel to work out the rich cultural synthesis.

This unification process of the world is clarified in a passage from Orot haQodesh:[4]

“The more the world develops and becomes whole, the more its parts are united and its organic quality becomes more apparent. The highest unification is the unification of the human’s intellect and will with the entire universe, in general and in its particulars.

The unification with the Divine Matter (haỊnyan haElohi) makes this action complete, and there is no wonder that the will of the righteous, those who cleave to God, acts in the world and their prayer bears fruit.

And so all humankind is destined [to unite], certainly as the prior special and senior quality of Israel will be revealed and extend to everything. ‘And God’s glory will fill all the earth’(Psalms 72:19).  ‘And God will rejoice in his handiwork’(Psalms 104:31)

Commentary: The word Rav Kook employed (in the first sentence of the first quote and in the last sentence of this quote), is “Enoshiyut” (אנושיות) – which we translated as “Humankind”. Yet it means both the physical assembly of all humans upon the face of the earth – and also the moralquality of “humankindness” or “humanism” or just “kindness”. The aim is the development of all humankind, and the agent for this is “Knesset Yisrael”, which he defined above as “great treasury of spirits that include within its midst every talent and elevated spiritual tendency”. The formation of the Assembly of Israel” is through the joining together of the specialties, “the richness of characteristics unique to each” component. This should apply both to the “tribes” (or communities) that constitute Israel and to the operation of the Assembly of Israel among all nations as “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”. The experience that is being accumulated in the assembly of the whole entire Israel would become the basic instruction for all of humankind.




[1] The idea of a “Servant Nation” as the fulfillment of the Biblical message was elaborated by Hugh Schonfield (who avoided using the explicit name of Israel) in his The Politics of GodSee review.

[2] Rav Kook cherished the term Knesset Yisrael. We might infer why by examining it in a Kabbalistic calculus that would be quite meaningful to the Rav. By Gematria Knesset (the Assembly, the entity that gathers in) has value of 530, whereas Yisra’el (ישראל) has a value of 541. The difference is 11. The eleven, in turn, is the sum of the Hebrew letters H’e (ה) and W’aw (ו). These two letters are elements of the Tetragrammaton, the Holy Name of YHWH, which is the template for a five-dimensional universe, or the system of five worlds. The letters H’e and W’aw refer to “the World of Making” and “the World of Formation”. Knesset Yisra’el is the union of these two worlds – the “Lower Unification” that sustains this world. )

[3] The concept and “Law of Requisite Variety” is a major basis of the science of cybernetics. It was formulated in Ross Ashby’s “Introduction to Cybernetics” (1956) which can be read online.

[4] Orot haQodesh  אורות הקודש, מאמר שלישי: האחדות הכוללת , סדר ג’ האחדות העליונה – כ. ההתאחדות העליונה, (ראה גם ל. שיר מרובע.).


One thought on “Rabbi Kook’s Understanding of Israel and Humankind

  1. I understand and appreciate the sentiment of an unsettling feeling about Israel playing a special role. And yet, it may be true, and if so, not special in the way that we think or in a way that we should be proud of, but rather in a way that we should be grateful for. Israel is in a unique geographical and political spot, so that does imply the possibility of a special role. Perhaps this role will be inspired by Israel’s redemption – that is a real and true empathy for the Palestinian people T. That would indeed be a miracle and would have a ripple effect that would shape the world like nothing else.

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