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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Rav Kook on Nationalism and Olam Haba

In a letter to Samuel Aleksandrov of Bobroisk, dated 29th of Shevat 5668 (1908), Rav Kook writes (Igrot HaRaaya I, pg. 134, translation by Rav Bezalel Naor):

Regarding his honor's comment concerning the difference between the collective and the individual. Certainly, our nationalists are wont to theorize that through the weakening of the national spirit in the later periods there arose the study of individuality. There is some truth in this, but not as they formulate it. They are of the opinion that personal immortality is a new doctrine engendered by attenuated nationalism. The truth is that in most ancient times, when the national spirit flourished, it was already said, 'The soul of my master will be bound in the bond of life.' (I Samuel 25:29) The woman of Teko'a's words were, 'God does not lift away the soul but devises thoughts so that the banished one may not remain banished from Him.' (II Samuel 14:14) Finally, a recurrent phrase was 'being gathered to the fathers.' (Genesis 15:15, Judges 2:10, II Kings 22:20, II Chronicles 34:28) The medieval authorities who dealt with these matters already commented on these expressions. (Maimonides, MT, Hil. Teshuvah 8:3; Crescas, 'Or Adonai 3:2:2. Menasseh ben Israel, Nishmat Hayyim I, 7) These are eternal truths. The principle of individuality can never be totally elided from the mighty collective spirit. Rather [an accurate description is] when collectivism is strong, the individual principle is not discernible or pronounced, because it serves as a centerpoint to the great circle. When [on the other hand] collectivism is weakened, the centerpoint becomes discernible. [This point of individuality] fills with many maxims and sermons, and assumes a prominent place in the lives of individuals oblivious to the life of the collective. So when the sun of the national spirit set, there were established studies concerning the individual unit, the individual personality. These studies were expanded and publicized; this in turn forced the disclosure of several inner mysteries from the spiritual past concerning absolute existence [i.e. the afterlife]. Out of the darkness of this decline issued a great light: the worldwide dissemination of spiritual information, which greatly refined personal character.