What the Straus Center Is Reading — Souls in the World of Chaos

Bezalel Naor | Kodesh Press | 2023
Reviewed by Rabbi Dr. Stu Halpern

Souls in the World of Chaos features a translation, introduction and notes by Bezalel Naor of one of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook’s lesser-known essays, included in the 1950 edition of Orot. The essay first appeared in 1913 and described the Second Aliyah in spiritual terms. The cohort emigrating then to Palestine were mostly secular, Socialist Russian Jews. Despite their antipathy towards faith, as the essay makes clear, Rabbi Kook remained optimistic. Their souls, serving as “lights of chaos,” would shine the way towards a brighter future in the Land of Israel. Drawing on Kabbalistic thought, Rabbi Kook, in Naor’s words, demonstrated “a show of empathy, of which only a kindred spirit is capable” in an effort to “gently nudge his wayward flock to the path of Torah.” As Kook himself put it, “Souls of chaos are higher than souls of establishment. They are very great; they seek much of existence, that which their vessels cannot support.” But, he continued, “the essence of courage contained in their will is the point of holiness. When that is absorbed into the souls that are limited in their approach, it gives them the strength of life.” Their strength of spirit “is one of the visions that comes for the need of perfecting the world, for the need of fortifying the powers of the nation, man and the world.”

Naor offers multiple appendices contextualizing the short essay, framing it within its kabbalistic and historical context. As he writes, Rav Kook focused often on the “ever-widening concentric circles” of human consciousness, starting with “egocentricity or narcissism, proceeding through phases of nationalism and humanism” towards “cosmic consciousness.”

In addition to the analysis of the brief piece by Rav Kook, Naor includes in this volume two book reviews – one of Yehudah Mirsky’s Toward the Mystical Experience of Modernity: The Making of Rav Kook, 1865-1904 and Hagay Shtamler’s Eight Letters from Rabbi Zvi Yehuda KookThe first offers a critical analysis of Mirsky’s dissertation on Rav Kook’s early years, and the second unpacks an attempt to “reconcile the seemingly disparate views of father and son.”

A prolific author and likely the greatest living expositor of Rav Kook’s writings, Naor’s latest contribution is a welcome contribution to the every-growing library about one of the 20th century’s seminal Jewish thinkers, whose writings continue to find broad appeal in Israel and beyond.

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