Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook was the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of British Mandatory Palestine. Known as “Rav Kook,” he was beloved as a leader, writer, teacher, thinker, and mystic. He is rare among the righteous for the poetry that marked everything he touched, wrote, and said. His words drip with themes of light, song, freedom, and making the world breathe life again in ways both extraordinary (outside the normal) and infraordinary (within the normal).
Rav Kook lived through the first half the 20th century, and witnessed a rapidly transforming world struggling through change and war. It’s no surprise that this time gave us many thinkers who articulated philosophies of pain and suffering, and nationalisms that led people to care only about their own people, country, and story.
Rav Kook cuts through the suffering of the world, and teaches us that caring for your own people can be a doorway into caring more for all peoples, that tending to your inner world can be an entry point to tending to the outer world, and that the darker the world seems, the more our eyes can adjust to see the light.
Notice the gentleness of his eyes. His last name, Kook, is Yiddish for the word vision, and he is known in Israel by an acronym of his name: HaReiYah, which means the seer. These eyes ask us quietly: In what ways can our own vision be softer, our own gaze at ourselves be kinder, more compassionate?
Know yourself and your world.
Know the thoughts of your heart, and of all who speak and think.
Find the source of life inside you, higher than you, around you. [Find] the beautiful ones alive in this generation in whose midst you are immersed.
The love within you: lift it up to its mighty root, to its beauty of Eden.
Send it spreading out to the entire flood of the soul of the Life of worlds, Whose light is reduced only by incapable human expression.
Gaze at the lights, at what they contain.
Rise up, for you have the power.
You have wings of the spirit, wings of powerful eagles.
Do not deny them, or they will deny you.
Seek them, and you will find them instantly.
(Orot Hakodesh I, pp. 83-84)