Mahol la-Tsaddikim/Dance Circle for the Righteous explores the divine design in the creation of the universe. Although Maimonides (Guide of the Perplexed) shied away from this conversation, deeming the question illegitimate, the Kabbalists produced not one, but two responses to the question: a philosophic approach which centers on God’s ultimate goodness (Luzzatto), and a mythic approach which pivots on God’s “self-actualization,” as it were (Zohar, Luria). The departure point of our book is a fundamental mahloket or controversy between Rabbi Moshe Hayyim Luzzatto (Ramhal), on the one hand, and Rabbi Pinhas Elijah Hurwitz (Sefer ha-Berit) and the great Habad thinker Rabbi Eizik of Homel, on the other.
Between the two world wars, there roamed the streets of Jerusalem a man who made a nuisance of himself, pestering the populace that he was the Messiah.
Finally the “Messiah” was brought to the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem. Rav Kook asked to meet with the deranged man alone. After a few moments with Rav Kook, the “Messiah” never again boasted his claim.
Sometime later Rav Kook revealed what produced such a wondrous effect. “I told him: ‘The truth is, there is a spark of Messiah in every Jew. You obviously have received an especially large endowment. But the quality of the spark is such that it works only as long as one does not speak of it to others.’”
Unlike many Orthodox thinkers, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook did not shy away from the subject of Sabbatianism. His published works reveal a more than fleeting interest in the entire Sabbatian phenomenon, from the initial impetus of Messianic activity surrounding the person of Shabbetai Zevi, to the Hayyon and Emden-Eybeschütz controversies, to that Polish offshoot of Sabbatianism, Frankism. This interest extends to both the external, historical, as well as internal, philosophical and psychological aspects. Rav Kook is even willing to rebut the author of ‘Or la-Yesharim ‘s comparison of Herzlian political Zionism to Sabbatianism.
In the Desert–a Vision (Midbar Shur) is Rav Kook’s own record of his derashot or talks over a span of two years, 1894-1896. This book, which should have been the author’s literary debut, is the last of his works to appear in print. The reason for the delay, is that the manuscript disappeared in mysterious circumstances. The book may have arrived a century late; its message is uncannily timely. Beside their visionary quality, Rabbi Kook’s talks are remarkable for their encyclopedic knowledge. A typical derasha will start with a verse in the Torah or passage in the Midrash. From there, Rabbi Kook will weave a rich tapestry encompassing the breadth of Jewish literature: Bible, Talmud, philosophy, and Kabbalah.
The discipline of Kabbalah is generally subdivided into kabbalah ma’asit, practical or applied kabbalah, and kabbalah ‘iyyunit, theoretical kabbalah. In the popular imagination, the kabbalist is a practitioner of the magical arts. However, there is another sort of kabbalist whose way of relating to and interpreting the world is based on a profound system of thought.
Such a comprehensive, all-encompassing thought evidences itself in the spiritual diaries of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook (1865-1935). Gershom Scholem, Professor of Jewish Mysticism at Hebrew University, Jerusalem, wrote: “Rabbi Kook’s great work… is a veritable theologia mystica of Judaism equally distinguished by its originality and the richness of its author’s mind. It is the last example of productive kabbalistic thought of which I know.”