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The Worth of Torah
The Torah is given to Israel as the brightest, broadest, holiest gateway of light—more than the other gateways, which shine with a natural understanding and the spirit of humanity’s natural morality. The gateway of Torah will be opened for us; and, through us, for the entire world.
If we close our ears to the wide-spread voice of God, which calls with vigor through all the natural gateways of light, which is the inheritance of all humanity, because we think that we will find the light of Torah only in a Torah that is torn from any light of the life that is dispersed in the world, in that light’s inner being and in the soul of man in its glory, we do not understand the worth of Torah.
In regard to this, the verse states, “A nation that is foolish and not wise.” And Onkelos translates: “A nation that received the Torah, yet did not grow wise.”
Orot Hatorah 12:5
The Torah Is the Spiritual Holy Land
Just as the Community of Israel develops its special qualities to their full extent only in the land of Israel, so does each Jew only develop his special spiritual qualities by means of the Torah.
The Torah is the spiritual holy land, corresponding to the unique nature of the Jewish soul. All other areas of knowledge are like other lands, and relate as such to the soulful greatness of the nation of Israel.
Orot Hatorah 12:7
Torah Learning for the Creative Individual
Outstanding people who are involved in Torah and who have a talent and inner predilection for ethical and poetic studies, for high thoughts and exalted wisdom, may not suppress or nullify that great desire.
They must broaden it and make it great. They must every day engage in Torah learning that is broad and that transmits knowledge, wisdom and ability.
Such people must dedicate most of their talent to such learning. They should not worry that this dedication may force them to curtail their practical Torah learning, leading them to satisfy themselves with learning that is easy, short and straight, allowing them to simply know the halachah and its reasoning clearly, and allowing them to simply clarify everything in its time with the calm learning of breadth of knowledge in (a) halachah, (b) the basic Talmud discussions and (c) the various approaches of the sages.
[This will not keep them from being sharp.] True Torah sharpness is naturally born of this learning [mentioned above] of itself, and appears when it is needed.
One does not need to work hard and spend a great deal of time on pilpul. As it is, most pilpul is intended for those [who, not being poetic,] turn to it to fulfill the thirst of their soul for the breadth of Torah and powerful intellectual freedom.
A little pilpul is always good, even for those who are mostly involved in very spiritual matters; but the basic concern of these sensitive souls must be “to open the eyes of the blind; to bring the prisoner out of the jail; to take the man sitting in darkness out of his cell” (Is. 42:7).
Eder Hay’kar, p. 140
Make the Torah Greater
“Learn Torah for its own sake.” Learn for the sake of the Torah.
God desires that wisdom be made actual. This wisdom is more desirable and uplifted than we can ever understand. Any lack comes from us. Because we are immersed in a physical body, we cannot recognize [wisdom’s] greatness, its strength and uplifted nature.
The wisdom of the Torah is the divine revelation that, in accordance with God’s will, results from our worship and learning. When we learn Torah, we bring its wisdom from potential to actual—as it relates to our spirit. There can be no comparison between the light that is renewed when the Torah is connected to one person’s spirit and when the Torah is connected to another person’s spirit.
So when we learn Torah, we literally make it greater. Since the Holy One, blessed be He, wishes to make the Torah greater, we should learn out of love for the great light that God wishes to be revealed, [in our own desire that it] grow greater and greater.
Even more, we should create Torah thoughts, for this certainly makes the Torah greater—literally, with a double measure of light.
Orot Hatorah 2:1
Torah for its Own Sake
[What is] the essence of learning Torah for its own sake?
In spiritual teachings, this is self-understood. Such teachings are openly concerned with coming close to God and elevation in sanctity. We are uplifted by these teachings.
But what about Torah texts on practical matters?
We must understand that these are all branches and garments of the light of divine honesty and justice. Within their details, we may find the divine soul of the perfection of the world: in life, in physicality and in spirit, in community and in the individual. Once we realize this, light gleams and descends into every detail. Once the feeling of our inner heart and mind is dedicated to the divine and inclusive illumination hidden in the multitude of these practical teachings, we come to an inner revelation within every detail, which shines in accordance with the capability of our individual spirit.
At times, our thought broadens and takes such clear form that we may even express and explicate the spark of divine light that we have understood in some of those details. And in this elevated state, we uplift all the details.
At other times, the matter is revealed only as a subtle glimmer in the chambers of our heart. Even then, however, this lifts our soul to an elevated state, through which all of life is rarified.
In regard to this latter manifestation, our sages stated: “Whoever learns Torah for its own sake merits many things.” And regarding the [former] inclusive illumination, they added: “And not only that, but the whole world is considered worthwhile for his sake.”
Orot Hatorah 2:2
A Delicate Longing
The connection of the Torah with the Holy One, blessed be He, is the foundation of the holy service of the unique few.
We concern ourselves with Jewish law, with its analysis and details. We know—generally—that all the words of Torah are the paths of God, flowing from the source of supernal life.
But still, doesn’t a divine longing live within our soul? Doesn’t the pleasantness of God pulse within it? Closeness to God is more pleasing to our soul than all pleasures. This is a delicate longing that is felt as well in the heart of life: “My heart and my flesh sing for the living God.”
How may we lift up the noble feeling that is hidden within all crevices and details of the Torah to that same level of supernal, inclusive feeling that pours into the soul from the supernal pleasure?
This results from a mighty uplifting of the spirit. It has to do with connecting the Torah and the Holy One, blessed be He—that is, connecting the particularistic lower Torah to the inclusive upper Torah.
Orot Hatorah, 3:1
When we elevate matters with our clarity of intent, our awareness continuously expands in the abundance of a superior reality. At that point, our desire—a desire of eternal love, of great love—for the light of the infinite is scented from the Eden of life. Then we shall gaze and be illumined.
But if our mindfulness is dislodged and grows impoverished, the face of heaven darkens. Beauty turns to mourning and to barrenness. Then that clarifying process that comes from heaven, which demands the right to play its role, depresses the special mission of humanity. It dulls the light of mindfulness and the complete contents of a full life. This clarifying process, reaching to the root of all being, is a necessity: deeply implanted and flowing without cease. Now, the wellsprings of the flow of life dry up because our hands are feeble in dealing with the supernal Torah.
But everything returns to its light and to its shining life when we engage in supernal repentance filled with knowledge and positive mindfulness, illumined with the light of Torah contained within the wisdom of the Jewish people, which is the inheritance of our patriarchs and which is filled with an eternal glory.
The text of the blessing, “He planted eternal life within us,” refers to the oral Torah: in all its levels and in the totality of its beauty.
Orot Hatorah 3:2
The essence of knowledge is that the totality of the Torah should cleave to our hearts so strongly and with such clear understanding that this totality will powerfully pour forth, resulting in a powerful, individual concern for every mitzvah and detail of the Torah. This will be like the powerful life-force that pours forth from the heart, spreading to every limb.
This is not the case when there is no true, all-encompassing knowledge. Then everything in the Torah is separate. This creates confusion in our basic understanding of the Torah. It prevents our service of love and generosity. Then “the word of Hashem shall be for you a command and a command, a line and a line.”
We must recognize the words of the Torah as one law and one command.
Orot Hatorah 3:3
The Voice of the Living God
A profound recognition of the divine purpose within the Torah, as well as within prophecy and holy inspiration in general, brings our thought to observe their unity. We realize that the Pentateuch encompasses the other writings of the Bible, and that the Pentateuch in its supernal holiness is enveloped within the voice of the living God.
As long as our soul lives, we heed and hear this great voice, which penetrates all of the Torah.
Throughout all its generations, the people of Israel has recognized this great principle of the oneness of the Torah. We cling to that with all our heart and spirit. We know that God’s Torah is perfect. We know that the essence of our unified soul wells from this true Torah’s unified light, that the light of the one God appears within us with a clarifying prominence: black fire upon white fire.
And we attribute all of our original nature to this living source. We are certain that this is a tower of strength for us. We know that the entire Torah is merely one name of the Holy One, blessed be He: one name, one expression, one statement, with none else, for everything is contained within Him.
Orot Hatorah 4:1
Contained Within the Torah
The entire Torah consists of the names of the Holy One, blessed be He. Every good attribute, every mark of civility, is contained within the Torah. Every wisdom is rooted in the Torah. Indeed, the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, shines within everything good—whether in an individual or a group.
There is a difference between a person who knows that everything consists of light sparkling from the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, or a person who does not know. Nevertheless, this difference is merely a matter of degree.
The essence of the matter depends upon the inner core of our will: to whatever degree it corresponds to goodness. Only in this way can we find the light of the Righteous One of the world, He Who is cloaked in the foundation of all, in wisdom and kindness, so as to make the spiritual and physical visions of existence correspond: that is to say, the ideal of what existence could be and the actual coming about of that ideal. The actualization is the outcome of the ideal, and consummates it.
Orot Hatorah 4:2
A Love of the Entirety
Every individual matter in the Torah flows from the entire Torah: from the written Torah, the oral Torah, any good learning, any mitzvah, and any good trait.
There are differences between these levels. But the love and joy in performing the mitzvos and in learning Torah for its own sake must be a love of the entirety: a love of all the light, life, holiness and supernal spirituality—literally, of all of it. It is stored and hidden within whatever detail we are involved with. And it grows prominent due to the content of that detail, in all the manifestations of its light, glory and holy radiance.
Orot Hatorah 4:3
When Your Soul Connects
When your soul connects with the supernal light of the Torah, its smallest details become beloved to your soul. Then your desire for the Torah spreads to every letter of its subtleties and the subtle distinctions made by the rabbis, as they spread and branch forth.
Orot Hatorah 5:1
The Joy That the Torah Gives us
The joy that the Torah gives us comes from the preponderance of light within the letters of the Torah, filled as they are with the life-force of divine pleasure. These letters pervade the totality of our soul with the light of life and the joy of heaven.
This is a joy that flows from the letters themselves, which are already comprehended by the soul. But more than that, it flows from the glorious spiritual life-force that constantly cascades from the supernal wellsprings.
That life-force is much more exalted than the letters that are comprehended by the soul with which we can communicate. The light of those letters’ hidden joy is great, filled with a tranquillity and wondrous pleasure which nothing can equal.
Orot Hatorah 5:2
The Encompassing Light
At times, we cannot learn because we are on a level where the encompassing light that transcends letters shines upon us, and we cannot constrict ourselves within the letters of what we are learning.
When we accept this illumination in holiness and humility, we can learn with great joy and a very clear understanding.
Orot Hatorah 5:3
The Luminosity of Repentance
Corresponding to the luminosity of our repentance before learning Torah is the luminosity of our understanding.
To the extent that our will rises, so does our mind rise. To the extent that our will is luminous, so is our mind luminous.
Orot Hatorah 6:2
Far from Words of Torah
There are a number of causes that can keep us far from words of Torah and prevent them from entering our hearts. We must always know the cause of such an obstacle when we feel it, so that we may know how to remove it and allow our heart to be open to a clear connection with the Torah’s words.
If we do not know the correct cause, we might busy ourselves in extensive work to remove some other cause, which is not presently impeding us. Then the real cause that keeps us from clinging to Torah will remain in place, and we will stay confused.
Some of these causes are spiritual; others physical. Some stem from inadequate preparation of the holy; others from inadequate preparation of the this-worldly.
Orot Hatorah 7:1
The Neglect of Torah
The “neglect of Torah” is different for everyone, each on his level. Someone who can rise mentally to a great level but who is indolent or afraid and thus rejects his lofty state, allowing himself to remain low, is rejecting the Torah of God for which he is suited.
In regard to this, the rabbis stated that “God overlooked idolatry, immorality and bloodshed, but not the rejection of the Torah.”
Orot Hatorah 7:2
“We Will Do and We Will Listen”
“We will do and we will listen.”
“We will do” comes before “we will listen.”
As a result, we appreciate the Torah for its divinely unique aspect more than we might appreciate it solely for any necessary practical advantage that exists in learning.
First comes “we will do.” This encompasses our connection to the value of practical learning.
But then comes “we will listen.” This shields our connection to the transcendent value of Torah learning.
Orot Hatorah 8:1
The Essential Core
When we learn in holiness, our will and mind grow refined. The divine illumination comes from the essential core of our soul and fills its being entirely. Then spiritual life spreads out to the ends of its being, just as blood courses to all parts of the body.
But secular learning, of whatever discipline, only enlivens the particular topic with which it deals.
This is the basic difference between the holy and secular in regard to quantitative worth. But from the aspect of qualitative worth, the difference is infinitely more exalted.
Orot Hatorah 6:1
Halachah and Aggadah
by Haim Lifshitz
Once, a man close to Rav Kook confided in him, “My son does not have a great desire to learn Torah.”
Rav Kook replied, “When I was young, I also did not have a great desire to learn the halachah. My heart was drawn after aggadah. And by learning aggadah, I came to learn halachah. I advise you to teach your son aggadah. As a result, he will also come to learn halachah.”
And so it was.
Shivchei Harayah, p. 180
The Inner Character
The Torah literally makes the Jewish soul.
Wisdom in general, that which is outside the concepts of Torah, makes the human soul.
When we gaze at the character of the core of the human soul, we will find the spirit of Israel alive within it. In the inner character of all betterment and wisdom, we will find the light of Torah.
Orot Hatorah 12:4
The Secret of the Sacrificial System
The secret of the sacrificial system is, literally, the elevation of the animal’s animal spirit.
The existence of the Jewish people and its permanence, both spiritual and this-worldly, create a soul-power at its center.
When we elevate and offer a sacrifice of an animal or other kosher sacrifice, we raise these energies [of the sacrifice] to increase the power in the store-house of our people, in our strength for God. Then our spirituality and physicality rise. As a result, the entire world is blessed, because the “community of Israel” is, in general, the center of the world. All of our longing for the restitution of sacrifices with the building of the Temple is literally for the sake of perfecting our people and the world with new powers, exceedingly mighty. This can occur only when the world is improved with the building of the Temple and the building-up of our people on our land, which necessarily comes first, however it may occur, spiritually and physically.
When we gaze at the secrets of the inner Torah, we rise beyond the limited ideas of the thoughts of human intellect. We are not affected by their limited knowledge and grasp of what a sacrifice is. Instead, our thoughts broaden into a supernal breadth. “Open your mouth and I will fill it.”
Mishnat Harav, p. 81
Together, They Revel
When we learn simple matters in Torah, we should be aware of how the supernal light descends in a wondrous form, until it is well-established in this world of action. We should broaden our heart in regard to this great preciousness and the strength of this life-force, which flows from the source of the Holy of Holies, and which is given fullness from the sanctified path of the light of Israel in all the world.
Know clearly that this light, which is so constricted within words and letters, within customs, within actions, within laws, within the tools of logical analysis and reasoning, meets with the supernal light that is elevated above all these. It is cleansed within it.
And together, they revel.
And the light of the Life of the worlds is filled with great radiance and pleasure because of that continuous encounter, which is brought about by the strength of a person learning Torah for its own sake, making peace in the realms above and the realms below.
Orot Hakodesh, II:3
The Plain of Halachah and Aggadah
When we begin to take steps upon the plain of halachah and aggadah, a multitude beyond number of unions and harmonies beyond number is drawn out. The universes of heaven and earth, humanity of the flesh and humanity of ideas, with all the wealth hidden in each of them, are then unified. They bring each other to the wished‑for action that leads toward complete growth and perfection.
This connection is nothing less than the revelation of the unity that had been hidden within them from the very beginning.
Whoever has not tasted the flavor of halachah has not tasted the flavor of Torah. And whoever has not tasted the flavor of aggadah has not tasted the flavor of fear of sin.
Torah and fear of sin must always accompany one another. The service of Torah learning must be methodically revealed, in an active form, upon this unifying basis—one whose results are very great.
In truth, aggadah always contains a halachic essence. Similarly, halachah contains an inner agaddic content. In the main, the content of aggadah is found in the qualitative form of halachah. And the content of halachah is found in the quantitative form of aggadah. Even without any particular search or awareness, when we learn halachah, we are touched by its hidden content of aggadah; and, when we learn aggadah, we are touched by the pulse of halachah that is folded into the content of the aggadah.
However, not everyone has a properly keen awareness of these two streams—each of which is constantly filled with the content of the other. An alienation between these worlds, which are in essence so joined and twinned together, leads to an unhealthy separation in the nature of deep study and its broadening. It constricts these two areas—halachic and the aggadic—to a narrow arena.
We must clearly bring forth the meeting of these two forces in a rectified form, when each will make the other_s content exceedingly fragrant. Each will profoundly aid the other to bring forth its details and to shine a more brilliant light upon its own general appearance and upon the depth of its own internal logic and what that embraces. The scent of aggadah must make halachah fragrant, in a measure that is well‑reasoned and fitting. And aggadah must be given its worth within a framework, with set laws and a clear, defined logic—like the form of a strengthened halachah. With this, the power and freshness of both will be multiplied.
The need that brought the masters of pilpul in previous generations to at times attempt to integrate aggadah and halachah welled forth from this demand for a unification of these forces, which so much act in unison.
We are already called upon to gather together talents and knowledge in order to clarify our learning and all the paths of our lives. In particular, the essence of halachic learning must be broad, composed of the various approaches of the early and later authorities who have grown to be so many over the generations—we very much need that depth and breadth. And we must approach with complete breadth the unity of the contents of halachah and aggadah—which includes the categories of logic and history, ethics and faith, feeling and civility.
And resting upon all of them is a pure phenomenon, one soaked with the dew of the life of the totality of the light of Torah, ready to rest like a beautiful ornament upon all those who learn Torah for its own sake, giving them a special sensitivity and satisfaction of the heart‑inspiring joy of Torah.
Orot Hakodesh I, pp. 26‑27
The Well of Mystical Hints
Mystical hints are similar to works of abstract art. Just as abstract art fulfills a certain role in secular matters, these hints fulfill a similar role in matters of holiness.
The more that the well of genius is filled with the liquid of life, the more does it cause the created object to branch out in varied, rich images. If the well is very great, it creates structures that are far from reality and that no eye has seen nor ear heard. It is precisely in these images that the wondrous life based on creation is revealed; they represent the testimony of the soul of their creator.
The more that the great satisfaction of the light and faith-filled life wells forth, so do the mystical hints skip logical steps in an increasingly greater and mightier fashion. Beneath every tendril of these mystical hints are hidden a full wealth and treasure of ethics and faith, beauty of holiness, powerful radiance and Godly, inner trust. These comprise the strength and desire of Israel, the joy of all whose hearts are straight, those who seek God and His strength.
Orot Hakodesh I, p. 109
The Written Torah and the Oral Torah
We receive the written Torah through the most elevated and inclusive conception within our souls. From the midst of our souls, we sense the blaze and beauty of that living, encompassing light of all existence. It makes us soar higher than all logic and intellect. We sense a supernal Godly spirit hovering upon us, touching yet not touching, flying next to our lives and above them, gilding them with its light. This light blazes, sparkles and penetrates everything. It permeates whatever is under the heavens. This great light was not created by the spirit of the Jewish people. Rather, it was created by the spirit of God, the Creator of all. This living Torah is the foundation of the creation of all universes.
With the oral Torah, we descend to life. We feel that we are receiving the supernal light in the second conduit within our soul: the conduit that advances toward the life of action. We sense that the spirit of the nation, bound like the flame to the coal with the light of the true Torah, has, with its unique character, fashioned the unique form of the oral Torah. Without a doubt, this Torah of man is encompassed within the Torah of God. It too is the Torah of God. It cannot be that this flow of life through all portals could be hidden from the keen eye of [Moses, who received this Torah,] who gazed through the clear lens, who was trusted in all the house of God. As the sages stated, whatever a thoughtful student will one day conceive of was told to Moses on Sinai.
These two lights make one complete world, in which heaven and earth are nourished.
Orot Hatorah 1:1
The Words of the Scribes
The oral Torah exists in the essential character of the Jewish people, which acquired its blessing with the revelation from heaven of the written Torah.
In its revealed state, the oral Torah is lower than the written Torah. The chief means of finding its path is the written Torah, which is the supernal relationship of the Jewish people with supernal divinity, with the goal of goals, with victory and splendor in the universes and higher than them all.
But in the inner form, is it not the case that the Torah is given to Israel for the sake of our inner, supernal unique being? It is this divine, hidden, unique being that caused the Torah to be revealed to us from heaven.
And so in its root the oral Torah is higher than the root of the hidden Torah.
“The words of the scribes are more beloved than the words of the Torah.”
Orot Hatorah 1:2
The Two Companions
The oral Torah draws sustenance in a hidden manner from the heavenly, and in a revealed manner from the earthly.
The land of Israel must be built up, with all the people of Israel dwelling upon it in a well-ordered manner: with the Temple and a kingdom, with cohanim and prophecy, with judges and officers and all their accouterments. Then the oral Torah will live in all the glow of its beauty. It will flower and bloom. With its entire measure, it will connect to the written Torah.
In exile, these twins were separated. The written Torah rose to the heights of holiness, and the oral Torah descended to the very depths. Nevertheless, [the oral Torah] receives a silent sustenance from the light of the written Torah, from its past uncultivated growth, which suffices to allow it to exist, [although] with a constrained life.
Every day, [the oral Torah] descends and falls. But one day the breeze will blow and the light of life will arrive from the treasury of eternal redemption. Then Israel will grow strong. We will be planted upon our land and improve in all the magnificence of our structure. Then the oral Torah will begin to blossom, from the depth of its root. It will rise higher and higher. The light of the written Torah will shine the rays of its light upon it anew: “new for the morning.” Then these companions will unite in the realm of their bridal chamber.
And the light of the soul of God, the Life of worlds, which is revealed in the revival of Israel (when our horn is lifted), will shine with the light of the seven days of the light of the sun and the light of the moon combined.
Then their light will be straight and penetrating, connecting one extremity to the other. It will respond to [?] the land and the nation in every manifestation of life. The light of the moon will be like the light of the sun. And the light of the sun will shine sevenfold, like the light of the seven days, on the day that God binds the fracture of His nation and heals the illness of its wound.
Orot Hatorah 1:3
The Business for Which We Are Suited
Every one of us must engage in the business for which we are suited.
This is particularly true regarding Torah learning. At times, circumstances may make it difficult for you to stand firm in what your heart desires. But nevertheless, you must stay strong and not relinquish that which is suited for your particular spirit.
Orot Hatorah 9:1
Torah Scholars Whose Learning Is Their Occupation
Torah scholars whose learning is their occupation must see to it that their path lies correctly before them and that their goal is clear, so that their spirit may be strong and their mind quiet, calm and settled.
How great is the exalted principle, “You are not required to finish, yet neither are you absolved of the work.” Therefore, there is not such a great need to visualize self-encouragement in your Torah-learning service that involves embracing the totality of its knowledge.
This can calm your heart, so that you may learn every topic with a confident and quiet spirit, undisturbed by other things or by worrying in general about attaining total knowledge, which is impossible. Instead, you find your own personal service acceptable.
Nevertheless, you must pave a path for yourself upon which you can still see the complete circumference [of the Torah].
In ideology, you must gain clarity about your purpose and the purpose of your desire in your Torah-learning service of God. Also, in practical learning, you must yearn to encompass and incorporate the complete sum of the entire practical teachings that are in the Torah’s practical aspect—as far as you can.
People customarily say that the Torah has no end. In regard to its practical aspect, that is true only within certain parameters—for really, it is possible, when a person goes on a straight path, to attain a total and clear embrace of the entire practical aspect of the Torah.
Those who are great need no explanation for this. But those of middle rank need help, after they arrive at the measure of competent understanding of the depth of halachah, in knowing the form of halachah in a straight and proper way, [which they gain] by serving Torah scholars in correct measure, until they know how to study any Talmudic discussion properly, and how to question and answer in accordance with the path of Torah in the give and take of halachah. Then their main effort must be, first and foremost, to encompass all the halachos of the Rif in their simple meaning, with competent breadth of knowledge. The attainment of this is made much easier by a calm steadfastness.
This service is very sweet in itself, as well as a pleasurable vision that is close to the goal of total encompassing , knowing the complete sum of all the halachos—according to how very close [their study is] to their source in the Talmud in general. Only through the gathering of all the details will the great beauty of the glorious building of the entire practical Torah stand before your eyes.
When you proceed in this fashion every day, continuously, you will add study-times dedicated to an overall mastery of the written Torah, and you will spend set aside times every day for acquiring the wisdom of the aggadah, midrash, ethical works, philosophy and Kabbalah, in proper proportion, and a breadth of time for independent thought, in order to broaden good sensibilities, as well as your set time for learning Talmud quickly every day, and as well as occasional times for clarifying the depth of halachah broadly and engaging in sharp analysis of various topics, in order to broaden your mind and study in-depth, which is crucial for all those who seek the Torah.
When you acquire an encompassing expertise in the halachos of the Rif, there will be born within you the desire to know the halachos clearly. You will learn a great deal of Talmud (Babylonian and Jerusalem), Toseftas and all the words of the Sages, out of an inner recognition of the need for breadth and clarity. The essence of your service must always be in broad learning of the foundations of the halachos and the essentials of the words of Torah, until the perfection of knowledge in all the areas and details will make your awareness whole in all other matters that a person needs. And at that point, people will be inspired by your advice and counsel.
When you proceed in this way, you will also be able to set fixed times for acquiring the wisdom and knowledge that are useful to a person in this world, which broaden the circumference of your knowledge and give you the courage to face the necessities of life. Then you will be pleasing to others and you will find grace in the eyes of God and man.
Orot Hatorah 9:3
The Secrets of the Torah
It is good to learn the secrets of the Torah when your inner yearning for closeness to God is strong, intensifying and growing powerful to such a degree that it gives your spirit no rest, so that its will cannot be satisfied by any spiritual and holy program in the world except for an inner meditation that deals with the secrets of the world.
This is what constitutes learning Torah for its own sake. Regarding this, we learn: “Whoever engages in Torah learning rises.”
Orot Hatorah 10:1
To Expel Coarseness
It is an established principle that if you see that your success lies in the Torah’s spirituality and mystical teachings, and if you find learning halachah in depth difficult, your inner obligation is to set aside the majority of your time to that study that fits your spirit.
Similarly, if you see that learning the secrets of the Torah is sanctifying you, is raising your spirit and bringing you close to holiness with a feeling in your heart and inner mind, and you do not see this desirable fruit from your exoteric studies—and, more than that, they do not suffice to expel from you the coarseness of your proclivities that you sense in your spirit—this is a definite sign that your rectification lies in learning your portion of the inner light of the Torah’s mysticism.
When you feel within yourself such a clarity and purity that the exoteric learning will also support you in [rising in] holiness, you will be able to expand your boundary until you will fulfill your purpose well and come back to gain more pleasure in the teachings of the supernal secrets “for sustenance, for satiety and for fine garments” (Isaiah 23:18). When everything is for the sake of heaven, with pure intent, “He does not despise the suffering of the impoverished” (Psalms 22:25).
Orot Hatorah 10:3
A Double Joy
At times, when we learn small matters with such great feeling that they impress our spirit as though they were the highest of the high, our consciousness grows corporeal, and the wings of our spirit are severed.
The proper path is to learn every topic with a joy that contains a double feeling.
The first is a feeling of supernal greatness, since every spiritual twig makes whole the entire Tree of Life. In this light, everything is great.
The second is a feeling that in the particular contents of all learning material, particularly of the Torah, there is a very positive value that is worth being appreciated with the joy of respect in accordance with its value.
Then the fire from above and the fire from below join to illuminate and warm our soul.
Orot Hatorah 9:9
You Are Capable of Perception
It may be that you cannot visualize the subtle aspect of those exalted topics dealt with in the secrets of Torah and in all mystical concepts. Still, your general feeling and spiritual refinement are capable of perception. This comes as a result of your wisdom-giving soul’s essential recognition and the sense of faith rooted within your spirit.
You may only need to use your intellect to purify concepts, so that they will not mislead you, contradicting clear awareness and the pure recognitions of refined faith.
Then spiritual impressions will remain with you as thoughts that uplift your spirit and raise it to a supernal divine sphere, a sphere that is the source of soulful happiness and brightness for both the individual and the community.
Orot Hatorah 10:6
The Entire World Will Rise
The Torah is bound with the spirit of Israel. The sheer spirit of Israel is filled with everything: the light of God, the purpose of creation, the source of souls.
When the Torah grows stronger, when its knowledge spreads, when its light shines, when its feelings grow deep in the midst of every soul, then the divine light will spread throughout the world; it will grow more magnificent and exalted; and the entire world will rise with the elevation of those individuals who lift the spirit.
Orot Hatorah 12:1
Dark Alleys Shine
Once we learn much hidden Torah, whatever we understand and learn from the revealed Torah shines with a precious light.
Then the hidden Torah, with its special quality, appears in all those topics that the revealed Torah discusses.
This is found in the Jerusalem Talmud: since its authors were pious, their Torah was “blessed.” In contrast, the words of the Babylonian Talmud are merely “kept.” It seems that the Jerusalem Talmud deals with more elevated, pious people. Because of them, the Torah grows and becomes glorious. This is due to the appearance of attainments of holiness, starting from a small beginning and developing into great and powerful rivers. These people attain the light of Torah by prayer and deep study, as well as before and after learning. [Such people] constitute the body of Torah and the soul of Torah.
In this regard, there is a difference between the air of the land of Israel (where the holy spirit can flow upon the content of Jewish law) and elsewhere (where the holy spirit can spread openly only in aggadah, whereas Jewish law is judged by human intellect).
“‘In the dark places, You have placed me’ (Eichah 3:6)—this is the Babylonian Talmud” (Sanhedrin 24a). But from the midst of darkness, great light will sprout: “The nation that walks in darkness has seen a great light, those who dwell in a land of the shadow of death—light has shone upon them” (Is. 9:1). [“These are masters of the Talmud, who have seen great light, for the Holy One, blessed be He, illumines their eyes with what is forbidden and allowed, what is ritually unclean and clean” (Midrash Tanchuma Noach).]
In this way, these people bring down to the lowly avenues of life the illumination of God’s supernal Presence. In this way, they cause multitudinous dark alleys to shine. This aids numbers of those who are distant come, approach and connect to the supernal light of the glow of Torah in its might, the Torah of the land of Israel: “‘The gold of that land is good’ (Bereishis 2:12)—there is no Torah like the Torah of the land of Israel, and no wisdom like the wisdom of the land of Israel” (Bereishis Rabbah 16).
Orot Hatorah 13:1
To Study the Torah
I have come to encourage you, who require no encouragement, to study the Torah diligently and to review your learning well. This is the essence of fruitful learning.
In addition, with whatever time you have, learn works of ethical instruction and fear of God. That is the essence of all. Even if your available time to devote to these teachings is a small fraction of the whole, it gives blessed fruits to all other activities and learning. This can be compared to the brain, which though small in size makes the measure a human being.
The Words of the Sages
The oral Torah exists within the essence of the nature of the Jewish people. And received our blessing with the heavenly revelation of the written Torah.
As it appears, the oral Torah is lesser than the written Torah. It is the written Torah that provides the chief method of discerning the path of the oral Torah. That path consists of the supernal relationship of the Jewish people with supernal divinity, with the goal of goals, with the might and glory in the worlds, and higher than their totality.
But on an inner level, the Torah was given to the Jewish people precisely due to our inner, supernal special quality [which is identified with the Oral Torah]. This divine, hidden special quality caused the [written] Torah to be revealed to us from heaven.
And so, the oral Torah is more exalted in its root than the root of the written Torah.
“The words of the sages are more beloved than the words of Torah.”
The Prayerbook and the Villager
by Shai Agnon
Shai Agnon (winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature) told:
One time, a number of us—myself, Chaim Nachman Bialik, Eliezer Meir Lifshitz, Rabbi Simchah Asaf, Binyamin and others—entered the presence of the great Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Hacohen Kook and discussed the problems of the generation and how to rectify it.
One of the group made a speech in praise of the Torah, which ended by criticizing the many additional laws enacted by the rabbis in every generation. Rabbi Nachman rose in pain, and appeared angry. But he immediately overcame his anger, as was his holy way, and answered quietly:
Hearing this has brought to mind a story.
There was once a great rabbi who happened to pass through a village. Night fell, and he had to stay there overnight.
He asked the villager at whose house he was staying for a volume of the Talmud, but the villager didn’t have one. He asked for a mishnah—the villager didn’t have. He asked for an Ein Yaakov—the villager didn’t have that either.
Finally, he asked the villager, “Do you have a prayerbook?” The villager brought him an old prayerbook, which contained a commentary that the rabbi read the entire night, and which he enjoyed greatly.
The next day, the rabbi offered to pay a good price for the prayerbook, but the villager refused. The rabbi persisted: “I’ll trade it for a new prayerbook with a fine binding.” But the villager still refused.
“Why?” asked the rabbi.
The villager replied, “Rabbi, every morning when I get up I like to drink something hot, and I warm up the kettle. To make the fire catch quickly, I light a piece of paper and put it under the tinder. Since I don’t have much paper in the house, I rip a page out of the prayerbook and light that. And also, every time I want to smoke my pipe, I rip a page out of the prayerbook to light it.
“I am already an old man, but because there is so much commentary, I still haven’t come to the prayers. All the pages I’ve ripped out really aren’t the prayerbook.”
Malachim Kivnei Adam, pp. 363-65
Sustaining the World
by Avraham Shoar
In his youth, the writer, Avraham Shoar, was the chavruta (study partner) of Rav Kook in the beis medrash of Lutzin. He tells that young Avraham Yitzchak’s diligence was extraordinary. If a short amount of time passed without learning Torah, he felt real anguish: a actual physical pain:
One day (tells Avraham Shoar), he told me: “I have decided that two nights a week, we should learn mishmar (extended learning). Two nights a week, let us learn until dawn.”
I remember one such mishmar night, typical of the character of this extraordinary man. We were learning Chulin from the Talmud together. We were engaged in halachic dispute. I stood my ground, and we argued at length until we at last came to a shared understanding.
It was late. We were learning at the bimah. Around us was silence. In the adjoining dormitory, all the students were already asleep. Before us, burning above the holy ark, was the ner tamid—the eternal light. And we took a short rest from our toil and sat and conversed.
He said to me in a secretive voice: “Do you know, perhaps just the two of us are now sustaining the entire world. Perhaps the Holy One, blessed be He, is judging the world right now. And mankind’s sins are being considered, and they outweigh the good.
“Now the angel Michael, the one defender out of a thousand, picks up the words of our Torah learning and places them on the scale, and our words of Torah help outweigh the other side. If so, we have merited to sustain the entire world. And we are still just children. This is the first year that I am wearing tefillin, and as for you, you are not even bar mitzvah.”
As he spoke, I was lifted to the highest worlds. I could see, almost with my own eyes, the heavenly host: the fiery scale, the angels and cherubim. They were weighing the acts of humanity, and behold, they placed upon the scale the page of Chulin that we were learning, with the commentaries of Rashi, Tosafot and the Maharsha. And this page gave merit to the entire world.”
As I sat, submerged in my visions, Avraham Yitzchak’s voice continued. I heard him say with great simplicity: “A day will come when and I will be great in Torah. And then...” He touched me so that I would turn to him, and I saw his face burning, his eyes brilliant and sparkling like fiery coals set in milk. And he whispered: “I will go to the land of Israel, to the holy city of Jerusalem, and I will found a yeshiva there, like Kerem Beyavneh. And students from all over the world will gather there, and ‘from Jerusalem will come forth Torah.’”
These were the youthful dreams of Rav Kook.
These were his desires and yearnings when he had just become bar mitzvah.
Malachim Kivnei Adam, pp. 4-5
The Neglect of Torah
On occasion, the times during which we neglect Torah act to illumine our eyes so that we may recognize the content of the holiness of the Torah and the depth of life that it pours forth upon those who learn it.
Oros Hatorah 7:3
Understanding and Feeling
The essence of learning Torah for its own sake comes only after the following preparation: an understanding, accompanied by feeling, that all the details of the Torah are truly beloved and holy, and that the universal light that is filled with life and brings life to the world courses through every one of those details.
Arpelei Tohar, p. 2
All spiritual concepts in the Torah are like borders that have been marked so that we may come to them. We do so by employing the means that lead to them with the proper preparations.
If we will want to come to them paying no mind to the fundamental nature of these preparations, we will attain not truthful but illusory matters.
“The lazy man has hidden his hand in the plate; neither will he bring it to his mouth.”
Orot Hatorah 8:4
The Root of the Torah
When a person rises to elevated thoughts and arranges his paths in accordance with them in the depths of his spirit, he comes to the root of the Torah in its elevated form, whose goal is to raise the world to its intended elevation.
Then of itself, all that he learns of the details of the Torah is not something new to him. Rather, it is like a remembrance of something that already exists in his potential.
And this is the inner meaning of the statement that “since they are pious, their Torah lasts.”
Orot Hatorah 6:4
A diminution of the sweetness of the pleasantness of Torah results from something lacking in the Jewish nature of the soul.
[The soul] must be rectified by means of self-growth directed toward this lack.
And when our mind is engaged in rectifying this lack, immediately the supernal light of the holy nature of our soul again shines, and the sweetness of the Torah again begins to be revealed.
Orot Hatorah 7:4
Horses of Fire
“‘Horses of fire’ refers to the letters of the Torah” (Introduction, Tikunei Zohar).
Sometimes an idea is so powerful that a person cannot grasp it with his own strength. But his inspiration is magnified when he bonds with the letter in the Torah. And that capability rises much beyond his own strength, like the swift and certain passage of a chariot.
There is a type of person who travels only by foot. He makes his way using the might of his deep study of the Torah in a general fashion. He is not aided in understanding matters by means of the letters of the Torah.
There is another type of person who lacks the strength to walk. Instead, he travels exclusively upon the letters of the Torah, [‘the horses of fire’]—even in those matters that are simple, where a healthy man should travel by foot, using his own ability.
And there is another type of person. He goes by foot whenever he can. And when he does utilize the letters of the Torah, it is not out of weakness. Rather, he is like a man riding gloriously upon a horse, lending a crown to [the Torah] that he is involved with, or riding to a place that he could not have reached with his own ability, but only, in addition, by means of seeking out the letters of the Torah.
Orot Hatorah 5:4
When Your Healthy Heart Expands
When your healthy heart expands with the might of the strength of the pulse, the flow of blood through the finest and most distant blood vessels, and when your mind is so strong that it can understand the foundation of Torah and its principles, how its many details are a necessary outcome of its totality, then your outlook grows clear and all-encompassing, and you attain a great love and feelings of respect and appreciation of holiness for every matter and precise detail in the Torah.
Orot Hatorah 3:4
The Unbordered Light
In every Torah matter, in every aspect of a particular decree, streams the supernal, unbordered light. The total divine lesson can be extracted from every individual law.
To the observer who accustoms his soul to the stream of light, within every legal matter is revealed the content of its innate being, which is filled from the world of bright illumination, until in regards to every law and chapter he can give breadth to a new song, a full song, a full exposition.
This song pours forth continuously even upon every detail of the law, upon every path of discussion within it, until a poetic commentary that gives pleasure and creates Eden can spread across all the Torah, entirely, upon all the Torah—even the this-worldly and legal Torah—besides extending across all the Aggadic material, which shines with an illumination of a fine spiritual light.
Orot Hatorah 4:4
Enriching the Community of Israel
One way of learning Torah for its own sake is [to do so in order] to enrich the Community of Israel with great spiritual powers.
The more that the light of Torah increases, so that with one heart the people of Israel appreciate and respect it, the more that the fundamental power of our nation gains strength and firmness.
And the individual soul of the person who brings about this universal blessing itself grows and gains glory, gains completion and beauty, with a multitude of fresh branches. And it sends forth a multitude of powerful roots, through which it takes root amidst the roots of the Tree of true life. To the degree of its purity and might, this soul recognizes and feels the depth of the pleasantness of the good taste of a fulfilled life.
“Your palate is like good wine. It goes directly to my beloved. It causes the lips of the sleeping to murmur” (Shir Hashirim 7:10).[?]
Orot Hatorah 2:4