Reasonable Doubts Blog


It’s the Struggle that Will Get You There

Posted in Defining Judaism by Cheryl Berman on the June 21st, 2010

I recently read Rabbi Sherlow’s book on Rav Kook “Ve’Ayrastich Li Le’Olam” .  One of the chapters deals with Rav Kook’s theory of characteristics.  We tend to think of certain characteristics as either good or bad. Our mothers all taught us that if we are shy we need to “break out of our shells” or if we are outspoken we need to “tone it down.”  But according to Rav Kook characteristics themselves are neither bad nor good, they are neutral.  A person is born with certain neutral personality traits and he can decide how he wants to utilize them.  Rav Kook  uses Jesus as an example.  He argues that Jesus was a person with great spiritual qualities.  He could have used these innate characteristics to spread the Torah but instead he used these traits to break off from Judaism.

Rav Kook speaks of the root characteristic versus it’s manifestations;  one root characteristic could have many opposing manifestations.  This is how he explains a very interesting Gemara in Yoma 69b.   The Gemara tells the story of the Anshei Knesset Ha’Gedola (the men of the Great Assembly) who fasted for three days and three nights until the yetzer (the drive) for idol worship was handed to them.  Something that appeared to be a pillar of fire escaped from the Kodesh Ha’kedoshim (Holy of Holies) and the prophet explained to them that this was the yetzer for idol worship.  But what was the root cause of idol worship doing in the Kodesh Ha’Kedoshim  – the holiest place in the Temple?

Rav Kook’s theory of  characteristics answers our question: the root cause of idol worship is the same root cause for worship of Hashem.  They both stem from the same character trait – spirituality.  When the Anshei Knesset Ha’Gedola rid the world of the drive for idol worship they also rid the world of a certain innate drive to serve Hashem.  A certain sense of mystery and holiness disappeared.   People no longer sensed transcendence as they used to. And People no longer loved serving God as they once had.  It must have been a difficult decision for the Anshei Knesset Hagedola to make.  How do you measure the value of such a drive over the value of ridding the world of idol  worship?  And I can’t help but to wonder if they made the right decision.

The truth is I think the Anshei Knesset Hagdola erred in a fundamental way.  They thought they could find a clean easy route to Go.  They felt that if they could just take away what seems to be standing in the way…

And God let them do it. Perhaps  God was trying to teach them a lesson – there are no easy paths.  Things that are easy to reach are generally not worth  reaching.  It’s the struggle that allows us the insight.  It’s the struggle that gets us there.

And now as people residing in a universe without this innate drive we are given a difficult task.  We need to discover this drive on our own using our other faculties: intellect, intuition, emotion, moral sensibilities, drive for human perfection.  We need to utilize all of these faculties in the proper ratio to get to the place the ancients were able to reach with no effort at all.  Idol worship might be gone but we all still struggle to reach God  because in the end it is the struggle that will get us there.

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