The Essential Writings of Abraham Isaac Kook

by Ben Zion Bokser (editor and translator)


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About this book

This volume of Rabbi Bokser’s translations of Rav Kook consists of letters, aphorisms and excerpts from essays and other writings. Together, they provide a wide-ranging perspective on the thought and writing of Rav Kook. With most selections running two or three pages, readers gain a gentle introduction to one of the great Jewish thinkers of the modern era.

Table of Contents

I. Controversies

II. Essays

A Call for Unity     22
A Call to the Scholars of Israel     25
The Art of Criticism     27
The Nearness of God     30
Morality and Faith in God     33
The Lights of Faith     35
Our Separate Paths     37
The Call of God     39
The Torah and Human Culture     41
The Inner Dimensions of the Torah     45
Assyriology and the Bible     48
The Service of God     49

III. Letters 54

IV. Meditations

The Harmony of Ideas    148
The Basis of All Thoughts    149
The Hidden Spring    150
Silence and Attention    151
The God of Unification    152
The Creative Flow of the Soul I 5 3
Attentiveness to the Vision    154
The Revelation of the Soul    154
The Meeting of the Streams    155
From Pain to Delight    156
The Grief of the Soul’s Redemption I 56
The Question About the Origin of Certainty    157
The Concepts that Transcend Science    158
The Unity of Mind and Will    159
The Life that Transends Life    160
The Life of Holiness    161
The Delight of Holiness    162
The Holy Edifice    163
The Building of the Secular for the Sake of the Holy    164
The Divine Emanation    165
Everything Moves and Aspires    165
The General Trend and Divine Providence    166
The Unity of the Human Family    167
The Basic Changes in the New Thought    169
The Ascent of the Human Will and Reason    172
The Doctrine of Evolution and Divine Providence    173
General and Individual Providence    174
Progress and All Embracing Unity    175
The Higher Perfection    177
The Elevation of Everything    178
Morality and the Law    178
Morality Rooted in Faith in God    179
The Morality of Existence    180
The Unity of Morality and Wisdom    181
The Universal Will    181
The Ascent to Inner Greatness    182
Inner Greatness and Self Assessment    183
The Mending and the Fall    184
A Higher Disposition    184
A Special Path    185
Engaging in the Holy Service    186
The Higher Silence    187
The Supreme Zaddik    187
The Desire for the Good Deed and its Value    188
Good to All    189
Kindness and Inner Strength    189

V. Aphorisms    193


“God was charitable toward His world by not endowing all talents in one place, nor with one person, nor with one nations, nor with one country, nor with one generation, nor with one world. But the talents are diffused. The necessity of seeking perfection… causes us to seek an exalted unity….. In that day will the Lord be one, and His name one.” (p.202)

“One who is prepared to experience the true fear of God, toward saintliness and holiness, must know that he cannot be like other people, but must strengthen himself to follow his distinctive path.” (p. 196)

“Though we are resolute in fighting for the things that are close to our spirit, we must not be altogether committed to our feelings but realize that there is also ample room for the feelings that differ from ours.” (p. 200)

“[W]hen an idea comes to negate some teaching in the Torah, we must not, to begin with, reject it, but build the edifice of the Torah above it and thereby we ascend higher, and through this ascent, the ideas are clarified. Then, once we are free of ideological pressure, we can also actively resist the idea that challenges us.” (p.79)

Index of Sources

Arpele Tohar

2 205
10 206
13 206
21-22 206
24 206
25 207
30 207
32 207
33 208
40 208, 209
43 209
47 209
66 210

Eder HaYakar

13-15 48
36-38 35
42-43 49
124 200
137 201
145-149 52

Hazon HaGeulah

108 205


I:20 199
I:27 54-57
I:28 57-58
I:29 59-60
I:31 60-61
I:40 199
I:43 61-64
I:45 64-65
I:50 66-67
I:57 67-68
I:61 68-69
I:64 69-70
I:93 70-73
I:104 73
I:117 58-59
I:124 74
I:125 75-77
I:134 77-80
I:136 80-81
I:137 81-84
I:139 84-85
I:140 85-89
I:149 89-93
I:194 93-94
I:301 96-98
I:308 99
I:314 200
II:335 100-102
II:338 102-103
II:341 103-4
II:344 104-106
II:349 106-110
II:355 110-112
II:358 113
II:398 114
II:418 115-116
II:427 116-119
II:493 121-122
II:557 122
II:570 119-121
II:575 123-124
II:594 124-126
II:602 126-130
II:634 131-2
II:645 132-135
II:664 135-136
II:669 136-137
II:691 137-138
III: 749 138-139
III: 791 139-140
III: 804 140-141
III: 829 141-143
III: 837 143-144
III: 966 144-145

Maamore HaRayah

11-13 28, 29
32-34 32
40 203
41 203
70-71 37
76-77 39
101-104 45
113-115 41
235 204

Musar Avikha

67-72 205

Olat Rayah

I 386-387 204
II 3 205


32-33 202
52 202
70-72 23
99-101 27
152 202
156 202

Orot Ha-Torah

3:7 201
3:8 201
5:3 201

Orot HaKodesh

I:11-12 149
I:17-18 150
I:100 151
I:116 152
I:11-12 149
I:17-18 150
I:100 151
I:116 152
I:120-121 152
I:172-173 153
I:176 154
I :184 155
I:190 155
I:197 156
I:199 157
I:205-206 158
I:219 193
I:220-223 159
I:249 193
I:257 193
I:259-260 160
I:361 165
II:27 52
II:298 194
II:302-303 162
II:305-306 163
II:320 164
II:323 165
II:366-367 161
II:386 166
II:426-427 167
II:431-432 169
II:556-560 172
II:562 173
II:565-566 174
II:567-568 175
II:586-587 177
II:588 177
II:591 178
III:1-2 179
III:4-5 180
III:13 194
III:19-20 181
III:39 182
III:79 195
III:119 195
III:122 182
III:123-124 184
III:125 184
III:132 195
III:133 195
III:180 195
III:214 185, 196
III:220 196
III:221 186
III:229-230 186
III:233 196
III:234 197
III:241 197
III:249 197
III:251 197
III:252 197
III:259 198
III:261 198
III:274 187, 198
III:307-308 188
III:314 189
III:316 189
III:324 199
III:334-335 189
III intro p.24 194
III intro p.26 194
III intro p.32 179

About the Editor

Ben Zion Bokser was born in Lubomb, Poland in 1907, and raised in the United States. He first encountered Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook as a high school student when he was deeply moved by Rav Kook’s address to Yeshivat Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan.

Throughout a career that included a half century as spiritual leader of the Forest Hills Jewish Center, Rabbi Bokser turned again and again to Rav Kook, as a beacon for his own spiritual path and writings, and in his role as a translator and popularizer of the work of the rabbi he considered his inspiration.

Rabbi Bokser’s articles in Tradition and Judaism helped introduce Rav Kook to an American audience in the 1960’s.

These were followed by Rabbi Bokser’s translations of The Lights of Penitence, The Moral Principles, Lights of Holiness, Essays, Letters, and Poems as part of the Paulist Press “Classics of Western Spirituality” series.

This, his second selection of Rav Kook’s writings, was published posthumously.

Other books by Rabbi Bokser include a biography of Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus entitled, Pharisaic Judaism in Transition (1935), a study of the Maharal of Prague (Rabbi Loew ben Bezalel) entitled, From the World of the Cabbalah (1954), Judaism and Modern Man (1957), Judaism: Profile of a Faith (1963), and Judaism and the Christian Predicament (1967).

Rabbi Bokser translated and edited a prayer book for weekday, Sabbath and festival use, and one for the High Holidays.

The Essential Writings of Abraham Isaac Kook is a culmination of Rabbi Bokser’s sixty- year fascination with Rav Kook. Ben Zion Bokser was a young student when he first heard Rav Kook speak at Yeshiva University in 1924. He was immediately taken with Rav Kook and became an avid proponent of his teachings.

Newly married in 1949, Rabbi Bokser visited his new father-in-law in Jerusalem only to discover that Rav Kook’s foremost disciple, the Nazir, Rabbi David Cohen, living across the street. Rabbi Bokser befriended him, and this friendship gave him access to a direct student of Rav Kook’s. Thoughout the 60’s and 70’s, Bokser published Rav Kook’s teachings in journals such as Judaism and Tradition, introducing him to an American audience.

In 1978, Rabbi Bokser published the best-selling translation of Rav Kooks’ writings as part of the best selling Classics of Western Spirituality series of Paulist Press. Conceived as a sequel of sorts to that volume, The Essental Writings made it to press four years after Rabbi Bokser’s death.

Despite the importance of The Essental Writings—author Karen Armstrong has repeatedly cited it—the book did not remain on the market at the time of first publication due to the financial travails of the publisher.

Ben Yehuda Press is proud to reprint this volume and has added, for the first time, indices of topics and citations.


“A giant of twentieth century Jewish thought, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook was a mystic who utilized mystical ideas not to retreat from the world but to engage it meaningfully in all its aspects. This work excels both in its judicious selection of texts-all brief, pointed, and accessible-and the quality of the translation. The reader is treated to Rav Kook’s views on such topics as culture, evolution, scientific change, Torah study, holiness, morality and the Zionist revival. The volume enables readers to feel the pulse and power of this remarkable thinker.”

-David Shatz, Professor of Philosphy, Yeshiva University
“A paradoxical giant of both Lurianic Kabbalism and Talmudic scholarship, of meditative piety and active legislation. A sacred and healing balm for these troubled times.”

– Isaac Mozeson, Judaica Book News

“Ben-Yehuda Press, a relatively new publishing house, has done the community a service by reprinting this 1988 collection of Rav Kook’s letters, short essays, and meditations. The book begins with a brief discussion about the major controversies the surrounded Rav Kook’s life, including the heter mechira debate. The essays, discuss a wide range of topics, such as evolution, culture, the study of Assyriology and the Bible, and many more topics. Regretfully, the letters do not include headers giving any indication of their topic, making it difficult to find subjects that interest the reader. Despite this shortcoming, the book gives a good feel of the matters that engaged Rav Kook’s inner and public life.

“Most of the citations in this anthology come from his letters and Orot Hakodesh. This book is a supplement to Bokser’s other, larger collection of Rav Kook’s writings,Abraham Isaac Kook, which was printed in The Classics of Western Spirituality series. That book includes a translation of Orot HaTeshuvah and other major works.”

– Tradition, a Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought