Elul 3 5775 – August 18 2015
On this day, The third of Elul, 80 years ago. Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, first chief rabbi of the then called Palestine, died at the age of 70. Kook’s legacy has since been linked, for both right and wrong reasons, with the Israeli Settlement ideology, but the scope of his philosophy is far more complex and important than a political attitude, and his vision for how to live life with integrity has had a lasting influence on the spiritual vocabulary of modern jewry.
I remember his picture hanging in my uncle’s living room. As a child I found his face terrifying. As a grown up I have learned to separate his deeply moving teachings that motivate me to love, from the ones in his vision is more limited and limiting, still harboring the fear of the Other that resides beyond the tribal Jewish bounds. This entire past year of Shmita I’ve been re-reading Sabbath of the Earth, his bold approach to sustainability and the creativity to be found within Jewish law within and beyond the laws of the Sabbatical year.
On this third day of the Prepent journey I pause to honor his memory and invite us to invoke and honor the gifts of our teachers and mentor- alive or dead, old and young, Jewish or not, the ones who gave us the outlooks and attitudes, books and songs, memories and meanings that have made us and still make us who we are and who we still want to become.
Now that I’m in London for the week with family I think I’ll invite the late Rabbi for tea, and to keep him company invoke another mentor whom I’ve never met, still alive, but not for long, whose words have touched me deeply over the years and has come out just this past wknd as a Sabbath loving lapsed Gay Jew. Oliver Sack’s Op-Ed piece on Sabbath in the New York Times is an inspired read on how to start making sense of one’s life when the end is near and reconnecting to what is precious and sacred. I think Kook and Sacks will have what to talk about over tea. Kook spent three years as a rabbi in London two decades before Sacks was even born here, just a few miles up the road. At least I’ll choose a quote from each of them and place them on the table to get the conversation going.
Generations of disciples honor Kook’s memory on this day by turning and returning to his words of wisdom. It makes most sense for me to dig up a quote from one of his most popular and important works – the Lights of Return, a manual on how to go about this process of repenting, from the inside out:
“The mere thought of inner change, of repentance, is that which reveals the depths of human will; The strength of the soul is revealed by these thoughts in the fullness of its splendor. As vast is the range of possible change for the better, so is the extent of the soul’s freedom.” (Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook)
Oliver Sacks’ reply:
“To live on a day-to-day basis is insufficient for human beings; we need to transcend, transport, escape; we need meaning, understanding, and explanation; we need to see over-all patterns in our lives. We need hope, the sense of a future. And we need freedom (or, at least, the illusion of freedom) to get beyond ourselves, whether with telescopes and microscopes and our ever-burgeoning technology, or in states of mind that allow us to travel to other worlds, to rise above our immediate surroundings.”
37 days remain on this Prepent journey until we reach our destination of symbolic death: How do we get there with the blessing of our teachers and our gratitude that is their due?
Who among those who’ve been my mentors this past year can I thank today? Those who gave me tools for conscious living, information and direction for a better life? Who should I not take for granted? sometimes I’m surprised to see who shows me – not always who I expected.
List three of them. Write a letter, call, visit if possible. If they are no longer living – share with others, or with us, a moment, a memory, a quote, a debt of gratitude. Pay it forward, pass it on. Join us for mentor-honor-tea.
Change for the better, wrote Rav Kook, is always possible, if only we first express appreciation for where we’ve come from, what we’ve done wrong, and what does it look like to do life right. ‘The old will become new” goes his most famous saying, “and the new will become sacred.”
Again, and again, and again. Enjoy your tea-time. L’chyaim.