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Shabbat Parashat Vayeishev 5782

Igrot Hareaya Letters of Rav Kook: Spread the Tzaddiks Teachings, Not His Asceticism

#73 part II

Date and Place: Iyar 5667, Yafo


Recipient: Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Charlop, the illustrious talmid chacham, and a close confidante of Rav Kook, later to be rabbi of Sha’arei Chesed and Rosh Yeshiva of Merkaz Harav. Rav Charlop was one of the closest disciples of the tzaddik, Rav Tzvi Michal Shapira, a saintly scholar and ascetic. Rav Charlop was involved in the posthumous publishing of letters and teachings of Rav Shapira.


Body: [Last time we saw Rav Kook praise Rav Charlop for the decision to help publish the works of Rav Shapira, as well as extolling the great tzaddik and ascetic and the spiritual brilliance of his teachings.]

All of this [praise] is despite the fact that I am skeptical whether we can find in our times, when the body and the soul are both weak, many people, even among the spiritual elite, who can choose for themselves the path of asceticism and modest self-affliction. This is a worthy approach only to the extent that the person has true enjoyment from being in contact with the divine light, the glow of lofty wisdom, and the special love of spiritual indulgence that comes with true fear of Hashem. It must come with the proper awe of Hashem’s greatness, which comes together with wisdom and humility, Torah study with proper intentions, along with following practices that facilitate acquiring greatness in Torah, as Chazal set out (see Avot, ch. 6). This great light, which fills the soul with vigor, a life glow, and joy for truth, pushes off all worries and the demands for lowly physical life that most people desire. Such truly rare, holy tzaddikim protect their generation with their merit and provide light for all. The goal of Rav Tzvi Michal was apparently to be such a person.

However, one who is not able to increase his sanctity to such a lofty level, who did not sufficiently toil in wisdom of fear or acquire love of Hashem and all of the good attributes that draw one close to Hashem, must not seek out a life of asceticism. If they will do such things as frequent fasts and self-affliction, then their heart will be empty, and they will regret the suffering they experience. In that way, they will not accomplish anything for themselves or their generation.

The following is what the Kuzari (III:1) says about such a person: “If one is missing necessary acquired wisdom and natural wisdom and anyway brought himself to a state of self-depravation, then he brought upon himself torment and spiritual and physical sickness. The weakness of disease will be seen on him, and people will think it is the weakness of surrender and lowliness. He will then despise his life, because he is disgusted by incarceration and pain, and he will be on his own but not due to the love of solitude. How can it not be so if he does not cling to the divine light, to which prophets cling, and he did not reach wisdom to a degree that delving into them brings pleasant feelings?”

A rare tzaddik like your sainted rebbe, especially because he lived in the Holy Land and in the Holy City which is the seat of prophecy, was able to walk on the “altars of clouds,” like the saintly people of early periods, who were lighter than eagles and fiercer than lions to do the will of their Master and the desire of their Maker. He reached the highest level of sanctity and purity and felt the pleasure and sweetness of service of Hashem. With all of his many fasts and self-afflictions, which he chose in his sacred heart to include in his truly extraordinary service of Hashem, he still kept his strength intact. He was able to reach great heights in studying Halacha in depth (which requires great concentration and innovation), with wonderful sharpness and mental depth. This is because the spirit of Hashem was with him, and he enjoyed Divine Assistance to increase strength with brave sanctity. This is because his whole course of action was planned according to the strength and pleasantness that he had internally, made possible by daily study of divinity, ethics, and the study of Kabbala and other works of the wisdom of truth. These all broadened his thinking and sanctified his soul, so that he was adorned most beautifully.
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