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Shabbat Parashat Terumah 5782

Igrot Hareaya Letters of Rav Kook: Follow-Up Questions

#90 part II

Date and Place: 17 Shevat 5665 (1905), Yafo


Recipient: A young Moshe Zeidel.  A close disciple of Rav Kook, from their time in Boisk, he asked Rav Kook many philosophical questions. He would become Dr. Zeidel, a philologist and philosopher.


Body: [We will see some of the questions that he asked in a letter that was for the most part a response to questions and comments of Zeidel to Rav Kook’s letter (#89).]

I refer now to that which you were asked about what I wrote on the reason behind the prohibition of sha’atnez. [Rav Kook wrote that the use of wool for garments has a somewhat negative moral element in that man “steals” a living thing’s hair to use for himself, which should be separated from the use of linen, which is made with man-planted vegetation, which contains no negative element.] You were asked: why then is it not forbidden to mix in fabrics of wool and cotton (which, like linen, is a man-raised fabric)?

In order to answer the question, I need to raise the general issue of inquiring into the reasons behind mitzvot. The practical mitzvot are like the form of the letters and words through which we are able to understand the concepts. If one word would be sufficient to understand the concept, is it possible to ask why there was not also another word that could express the same idea?

Certainly, the word that is engraved with the light of the world must be seen as clearly as can possibly be. In order to fully appreciate this, we must pursue knowledge of Hashem, and the highest level of thought must be etched in the image of the choicest of people. The idea [of not mixing the morally problematic with the morally fine] is properly connected to the concept of clothing, which is something that is worn for honor and grandeur, and not just for covering up that which is unseemly or protecting from the cold. The latter are related to the low and vulnerable side of man and also come about due to moral deterioration, which we believe will be redirected positively through the power of Torah. Therefore, linen, which comes from flax, was the most adorning garment in the ancient world, and thus appropriate for the unification between practice and the very lofty concept behind it. This is better than to connect the concept to lower-level garments, which are results of necessity and weakness.

Finally I will relate to what you wrote regarding Rashi’s opinion, that Hashem remembered [at the time of Noach] the merit of the animals that did not ruin their moral standing [by interbreeding]. This merit is the foundation behind the fact that certain animals were chosen to survive and others were not. Because their moral tendencies were not subverted, they were fit to be involved in populating the world.

This has nothing to do with free choice, just as having the merit of coming from righteous antecedents has nothing to do with free choice. On the other hand, there is no basis for the claim that animals have no elements of free choice. Certainly, their free choice is much more limited than that of mankind. However, for every living thing, according to its level of advancement, there is also an element of choice that it has. This is also the foundation of its development in the future until the time about which it is said, “They will not do evil and will not destroy on My whole mountain of sanctity” (Yeshayahu 11:9).

In fact, the newest studies of the animal kingdom increasingly corroborate that which I have said, although they have actually been preceded by the Torah, by means of the prophets, at length. Indeed, the word of Hashem will remain true forever.


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