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Shabbat Parashat Vayechi 5783

Igrot Hareaya Letters of Rav Kook: When Should Mitzvot Cease to Apply? #140

part I

Date and Place: 27 Iyar 5668 (1908), Yafo

Recipient: Rabbi Shmuel Alexandrov. Alexandrov was a yeshiva-trained scholar, who was an autodidact in languages, philosophy, and science. He was a very independent thinker who at times angered the Maskilim and at times angered traditional rabbis. He was a member of the Mizrachi movement and tried, over the years, to recruit Rav Kook to take a leadership role within that movement. This is one of many correspondences between the two on matters of Jewish philosophy.

Body: I am not sure if I will succeed in clarifying the concepts that separate us to the point that we will be able to safely move from topic to topic without getting bogged down in unending polemics in one topic. Still, I am compelled to speak to the extent I can about a certain matter with which so many before the two of us have already dealt.
You treat as an important idea the matter of mitzvot being inactive in the ideal future (le’atid lavo), and you imply that I dispute this principle because I am more inclined to accept the opinion that mitzvot will remain intact le’atid lavo (see Nidda 61b). This is not so, my friend, and this falls within the rule that “These and those are the words of the living G-d.”
We should all be able to recognize that this period of time called le’atid lavo is so broad that it is not possible to find a narrow area in which to say that there is a dispute on the applicability of mitzvot at that particular time. There is a time during le’atid lavo in which mitzvot will apply, and there is a time during le’atid lavo in which they will not apply. Those who desire to investigate the Talmudic treatment of matters of belief, with the appropriate purity, loftiness, and breadth, must clearly limit the parameters of the question and determine when these two periods of le’atid lavo are. They must understand, with a developed and settled mind, how matters apply to each sub-period according to its value. On this matter, I do not think that there is necessarily a significant difference of opinion between different thinkers.
The thing that I feel compelled to stress in my letter to you is that at times, it seems that you are trying to artificially move up this more distant period of le’atid lavo, in which the mitzvot will not apply, and claim that this time has already come. [This cannot be because] our time is full of despair and collapse, and it is a time that requires real building and strengthening through positive physical activity. The approach of saying we are already in the period in which mitzvot do not apply is one I dispute. I believe that everyone with a straight heart should distance himself from such thinking, which we have seen in other historical periods.
[Let us understand that what you are proposing is that] the world has already reached heights of morality to the point that it does not require any more spiritual improvement [of the type for which mitzvot can be helpful]. [In other words,] they do not need any guidance in matters of belief or any element of rules about things that need a tradition and agreement to implement! There is no need to receive anything from Hashem, from spiritual prophets, from national sources or from practical societal needs?!! How can we say this without any clear divine indications [in our recent history]?! We see the exact opposite! Therefore, your thesis is simply a mistake in calculation of the many various periods.

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