Rav Kook on “Secular Studies” and the Holiness In the 70 Languages

Awakening the Holiness in Every Language
(from Kovetz Alef, section 887)

In an age when we witness a powerful attraction to the study of languages and science, it is impossible to fight against all who are drawn towards them. Indeed, the times and the signs of the day indicate the necessity [for these studies]. The inner righteous, with their mystical service, come to the rescue at this hour. With nobility of spirit, they open up the blocked conduits and establish the mystical secret of God in “His studies.” These studies encompass all that is in the universe, especially that which advances the world’s progress.

The righteous awaken the holiness hidden in each language. They utilize the power of Joseph, who incorporated all [of the physical world] with the Hebrew letter hey.1 They apply the power of the Divine word from Sinai, which illuminates with an ever-increasing light. “Each Divine command split up into seventy languages” (Shabbat 88b).

Similarly, we find that Moses explained the Torah be’er heitev, “very clearly” (Deut. 27:8).2 Moses uncovered the essence of good in every language, the inner force that introduced it from holy Majesty. The language itself is thus clarified and refined. Then we may present a “language of clarity” to all nations, so that “all will be able to call out in the name of God” (Zephania 3:9).

1 In Psalms 81:6, Joseph’s name is spelled with an extra letter, the letter hey. “As a testimony for Jehoseph… when he went forth over the land of Egypt; I understood a language that I had not known.” According to the Midrash in Sotah36b, the angel Gabriel gave Joseph the letter hey from God’s Name so that Joseph would be able to learn all seventy languages.
The Sages in Menachot 29b wrote that God created this world with the letter hey.

2 The Talmud in Sotah 32a explains be’er heitev to mean that the Torah was translated into seventy languages.

from: R’ Chanan Morrison:


Author: Matthew Zachary Gindin

Freelance journalist and teacher. I write regularly for the Forward, All That In Interesting, and the Jewish Independent, and have been published in Religion Dispatches, Situate Magazine, Elephant Journal, and elsewhere.

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