December 06

Rav Kook: Poet of Renewal

Translations by Itzchak Marmorstein. Introduction by Rachel Barenblat

Itzchak Marmorstein was born in Israel in 1951, the only child of two Holocaust survivors. His family moved to Canada when he was eight; he's oscillated between the two places ever since. He received an MSW from the University of Toronto in 1976. In the summer of 1981, he sat down in Winnipeg Beach, Canada to read from what he calls "the Kook Book" -- a book of the writings of Rav Abraham Isaac Kook's, the mystical first chief rabbi of Israel whose signature adorns this page.

"I had a mystical experience as I was reading," Marmorstein says. "I decided then that I wanted to learn more. I have come to understand that Rav Kook is the most significant Torah sage that has emerged since Isaac Luria."

Marmorstein holds a trio of rabbinic ordinations: first from Rabbi Z.N. Goldberg of Jerusalem (1989), then Shlomo Carlebach (1992), and finally Zalman Shachter-Shalomi (1996). His day job is a project called Mila Yomit: The Torah, Word By Word. "My night job," he says, "is to learn and share the teachings of Rav Kook."

Once upon a time, Marmorstein wrote poetry himself -- but stopped after his immersion in Rav Kook's poetry. "I prefer it to my own," he admits. Recently he began experimenting with workshops in which he guides students through a process of reading, and meditating upon, Rav Kook's poems before writing their own.

"Rav Kook," Marmorstein says, "who often integrates Torah passages into his writings – to whom Eliezer Ben Yehuda looked for guidance as he was doing his work with contemporary Hebrew! - offers the most amazing expression of the language since the Tanach."

The following are Marmorstein's translations of two of Kook's poems.

TECHIYA - Renewal
Give me, give me
rays of light,
Too much for me, too much
these pits of darkness.

Give me the gift
of purity of thought,
Enough for me, enough
these prisons of confusion.

Gift me, gift me
with the power of desire,
Extend to me
balls of fire.

I'll explode with them
the false towers and structures
And the vanity of vanities
that dwell within.

I proclaim liberation
for my words and my pen
Without keeping
my wine in its barrel.

And without fear
the anxiety of the enslaved
We will announce together
words/matters of unity/uniqueness/unification.

Our words like arrows
will hit their marks,
And to our quarreling brothers and sisters
speak of our wrongdoing.

To raise ourselves beyond the divisions,
for the greatness of the people,
To expand our consciousness
as broad as the ocean.

To shake the dust
from the lands of our exile
That are cleaving
to our sickly hearts.

To understand the principle
that is everything,
The Torah, our destiny,
the power of the Divine.

To be concerned for the soul,
the soul of our people,
Turned over desolate,
in its exile from its home.

To awaken life,
for the renwal of the people
On the earth and in the heavens,
As they are there.

ME'OLAM RACHOK - From A Distant World
And from a distant world, full of illuminations,
The suns there are as broad as the ocean,
And the stars, like the light of our sun,
On the face of the sapphire stone, ...there.

The news reaches me,
Like dew full of overflowing delight,
Guiding me to the hidden Eden,
There...the treasure is stored.

All the faces there are joyful,
Every mouth sings songs of praise,
The highest feelings fill each heart,
And... all legs dance in jubilation.

The past and the future are scrolled into one,
Nothing hidden, everything known,
Every soul full of love for all,
Feelings for the multitudes
And...the light is sown.

All the pasts flow like rivers,
Purity, illumination, strength and light,
Life renewed, freedom and liberation,
Fills ...all our thoughts and activities.

And without teachers, guides, judges or politicians,
Everything is good, everything is clear,
There is no corruption or injustice, everything is with integrity,
And... the night shines like the day.

To a world such as this my soul longs,
In life such as this my spirit soars...



Rachel Barenblat is a Contributing Editor to Zeek.