Divrei Torah

The Divrei Torah in this section have been translated by Rav Reuven Ungar, Director of Alumni Affairs

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Culture War?

By: Rav David Lebor

Recently there has been talk concerning a "culture war". Thank G-d, there  is no war; however a fierce argument-even a struggle- is being waged. The  struggle relates to specific halachot, and to the public domain (farhesya)  of the State of Israel. A central point of contention is the attitude  towards, and understanding of, the role of culture and the arts.

The relationship between man and woman provide a fertile battle zone in this  "culture war". In his introduction to Shir HaShirim (included in Olat  Ri'iya), Rav Kook discusses the role of the arts in general, and provides us  with a key to understanding this area in particular.

The Maskilim (literally, the "enlightened ones") claimed that Shir HaShirim  should be comprehended in accordance with the simple reading (pshat) of the  text; a love story between a man and a woman. They claim that Chazal were  uncomfortable with this understanding, and consequently explained the text  as a parable to the love of the Jewish People towards Hashem. The Maskilim  claimed that the view of Chazal stemmed from a narrow outlook. Because  Chazal were not "worldly", they were incapable of feeling the simple love of  people and the natural phenomena mentioned in Shir HaShirim.

Rav Kook absolutely negates such an approach. He maintains that the arts  fulfill a necessary function. Certain forces are submerged within the human  psyche that must be expressed. The arts facilitate this; in the case of Shir  HaShirim it is accomplished via the medium of literature. Some concepts  cannot be expressed via the arts. Positive values are to be expressed. The  bad and the ugly may not pollute the public spiritual health. "Freedom of  expression", and the "right of the public to know" are not ultimate values.

Feelings of love and affection between man and wife are healthy and  positive. Within proper guidelines they can be expressed in the arts and  literature. We learn in Tanach about Yaakov and Rachel, David and Michal. In  Judaism there are no taboos; rather there is modesy.  Why did Chazal refrain  from reading  Shir HaShirim according to pshat?

Rav Kook maintains that the approach of Chazal towards Shir HaShirim is not  merely plausible; it is imperative. How could one sum up the central message  of the Tanach (the all-time bestseller) in one line?  The depiction of the  relationship between Hashem and man-namely, the love that exists between  Hashem and the Jewish People. Yet, no volume of the Tanach directly  addresses this issue. Rather, it is usually dealt with via exhortations from  the prophets when people strayed from the proper path of obeying Hashem.  Thus, Shir HaShirim is dedicated to this all-encompassing theme- the  relationship between Hashem and the Jewish People.

Human love is utilized to depict the most exalted form of love- that between  The Holy One, Blessed be He and the Jewish People. Rav Kook relates that the  Maskilim had never experienced the tremendous experience of love of Hashem;  thus they were incapable of comprehending (and certainly not accepting)  Chazal's understanding of Shir HaShirim.

Fear of Heaven (Yirat Shamayim) and adherence to halacha are the  prerequisites to engage in the arts (for people who are technically and  spiritually proficient in the relevant areas). With the proper preparation  and guidelines, individuals express themselves in the arts and fulfill their  share in perfecting the world in the Majesty of Hashem.


Categorized under: 1: Machshava > General
Uploaded: 12/5/2005 2:34:20 AM