Tuesday, February 27, 2018

More Than A Peirush- a review of the new Rav Kook Siddur

“A student asked his Rosh Yeshiva whether he should study Rav Kook’s perush to the siddur. In his inimitable style, the Rosh Yeshiva replied” ‘Ach, it’s not a perush to the siddur.’ Intrigued, the student asked “If not a perush to the siddur, then what is it?’
‘A neshamah on paper.’”

While it has been pointed out by both those who read the quote carefully, as well as those familiar with the actual context, that Rav Yaakov Weinberg, the above quoted rosh yeshiva, did not necessarily mean his words as a compliment, seeing Olat Reiyah as less than a peirush on the siddur and only “a neshmah on paper”, I believe that Koren, the publishers of the new Rav Kook Siddur were right to use this quote. Regardless of the rosh yeshiva’s intent, Rav Kook did not merely write a commentary, with all the limitations that this term implies. Instead he truly bared his soul, and even more importantly, showed that real tefillah cannot happen without each of us doing the same.

Until now, as with much of his thought, Rav Kook’s approach to tefillah was largely off limits to the English-speaking world. Rav Bezalel Naor, who wrote the commentary which accompanies the new Rav Kook Siddur, has once again made Rav Kook’s ideas available to a broader audience. As he has done with other of his published works based on Rav Kook (his Pesach haggadah being another example), Rav Naor has stayed away from a straightforward translation of Rav Kook’s sefer, in this case Olat Reiyah. While this decision means that not all of Rav Kook’s ideas on tefillah are to be found in the new siddur, it offers the benefit of being a single volume which can be used for davening and not just just to study. Additionally, Rav Naor does a masterful job taking Rav Kook’s difficult Hebrew and deep concepts, and making them understandable. On top of this, Rav Naor offers many of his own insights culled from his many decades of studying Rav Kook’s ideas.

I was pleased that Rav Naor decided to begin the new siddur with the translation of Inyanei Tefillah, Rav Kook’s explanation of the idea of tefillah which appears at the beginning of Olat Reiyah. In doing so, he offers the reader the ability to understand Rav Kook’s unique approach to prayer, which he sees as latently always taking place in the human soul, and becoming active during times of actual tefillah. With this introduction, and the other ideas which follow, one understands why Rav Kook could never have merely written a commentary on the siddur. For him, the words we say when we stand before our Creator are not merely vortelach, clever though they may be. Instead, they are words with which we express what lays most deeply within ourselves, or perhaps more properly, who we are in our deepest essence.

[One note for those who will want to use The Rav Kook Siddur along with Olat Reiyah. Rav Naor used an earlier edition of Olat Reiyah, and as such, the pages listed in the footnotes in the new siddur do not match up with the pages in the newer edition of Olat Reiyah.]

For those who wish to use this new siddur to not only study Rav Kook’s ideas, but to work on their avodas hashem, they now now have a new powerful tool to use as they truly engage in what is avodah shebalev, service of the heart. If Rav Kook truly bared his soul in writing Olat Reiyah, Rav Naor’s new masterful siddur allows us to see who Rav Kook truly was, and who we might be through the gradual baring of our soul on prayer.

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