Can Too Much Torah Study Hurt Your Spiritual Life?

Professor Marc B. Shapiro is out with his first blog post since April.

He writes: I have mentioned how R. Kook compares the Torah scholars and the masses, and how the masses have elements of natural morality that are not to be found among the scholars. This is not the only provocative distinction R. Kook makes. He also distinguishes between the great tzadikim and everyone else. These two groupings are, of course, different in many ways. Yet one of the most interesting distinctions R. Kook makes—and one can find parallels to this in Ibn Caspi and hasidic texts— is that for the elites the nitty-gritty of halakhic study can have a negative affect on their spiritual life.

…R. Kook goes so far as to say that for these elites the very practice of mitzvot is not part of their spiritual identity per se. They have, as it were, moved beyond this, and their involvement with the practical sphere of mitzvot is based on their connection to the larger world.[1] I think that this passage, from Shemonah Kevatzim 1:410, is the most antinomian in all of R. Kook’s writings. In it we also see how problematic the halakhic details of life are to the special personality who wants to soar the heights of spirituality and yet has to be involved with practical halakhic matters. I think it obvious that R. Kook is reflecting his own personal spiritual struggle here. On the one hand, he wants to lose himself in love of and experience of God, to bind his soul with the divine. On the other hand, as a practicing rabbi he was called upon day in and day out to answer all sorts of everyday halakhic questions. One can imagine him alone in his study, enraptured in mysticism, even nearing prophetic insights, and someone comes to his door asking him to determine the kashrut of a dead chicken. With this he is brought down to the mundane halakhic world.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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