This blog’s title, “A Fourfold Song,” is an homage to a famous passage from the writings of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hacohen Kook (1865-1935), the first Chief Rabbi of Mandatory Palestine. I chose it because I think Rav Kook is pretty amazing, and also because his “fourfold song” has been a useful way for me to organize my thoughts, my rabbinate, and my life.
I am: an individual, husband, father, son, and friend, who relishes all of those roles; a proud, passionate Jew and lover of Zion; a believer in the essential unity of all people; and a person who cultivates compassion for all beings, and seeks to alleviate their suffering.
There are times when these various identities seem to conflict with each other. To love Zion and support Israel is (some say) to fail to identify with the downtrodden. To devote attention to family, or to self-care, is (some say) to neglect “the cause.” To devote energy and resources to cultivating compassion for non-humans is (some say) to waste time better spent on alleviating human suffering.
But Rav Kook’s “fourfold song” suggests that Self, Tribe, Humanity, and Universe are all worthy of attention and concern. As a Rabbi, I wrestle with dichotomies like “inreach vs. outreach,” “particular vs. universal,” “pastor vs. activist,” and “personal vs. professional” every day. It helps to remember that these dichotomies are false ones. While any given moment might be spent singing the song of Self, Tribe, Humanity, or Universe, the song of my life is the four-part harmony, and not just one line (These ideas are explored at greater length in my 2014 Kol Nidrei sermon, here).
And that’s how I write my blog, as well. Posts about me, about Jews and Judaism, about humanity, and about the Universe coexist on these pages. The category feature allows for some sorting, but the blog reads best when those lines of division aren’t taken too seriously.
And here’s “The Fourfold Song”…
There is a person who sings the song of the Self. He finds everything, his complete spiritual satisfaction, within himself.
And there is a person who sings the song of the Nation. He steps forward from his private self, which he finds narrow and insufficiently developed. He yearns for the heights. He clings with a sensitive love to the entirety of the Jewish nation and sings with it its song. He shares in its pains, is joyful in its hopes, speaks with exalted and pure thoughts regarding its past and its future, investigates its inner spiritual nature with love and a wise heart.
There is a person whose soul is so broad that it expands beyond the border of Israel. It sings the song of humanity. This soul constantly grows broader with the exalted totality of humanity and its glorious image. He yearns for humanity’s general enlightenment. He looks forward to its supernal perfection. From this source of life, he draws all of his thoughts and insights, his ideals and visions.
And there is a person who rises even higher until he unites with all existence, with all creatures, and with all worlds. And with all of them, he sings. This is the person who, engaged in the Chapter of Song every day, is assured that he is a child of the World-to-Come.
And there is a person who rises with all these songs together in one ensemble so that they all give forth their voices, they all sing their songs sweetly, each supplies its fellow with fullness and life: the voice of happiness and joy, the voice of rejoicing and tunefulness, the voice of merriment and the voice of holiness.
The song of the soul, the song of the nation, the song of humanity, the song of the world-they all mix together with this person at every moment and at all times.
And this simplicity in its fullness rises to become a song of holiness, the song of God, the song that is simple, doubled, tripled, quadrupled, the “Song of Songs of Solomon” which is the song of Ruler whose very name is Peace.
from Lights, volume 2, p. 444