What is the purpose of our life? And how can we best fulfill that purpose? Those were among the ruminations that a Jewish sage and mystic from a century ago—Rav Abraham Isaac Kook (1865–1935)—would ponder in the wee hours of the morning. He wrote down those thoughts in private diaries, never intended for publication, but they were eventually published.

Rabbi Mark Biller gave a fascinating Our Jewish World series about Rav Kook, the Chief Rabbi of Palestine, and his reflections on faith, life, and purpose. The talk was titled “A 20th-Century Dreamer Speaks to Us in the 21st.” Our Jewish World is coordinated by Melanie Levitan and Ilene Dorf Manahan.

Rav Kook

According to Rav Kook, each of us is put on Earth to become our true and best self, to discover the essence of who we are, because each of us is called to serve in a specific way, to bring our particular light into the world. From there, our goal should be to forge a connection among people, to foster understanding between humanity and nature, to bring awareness to every moment, to study Torah as a way to see the sacred in everything, and to seek unity with God, all with an eye toward enhancing the good of the world.

Rav Kook taught that everything—trees, leaves, rocks, and human beings—emanated from God and each of them had something to teach us,” Rabbi Biller observed. “Our task in our teens and young adulthood is to actively pursue our mission in life, to create our self and our character. Then, later in life, we need to concentrate on improving the world and joining in with others.”

Drawing on the philosophy of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, Rav Kook viewed it as our duty to find “dots of goodness” in ourselves and in the people around us. By looking at someone with kindness, we change our view of those people and we change ourselves and them.

Rabbi Biller, who has been studying the writings of Rav Kook for several years, noted that Rav Kook believed that all animate and inanimate objects imbued with a vibration from God, and that vibration resonates with us. “Rav Kook thought the breathing of every creature was a song of God,” said Rabbi Biller.

He added, “The light of God is in everything; everything is purposeful. If you saw the image of God in everyone, how could you mistreat anyone?”

Rav Kook considered the aging process more of a “saging” process, explained Rabbi Biller, in which our elders consider the lessons of their lives and see more of the big picture. Righteous people integrate everything they’ve learned in life into their soul, gaining a broader perspective and offering a bigger way to look at the world’s possibilities. “The sage ascends to a higher spiritual level. Everything is on an ascent—each process of learning Torah, science, anything we study—leading to a more positive, loving, and inclusive world,” the rabbi noted.