The Essential I by Dr. Marc Gafni

In this excerpt from Reclaiming Rosh Hashanah: The Dance of Tears (forthcoming), Dr. Marc Gafni explores the Garden of Eden biblical story and Abraham Kook’s teaching on the “inner essential I,” through which we come to understand that God requires our Unique Self service in the world rather than our service as strangers “at the gates of our own psyches.”

To explore the Essential I, I begin with a mystical passage from the writings of Abraham Kook—a profoundly liberated philosopher and scholar, first Chief Rabbi of Israel, and realized mystic par excellence. Kook writes:

I-am in the midst of exile.
The inner essential I of the individual
only reveals itself …
to the extent of the higher courage
which is drenched with the pure light of higher radiance
which burns within.

The first line of the quote comes from the Prophet Ezekiel, who—before receiving the Vision of the Merkava, the Chariot, the lodestone of the Kabbalah—cries out -ואני בתוך הגולה. “I am in the midst of exile.” Kook understands Ezekiel’s statement to refer not only to physical exile, to the fact that Ezekiel was standing by the River Kadar on foreign shores, but as expressing a far more profound sense of inner fragmentation, an inner exile. The inner exile stems from the “inner essential I” being lost. “I”—my I—is in exile. I’ve lost my self some place. I’m looking for my self, I’m playing all sorts of parts and many assorted games, but I haven’t found my self.

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