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6 THE NEARNES S O F GO D CHIEF RABB I KU K wa s essentiall y a mystic. Hi s clai m tha t "ma n i s by nature a mystic"x ma y o r may not b e applicabl e t o th e generalit y o f mankind, bu t i t was certainl y a n accurat e reflectio n o f his ow n stat e o f mind. Hi s posthumou s works , i n particular , revea l hi m a s a mysti c o f rare profundit y an d scope . Al l th e facet s o f hi s fascinatin g personalit y become understandabl e onl y whe n the y ar e relate d t o th e mystica l experiences tha t wer e th e centra l event s i n hi s psychi c life . Hi s bol d metaphysical speculation s an d his radical reinterpretations o f Kabbalistic concepts deriv e thei r significanc e an d valu e fro m th e fact s o f hi s ow n life. Darin g a s some o f his idea s appea r t o be , the y neve r brea k ou t o f the charme d circl e o f mystica l experienc e an d contemplation . Th e stormy wave s o f doubt tha t assaile d hi m fro m tim e t o tim e an d threat ened t o toppl e th e structur e o f hi s conviction s wer e no t allaye d b y rational or even by the traditional arguments so much a s by a resurgence of that strang e an d overwhelmin g spiritua l phenomenon, whos e glorie s he neve r tire d o f singing. Th e man y volume s o f published an d unpub lished writing s tha t h e lef t behin d ar e but a series o f symphonic varia tions on th e basic melody o f his life—his yearnin g for an d discover y o f the "nearnes s of God. " How doe s h e describ e thi s centra l fac t i n hi s spiritua l life ? I n com mon wit h nearl y al l othe r grea t mystics , h e insist s tha t th e mystica l experience i s unique an d ineffable , s o radicall y differen t fro m th e nor 144 H5 The Nearness of God mal course of events as not t o be expressible in the medium o f commo n speech. Silenc e alon e doe s justic e t o th e sacre d intensit y o f mystica l ecstasy. Thus, he writes , And life is so joyous, so sacred, so filled with the majesty o f the Name o f the Lord . Yo u long t o expres s Hi s name , t o interpre t th e exalte d light . You are filled wit h a n intense thirst, pleasing in the extreme, to fill your mouth with th e praise of the God of gods. And out o f the abundance o f pure fear, the intensity of holy trembling, you return to silence.2 But, incommunicabl e thoug h th e fulnes s o f mystica l ecstas y be , h e returns agai n an d agai n t o th e attemp t t o captur e i n huma n languag e some o f its fleeting aspects . I n poetic , winge d word s h e rhapsodize s o n the majest y o f the mystic s inne r life, it s cosmic effect s an d significance , and the spiritual "certainties " that it leaves behind . Expanses, expanses Expanses divine, my soul doth crave. Enclose me not in cages, Of matter or mind. Thru heavenl y vastness my soul doth soar Unfenced b y walls of heart Or walls of deed— Of ethics, logic or mores— Above all these it soars and flies, Above the expressible and nameable, Above delight and beauty Exalted and ethereal. Lovesick am I — I pant, I pant for my Lord, As a deer for river banks, Oh, who ca n my anguish relate? Who lyre be, to sing my agony, To voice my bitterness, The endless...


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