In my study group this week, we began a deep dive into Buddhism – comparing Buddhist teachings to the fundamental teachings of Judaism. Central to Buddhism are The Four Noble Truths – a pathway to a life of flourishing. As I looked for a way to compare this fundamental lesson of Buddhism to Jewish tradition, I rediscovered The Fourfold Song written by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Israel under the British Mandate. This beautiful piece of poetry, while unknown to most Jews, captures a Jewish pathway to a life of flourishing.
The Fourfold Song teaches us that each soul has a song – some souls sing only the song of the self, some only the song of the Jewish nation, some only the song of humanity and some only the song of the world. Rabbi Kook’s poem doesn’t belittle those who can only sing one of these four songs. Unfortunately, during Rabbi Kook’s lifetime, many of his fellow Jews were incapable of thinking like him. In their Jewish mindset, there was only one song a Jew should sing – only one way to do Jewish. Sadly, this narrow Jewish mindset still exists, a mindset that makes it nearly impossible for many of us to appreciate the beauty contained in songs that are not our own. Again, Rabbi Kook had no problem with those who wanted to stick to their own song. But, as we discover in The Fourfold Song, he believed that one who is capable of singing all four songs at the same time discovers the song of holiness – the song of completeness and peace. It is by singing this song of holiness – all four parts of it – that we discover the Jewish pathway that leads us to a life of flourishing.
The Fourfold Song
There is a person who sings the song of his soul. He finds everything, his complete spiritual satisfaction, within his soul.
There is a person who sings the song of the nation. He steps forward from his private soul, which he finds narrow and uncivilized. He yearns for the heights. He clings with a sensitive love to the entirety of the Jewish nation and sings 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—of the king who is characterized by completeness and peace.
May we all sing the song of holiness and discover completeness and peace.
Hello Rabbi Jacobs;
I read this weeks Post and I find it extremely fascinating. You see, I am a Jew by choice and have been since 2000. Prior, I wasn’t any particular religion. I believed in God and that was about it so I started searching religions and fell in love with Judaism. I study Torah every day. I converted to Reform in Fredericksburg, VA, that was the only game in town. I like your teachings much better.
Another oddity about me is I have always felt a strong attraction to Japanese everything. Out of curiosity, I started studying Buddhism in 2004 thru 2014. I took the Buddhist Precepts after sewing my own Rakusa, (a small Buddhist robe) At Great Tree Zen Temple located in Ashville, NC. I live in SC.
I find mind boggling similarities between Mahayana Buddhism, especially The Soto Zen tradition with Torah and Kabbalah. If you find yourself doing further research/ comparisons I’m very interested in your comparisons of Judaism and Zen Buddhism.
Thank you for your Time