Rav Nahum Rabinowitz (zt”l) on Government, Consent, and Justice

Over Shabbat I read Rav Nahum Rabinowitz’s (zt”l) article “The Way of Torah.” There’s a lot to say about it, but one bit struck me as important for thinking about our present moment. (This is my explanation; a key quote can be found below.)

The essay moves from discussing the importance of free choice in Judaism to the necessity of enforcement and compulsion civil society, and from there to thinking about religion and state. In the process, he argues that the government’s right to compel obedience and punish wrongdoing A. is based on the unanimous consent of the governed and B. is directed toward achieving justice.

Moreover, these two elements are inextricably linked. The justice of the governing must be apparent to the governed, or it quickly loses its legitimacy. It’s not enough for a government or authority to be elected by proper procedure, and simply being transparent about government actions is insufficient. Governing shouldn’t just be technically valid, it should also be good, and visibly so. 

In this sense, it is already a failure of government (and associated institutions) if it gives the impression of discrimination and injustice. A government institution’s very validity depends not just on being written into law, but on its actions all being clearly directed toward what all those whose consent it assumes would consider just and good.

To speak directly, when we’ve reached the point when so many people see the police as a corrupt and discriminatory institution, it has already failed and lost its validity–not because it is necessarily evil, but because its validity derives from the people seeing it as a tool for justice.

____________________________

“…the king selected by the nation, given its confidence, and placed on the throne of justice must act in a manner that makes his justice apparent to all and must not discriminate, in any of his decrees, between high and low. Otherwise, his rulings will lack all force.” –Rav Nahum Rabinowitz, “The Way of Torah,” The Edah Journal 3:1, 24

Shiur: Rav Soloveitchik on Tefillah #1 – The Redemption of Prayer and the Human

The first of two classes on prayer for my 2020 Rav Soloveitchik course. In this class, we explore the centrality of prayer in Judaism, why prayer really is about asking for our needs, and the critical role of suffering in human experience and prayer.

The Redemption of Prayer and the Human

1. Rav Soloveitchik, Worship of the Heart (2003), 2

Therefore, when I speak about the philosophy of prayer or Shema, I do not claim universal validity for my conclusions. I am not lecturing on philosophy of prayer as such, but on prayer as understood, experienced and enjoyed by an individual. I acquaint you with my own personal experience. Whether, taking into consideration the differences between minds and the peculiarities of the individual, my experience can be detached from my idiosyncrasies and transferred to others, I do not know.

The Redemption of Prayer

2. Rav Soloveitchik, “Redemption, Prayer, and Talmud Torah,” Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Thought (1978), 55

What is redemption? Redemption involves a movement by an individual or a community from the periphery of history to its center; or, to employ a term from physics, redemption is a centripetal movement. To be on the periphery means to be a non-history-making entity, while movement toward the center renders the same entity history-making and history-conscious. Naturally the question arises: What is meant by a history-making people or community? A history-making people is one that leads a speaking, story-telling, communing free existence, while a non-history-making, non-history-involved group leads a non-communing and therefore a silent, unfree existence.

Like redemption, prayer too is a basic experiential category in Judaism. We have appeared, within the historical arena, as a prayerful nation. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David and Solomon all prayed. Through prayer they achieved the covenant with God, and through prayer, we expect eventually to realize that covenant.

3. Rav Soloveitchik, Worship of the Heart (2003), 146–147

According to Rambam, it is impossible to conceive of Divine worship without including prayer in it. What then is prayer? It is the expression of the soul that yearns for God via the medium of the word, through which the human being gives expression to the storminess of his soul and spirit.

The Torah commands love and fear of God, total commitment to Him and cleaving unto Him. Antithetical, dynamic experiences which seek to erupt and reveal themselves must be integrated into the external, concrete realm through the forms of language and expression, by means of song, weeping and supplication.

Had the Torah not commanded prayer as the exclusive medium for expressing inward worship—we do not know what the God-seeking human being, whose soul thirsts for the living God, would do. Could one entertain the thought that Judaism would want man to suppress his experience? On the contrary! The Halakhah was always interested in expressions of the inner life, in the uncovering of the subjective and opaque, and in the conversion of emotion and thought into action. How could one assume that the Halakhah was totally oblivious to the supreme attainment—that is, to prayer?! Did Halakhah demand that worship be mute, that experiences be concealed, that they not be allowed expression?

When Rambam said that prayer is Biblically ordained and identical with the service of the heart, he thereby redeemed love, fear, and indeed our entire religious life from muteness. They were given a voice. The lover expresses his yearning, the trembler his fear, the wretched and dejected his helplessness, the perplexed his confusion, and the joyful his religious song—all within the framework of prayer. 

Prayer, Suffering, and Petition

4. Rav Soloveitchik, Worship of the Heart (2003), 12

The reason for the centrality that Judaism has given to the element of petition in the service lies in our philosophy of prayer. Avodah she-ba-lev, for all its tendency to express the religious experience as a whole, and particularly its emotional aspect, does also tend to single out a particular state of mind. For when we view the noetic content of prayer we must admit that one emotion is central as far as prayer is concerned— namely the feeling of unqualified dependence. David expressed this experience of complete, absolute, unconditional dependence upon God in his beautiful verses: “If I did not quiet myself like a weaned child upon his mother, verily my soul is like one weaned. Let Israel hope in God now and forever” (Ps. 131:2-3).

5. Rav Soloveitchik, Worship of the Heart (2003), 32–33

Human existence exhausts itself in the experience of crisis, in the continual discovering of oneself in distress, in the steady awareness of coming closer and closer to the brink of utter despair, the paradoxical concept of being born out of nothingness and running down to nothingness. This is a part of the ontic consciousness of man. The factum expressed in the two words “I am” is an incomplete sentence. We must always qualify it by adding two words: “I am in distress.” Judaism wants man to discover the tragic element of his existence, to place himself voluntarily in distressing narrowness, to explicate and bring to the fore the deep-seated crisis in his very existence. Surely man must fight courageously against the extraneous surface crisis. Judaism has charged man with the task of improving creation, of confronting evil and destructive forces, of protecting himself against disease and natural catastrophes, approaching the world with an optimistic philosophy of activism…

Out of the depths in which the individual finds himself, one calls upon God in seclusion and loneliness. The existential, passional experience is not shared by the thou, however close he is to the I, since it is an integral part of the existential awareness, which is singular, and hence inexpressible in the universal terms through which we communicate our standardized experiences. No one but the sufferer himself is involved in this deeply human anguish and conflict. It is the sufferer whose awareness oscillates between bliss and pain, in the great negation of the finite that rises out of its confrontation by the infinite. Neither spouse nor child nor parent may understand and sympathize with the lonely individual when his existential experience is at a low ebb, when trials, doubts and inhibitions abound. The prayer echoing the depth crisis of a questing soul emerges from seclusion, from out of the loneliness of the individual whom everybody save God has abandoned.

6. Rav Soloveitchik, Worship of the Heart (2003), 35–36

When man is in need and prays, God listens. One of God’s attributes is shomea tefillah: “He who listens to prayer.” Let us note that Judaism has never promised that God accepts all prayer. The efficacy of prayer is not the central term of inquiry in our philosophy of avodah she-ha-lev. Acceptance of prayer is a hope, a vision, a wish, a petition, but not a principle or a premise. The foundation of prayer is not the conviction of its effectiveness but the belief that through it we approach God intimately and the miraculous community embracing finite man and his Creator is born. The basic function of prayer is not its practical consequences but the metaphysical formation of a fellowship consisting of God and man.

Man is always in need because he is always in crisis and distress. Inner distress expresses itself in man’s disapproval of himself. This awareness is of a metaphysical origin, although it may be manifested at an individual-psychological, social-institutional or political level. Man is dissatisfied with himself and he lacks faith in the justifiability and legitimacy of his existence. Somehow, every human being, great or small, however successful and outstanding, loses every day afresh his ontic fulcrum (the equilibrium of his being), which he tries steadily to recover. He feels the paradox involved in an existence which has been imposed upon him in an unexplained way, and which finally betrays and deserts him in the same absurd manner: “Against your will were you born, against your will do you live, and against your will do you die” (Avot 4:29). Even the simplest man may perceive and comprehend this existential tragic aspect of man.

7. Rav Soloveitchik, “Redemption, Prayer, and Talmud Torah,” Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Thought (1978), 65–66

Judaism, in contradistinction to mystical quietism, which recommended toleration of pain, wants man to cry out aloud against any kind of pain, to react indignantly to all kinds of injustice or unfairness. For Judaism held that the individual who displays indifference to pain and suffering, who meekly reconciles himself to the ugly, disproportionate and unjust in life, is not capable of appreciating beauty and goodness. Whoever permits his legitimate needs to go unsatisfied will never be sympathetic to the crying needs of others. A human morality based on love and friendship, on sharing in the travail of others, cannot be practiced if the person’s own need-awareness is dull, and he does not know what suffering is. Hence Judaism rejected models of existence which deny human need, such as the angelic or the monastic. For Judaism, need-awareness constitutes part of the definition of human existence. Need-awareness turns into a passional experience, into a suffering awareness. Dolorem ferre ergo sum – I suffer, therefore I am – to paraphrase Descartes’ cogito ergo sum. While the Cartesian cogito would also apply to an angel or even to the devil, our inference is limited to man: neither angel nor devil knows suffering.

Therefore, prayer in Judaism, unlike the prayer of classical mysticism, is bound up with the human needs, wants, drives and urges, which make man suffer. Prayer is the doctrine of human needs. Prayer tells the individual, as well as the community, what his, or its, genuine needs are, what he should, or should not, petition God about. Of the nineteen benedictions in our עמידה, thirteen are concerned with basic human needs, individual as well as social-national. Even two of the last three benedictions (רצה and שים שלום) are of a petitional nature. The person in need is summoned to pray… To a happy man, to contented man, the secret of prayer was not revealed. God needs neither thanks nor hymns. He wants to hear the outcry of man, confronted with a ruthless reality. He expects prayer to rise from a suffering world cognizant of its genuine needs. In short, through prayer man finds himself. Prayer enlightens man about his needs. It tells man the story of his hidden hopes and expectations. It teaches him how to behold the vision and how to strive in order to realize this vision, when to be satisfied with what one possesses, when to reach out for more. In a word, man finds his need-awareness, himself, in prayer. Of course, the very instant he finds himself, he becomes a redeemed being.

Sacrifice – Because nothing is ever just one thing

8. Rav Soloveitchik, “Redemption, Prayer, and Talmud Torah,” Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Thought (1978), 70–72

What does this term denote? Not the service by the heart, but the offering of the heart; Judaic dialectic plays “mischievously” with two opposites, two irreconcilable aspects of prayer. It announces prayer as self-acquisition, self-discovery, self-objectification and self-redemption. By sensitizing and logicizing the awareness of need, man delivers himself from the silence and from non-being and becomes an I, a complete being who belongs to himself. At this level, prayer makes man feel whole: at this level, prayer means self-acquisition. Yet there is another aspect to prayer: prayer is an act of giving away. Prayer means sacrifice, unrestricted offering of the whole self, the returning to God of body and soul, everything one possesses and cherishes. There is an altar in heaven upon which the archangel Michael offers the souls of the righteous. Thrice daily we petition God to accept our prayers, as well as the fires – the self-sacrifices of Israel – on that altar (ואשי ישראל ותפילתם באהבה תקבל ברצון). Prayer is rooted in the idea that man belongs, not to himself, but that God claims man, and that His claim to man is not partial but total… Of course Judaism is vehemently opposed to human sacrifice. The Bible speaks with indignation and disdain of child sacrifice; physical human sacrifice was declared abominable. Yet the idea that man belongs to God, without qualification, and that God, from time to time, makes a demand upon man to return what is God’s to God is an important principle in Judaism…

A new equation emerges: prayer equals sacrifice. Initially, prayer helps man discover himself, through understanding and affirmation of his need-awareness. Once the task of self-discovery is fulfilled, man is summoned to ascend the altar and return everything he has just acquired to God. Man who was told to create himself, objectify himself, and gain independence and freedom for himself, must return everything he considers his own to God.

Suffering and the Community of Prayer

9. Rav Soloveitchik, “The Community,” Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Thought (1978), 19

When the I becomes aware of his being responsible for the well-being of the thou, whom he has helped bring into existence, a new community emerges: the community of prayer. What does this mean? It means a community of common pain, of common suffering. The Halacha has taught the individual to include his fellow man in his prayer. The individual must not limit himself to his own needs, no matter how pressing those needs are and how distinguished he is. Halacha has formulated prayer in the plural. There is hardly a prayer which avails itself of the grammatical singular. Even private prayers, such as those offered on the occasion of sickness, death, or other crises, are recited in the plural.

10. Rav Soloveitchik, Kol Dodi Dofek, 19

Job suddenly understood the nature of Jewish prayer. He discovered in one moment its plural voice and the attribute of loving-kindness that sweeps man from the private to the public domain. He began to live a communal life, to feel the community’s hurts, to mourn its disasters and rejoice in its moments of celebration. Job’s sufferings found their true repair in his escape from the prison in which he had found himself, and God’s wrath was assuaged. As it is written: “And the Lord changed the fortunes of Job when he prayed for his friends״ (Job 42:10).

Shiur: Kol Dodi Dofek #2 – Egypt, Sinai, Israel

The second of two classes on Kol Dodi Dofek from my 2020 Rav Soloveitchik course. In this class we explore the way Rav Soloveitchik’s Fate/Destiny dichotomy gives rise to two distinct forms of collective life for the Jewish people, the one based on a sort of bare life and material care, and the second based on living intentionally and seeking transcendence. This necessarily runs into the brutal fact of antisemitism, but also into the reality and possibilities of the Jewish state and the modern State of Israel.

Egypt, Sinai, Israel:
Two Modes of Bnei Yisrael

1. Rav Soloveitchik, Kol Dodi Dofek, trans. David Z. Gordon (2006), 51

Just as Judaism distinguished fate from destiny in the realm of personal individuality, so it also differentiated between these two concepts in the sphere of our national-historical existence. The individual is tethered to his nation with bonds of fate and chains of destiny. In accordance with this postulate, one can say that the Covenant of Egypt was a Covenant of Fate, and the Covenant of Sinai was one of destiny. 

 

Fate

2. Rav Soloveitchik, Kol Dodi Dofek, 52

What is the Covenant of Fate? Fate signifies in the life of the nation, as it does in the life of the individual, an existence of compulsion. A strange force merges all individuals into one unit. The individual is subject and subjugated against his will to the national fate/existence, and it is impossible for him to avoid it and be absorbed into a different reality. The environment expels the Jew who flees from the presence of God, so that he is awakened from his slumber, like Jonah the prophet, who awoke to the voice of the ship’s captain demanding to know his personal national-religious identity. 

 

3. Rav Soloveitchik, Kol Dodi Dofek, 52–54

Jewish separateness belongs to the framework of the Covenant of Fate that was concluded in Egypt. In truth, Judaism and withdrawal from the world are synonymous. Even before the exile in Egypt, separateness descended upon our world with the appearance of the first Jew, our father Abraham. Abraham the Hebrew (ivri) lived apart. “The whole world was on one side (ever), and he on the other side” (Bereshit Rabbah 42:8)… Even if a Jew reaches the pinnacle of social and political accomplishment, he will not be able to free himself from the chains of isolation. Paradoxical fate watches over the isolation and uniqueness of the Jew, despite his apparent integration into his non-Jewish environment… This singular, inexplicable phenomenon of the individual clinging to the community and feeling alienated from the outside world was forged and formed in Egypt. There Israel was elevated to the status of a nation in the sense of a unity from which arises uniqueness as well. The awareness of the Fate Covenant in all of its manifestations is an integral part of our historical-metaphysical essence. 

 

4. Rav Soloveitchik, Kol Dodi Dofek, 55–63

The Covenant of Fate is also expressed in positive categories that stem from the awareness of shared fate. There are four facets to this rare state of mind. 

First, the awareness of shared fate appears as that of shared experience. We are all in the realm of a shared fate that binds together the different strata of the nation and does not discriminate between classes and individuals. Fate does not distinguish between nobility and common-folk, between rich and poor, between a prince dressed in royal purple velvet and a poor man who goes begging from door to door, between a pious Jew and an assimilationist… 

Second, the awareness of shared historical experience leads to the experience of shared suffering. A feeling of empathy is a basic fact in the consciousness of shared Jewish fate. The suffering of one segment of the nation is the lot of the entire community. The scattered and separated people mourns and is consoled together… 

Third, shared suffering is expressed in a feeling of shared obligation and responsibility… Forever after, the “I” is ensnared in the sin of his fellow, if he had it within his power to reprimand, admonish, and bring his neighbor to repentance. The people of Israel have a collective responsibility, both halakhic and moral, for one another… The commandment to sanctify God’s Name and the prohibition against desecrating it are clear in light of the principle of shared responsibility and obligation. The activity of the individual is debited to the account of the many. Every wrong committed by an individual stains the name of Israel throughout the world. The individual is responsible not only for his own conscience but also for the collective conscience of the nation. If he conducts himself properly, he has sanctified the name of the nation and the name of the God of Israel; if he has sinned, he causes shame to befall the nation and desecrates its God. 

Fourth, shared experience is expressed by cooperation. The obligation to perform acts of charity (tzedakah) and loving-kindness (hesed) is derived from the experience of unity that is so all-pervading and encompassing… The oppressive experience of fate finds its connection in the coalescing of individual personal experiences into the new entity called a nation. The obligation of love for another person emanates from the self-awareness of the people of fate, which is alone and perplexed by its uniqueness. For this was the Covenant of Egypt concluded. 

 

Destiny

5. Rav Soloveitchik, Kol Dodi Dofek, 65

What is the Covenant of Destiny? In the life of a people (as in the life of an individual), destiny signifies an existence that it has chosen of its own free will and in which it finds the full realization of its historical existence. Instead of a passive, inexorable existence into which a nation is thrust, an Existence of Destiny manifests itself as an active experience full of purposeful movement, ascension, aspirations, and fulfillment. The nation is enmeshed in its destiny because of its longing for an enhanced state of being, an existence replete with substance and direction. Destiny is the font out of which flow the unique self-elevation of the nation and the unending stream of Divine inspiration that will not run dry so long as the path of the People is demarcated by the laws of God. The life of destiny is a directed life, the result of conscious direction and free will. 

 

6. Rav Soloveitchik, Kol Dodi Dofek, 66–68

What is the content of the Covenant of Sinai? It is a special way of life that directs the individual to the fulfillment of an end beyond the reach of the man of fate — the striving of man to resemble his Creator via self-transcendence. The creative activity that fulfills the Covenant of Destiny flows from a totally different source, from man’s rebellion against an “as is,” factual existence, and from the longing that impels him to more enhanced and sublime forms of existence. Acts of lovingkindness and fraternity, which are integrated into the framework of the Covenant of Sinai, are motivated not by the strange sense of loneliness of the Jew, but by the sense of unity experienced by a nation forever betrothed to the one God. The absolute oneness of God is mirrored in the unity of the nation that is eternally bound to Him. “You are One, and Your name is One, and who is like Your people Israel, One nation”. The essence of Jewish fellowship on this level is a byproduct of the father-son relationship between the members of the nation and God… At Sinai, God elevated the Covenant of Fate, which He had concluded with a collective that was forced to be alone and that practiced loving-kindness to others as a result of its requisite isolation, to a Covenant of Destiny with a collective of people of free will and volition that directs and sanctifies itself to confront the Almighty. He transformed the “people”— an amalgam bereft of direction and purpose — to a “nation,” a term that signifies a distinct communal profile, a national physiognomy, as it were. The people of loving-kindness was elevated into a holy nation. The basis of shared destiny is the sanctity that is formed from a distinctive existence. 

When the man of destiny stands before the Almighty, he envisions the God of Israel who reveals Himself only with man’s approval and invitation. The God of Israel is united with the finite creature only after man has sanctified and cleansed himself from all pollution, and longingly and agitatedly awaits this wondrous encounter. The revelation of the God of Israel does not come, in any event, in all conditions and circumstances. It demands a special state of spirit and soul, in the manner of “Be ready for the third day” (Exodus 19:11). Without the readiness of man, the God of Israel will not reveal Himself. He does not surprise His creatures. He responds to man’s urgent petition. However, when man does not actively long for God with spiritual intensity, then the God of Israel shows no interest in him. When the God of the Hebrews chases after man against his will, He does not ask him for his opinion or desires. The God of Israel, however, consults with a person before an encounter. Already in Egypt the Holy One revealed Himself to Moses not only as the God of the Hebrews but also as the God of Israel who waits for man and invites him to His service to do His work. “So said the Lord, the God of Israel: Let my people go, that they shall make a feast unto Me in the wilderness”(Exodus 5:1). 

 

Secular Israel

7. Rav Soloveitchik, Kol Dodi Dofek, 82–83

These mistakes are outgrowths of the primary error made by secular Zionism when it wished to erase both the feeling of isolation and also the phenomenon of shared suffering from our history books. The beckoning of the Beloved must open the eyes of all of us, even the most confirmed secularists. The State of Israel was not and will not be able to abrogate the covenant of, “And I will take you unto Me as a people” (Exodus 6:7) and put an end to shared fate–the source of Jewish aloneness. The State of Israel is as isolated today as the community of Israel has been during the thousands of years of its existence. And perhaps the isolation of the State is more pronounced than in the past because it is so clearly revealed in the international arena… The assumption that the State of Israel has weakened antisemitism is erroneous. On the contrary, antisemitism has grown stronger and employs false charges against the State [of Israel] in the war against us all. Who can foresee the end of this anti-Semitic hatred? The Covenant of Egypt cannot be abrogated by human hands. 

 

8. Rav Soloveitchik, Kol Dodi Dofek, 82

They also sin against the Covenant of Sinai, the covenant of a sacred community and people that finds expression in the shared destiny of a sanctified life. Only religious Zionism with its traditional and authentic perception has the power to “repair the perverted” (Ecclesiastes 1:15). If you were to ask me how the role of the State of Israel can best be described, I would answer that its mission is not to nullify the special loneliness of the community of Israel or to destroy the unity of its fate — in this it will not succeed — but to raise the people of the encampment to the level of a sacred community-nation and to turn Shared Fate into Shared Destiny. We must remember, as we have already emphasized, that fate is expressed, in essence, in the experience of life under duress — in an inability to run away from Judaism, in being forced to suffer as a Jew. This, though, is not the ideal of the Torah or of our Weltanschauung. Our solidarity with the community of Israel, according to an authentic Jewish outlook, must not come from the conclusion of the Covenant of Fate—that of the Encampment-Nation possessed of a compelled existence to which we are subjugated by outside forces—but by the conclusion of a Covenant with a sacred community-nation of Shared Destiny. Man does not find the experience of fate satisfying. On the contrary, it causes him pain. The feeling of isolation is very destructive. It has the power to crush man’s body and spirit, silence his spiritual powers, and stop up the wellsprings of his inner creativity. The feeling of isolation, in particular, troubles man because it is devoid of reason and direction. The isolated person wonders, for whom and for what? Isolation, which cleaves to man like a shadow, shakes his awareness and ability. An existence of destiny, which is based on the Covenant of Sinai, is different. This concept turns the notion of “nation” (a concept that denotes an ordained existential necessity, participation in blind pain, and a feeling of isolation devoid of meaning) into a “sacred people” and to the elevated station of a moral, religious community. Man draws from it strength and sustenance, creative power and a renewed joy in an existence that is free and rejuvenated. 

 

9. Rav Soloveitchik, Kol Dodi Dofek, 89

One great goal unites us all. A single exalted vision captures our hearts. One Torah (Written and Oral) directs us all to a unified end — the fulfillment of the vision of aloneness and the vision of the sanctity of an Encampment/People that ascends to the level of a Community/Nation and ties its lot to the destiny that was proclaimed to the world in the words of our ancient father Abraham: “And I and the lad shall go unto that place and shall worship God and return to you” (Genesis 22:5). 

 

Shiur: Kol Dodi Dofek #1 – Theodicy and Destiny

The first of two lectures about Rav Soloveitchik’s “Kol Dodi Dofek.” In this lecture, we explore Rav Soloveitchik’s rejection of theodicy, of attempting to justify God and find divine meaning in suffering that befalls us. Instead, as we explore in the second half of the lecture, he pivots to human action, and the ability to create human meaning in our lives.

 

Theodicy and Destiny

1. Rav Soloveitchik, Kol Dodi Dofek, trans. David Z. Gordon (2006), 21

We too are living in troubled times, in days of anger and distress. We have been afflicted with violent pogroms and have become accustomed to suffering. In the past fifteen years [1941-56] we have undergone tortuous ordeals that are unparalleled in thousands of years of diaspora, degradation, and destruction. This chapter of suffering did not end with the establishment of the State of Israel.

 

Theodicy: Searching for Meaning

2. Rav Soloveitchik, Kol Dodi Dofek, 1–2

One of the deepest of mysteries, troubling Judaism from the dawn of its existence, is the problem of suffering… Why and wherefore are hardships visited on man? Why and wherefore do the righteous suffer and evildoers prosper? From that wondrous morning when Moses, the faithful shepherd, communed with the Creator of the Universe and pleaded for the comprehensive solution to this question of questions, throughout the generations, the prophets and sages of Israel have grappled with this conundrum. Habakkuk demanded satisfaction for this affront to justice; Jeremiah, King David in his Psalms, and Solomon in Ecclesiastes all pondered this problem. The Book of Job is totally dedicated to this ancient riddle that still hovers over our world and demands its own resolution: Why does the Holy One, blessed be He, permit evil to have dominion over His creations?

 

3. Rav Soloveitchik, Kol Dodi Dofek, 4–5

Judaism, with its realistic approach to man and his status within existence, understood that evil does not lend itself to being obscured and glossed over, and that every attempt to diminish the import of the contrast and cleavage in existence will not bring man to inner peace or to comprehension of the existential secret. Evil is a fact that cannot be denied. There is evil in the world. There are suffering and agony, and death pangs. He who would deceive himself by ignoring the split in existence and by romanticizing life is but a fool and a fabricator of illusions. It is impossible to conquer monstrous evil with philosophical-speculative thought. Thus, Judaism determined that man, submerged in the depths of a frozen fate, will in vain seek the solution to the problem of evil in the context of speculative thought, for he will never find it. Certainly, the testimony of the Torah regarding creation — that “it is very good” (Genesis 1: 12) — is true. However, this is only stated from the unbounded perspective of the Creator. In man’s finite, limited view, the absolute good in creation is not apparent. The contrast is striking and undeniable. There is evil that is not susceptible to explanation and comprehension. Only by comprehending the world in its totality can man gain insight into the essence of suffering. However, as long as man’s perception is limited and fragmented, so that he sees only isolated portions of the cosmic drama and the mighty saga of history, he cannot delve into the recesses of evil and the mystery of suffering. To what might this situation be compared? To a person who views a beautiful tapestry, the work of a fine artisan, which contains, woven into it on its front, a representation dazzling to the eye. To our great sorrow, we see this image [i. e. , the world] from the obverse side. Can such a sight become a sublime esthetic experience? Thus, we are incapable of comprehending the panorama of reality without which one cannot uncover God’s master plan — the essence of the works of the Holy One. 

In short, the “I”of fate asks a speculative/metaphysical question about evil, and this question is not given to solution and has no answer. 

 

4. Rav Shagar, “Muteness and Faith,” Bayom Hahu, 75–76

With the beginning, the concealed and unknown created God. What does that mean? In Ezekiel’s prophecies, we ready about the divine throne: “Above the expanse over their heads was the semblance of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and on top, upon this semblance of a throne, there was the semblance of a human form” (Ezekiel 1:26). In Tanakh, God wears a human face–“ the semblance of a human form”–when revealing himself to humanity and addressing people. Moreover, the human being draws his very humanity from this divine face and address. This divinity is the beginning of the created, human world–the “this palace” of the Zohar–and as such humans can access and know it. The Holocaust revealed something beyond this–the inhuman divine, “the unknown concealed one” who is beyond both the Torah and our human existence, and who therefore cannot be expressed in language–the differend. Perhaps this was what the Lubavitcher Rebbe meant when he said, “We cannot explain or clarify (based on the wisdom of the Torah) at all about the Holocaust. All we know is the fact that ‘thus it arose in thought before me’ and ‘it is a decree from before me.’” Not only can the Holocaust not be explained, but the very language and terminology of Torah also denies any explanation of the Holocaust, as the divine that manifested in the Holocaust is not part of human-divine discourse, a discourse which the Torah itself creates… In regard to God, the Holocaust, revealed the “awe-ful divine” (nora ha’eloki) that is above the “image of man.” It cannot be humanly apprehended, but the human cannot transcend the human in order somehow grasp this meaning that is foreign to him. What does it mean to say that there’s meaning “over there,” other than an acknowledgment of the simple fact, without comprehending its reality? Perhaps this was what the Lubavitcher Rebbe meant when he said, “We cannot explain or clarify (based on the wisdom of the Torah) at all about the Holocaust. All we know is the fact that ‘thus it arose in thought before me’”? Does this meaningless statement function in the same way as “negative attributes”? … “In the differend, something asks to be put into phrases and suffers from the wrong of not being able to be put into phrases right away.” Perhaps a meaningless statement constitutes an encounter with something that asked to be expressed but cannot do so?

I will conclude with the posing of these questions.

 

Destiny: Make Your Own Meaning

5. Rav Soloveitchik, Kol Dodi Dofek, 2–3

Posing the question of suffering, claims Judaism, is possible in two separate dimensions: the dimension of fate and the dimension of destiny. Judaism has always distinguished between an “Existence of Fate” and an “Existence of Destiny,” between the “I”which is the progeny of fate and the “I”which is the child of destiny. In this distinction lies hidden the Jewish doctrine of suffering. 

What is an Existence of Fate? It is an existence of duress, in the nature of “against your will do you live”(M. Avot 4: 29). It is a factual existence, simply one line in a [long] chain of mechanical causality, devoid of significance, direction, and purpose, and subordinate to the forces of the environment into whose midst the individual is pushed, unconsulted by Providence. The “I”of fate emerges as an object. As an object, man appears as acted upon and not as actor. He is acted upon through his passive collision with the objective outside, as one object confronting another. The “I” of fate is hurled into a sealed dynamic that is always turned outward. Man’s existence is hollow, lacking inner content, substance, and independence. The “I” of fate denies itself completely, because the sense of selfhood and objectification cannot dwell in tandem. 

 

6. Rav Soloveitchik, Kol Dodi Dofek, 5–6

What is an Existence of Destiny? It is an active Existence, when man confronts the environment into which he has been cast with an understanding of his uniqueness and value, freedom and capacity; without compromising his integrity and independence in his struggle with the outside world. The slogan of the “I” of destiny is: “Against your will you are born, and against your will you die”(M. Avot 4: 29), but by your free will do you live. Man is born as an object, dies as an object, but it is within his capability to live as a “subject” — as a creator and innovator who impresses his individual imprimatur on his life and breaks out of a life of instinctive, automatic behavior into one of creative activity. According to Judaism, man’s mission in this world is to turn fate into destiny — an existence that is passive and influenced into an existence that is active and influential; an existence of compulsion, perplexity, and speechlessness into an existence full of will, vision, and initiative. The blessing of the Holy One to his creation fully defines man’s role: “Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). Conquer the environment and subjugate it. If you do not rule over it, it will enslave you. Destiny bestows on man a new status in God’s world. It bestows upon man a royal crown, and thus he becomes God’s partner in the work of creation. 

 

7. Rav Soloveitchik, Kol Dodi Dofek, 6–9

As stated above, in man’s “Existence of Destiny” arises a new relation to the problem of evil. As long as man vacillates in his fateful existence, his relationship to evil is expressed solely in a philosophical/speculative approach. As a passive creature, it was not within his power to wrestle with evil in order to contain or to exploit it for an exalted purpose. The child of fate is devoid of the ability to determine anything in the realm of his existence. He is nurtured from the outside, and his life bears its imprint. Therefore he relates to evil from an impractical perspective and philosophizes about it from a speculative point of view. He wishes to deny the reality of evil and to create a harmonistic outlook on life. The result of such an experience is bitter disappointment. Evil mocks the prisoner of fate and his fantasy of a reality that is all good and pleasant. 

However, in the realm of destiny man recognizes reality as it is, and does not desire to use harmonizing formulas in order to hide and disregard evil. The “Child of Destiny” is very realistic and does not flinch in anticipation of a face-to-face confrontation with evil. His approach is halakhic and moral, and thus devoid of any metaphysical/speculative nuance. When the “Child of Destiny” suffers, he says in his heart, “There is evil, I do not deny it, and I will not conceal it with fruitless casuistry. I am, however, interested in it from a halakhic point of view; and as a person who wants to know what action to take. I ask a single question: What should the sufferer do to live with his suffering?” In this dimension, the emphasis is removed from causal and teleological considerations (which differ only as to direction) and is directed to the realm of action. The problem is now formulated in the language of a simple halakhah and revolves around a quotidian (i. e. daily) task. The question of questions is: What does suffering obligate man to do? This problem was important to Judaism, which placed it at the center of its Weltanschauung. Halakhah is just as interested in this question, as in issues of issur and heter and hiyyuv and p’tur. We do not wonder about the ineffable ways of the Holy One, but instead ponder the paths man must take when evil leaps up at him. We ask not about the reason for evil and its purpose, but rather about its rectification and uplifting. How should a man react in a time of distress? What should a person do so as not to rot in his affliction?

The halakhic answer to this question is very simple. Suffering comes to elevate man, to purify his spirit and sanctify him, to cleanse his mind and purify it from the chaff of superficiality and the dross of crudeness; to sensitize his soul and expand his horizons. In general, the purpose of suffering is to repair the imperfection in man’s persona. The halakhah teaches us that an afflicted person commits a criminal act if he allows his pain to go for naught and to remain without meaning or purpose. Suffering appears in the world in order to contribute something to man, in order to atone for him, in order to redeem him from moral impurity, from crudeness and lowliness of spirit. The sufferer must arise therefrom, purified, refined, and cleansed… From the midst of suffering itself he will achieve lasting redemption and merit a self-actualization and exaltation that are unequaled in a world devoid of suffering. From negation sprouts affirmation; from antithesis, thesis emerges; and from a denial of existence, a new existence is revealed. The Torah gave witness to man’s mighty spiritual reaction to suffering inflicted upon him when it said,“In your distress when all these horrors shall come upon you, then you shall return to the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 4:30). Suffering requires man to repent and return to God. Distress is designated to arouse us to repentance, and what is repentance if not the renewal and supreme redemption of man?

 

8. Rav Soloveitchik, Kol Dodi Dofek, 22–23

If we want to ask a penetrating question at a time beset by terrifying nightmares, it is incumbent upon us to do so in a halakhic mode: What obligation accrues to the sufferer as a result of his suffering? What commanding heavenly voice breaks through from the midst of suffering? As we have said, this question has a solution which is expressed in a simple halakhah. There is no need for metaphysical speculation in order to clarify the rules of rectifying evil. “For it is not in Heaven”(Deuteronomy 30:12). If we succeed in formulating this doctrine without dealing with questions of cause and telos, we will earn a complete salvation, and the scriptural promise will be fulfilled for us, as it is written: “Take counsel together, and it shall come to naught; speak your harshnesses and they shall not come to fruition, for God is with us” (Isaiah 8:10). Then and only then shall we emerge from the depths of the Holocaust with enhanced spiritual stature and augmented historical splendor, as it is written, “And the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before” (Job 42:10) — double in quantity and quality.

When the doctrine of the corrective effect of suffering is put into practice, it demands of the sufferer courage and spiritual discipline. He must gird himself with extraordinary strength, make a detached assessment of his world, examine his past and look to his future with complete honesty… And we, too, who are softhearted, weak-willed, bound by fate, and devoid of spiritual strength, are now bidden by Providence to adopt a new attitude; to ascend and raise ourselves to a level where suffering teaches us to demand from ourselves redemption and deliverance. For this purpose we must look at our reflection with spiritual fortitude and pure objectivity. This reflection bursts through to us from both the present and the past.

 

9. Rav Soloveitchik, Kol Dodi Dofek, 85–86

Let us return to what we said above. How does destiny differ from fate? In two respects: fate means a compelled existence; destiny is existence by volition. Destiny is created by man himself, who chooses and makes his own way in life. Fate is expressed in a teleological sense, in a denuded existence, whereas destiny embodies purpose and objectives. 

 

10. Rav Soloveitchik, Kol Dodi Dofek, 6–9

In short, man must solve, not the question of the causal or teleological reason for suffering with all its speculative complexity, but rather the question of its curative role, in all its halakhic simplicity, by turning fate to destiny and elevating himself from object to subject, from thing to man.

Shiur: The Lonely Man of Faith #3 –Translation and the Untranslatable: Religion vs. Faith

This is the third of three classes on The Lonely Man of Faith that I recorded for my Rav Soloveitchik course after it was unceremoniously cut short by the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.

This class explores the different religious communities created by”Adam the first” and “Adam the second” respectively, focusing on the true nature of faith and importance both of translating faith into intellectual terms, and of faith being partially untranslatable.

I think I forgot to mention this in the class itself, but the “Adam the first” category of religion and finding pragmatic value in faith/ritual/etc. should definitely include “social orthodoxy” and orthoprax models of Judaism.

 

 

 

Translation and the Untranslatable: Faith vs. Religion

 

From Tension to Resolution and Back Again

1. Rav Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith, 75–76

The element of the tragic is not fully eliminated from the destiny of the man of faith even after joining the covenantal community. We said at the very beginning of this essay that the loneliness of the man of faith is an integral part of his destiny from which he can never be completely liberated. The dialectical awareness, the steady oscillating between the majestic natural community and the covenantal faith community renders the act of complete redemption unrealizable. The man of faith, in his continuous movement between the pole of natural majesty and that of covenantal humility, is prevented from totally immersing in the immediate covenantal awareness of the redeeming presence, knowability, and involvement of God in the community of man. From time to time the man of faith is thrown into the majestic community where the colloquy as well as the covenantal consciousness are swept away. He suddenly finds himself revolving around the cosmic center, now and then catching a glimpse of the Creator who hides behind the boundless drama of creation. To be sure, this alternation of cosmic and covenantal involvement is not one of “light and shade,” enhanced activity and fatigue, as the mystics are accustomed to call their alternating experiences, but represents two kinds of creative and spontaneous activity, both willed and sanctioned by God. Let us not forget that the majestic community is willed by God as much as the covenantal faith community.

 

2. Rav Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith, 78–79

If one would inquire of me about the teleology of the Halakhah, I would tell him that it manifests itself exactly in the paradoxical yet magnificent dialectic which underlies the Halakhic gesture. When man gives himself to the covenantal community the Halakhah reminds him that he is also wanted and needed in another community, the cosmic-majestic, and when it comes across man while he is involved in the creative enterprise of the majestic community, it does not let him forget that he is a covenantal being who will never find self-fulfillment outside of the covenant and that God awaits his return to the covenantal community. I would also add, in reply to such a question, that many a time I have the distinct impression that the Halakhah considered the steady oscillating of the man of faith between majesty and covenant not as a dialectical but rather as a complementary movement. The majestic gesture of the man of faith, I am inclined to think, is looked upon by the Halakhah not as contradictory to the covenantal encounter but rather as the reflex action which is caused by this encounter when man feels the gentle touch of God’s hand upon his shoulder and the covenantal invitation to join God is extended to him. I am prompted to draw this remarkable inference from the fact that the Halakhah has a monistic approach to reality and has unreservedly rejected any kind of dualism. The Halakhah believes that there is only one world—not divisible into secular and hallowed sector…

 

3. Rav Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith, 82–83

Since the dialectical role has been assigned to man by God, it is God who wants the man of faith to oscillate between the faith community and the community of majesty, between being confronted by God in the cosmos and the intimate, immediate apprehension of God through the covenant, and who therefore willed that complete human redemption be unattainable.

Had God placed Adam in the majestic community only, then Adam would, as it was stated before, never be aware of existential loneliness. The sole problem would then be that of aloneness—one that majestic Adam could resolve. Had God, vice versa, thrust Adam into the covenantal community exclusively, then he would be beset by the passional experience of existential loneliness and also provided with the means of finding redemption from this experience through his covenantal relation to God and to his fellow man. However, God, in His inscrutable wisdom, has decreed differently. Man discovers his loneliness in the covenantal community, and before he is given a chance to climb up to the high level of a complete covenantal, revealed existence, dedicated in faith to God and in sympathy to man, man of faith is pushed into a new community where he is told to lead an expanded surface existence rather than a covenantal, concentrated in-depth existence. Because of this onward movement from center to center, man does not feel at home in any community. He is commanded to move on before he manages to strike roots in either of these communities and so the ontological loneliness of man of faith persists.

 

Subversion

4. Rav Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith, 86–87

Contemporary Adam the first, extremely successful in his cosmic-majestic enterprise, refuses to pay earnest heed to the duality in man and tries to deny the undeniable, that another Adam exists beside or, rather, in him. By rejecting Adam the second, contemporary man, eo ipso, dismisses the covenantal faith community as something superfluous and obsolete. To clear up any misunderstanding on the part of my audience, I wish to note that I am not concerned in this essay with the vulgar and illiterate atheism professed and propagated in the most ugly fashion by a natural-political community which denies the unique transcendental worth of the human personality. I am referring rather to Western man who is affiliated with organized religion and is a generous supporter of its institutions. He stands today in danger of losing his dialectical awareness and of abandoning completely the metaphysical polarity implanted in man as a member of both the majestic and the covenantal community.

 

5. Rav Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith, 88–89

The prime purpose [of the religious community] is the successful furtherance of the interests, not the deepening and enhancing of the commitments, of man who values religion in terms of its usefulness to him and considers the religious act a medium through which he may increase his happiness. This assumption on the part of majestic man about the role of religion is not completely wrong, if only, as I shall explain, he would recognize also the non-pragmatic aspects of religion. Faith is indeed relevant to man not only metaphysically but also practically. It gives his life, even at the secular mundane level, a new existential dimension. Certain aspects of the doctrinal and normative covenantal kerygma of faith are of utmost importance to majestic man and are, in a paradoxical way, translatable into the latter’s vernacular. It is very certain and self-evident that Adam the first cannot succeed completely in his efforts to attain majesty-dignity without having the man of faith contribute his share. The cultural edifice whose great architect Adam the first is would be built on shifting sands if he sought to conceal from himself and from others the fact that he alone cannot implement the mandate of majesty-dignity entrusted to him by God and that he must petition Adam the second for help. To be sure, man can build spaceships capable of reaching other planets without addressing himself to the mystery of faith and without being awakened to an enhanced, inspired life which reflects the covenantal truth. He certainly can triumph to a limited degree over the elemental forces of nature without crossing the frontiers of here-and-now sense-facticity. The Tower of Babel can be built high and mighty without beholding and acknowledging the great verity that Heaven is yet higher. However, the idea of majesty which Adam the first is striving to realize embraces much more than the mere building of machines, no matter how complex and efficacious. Successful man wants to be a sovereign not only in the physical but also in the spiritual world. He is questing not only for material success, but for ideological and axiological achievements as well. He is concerned with a philosophy of nature and man, of matter and mind, of things and ideas.

 

6. Rav Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith, 92–93

Since majestic man is in need of a transcendental experience in order to strengthen his cultural edifice, it is the duty of the man of faith to provide him with some component parts of this experience. God would not have implanted the necessity in majestic man for such spiritual perceptions and ideas if He had not at the same time endowed the man of faith with the skill of converting some of his apocalyptic experiences—which are meta-logical and non-hedonic—into a system of values and verities comprehensible to majestic man, the experimenter, aesthete, and, above all, the creative mind.

 

7. Rav Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith, 93–5

At this point, however, the crisis in the relations between man of faith and majestic man begins to develop. If the job of translating faith mysteries into cultural aspects could be fully accomplished, then contemporary man of faith could free himself, if not from the ontological awareness which is perennial, then, at least, from the peculiar feeling of psychological loneliness and anguish which is due to his historical confrontation with the man of culture. The man of faith would, if this illusion came true, be at peace with the man of culture so that the latter would fully understand the significance of human dialectics, and a perfect harmonious relationship would prevail between both Adams.

However, this harmony can never be attained since the man of faith is not the compromising type and his covenantal commitment eludes cognitive analysis by the logos and hence does not lend itself completely to the act of cultural translation. There are simply no cognitive categories in which the total commitment of the man of faith could be spelled out. This commitment is rooted not in one dimension, such as the rational one, but in the whole personality of the man of faith. The whole of the human being, the rational as well as the non-rational aspects, is committed to God, Hence, the magnitude of the commitment is beyond the comprehension of the logos and the ethos. The act of faith is aboriginal, exploding with elemental force as an all-consuming and all-pervading eudaemonic-passional experience in which our most secret urges, aspirations, fears, and passions, at times even unsuspected by us, manifest themselves. The commitment of the man of faith is thrown into the mold of the in-depth personality and immediately accepted before the mind is given a chance to investigate the reasonableness of this unqualified commitment. The intellect does not chart the course of the man of faith; its role is an a posteriori one. It attempts, ex post facto, to retrace the footsteps of the man of faith, and even in this modest attempt the intellect is not completely successful. Of course, as long as the path of the man of faith cuts across the territory of the reasonable, the intellect may follow him and identify his footsteps. The very instant, however, the man of faith transcends the frontiers of the reasonable and enters into the realm of the unreasonable, the intellect is left behind and must terminate its search for understanding. The man of faith, animated by his great experience is able to reach the point at which not only his logic of the mind but even his logic of the heart and of the will, everything—even his own “I” awareness—has to give in to an “absurd” commitment. The man of faith is “insanely” committed to and “madly” in love with God.

 

7a. Rav Shagar, Faith Shattered and Restored, 22–23

In effect, according to Rabbi Naman, not only is faith not a public language, it is not a language at all. That is why it is so difficult to fully depict one’s faith. Something will always remain unspoken, a mystery and intimacy that cannot and should not be revealed, for baring it would violate the intimacy of faith… The freedom to be private is a prerequisite of faith, and the only thing that can lead, on the next level, to honest, genuine dialogue between believers.

Hence, what I am trying to describe here is not a philosophy or outlook regarding faith. Philosophies and outlooks are, in this context, nothing but rationalizations – apologetics, even – whose sole role is to justify what has already been arrived at, and which must thus be regarded with a certain wariness. They are not the substance of faith but explanations for it; thus, they are ancillary to it and always involve a degree of duality. To paraphrase the opponents of Maimonides and his school, who stated that a God whose existence must be proven is no God at all, I offer the absurd assertion that a believer who requires an intellectual proof for his faith is no believer at all.

There is no proof of faith, and no certainty of faith to be gained with a proof. In any event, proofs do not impact our existence like a gun pointed at one’s temple; they do not touch upon the believer’s inner life. That is why, when it comes to faith, I prefer to use terms such as “occurrence” and “experience.”

 

8. Rav Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith, 95–97

The untranslatability of the complete faith experience is due not to the weakness, but to the greatness of the latter. If an all-embracing translation of the great mystery of revelation and its kerygma were possible, then the uniqueness of the faith experience and its commitments would be lost. Only peripheral elements of the act of faith can be projected on a cognitive, pragmatic background. Prayer, for instance, might appeal to majestic man as the most uplifting, integrating, and purifying act, arousing the finest and noblest emotions, yet these characteristics, however essential to Adam the first, are of marginal interest to Adam the second, who experiences prayer as the awesome confrontation of God and man, as the great paradox of man conversing with God as an equal fellow member of the covenantal society, and at the same time being aware that he fully belongs to God and that God demands complete surrender and self-sacrifice…

In a word, the message of translated religion is not the only one which the man of faith must address to majestic man of culture. Besides this message, man of faith must bring to the attention of man of culture the kerygma of original faith in all its singularity and pristine purity, in spite of the incompatibility of this message with the fundamental credo of a utilitarian society. How staggering this incompatibility is! This unique message speaks of defeat instead of success, of accepting a higher will instead of commanding, of giving instead of conquering, of retreating instead of advancing, of acting “irrationally” instead of being always reasonable. Here the tragic event occurs. Contemporary majestic man rejects his dialectical assignment and, with it, the man of faith.

 

9. Rav Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith, 103–106

Elisha was a typical representative of the majestic community. He was the son of a prosperous farmer, a man of property, whose interests were centered around this-worldly, material goods such as crops, livestock, and market prices. His objective was economic success, his aspiration—material wealth. The Bible portrays him as efficient, capable, and practical, remindful of a modern business executive… Suddenly the mantle of Elijah was cast upon him. While he was engaged in the most ordinary, everyday activity, in tilling the soil, he encountered God and felt the transforming touch of God’s hand. The strangest metamorphosis occurred. Within seconds, the old Elisha disappeared and a new Elisha emerged. Majestic man was replaced by covenantal man… However, Elisha’s withdrawal from majesty was not final. He followed the dialectical course of all our prophets. Later, when he achieved the pinnacle of faith and arrived at the outer boundaries of human commitment, he came back to society as a participant in state affairs, as an adviser of kings and a teacher of the majestic community. God ordered him to return to the people, to offer them a share in the covenantal drama and to involve them in the great and solemn colloquy. He was God’s messenger carrying, like Moses, two tablets of stone containing the covenantal kerygma.

Shiur: The Lonely Man of Faith #2: Adam 1 vs Adam 2

This is the second of three classes on The Lonely Man of Faith that I recorded for my Rav Soloveitchik course after it was unceremoniously cut short by the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.

This class explores some of the main differences between what Rav Soloveitchik calls “Adam the first” and “Adam the second,” focusing on the tension between dignity and redemption.

 

Adam 1 vs. Adam 2

1. Rav Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith, 9–10

We all know that the Bible offers two accounts of the creation of man. We are also aware of the theory suggested by Bible critics attributing these two accounts to two different traditions and sources. Of course, since we do unreservedly accept the unity and integrity of the Scriptures and their divine character, we reject this hypothesis which is based, like much Biblical criticism, on literary categories invented by modern man, ignoring completely the eidetic-noetic content of the Biblical story. It is, of course, true that the two accounts of the creation of man differ considerably. This incongruity was not discovered by the Bible critics. Our sages of old were aware of it. However, the answer lies not in an alleged dual tradition but in dual man, not in an imaginary contradiction between two versions but in a real contradiction in the nature of man. The two accounts deal with two Adams, two men, two fathers of mankind, two types, two representatives of humanity, and it is no wonder that they are not identical.

 

2. Rav Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith, 11

I want to point out four major discrepancies between these two accounts:

  1. In the story of the creation of Adam the first, it is told that the latter was created in the image of God, בצלם אלקים, while nothing is said about how his body was formed. In the account of the creation of Adam the second, it is stated that he was fashioned from the dust of the ground and God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.
  2. Adam the first received the mandate from the Almighty to fill the earth and subdue it, מלאו את הארץ וכבשה. Adam the second was charged with the duty to cultivate the garden and to keep it, לעבדה ולשמרה.
  3. In the story of Adam the first, both male and female were created concurrently, while Adam the second emerged alone, with Eve appearing subsequently as his helpmate and complement.
  4. Finally, and this is a discrepancy of which Biblical criticism has made so much, while in the first account only the name of Elohim appears, in the second, Elohim is used in conjunction with the Tetragrammaton.

 

Adam 1 – Creativity, Dignity, and Dominion

3. Rav Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith, 12–14

There is no doubt that the term “image of God” in the first account refers to man’s inner charismatic endowment as a creative being. Man’s likeness to God expresses itself in man’s striving and ability to become a creator. Adam the first who was fashioned in the image of God was blessed with great drive for creative activity and immeasurable resources for the realization of this goal, the most outstanding of which is the intelligence, the human mind, capable of confronting the outside world and inquiring into its complex workings. In spite of the boundless divine generosity providing man with many intellectual capacities and interpretive perspectives in his approach to reality, God, in imparting the blessing to Adam the first and giving him the mandate to subdue nature, directed Adam’s attention to the functional and practical aspects of his intellect through which man is able to gain control of nature. Other intellectual inquiries, such as the metaphysical or axiologico-qualitative, no matter how incisive and penetrating, have never granted man dominion over his environment. The Greeks, who excelled in philosophical noesis, were less skillful in technological achievements. Modern science has emerged victorious from its encounter with nature because it has sacrificed qualitative-metaphysical speculation for the sake of a functional duplication of reality and substituted the quantus for the qualis question. Therefore, Adam the first is interested in just a single aspect of reality and asks one question only—”How does the cosmos function?” He is not fascinated by the question, “Why does the cosmos function at all?” nor is he interested in the question, “What is its essence?” He is only curious to know how it works. In fact, even this “how” question with which Adam the first is preoccupied is limited in scope. He is concerned not with the question per se, but with its practical implications. He raises not a metaphysical but a practical, technical “how” question. To be precise, his question is related not to the genuine functioning of the cosmos in itself but to the possibility of reproducing the dynamics of the cosmos by employing quantified-mathematized media which man evolves through postulation and creative thinking. The conative movement of attraction which Adam the first experiences toward the world is not of an exploratory-cognitive nature. It is rather nurtured by the selfish desire on the part of Adam to better his own position in relation to his environment. Adam the first is overwhelmed by one quest, namely, to harness and dominate the elemental natural forces and to put them at his disposal. This practical interest arouses his will to learn the secrets of nature. He is completely utilitarian as far as motivation, teleology, design, and methodology are concerned.

 

4. Rav Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith, 14–15

What is Adam the first out to achieve? What is the objective toward which he incessantly drives himself with enormous speed? The objective, it is self-evident, can be only one, namely, that which God put up before him: to be “man,” to be himself. Adam the first wants to be human, to discover his identity which is bound up with his humanity. How does Adam find himself? He works with a simple equation introduced by the Psalmist, who proclaimed the singularity and unique station of man in nature: “For thou made him a little lower than the angels and hast crowned him with glory and honor (dignity).” (Tehillim 8) Man is an honorable being. In other words, man is a dignified being and to be human means to live with dignity.

 

5. Rav Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith, 16–17

There is no dignity without responsibility, and one cannot assume responsibility as long as he is not capable of living up to his commitments. Only when man rises to the heights of freedom of action and creativity of mind does he begin to implement the mandate of dignified responsibility entrusted to him by his Maker. Dignity of man expressing itself in the awareness of being responsible and of being capable of discharging his responsibility cannot be realized as long as he has not gained mastery over his environment. For life in bondage to insensate elemental forces is a non-responsible and hence an undignified affair.

Man of old who could not fight disease and succumbed in multitudes to yellow fever or any other plague with degrading helplessness could not lay claim to dignity. Only the man who builds hospitals, discovers therapeutic techniques, and saves lives is blessed with dignity. Man of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries who needed several days to travel from Boston to New York was less dignified than modern man who attempts to conquer space, boards a plane at the New York airport at midnight and takes several hours later a leisurely walk along the streets of London. The brute is helpless, and, therefore, not dignified. Civilized man has gained limited control of nature and has become, in certain respects, her master, and with his mastery he has attained dignity as well. His mastery has made it possible for him to act in accordance with his responsibility.

 

Adam 2 – Receptivity and Redemption

6. Rav Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith, 20–22

Adam the second is, like Adam the first, also intrigued by the cosmos. Intellectual curiosity drives them both to confront courageously the mysterium magnum of Being. However, while the cosmos provokes Adam the first to quest for power and control, thus making him ask the functional “how” question, Adam the second responds to the call of the cosmos by engaging in a different kind of cognitive gesture. He does not ask a single functional question. Instead his inquiry is of a metaphysical nature and a threefold one. He wants to know: “Why is it?” “What is it?” “Who is it?” (1) He wonders: “Why did the world in its totality come into existence? Why is man confronted by this stupendous and indifferent order of things and events?” (2) He asks: “What is the purpose of all this? What is the message that is embedded in organic and inorganic matter, and what does the great challenge reaching me from beyond the fringes of the universe as well as from the depths of my tormented soul mean?” (3) Adam the second keeps on wondering: “Who is He who trails me steadily, uninvited and unwanted, like an everlasting shadow, and vanishes into the recesses of transcendence the very instant I turn around to confront this numinous, awesome, and mysterious ‘He’? Who is He who fills Adam with awe and bliss, humility and a sense of greatness, concurrently? Who is He to whom Adam clings in passionate, all-consuming love and from whom he flees in mortal fear and dread? Who is He who fascinates Adam irresistibly and at the same time rejects him irrevocably? Who is He whom Adam experiences both as the mysterium tremendum and as the most elementary, most obvious, and most understandable truth? Who is He who is deus revelatus and deus absconditus simultaneously? Who is He whose life-giving and life-warming breath Adam feels constantly and who at the same time remains distant and remote from all?”

In order to answer this triple question, Adam the second… he wants to understand the living, “given” world into which he has been cast… He encounters the universe in all its colorfulness, splendor, and grandeur, and studies it with the naivete, awe, and admiration of the child who seeks the unusual and wonderful in every ordinary tiring and event… Adam the second is receptive and… looks for the image of God not in the mathematical formula or the natural relational law but in every beam of light, in every bud and blossom, in the morning breeze and the stillness of a starlit evening. In a word, Adam the second explores not the scientific abstract universe but the irresistibly fascinating qualitative world where he establishes an intimate relation with God. The Biblical metaphor referring to God breathing life into Adam, alludes to the actual preoccupation of the latter with God, to his genuine living experience of God rather than to some divine potential or endowment in Adam symbolized by imago Dei. Adam the second lives in close union with God. His existential “I” experience is interwoven in the awareness of communing with the Great Self whose footprints he discovers along the many tortuous paths of creation.

 

7. Rav Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith, 23–24

Adam the second sees his separateness from nature and his existential uniqueness not in dignity or majesty but in something else. There is, in his opinion, another mode of existence through which man can find his own self, namely, the redemptive, which is not necessarily identical with the dignified. Quite often, an existence might be replete with dignity and mastery, and yet remain unredeemed…

In order to delineate more sharply the contours of Adam the second, who rejected dignity as the sole objective of human questing, let us add the following observation. Dignity is a social and behavioral category, expressing not an intrinsic existential quality but a technique of living, a way of impressing society, the knowhow of commanding respect and attention of the other fellow, a capacity to make one’s presence felt… Hence, dignity is measured not by the inner worth of the in-depth personality, but by the accomplishments of the surface personality. No matter how fine, noble, and gifted one may be, he cannot command respect or be appreciated by others if he has not succeeded in realizing his talents and communicating his message to society through the medium of the creative majestic gesture. In light of the aforementioned, dignity as a behavioral category can find realization only in the outward gesture which helps the inner personality to objectify itself and to explain and interpret itself to the external world.. Therefore, Adam the first was created not alone, but together with Eve—male and female emerged simultaneously. Adam the first exists in society, in community with others.

 

8. Rav Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith, 33–35

  1. Being redeemed is, unlike being dignified, an ontological awareness. It is not just an extraneous, accidental attribute—among other attributes—of being, but a definitive mode of being itself. A redeemed existence is intrinsically different from an unredeemed. Redemptiveness does not have to be acted out vis-a-vis the outside world. Even a hermit, while not having the opportunity to manifest dignity, can live a redeemed life. Cathartic redemp- tiveness is experienced in the privacy of one’s in-depth personality, and it cuts below the relationship between the “I” and the “thou” (to use an existentialist term) and reaches into the very hidden strata of the isolated “I” who knows himself as a singular being. When objectified in personal and emotional categories, cathartic redemptiveness expresses itself in the feeling of axiological security. The individual intuits his existence as worthwhile, legitimate, and adequate, anchored in something stable and unchangeable.
  2. Cathartic redemptiveness, in contrast to dignity, cannot be attained through man’s acquisition of control of his environment, but through man’s exercise of control over himself. A redeemed life is ipso facto a disciplined life. While a dignified existence is attained by majestic man who courageously surges forward and confronts mute nature—a lower form of being—in a mood of defiance, redemption is achieved when humble man makes a movement of recoil, and lets himself be confronted and defeated by a Higher and Truer Being. God summoned Adam the first to advance steadily, Adam the second to retreat. Adam the first He told to exercise mastery and to “fill the earth and subdue it,” Adam the second, to serve. He was placed in the Garden of Eden “to cultivate it and to keep it.”

Dignity is acquired by man whenever he triumphs over nature. Man finds redemption whenever he is overpowered by the Creator of nature. Dignity is discovered at the summit of success; redemption in the depth of crisis and failure: ממעמקים קראתיך ה׳, “Out of the depths have I called thee, O God.” The Bible has stated explicitly that Adam the second was formed from the dust of the ground because the knowledge of the humble origin of man is an integral part of Adams “I” experience. Adam the second has never forgotten that he is just a handful of dust.

 

9. Rav Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith, 37–38

If Adam is to bring his quest for redemption to full realization, he must initiate action leading to the discovery of a companion who, even though as unique and singular as he, will master the art of communicating and, with him, form a community. However, this action, since it is part of the redemptive gesture, must also be sacrificial. The medium of attaining full redemption is, again, defeat. This new companionship is not attained through conquest, but through surrender and retreat. “And the eternal God caused an overpowering sleep to fall upon the man.” Adam was overpowered and defeated—and in defeat he found his companion.

Again, the contrast between the two Adams comes into focus. Adam the first was not called to sacrifice in order that his female companion come into being, while it was indispensable for Adam the second to give away part of himself in order to find a companion. The community-fashioning gesture of Adam the first is, as I indicated before, purely utilitarian and intrinsically egotistic and, as such, rules out sacrificial action. For Adam the second, communicating and communing are redemptive sacrificial gestures. 

 

APPENDIX

 

Relationships With God

10. Rav Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith, 48–49

Majestic man, even when he belongs to the group of homines religiosi and feels a distinct need for transcendental experiences, is gratified by his encounter with God within the framework of the cosmic drama. Since majestic man is incapable of breaking out of the cosmic cycle, he can- not interpret his transcendental adventure in anything but cosmic categories. Therefore, the divine name of E-lohim, which denotes God being the source of the cosmic dynamics, sufficed to characterize the relationship prevailing between majestic man and his Creator addressing Himself to him through the cosmic occurrence.

However, covenantal man of faith, craving for a personal and intimate relation with God, could not find it in the cosmic E-lohim encounter and had to shift his transcendental experience to a different level at which the finite “I” meets the infinite He “face-to-face”This strange communal relation between man and God is symbolized by the Tetragrammaton,* which therefore appears in the Biblical account of Adam the second

 

Being vs. Doing

11. Rav Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith, 30–31

Neither was Adam aware of the pronouncement לא טוב היות האדם לבדו, “It is not good for man to be lonely.” Moreover, the connotation of these words in the context of the world view of Adam the first, even if they had been addressed to him, would have been related not to loneliness, an existential in-depth experience, but to aloneness, a practical surface experience. Adam the first, representing the natural community, would translate this pronouncement into pragmatic categories, referring not to existence as such, but to productive work. If pressed for an interpretation of the pronouncement, he would paraphrase it, “It is not good for man to work (not to be) alone,” לא טוב עשות האדם מלאכה לבדו. The words “I shall make him a helpmate” would refer, in accordance with his social philosophy, to a functional partner to whom it would be assigned to collaborate with and assist Adam the first in his undertakings, schemes, and projects. Eve vis-a-vis Adam the first would be a work partner, not an existential co-participant. Man alone cannot succeed, says Adam the first, because a successful life is possible only within a communal framework. Robinson Crusoe may be self-sufficient as far as mere survival is concerned, but he cannot make a success of his life. Distribution of labor, the coordinated efforts of the many, the accumulated experiences of the multitude, the cooperative spirit of countless individuals, raise man above the primitive level of a natural existence and grant him limited dominion over his environment. What we call civilization is the sum total of a community effort through the millennia. Thus, the natural community fashioned by Adam the first is a work community, committed to the successful production, distribution, and consumption of goods, material as well as cultural.

 

12. Rav Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith, 30–31

The covenantal faith community, in contradistinction to the natural work community, interprets the divine pronouncement “It is not good for man to be alone,” לא טוב היות האדם לבדו, not in utilitarian but in ontological terms: it is not good for man to be lonely (not alone) with emphasis placed upon “to be.” Being at the level of the faith community does not lend itself to any equation. “To be” is not to be equated with “to work and produce goods” (as historical materialism wants us to believe), “To be” is not identical with “to think” (as the classical tradition of philosophical rationalism throughout the ages, culminating in Descartes and later in Kant, tried to convince us). “To be” does not exhaust itself either in suffering (as Schopenhauer preached) or in enjoying the world of sense (in accordance with ethical hedonism). “To be” is a unique in-depth experience of which only Adam the second is aware, and it is unrelated to any function or performance. “To be” means to be the only one, singular and different, and consequently lonely. For what causes man to be lonely and feel insecure if not the awareness of his uniqueness and exclusiveness? The “I” is lonely, experiencing ontological incompleteness and casualness, because there is no one who exists like the “T” and because the modus existentiae of the ” I ” cannot be repeated, imitated, or experienced by others.

Since loneliness reflects the very core of the “I” experience and is not an accidental modus, no accidental activity or external achievement—such as belonging to a natural work community and achieving cooperative success—can reclaim Adam the second from this state. Therefore, I repeat, Adam the second must quest for a different kind of community. The companionship which Adam the second is seeking is not to be found in the depersonalized regimentation of the army, in the automatic coordination of the assembly line, or in the activity of the institutionalized, soulless political community. His quest is for a new kind of fellowship, which one finds in the existential community. There, not only hands are joined, but experiences as well; there, one hears not only the rhythmic sound of the production line, but also the rhythmic beat of hearts starved for existential companionship and all-embracing sympathy and experiencing the grandeur of the faith commitment; there, one lonely soul finds another soul tormented by loneliness and solitude yet unqualifiedly committed.

 

Lonely Man of Faith vs. Halakhic Man

13. Rav Soloveitchik, Halakhic Man, 25

Man, in one respect, is a mere random example of the biological species—species man—an image of the universal, a shadow of true existence. In another respect he is a man of God, possessor of an individual existence. The difference between a man who is a mere random example of the biological species and a man of God is that the former is characterized by passivity, the latter by activity and creation. 

Shiur: The Lonely Man of Faith #1: What Kind of Lonely?

This is the first of three classes on The Lonely Man of Faith that I recorded for my Rav Soloveitchik course after it was unceremoniously cut short by the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. I do not focus on the pandemic in the class, but I felt it was necessary to make a note of the current situation at the start, and of course it came up a few times in the course of the 30 minute class.

This class introduced the book by focusing on how Rav Soloveitchik frames it as a subjective exploration of the topic of loneliness, and by looking at the various types of loneliness he describes.

 

 

Loneliness: Social, Ontological, and Faithful

1. Rav Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith, 3

The nature of the dilemma can be stated in a three-word sentence. I am lonely. Let me emphasize, however, that by stating “I am lonely” I do not intend to convey to you the impression that I am alone. I, thank God, do enjoy the love and friendship of many. I meet people, talk, preach, argue, reason; I am surrounded by comrades and acquaintances. And yet, companionship and friendship do not alleviate the passional experience of loneliness which trails me constantly.

 

A Subjective Exploration

2. Rav Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith, 1–2

It is not the plan of this essay to discuss the millennium-old problem of faith and reason. Theory is not my concern at the moment. I want instead to focus attention on a human-life situation in which the man of faith as an individual concrete being, with his cares and hopes, concerns and needs, joys and sad moments, is entangled. Therefore, whatever I am going to say here has been derived not from philosophical dialectics, abstract speculation, or detached impersonal reflections, but from actual situations and experiences with which I have been confronted. Indeed, the term “lecture” also is, in this context, a misnomer. It is rather a tale of a personal dilemma. Instead of talking theology, in the didactic sense, eloquently and in balanced sentences, I would like, hesitantly and haltingly, to confide in you, and to share with you some concerns which weigh heavily on my mind and which frequently assume the proportions of an awareness of crisis.

 

3. Rav Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith, 9

Before beginning the analysis, we must determine within which frame of reference, psychological and empirical or theological and Biblical, our dilemma should be described. I believe you will agree with me that we do not have much choice in the matter; for, to the man of faith, self-knowledge has one connotation only—to understand one’s place and role within the scheme of events and things willed and approved by God, when He ordered finitude to emerge out of infinity and the Universe, including man, to unfold itself. This kind of self-knowledge may not always be pleasant or comforting. On the contrary, it might from time to time express itself in a painful appraisal of the difficulties which man of faith, caught in his paradoxical destiny, has to encounter, for knowledge at both planes, the scientific and the personal, is not always a eudaemonic experience. However, this unpleasant prospect should not deter us from our undertaking.

Before I go any further, I want to make the following reservation. Whatever I am about to say is to be seen only as a modest attempt on the part of a man of faith to interpret his spiritual perceptions and emotions in modern theological and philosophical categories. My interpretive gesture is completely subjective and lays no claim to representing a definitive Halakhic philosophy. If my audience will feel that these interpretations are also relevant to their perceptions and emotions, I shall feel amply rewarded. However, I shall not feel hurt if my thoughts will find no response in the hearts of my listeners.

 

4. Rav Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith, 7

It would be worthwhile to add the following in order to place the dilemma in the proper focus. I have never been seriously troubled by the problem of the Biblical doctrine of creation vis-a-vis the scientific story of evolution at both the cosmic and the organic levels, nor have I been perturbed by the confrontation of the mechanistic interpretation of the human mind with the Biblical spiritual concept of man. I have not been perplexed by the impossibility of fitting the mystery of revelation into the framework of historical empiricism. Moreover, I have not even been troubled by the theories of Biblical criticism which contradict the very foundations upon which the sanctity and integrity of the Scriptures rest. However, while theoretical oppositions and dichotomies have never tormented my thoughts, I could not shake off the disquieting feeling that the practical role of the man of faith within modern society is a very difficult, indeed, a paradoxical one.

 

What Kind of Loneliness?

 

5. Rav Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith, 4

I must address myself to the obvious question: why am I beset by this feeling of loneliness and being unwanted? Is it the Kierkegaardian anguish—an ontological fear nurtured by the awareness of nonbeing threatening one’s existence—that assails me, or is this feeling of loneliness solely due to my own personal stresses, cares, and frustrations? Or is it perhaps the result of the pervasive state of mind of Western man who has become estranged from himself, a state with which all of us as Westerners are acquainted? I believe that even though all three explanations might be true to some extent, the genuine and central cause of the feeling of loneliness from which I cannot free myself is to be found in a different dimension, namely, in the experience of faith itself.

 

6. Rav Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith, 5–7

On the one hand, the man of faith has been a solitary figure throughout the ages, indeed millennia, and no one has succeeded in escaping this unalterable destiny which is an “objective” awareness rather than a subjective feeling. On the other hand, it is undeniably true that this basic awareness expresses itself in a variety of ways, utilizing the whole gamut of one’s affective emotional life which is extremely responsive to outward challenges and moves along with the tide of cultural and historical change. Therefore, it is my intent to analyze this experience at both levels: at the ontological, at which it is a root awareness, and at the historical, at which a highly sensitized and agitated heart, overwhelmed by the impact of social and cultural forces, filters this root awareness through the medium of painful, frustrating emotions.

As a matter of fact, the investigation at the second level is my prime concern since I am mainly interested in contemporary man of faith who is, due to his peculiar position in our secular society, lonely in a special way. No matter how time-honored and time-hallowed the interpenetration of faith and loneliness is, and it certainly goes back to the dawn of the Judaic covenant, contemporary man of faith lives through a particularly difficult and agonizing crisis.

Let me spell out this passional experience of contemporary man of faith.

He looks upon himself as a stranger in modern society, which is technically-minded, self-centered, and self-loving, almost in a sickly narcissistic fashion, scoring honor upon honor, piling up victory upon victory, reaching for the distant galaxies, and seeing in the here-and-now sensible world the only manifestation of being. What can a man of faith like myself, living by a doctrine which has no technical potential, by a law which cannot be tested in the laboratory, steadfast in his loyalty to an eschatological vision whose fulfillment cannot be predicted with any degree of probability, let alone certainty, even by the most complex, advanced mathematical calculations—what can such a man say to a functional, utilitarian society which is saeculum-oriented and whose practical reasons of the mind have long ago supplanted the sensitive reasons of the heart?

 

7. Rav Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith, 97

The situation has deteriorated considerably in this century, which has witnessed the greatest triumphs of majestic man in his drive for conquest. Majestic Adam has developed a demonic quality: laying claim to unlimited power—alas, to infinity itself. His pride is almost boundless, his imagination arrogant, and he aspires to complete and absolute control of everything. Indeed, like the men of old, he is engaged in constructing a tower whose apex should pierce Heaven. He is intoxicated with his own adventures and victories and is bidding for unrestricted dominion. From a religious point of view, as I said before, they are quite legitimate and in compliance with the divine testament given to Adam the first that he should rule nature. When I say that modern man is projecting a demonic image, I am thinking of man’s attempt to dominate himself, or, to be more precise, of Adam the first’s desire to identify himself with the total human personality…

Shiur: Adar 2020 – Up is Down, Holy is Unholy: From Vayikra to Hasidut to Rav Kook and Rav Shagar

Up is Down, Holy is Unholy:
From Vayikra to Hasidut to Rav Kook to Rav Shagar

 

1. Talmud Bavli, Megillah 15b

 

“On that night the sleep of the king was disturbed” (Esther 6:1). Rabbi Tanḥum said: The sleep of the King of the universe was disturbed.

Kodesh vs. Hol

 

2. Vayikra 10:8–11

 

And the Lord spoke to Aaron, saying: 9 Drink no wine or other intoxicant, you or your sons, when you enter the Tent of Meeting, that you may not die. This is a law for all time throughout the ages, 10 for you must distinguish (lehavdil) between the sacred and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean; 11 and you must teach the Israelites all the laws which the Lord has imparted to them through Moses.

 

3. Vayikra 11:44–47

 

For I the Lord am your God: you shall sanctify yourselves and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not make yourselves unclean through any swarming thing that moves upon the earth. 45 For I the Lord am He who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God: you shall be holy, for I am holy. 46 These are the instructions concerning animals, birds, all living creatures that move in water, and all creatures that swarm on earth, 47 for distinguishing (lehavdil) between the unclean and the clean, between the living things that may be eaten and the living things that may not be eaten.

Hasidut and Its Opponents

 

4. Keter Shem Tov, Bereshit §189

 

“The whole earth is filled with his glory” (Isaiah 6:3). Nothing exists, large or small, that is separate from God. Thus, a perfect (shalem) person can perform divine unifications, even in physical activities like eating, drinking, and sexual relations, like business and mundane conversations between friends.

I have thus received a tradition from a wise man… this is the meaning of the verse, “Know him in all your ways” (Proverbs 3:6), which is like “And the man knew Eve his wife” (Genesis 4:1), meaning unification and coupling.

If this is true about physical matters, all the more so with matters like prayer that stand in the heights of the world. There are many levels, and on each and every level a person can perform unifications, in the mystery of “Thus shall Aaron come to the holy” (Leviticus 16:3). Whatever level a person is on, from there he can include himself within the entirety of the world, which are on these levels. They are all the limbs of the Knesset Yisrael. At this point a person can pray, and it will be that “his God be with him and he ascends” (II Chronicles 36:23).

 

 

5. Rav Ḥayyim of Volozhin, Nefesh Haḥayyim III:5

 

Translation from Eliezer Lipa (Leonard) Moskowitz, The Soul of Life, 304–5

But even considering this, these are His heroic and awesome [works]: that even so, He hid–so to speak–His glory so that it would be possible to actualize the matter of the existence of the worlds, and the powers, and created beings, both newly created and renewed, having different qualities and diverse situations, and distributed in different locations—places that are holy and pure, and the opposite: impure and filthy. And this is our perspective, namely, that our capacity for sense perception is limited to the realities as they appear, and on this perspective is built the system that mandates our behavior, as we were commanded directly by Him (blessed be He), it being immutable law. And from this perspective our sages metaphorized Him (so to speak) per the matter of the soul-Neshama’s relationship to the body. And as is stated in the Zohar that He (blessed be He) is the soul-Neshama of all the worlds, being that in people the senses only perceive a person’s body, and: 

  • even though the soul-Neshama permeates the entire body, it is an aspect hidden to eyes of flesh but revealed to the mind’s eyes,
  • so too, based on our grasp of what can be perceived, so appears the reality of all the worlds and creations, and that He (blessed be His name) permeates and is hidden (so to speak) within them to enliven them and to sustain them,

as in the matter of the soul-Neshama that permeates and is hidden within all the various parts of the body’s limbs/ organs, to enliven it.

 

6. Rav Ḥayyim of Volozhin, Nefesh Haḥayyim III:6

 

Translation from Eliezer Lipa (Leonard) Moskowitz, The Soul of Life, 307

And so it is that all of the fundamental principles of the holy Torah, every one of the warnings and command­ments, positive and negative, all operate within this context, that from our perspective there absolutely exist differences and variations between places. In clean/pure places we are permitted and also obligated to discuss and to reflect on the Torah’s words. And in filthy places we are prohibited even to reflect on the Torah’s words. And so it is with all the matters and the system of behavioral obligations that we are directly commanded in the holy Torah, and lacking this context of our perspective there wouldn’t be any room for the Torah and commandments at all.

 

7. Rav Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Izbica, Mei Hashiloaḥ, vol. 1, Ki Tisa, s.v. Elohei Masekhah Lo Ta’aseh Lekha

 

“Molten gods, you shall not make for yourselves” (Shemot 34:17). “Molten” refers to the general principles. This is the meaning of the verse: In a moment when you have explicit “understanding of the heart” (binat halev), then you should not look to the general principles to guide your actions. Understanding of the heart should be your sole guide as to how to act in each individual instance, as we find by Eliyahu on Har Carmel, and as we explained well in Parashat Ḥukkat.

 

8. Rav Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Izbica, Mei Hashiloaḥ, vol. 1, Ḥukkat, s.v. Vayis’u Benei Yisrael Vayiḥanu Be’ovot

 

It is written in the Gemara (Berachot, 54a), it is a time for God to act, for they have made Your Torah void’ (Tehillim, 119). says, “It is a time to do for God, for they have made void your Torah.” This means, since they have made your Torah void, act only in the will of God. At a time when it is perfectly clear that it is a time to solely for Eliyahu on Mount Carmel, then it is necessary to put aside the principles of the holy Torah and act only in the understanding that the blessed God instills in you. Rebbe Natan is saying that at a time when this given under standing is not completely clear to you, you must act according to the principles of the Torah and mitzvot without stepping out of the bounds of the Halacha. Yet Rebbe Natan is also saying that if your heart is drawn after the will of the blessed God, and have removed from yourself any kind of impurity (anything that could bring you down), afterward God may provide you with an opportunity to act in a way that may seem as if, God forbid, you have removed yourself from the bounds of the principles of the Torah. Concerning this Rebbe Natan said that for the one whose heart is drawn after God and has cleansed himself from any affliction, certainly God will not let him fall into a transgression, God forbid. He will surely then know that it is “a time to do for God.”

Kodesh vs. Hol 2.0: Spiritual vs. Unspiritual

 

9. Rav Kook, Mussar Avikha 2:2

 

Translation from R. Ari Ze’ev Schwartz, The Spiritual Revolution of Rav Kook, 55-56)

“In all of your ways, know Him” (Mishlei 3:6). One must search for God in everything one does. When praying, one must search for God by trying to focus on the words of prayer with deep concentration and a dedicated heart. One must not search for God in other matters at that moment. Indeed, while involved in that specific action, it may be said that God can be found within that action and nothing else. When studying Torah, one must realize that God is found in the very act of analyzing and trying to understand each idea. At that moment, God reveals Himself in that specific action and not in anything else. And finally, when involved in gemilut chasadim (acts of kindness), one must search for God by trying to uncover the best possible way to help one’s friend.

This principle is true in all actions that a person does. Do not all matters in the world uncover the Divine? Therefore, everything a person does should be understood as a mitzvah, because one must search for God in every action. We may accurately say that one who dedicates his or her entire mind and strength to performing every action with the greatest level of perfection knows God in all of his ways…

 

10. Rav Shagar, Nahalekh Baragesh, 170

 

Paradoxically, the logic of self-nullification (bitul) leads to a parabolic movement culminating in a return to the world. The righteous person nullifies himself, but in this the lack of nullification–the non-spiritual, worldly life–itself becomes nullification, a vessel for infinite light, an instance of “existing but not in existence.” The divide between creator and creature, between a righteous person and his creator, blurs. 

 

11. Rav Shagar, Shiurim Al Lekutei Moharan I:29, vol. 1, 368

 

Similarly, Rebbe Naḥman’s understanding of tikkun habrit does not depict the berit as identification. Identifying with something still expresses a dualistic consciousness, because a person could identify with something outside of himself. Berit means getting rid of duality, so being overly aware of what we are doing ruins it. For example, we say “Thank God,” and that immediately traps us, as if we are doing something good by saying “Thank you.” We can free ourselves from this trap by saying “Thank you” from a place of linguistic oneness, of simplicity (peshitut). If I pray, and I must identify with the prayer, then this is still a matter of innerness and duality. The highest prayer is simply saying, speaking. This act can create the most delightful prayer.

Shiur: Tevet 2019 – The Thing About Miracles: From Hanukkah to Everyday Life

The Thing About Miracles:
From Hanukkah to Everyday Life

 

What is a Miracle?

 

1. Melakhim Alef 16:1-8

 

Elijah the Tishbite, an inhabitant of Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord lives, the God of Israel whom I serve, there will be no dew or rain except at my bidding.” 2 The word of the Lord came to him: 3 “Leave this place; turn eastward and go into hiding by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. 4 You will drink from the wadi, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.” 5 He proceeded to do as the Lord had bidden: he went, and he stayed by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. 6 The ravens brought him bread and meat every morning and every evening, and he drank from the wadi. 7 After some time the wadi dried up, because there was no rain in the land. 8 And the word of the Lord came to him: 9 “Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon, and stay there; I have commanded a widow there to feed you.”

 

What Does It Matter?

 

2. Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Yesodei Hatorah 8:1-3

 

The Jews did not believe in Moses, our teacher, because of the wonders that he performed. Whenever anyone’s belief is based on wonders, [the commitment of] his heart has shortcomings, because it is possible to perform a wonder through magic or sorcery.

All the wonders performed by Moses in the desert were not intended to serve as proof [of the legitimacy] of his prophecy, but rather were performed for a purpose. It was necessary to drown the Egyptians, so he split the sea and sank them in it. We needed food, so he provided us with manna. We were thirsty, so he split the rock [providing us with water]. Korach’s band mutinied against him, so the earth swallowed them up. The same applies to the other wonders…

What is the source of our belief in him? The [revelation] at Mount Sinai. Our eyes saw, and not a stranger’s. Our ears heard, and not another’s. There was fire, thunder, and lightning. He entered the thick clouds; the Voice spoke to him and we heard, “Moses, Moses, go tell them the following…”

 

3. Rav Shagar, Leha’ir Et Hapetahim, 114

 

Rambam thought that faith that is based on miracles is faith that has flaws. A miracle that is presented as a proof for faith is forced on a believer artificially, from the outside, such that there will always remain a gap between the believer and their faith through which doubt can slip.

Seeing miracles as a proof for faith is a manifestation of a desire to hold onto the absolute. But the absolute cannot be seized, it only reveals itself as an intangible and unmediated presence. The very logic of proofs defeat them, for they introduce a duality into faith that blocks the path to the absolute. When miracles function as proofs, they become a hard fact that externally indicate the existence of God, and in doing so they dissolve the realness of this existence and sustain the persistence of doubt.

 

The King of India

 

4. The Kuzari I:19-22, 25

 

  1. The Rabbi: If thou wert told that the King of India was an excellent man, commanding admiration, and deserving his high reputation, one whose actions were reflected in the justice which rules his country and the virtuous ways of his subjects, would this bind thee to revere him?

 

  1. Al Khazari: How could this bind me, whilst I am not sure if the justice of the Indian people is natural, and not dependent on their king, or due to the king or both?

 

  1. The Rabbi: But if his messenger came to thee bringing presents which thou knowest to be only procurable in India, and in the royal palace, accompanied by a letter in which it is distinctly stated from whom it comes, and to which are added drugs to cure thy diseases, to preserve thy health, poisons for thy enemies, and other means to fight and kill them without battle, would this make thee beholden to him?

 

  1. Al Khazari: Certainly. For this would remove my former doubt that the Indians have a king. I should also acknowledge that a proof of his power and dominion has reached me…

 

  1. The Rabbi: … In the same strain spoke Moses to Pharaoh, when he told him: ‘The God of the Hebrews sent me to thee,’ viz. the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. For Abraham was well known to the nations, who also knew that the divine spirit was in contact with the patriarchs, cared for them, and performed miracles for them. He did not say: ‘The God of heaven and earth,’ nor ‘my Creator and thine sent me.’ In the same way God commenced His speech to the assembled people of Israel: ‘I am the God whom you worship, who has led you out of the land of Egypt,’ but He did not say: ‘I am the Creator of the world and your Creator.’ Now in the same style I spoke to thee, a Prince of the Khazars, when thou didst ask me about my creed. I answered thee as was fitting, and is fitting for the whole of Israel who knew these things, first from personal experience, and afterwards through uninterrupted tradition, which is equal to the former.

 

5. Rav Shagar, Zeman Shel Herut, “This is For You, A Sign,” 78–79

 

The Haver of The Kuzari also gives miracles a central role in the context of faith. However, rather than framing miracles as proof for faith, he says that they create a connection to faith. The Haver chooses to present himself to the Khazar king as “believ[ing] in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, who led the children of Israel out of Egypt with signs and miracles… who sent Moses with His law.”  The king is confused by this confession and asks, “Now shouldst thou, O Jew, not have said that thou believest in the Creator of the world, its Governor and Guide, and in Him who created and keeps thee?” In response to the king’s shock, the Haver emphasizes the miracle of the exodus from Egypt as the basis of faith. The Exodus from Egypt demonstrates God’s direct, personal relation to the Jew that transcends nature. This personal relation creates the Jew’s connection to his God and his Torah.  This great, revealed miracle demonstrates real, divine closeness, and this closeness is itself the primary revelation of faith. As far as The Kuzari is concerned, miracles are not some momentary “hocus pocus,” they are events that carry within them the sensation of direct encounter with the wondrous, the mystical. This is the religious significance of miracles, without which they have no meaning.

 

What is Faith?

 

6. Rav Shagar, “My Faith,” Faith Shattered and Restored, 22-24

 

Philosophies and outlooks are, in this context, nothing but rationalizations – apologetics, even – whose sole role is to justify what has already been arrived at, and which must thus be regarded with a certain wariness. They are not the substance of faith but explanations for it; thus, they are ancillary to it and always involve a degree of duality. To paraphrase the opponents of Maimonides and his school, who stated that a God whose existence must be proven is no God at all, I offer the absurd assertion that a believer who requires an intellectual proof for his faith is no believer at all.

There is no proof of faith, and no certainty of faith to be gained with a proof. In any event, proofs do not impact our existence like a gun pointed at one’s temple; they do not touch upon the believer’s inner life. That is why, when it comes to faith, I prefer to use terms such as “event” and “experience.” God’s presence in my prayers is as tangible to me as the presence of a human interlocutor. That is not a proof but rather an immediate experience. Similarly, I do not assert that the sight of someone standing in front of me is proof of the person’s existence. That would be foolish: After all, I see you.

 

You Did Miracles For Our Forefathers

 

7. Yishai Mevorach, A Theology of Absence, 57

 

“With those who are standing here with us this day before the Lord our God and with those who are not with us here this day” (Devarim 29:14).” These words correctly present the deep meaning of the biblical idea of a covenant (berit), which means being a sign-representation of the past encounter, of the moment of responsibility and obligation towards the other who confronts me. Similarly for the father of the nation, Avraham: “I will maintain My covenant between Me and you, and your offspring who come after you, as an everlasting covenant throughout the ages, to be God to you and to your offspring who come after you. […] As for you, you and your offspring who come after you throughout the ages shall keep My covenant. […] every male among you shall be circumcised. […] and that shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. […] Thus shall My covenant be marked in your flesh as an everlasting pact” (Bereshit 17:7-13). If so, maintaining the covenant means being a body that expresses the past, as a past that was, in a present that has nothing of its own. Maintaining the covenant means living without revelation or redemption that happen to me. Instead, I see myself as “offspring who come after,” as a symbol of the event and encounter that was.

 

8. Yishai Mevorach, A Theology of Absence, 63

 

A covenantal life is when two people willingly exist as representations of a moment of revelation, the engagement, that happened in the past. In their past there was a “face to face” moment of revelation-responsibility, and now the couple are a symbol of that time. A life of covenant is not about the Other who reveals himself to me, but the Other who revealed himself to me, and the I, the face, who was the address of that revelation.
Here too, as with prayer and the commandments, secularized Western culture boldly tries to fill a couple with tension and expectations of revelation. This is why couples are always told about workshops, classes, magical getaways with youthful atmospheres, bungalows, taking time away from parenting, analyzing their tension, and so on and so on, ideas without end, all just so that the couple will resume discovering each other and revealing themselves to one another. However, “this is all Christian,” as Rosenzweig would say. Someone who wants to hold onto an Other who is currently revealing himself, without any disruption, is asking to live without a covenant. In a covenant, there is no revelation, only a faithful representation thereof. This forces or coerces a person to carry the covenant onward, toward the children who bear its sign.

Yom Kippur 2019 – Being Together with Man and God

Yom Kippur approaches. The long day of atonement the ascetic quest for apology, catharsis, and, if we dare to hope, reconciliation. This quest is in some ways driven by the persistent drumbeat of prayer, particularly the vidui, the rhythmic recital of the sins we have sinned. Ashamnu.

According to Rav Shagar, this detailed enumeration of our iniquities is not self-important, it’s not about itself. What it is about is our underlying posture toward each other. We don’t commit interpersonal sins, stealing or lying, without first seeing ourselves as separate from and in competition with those around us.

“The sins of guilt and betrayal mentioned in the confession are not necessarily private, specific guilts, but forms of being connected to the metaphysical guilt and betrayal rooted in the foundations of our existence; betrayal of the Other is inherent in the very nature of the human situation. I will always care for my children better than I will care for your children. “Man is a wolf to man” — This law is not psychological but ontological — this is the meaning of betrayal.” (Rav Shagar, She’erit Ha’emunah, 188)

When we sin against our fellow man, we act out our underlying sense that it’s us or them, and we always choose us. We are always at war, and we have always been at war; there is never more than a cold peace between me and the enemy I see across the table, nevermore than a lazy ceasefire.

What we need then, is to reimagine the way we exist in the world, not our actions, but the underlying orientation toward other people from which our actions spring forth. We cannot keep seeing ourselves as competing with everyone else in a zero-sum game for existence and happiness. We need to learn to see the other’s gain as my own gain as well, to see ourselves as part of a larger unity.

“The choir represents the intentional intermingling of individuals , and that is what makes it so powerful. It is enjoyable because of the harmony it creates between individuals, and therefore there is no better way to create the unified collective of the congregation.” (ibid.)

This is not a mystical, organic unity, however. We are not part of one solid organism called “the Jewish people,” “humanity,” what have you. This is individuals coming together as part of a larger project, with a shared vision of a brighter future, of the possibilities of transcendence.

That matters because this is a unity without difference. This is about different, separate individuals coming together out of choice. Consequently, I may actually experience another person gaining as my own losing; sometimes reality really is limited. This unity means taking a moment to re-evaluate what it means to lose.

“They say that love will win, but love cannot win. This is because where there is love there is no winner, and where there is victory there is no love. Quite the reverse, love loses, it is constantly losing, it is inextricably tied to giving up, to sacrifice and self-degradation.” (Rav Shagar, Nahalekh Beregesh, 336)

Losing is an inherent part of any relationship. Any time I commit myself to another person, I agree to make sacrifices for them. I recognize the importance, within my own life, of things and people other than myself. (For Rav Soloveitchik this was submission,;for Rosenzweig it was judgment; for Heschel ,self-transcendence; for Levinas, the infinite command of the other; and for Rav Froman, the true freedom that only comes from commitment.) This is all the more true when it comes to being part of a group. Choosing to be part of a collective means choosing to put the group before the self, at least in some areas and respects. It means choosing to lose for the sake of the group and the other people in it, because that itself is a kind of win. It may not take away the sting of the sacrifice, but it adds its own kind of sweetness, a pleasant aroma before God.

This sweetness is the theological horizon of unity. Yom Kippur is not just about society, and unity is not just interpersonal; our relationships with others are simultaneously our relationship with The Other, God who transcends human existence.

“The confession does not mention sins between man and God at all, something that gets to the heart of the confession; the guilt that it deals with is ethical-existential guilt of betraying the essence of existence, something that is manifest in societal wrongs, not in the religious realm between a person and his god. The social realm is the location of the kingdom of God, in it and through it the divine unity is realized – “Hear O’ Israel, the Lord is our god, the Lord is one.”” (Rav Shagar, She’erit Ha’emunah, 188-189)

Human unity and divine oneness are inextricably intertwined. Loving and losing can never be torn apart. Atonement begins with the recognition of fundamental sin. When we apologize to other people, when we begin to shift our basic posture toward them, we begin to reveal the kingdom of God. When we declare before God that we have sinned against other people, we declare the divine significance of the social realm. And when we begin to see others as collaborators rather than competitors, individuals for whom we would sacrifice rather than enemies to overcome, we begin to mend the tears in the very fabric being, both human and divine. Bagadnu, and no more. Peace, purity, and reconciliation.