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.
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.
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).
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).