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. 

Rav Shagar on Shabbat Hanukkah- The Candle and the Sacrifice

My latest Rav Shagar translation, a derashah for Shabbat Hanukkah, with an explanatory introduction by Prof. Alan Brill.

Rav Shagar on Shabbat Hanukkah- The Candle and the Sacrifice

https://kavvanah.wordpress.com/2019/12/22/rav-shagar-on-shabbat-hanukkah-the-candle-and-the-sacrifice/
— Read on kavvanah.wordpress.com/2019/12/22/rav-shagar-on-shabbat-hanukkah-the-candle-and-the-sacrifice/

God, Otherness, and the End of Utility: Rav Shagar on Korbanot

Rav Shagar combines George Bataille and Rudolf Otto with Biblical texts and Hasidic commentators for a challenging theology of sacrifices.

In honor of this week’s parashah, Vayikra, I have translated some excerpts from “Candle and Sacrifice” (see original Hebrew here), a sermon given by Rav Shagar for Shabbat Hanukkah and published in “LeHa’ir Et HaPetahim.” The sermon focuses on two parallel dichotomies, the first between the services of the Menorah and the sacrifices in the Temple, and the second between the Shabbat candles and the Hanukkah candles in the home (I have discussed this dichotomy here). The candles of the Menorah and Shabbat represent light and warmth, comfort and familiarity, while the fires of the sacrifices and the Hanukkah candles represent death, destruction, and otherness.

In the excerpts below, focusing on the sacrifices, Shagar quotes from George Bataille, a French thinker who theorized about religion in context of production and human nature. Bataille argued that the world exists in an “immanent” state, like “water in water,” with no differentiation between any of the different aspects. Each aspect of the world of itself and for itself, at a given moment.. An animal that kills another animal is not qualitatively different from it. Differentiation, according to Bataille, develops out of human consciousness. Humans specify previously undifferentiated aspects of the world and objectify them. This is because humans look at things as tools which have specific purposes; they don’t exist for themselves at a given moment but for the sake of accomplishing a goal in the future. This leads to “the world of things,” the “profane” human world, in contrast to the “divine” realm, the world as it is outside human perception. The transition from the natural state of the world to the world of things happens automatically, while transitioning back requires the rededication of a tool towards unproductive ends. Bataille’s examples range from the unproductive consumption of alcohol to human sacrifice. In the middle is animal sacrifice, where animals that could be used for a range of productive purposes, in their life and in death, are dedicated to the divine on the altar, and thus will fulfill none of their potential purposes. In this moment, the tool reverts to being an animal, a part of the world, and the human who made it a tool becomes, to a degree, a part of that world as well.

Shagar also references “The Idea of the Holy,” by Rudolf Otto, which is a book length exposition of the idea that a significant aspect of religious experience cannot be captured by language. Otto explores this “numinous” aspect, which he calls “the holy,” and shows how it is always experienced as entirely other and foreign to human existence. Because of this, a significant aspect of the holy is its destructiveness and its amoral character; the rigid framework of human life and morality is entirely foreign to it. The idea of the morality of God results from the aspects of religious experience that can be put into rational, human, language. The moral and rational aspects of God become more dominant in more developed religions, but the destructive otherness of the holy can never be removed from religion entirely, not should it (for more on this, see this quote from Paul Tillich’s “The Dynamics of Faith”).

It is against the background of these two thinkers that Shagar explores the meaning of korbanot, and through the lens of Jewish texts, from Tanakh through to Hasidic thinkers, with Levinas and Derrida briefly mentioned for good measure. Melding these disparate elements together in the crucible of the derashah, the classic form of the rabbinic sermon, Shagar looks at what meaning the Temple sacrifices present for the religious life of a contemporary individual, as I will briefly explore after the excerpts.

 

Life and Death

[…]

Lighting the candles of the Menorah is one of the priestly services in the temple – “Speak to Aaron and say, “In lighting the candles toward the face of the menorah, light seven candles” (Bemidbar 8:2). The nature of this service emerges more clearly in contrast to a different procedure, that of bringing a sacrifice: the sacrifice returns the “thing,” the object-animal, to nothingness via its destruction and ending. This is most clearly expressed by the Olah sacrifice that is burnt up entirely on the altar: “the priest shall offer up and turn the whole into smoke on the altar. It is an olah, an offering by fire, a pleasing aroma for God” (Vayikra 1:13). However, we need to be precise: “The principle of sacrifice is destruction, but though it sometimes goes so far as to destroy completely (as in a holocaust [a burnt offering ~LM]), the destruction that sacrifice is intended to bring about is not annihilation. The thing – only the thing – is what sacrifice means to destroy in the victim.” In other words, the sacrificial act is the returning of the objectness (the thing-object) to the intimacy of existence, to a state where everything is enveloped in everything else, like “water in water.” The sacrifice is therefore not elimination and absence but “returning to nothingness,” a return from existence, from a world characterized by functional and instrumental distinctions that tear things from the deep intimacy of the divine world, which there is no accounting. On the one hand, the death of the sacrifice is the concept of limitation; it is death from the perspective of life; it is an approach to the end and to the differentiation of the world of things. The idea of limitation grants a thing itself, its existence, because limitation is necessary for existence. On the other hand, death grants existence its unity with itself; the disintegration of distinguished things. Existence is liberated from thingness and ascends to nothingness, and envelopes itself.

From the perspective of the living thing, the sacrifice ends in frustration, as it leads to deadness and elimination. It’s impossible to “destroy the animal as a thing without denying the animal’s objective reality… one cannot at the same time destroy the values that found reality and accept their limits.” At the moment that death manifests, the animal no longer exists from the perspective of life – “the world of things” –   and the sacrifice therefore turns into an existence of emptiness.

 

The absolution annihilation of the sacrifice manifests one of the primordial religious experiences: rejection and nullification of the value of the world. Religiosity inherently bears within it an experience of destruction – “it destroys or nullifies any existence other than the existence of the creator, and and denies any possibility of understanding the creator and encountering him.” Hasidic conceptions of nullifying existence, such as the Habad contemplation of “everything before God is as nothing,” ultimately take part in the nullification of the world. You can see a “record” of the experience of destruction in Hasidut by examining the broad attention given to yearning and the consumption of the soul in hasidic teachings, where they are compared to a sacrifice that burns the pleasures and enjoyments of this world. In Hasidut, the sacrifice represents “the elevation of feminine waters,” a process of love at the center of which is liberation from the “things” and a return to a pantheistic state of simplicity and oneness with existence. Reality receives its spiritualization from death – or from aspects of it, such as commitment to martyrdom upon going to sleep, or when lowering one’s head in prayer, – which deconstructs the differences in existence. This leads to liberation from the ordered laws of existence, but it is bound up in frustration and inner pain, for existence does not experience death and the destruction of existence as liberation. That experience belongs to the intimate nothingness, what a person “sees only at the moment of his death.”

The sacrifice in the temple resonates with the requirement of martyrdom “with all your heart, with all your life, and with all your might” (Devarim 6:5). “With all your life – even if he takes your life.” “With all your might (מאודך)” – “In Rabbi Meir’s torah scroll they found it written: “And behold it was very (מאד) good” (Bereshit 1), And behold death (מות) was good.” A person must commit his whole world to death in order to open up to the divine absolute, as only in the ending of life does there exist the possibility of encounter with the infinite.

[…]

The job of a sacrifice is to bring a person to commitment and a personal ending; to give up on the finite nature of his existence by overcoming himself. This is a different manner of eros [from that of the candle], wherein “strong as death is love, hard as hell is jealousy, and its darts are darts of fire, a blazing flame” (Shir HaShirim 8:6).

 

Two Holies

Generally speaking, bringing a sacrifice and lighting the candles present us with two different types of consciousness regarding the holy: the numinous and the pleasant. This echoes a split found in Tanakh, where the holy sometimes appears as the tremendous, the awe-ful and terrifying, and even the destructive that demands sacrifice, and sometimes – the illuminating good, the replete and the pleasurable.

The holy arouses fear and brings with it the destructive. In the language of Levinas and Derrida the holy represents the “other” and manifests the “gap” and “difference” that cannot be bridged. “Anyone who touches the mountain shall die. no hand shall touch him, but he shall be either stoned or shot; beast or man, he shall not live” (Shemot 19:12-13); “They shall not enter to see the dismantling of the holy, lest they die” (Bemidbar 4:20).

 

In these excerpts, Rav Shagar plays up the destructive aspect of sacrifices, something that is most intensely on display in the olah, the offering that is burnt whole on the altar. This destructive aspect, Shagar argues, is connected to larger religious themes of martyrdom and acosmism, the common thread between these ideas being the negation of the world in favor of the divine other. God is so totally different from human existence that God can only manifest at the expense of human existence. However, this human existence is created by a focus on utility, on the practical ends served by things, and so turning away from practical ends, by sacrifice or by committing your life to God even to the point of martyrdom.

There is something almost terrifying about this sort of theology, as there should be. Moreover, anyone familiar with the religious violence of the 21st century, let alone the rest of human history, should be wary of any theology at all valuing the “ending” or “destruction” of earthly, human, existence (Notably, the above excerpts leave out the more affirmative theological aspects of the sermon). That caveat aside, this theology has great significance in modern discussions of religion.

The key, I think, lies in the citation of Bataille. The citation of Bataille focuses the whole discussion on the issue of utility. Our existence is marked by things being useful. If things don’t have obvious uses, we usually figure one out in short order. This focus on usefulness has us constantly justifying things in terms of other things. Even when an object does not have practical value, we want to know what value it serves to promote. The peak manifestation of this is when God, the ultimate other, that which is theoretically foreign to all aspects of our existence, is justified in terms of our values and the values of our lives. What is the role of religion in our lives? What does it add? What are the reasons for the commandments? These questions all ask us to explain the divine in terms of the human, and there can be great value in that. But there can also be great danger. Explaining religion and the divine in terms of their value in our lives makes our lives the ultimate arbiters of purpose and value. In such a situation, there’s no room for asking what makes our lives valuable? What do we add to the world? What are we for? The world of things demands participation in production, without ever asking what that production is for. Religion challenges that endless process of production, presenting values and commands that cannot, or should not, be justified by their value in our lives. Rav Shagar’s theology of sacrifices sees them as provoking an experience of divine otherness, an otherness which challenges us to ask basic questions about the very value of our lives. Have we been explaining things by the value they add to our lives? If so, by what do we explain the value of our lives?

Hanukah And The Other

Hanukah And The Other

While the holiday of Hanukah is perhaps the most popular of the jewish holidays among American Jewry (by which I mean to include even the non-Orthodox), it was not always so. Hazal seem to have had a rather ambivalent approach to Hanukah. This is in large part manifest in a general lack of discussion about the holiday. Hanukah is mentioned a total of three times in the entirety of the Mishnah, and while the gemara discusses it somewhat more often, it is still scarce. There is also a notable lack of a ‘Masekhet Hanukah,” while Purim, the other non-biblical holiday, does have its own masekhet. Further ambivalence can be seen in the way Hazal related to the Hashmonaim, the heroes of the Hanukah story. Hazel critiqued the Hashmonaim on a number of issues, such as the unification of the Priesthood and the Kingship, but also for things like the way they wrote contracts. Moreover, the Hashmonaim often took license in their war against the Mityavnim, the Hellenized Jews, from the biblical zealot Pinhas. In midrashic explications of the story of Pinhas, Hazal often criticize Pinhas, or make it clear that his actions were less than desirable. Thus the Hashmonaim were basing themselves off a zealotry that Hazal were already less than thrilled about, even without the problems of the kingship. The largest question this raises, though there are several, is why did Hazal then see fit to include Hanukah in the holidays of the Jewish People? Megillat Ta’anit records a long list of second temple holidays and fast days and the only two that we keep are Purim and Hanukah. Thus the question of why we celebrate Hanukah when it was not particularly popular in Hazal, needs an answer.

Hanukah has only one mitsvah, lighting the candles, and it is through this mitsvah that we can perhaps explain the significance of the inclusion of Hanukah among the Jewish Holidays. In order to properly understand the mitsvah of lighting candles for Hanukah, it is instructive to compare them with another mitsvah of candle-lighting, the candles of Shabbat. Like the candles of Hanukah, the Shabbat candles are a rabbinic command. However, where the Hanukah candles are commemorative in nature, the Shabbat candles are functional. The candles of Shabbat ensure the existence of three specific aspects of Shabbat: Respectfulness (כבוד), Enjoyment (עונג), and Harmony in the house (שלום בית). The candles are there to ensure that there is enough light to see by, whether during meals or just when walking around. The functional nature of the Shabbat candles has halakhic ramifications. If a person is away from home and staying in a place where they have their own room, then she has an obligation to ensure that it is lit well enough to see where they are going. That said, if there is a place where the person does not want the light, such as a bedroom, then there is no obligation to light there. The Shabbat candles are there for the benefit of the people in the house, not as a goal in and of themselves.

The candles of Hanukah are just the opposite. As opposed to the raw functionality of the Shabbat candles, “these candles are holy, and we have no permission to use them beyond looking at them.” Where the whole purpose of the Shabbat candles is for our use, we are forbidden to make any use of the Hanukah candles. They are holy, and they burn just to burn. Moreover, the one purpose they might seem to have, publicizing the miracle of Hanukah, is intended in an opposite manner from the purpose of the Shabbat candle. The Shabbat candles are intended to illuminate the house for the benefit of the people inside it. The publication of the miracle of Hanukah is primarily intended not for the people in the house but for the people outside of it, to the point where the ideal placement of the chanukiah is not inside the house at all, but rather just outside the door. The Hanukah candles are not about those lighting them, nor about improving their lives. Whereas the Shabbat candles increase and improve our sense of comfort and homeyness, the Hanukah candles create a sense of estrangement and otherness.

The Hanukah candles represent a celebration of otherness, of the fact that not everything needs to fit into our lives and our patterns in order for it to be included, and this is exactly what is  happening with the inclusion of Hanukah in the system of Jewish Holidays. Hazal took a holiday that they would not necessarily have created on their own, and brought it within the system of Jewish Holidays, and then they made sure it’s main ritual would demonstrate what they had done. Their willingness to accept that which is other, that which doesn’t work exactly as they would have it, ought to be an inspiration for us. They didn’t pretend to agree with everything about Hanukah. Before Hazal emphasized the miracle of the oil, all versions of the Hanukah story focus on the military victory or the rededication of the Temple. Hazal decided the focus should be on the miracle of the oil, something they felt more befitting of non-Hashmonaic Judaism. We don’t have to agree with everyone, nor do we even have to pretend to. But that isn’t permission to exclude them and push them away. In light of the otherness of the Hanukah candles, with which we celebrate the grace and presence of ‘א, we can embrace those who are different.