- Paperback: 128 pages
- Publisher: Image; Reprint edition (May 16, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0385514085
- ISBN-13: 978-0385514088
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.3 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 56 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #39,181 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Lonely Man of Faith Paperback – May 16, 2006
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“ . . . one of the most personal expressions ever voiced by a modern Talmudic authority on the elemental power of religious faith and the ways in which the joy of life often comes mixed with longing, torment, and despair.” —Time
From the Inside Flap
Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the rabbi known as "The Rav" by his followers worldwide, was a leading authority on the meaning of Jewish law and prominent force in building bridges between traditional Orthodox Judaism and the modern world. In THE LONELY MAN OF FAITH, a soaring, eloquent essay first published in "Tradition magazine in 1965, Soloveitchik investigates the essential loneliness of the person of faith in our narcissistic, materially oriented, utilitarian society. In this modern classic, Soloveitchik uses the story of Adam and Eve as a springboard, interweaving insights from such important Western philosophers as Kierkegaard and Kant with innovative readings of Genesis to provide guidance for the faithful in today's world. He explains prayer as "the harbinger of moral reformation," and discusses with empathy and understanding the despair and exasperation of individuals who seek personal redemption through direct knowledge of a God who seems remote and unapproachable. He shows that while the faithful may become members of a religious community, their true home is "the abode of loneliness." In a moving personal testimony, Soloveitchik demonstrates a deep-seated commitment, intellectual courage, and integrity that people of all religions will respond to.
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Where the Rav does best is a reinterpretation of Genesis chapters 1 and 2. Their different order of creation separated by barely a page stymies the modern fact-checker like me. But the Rav’s view is richer. Ignoring details of creation sequence, he claims they’re both true. Referencing biblical text, the Adam of chapter 1 gets his marching orders to “harness and dominate the elemental natural forces and put them at his disposal,” writes Soloveitchik. Seeking how things work, Adam 1 strives “to vanquish disease, conquer space, forge political structures…” Adam 1 is victor over nature. (Recall, ancient Hebrews lived in a desert that will kill the unprepared. No wonder nature was a hostile).
But Adam of chapter 2 is instead overpowered to the point of unconscious, when he must sacrifice a part of his own body for something greater than himself and his achievements—Eve—the answer to his loneliness. Something Adam 1 is too busy to consider. Adam 2 asks not how the universe is the way it is, but why? Adam 2 “is aware of an endless past which rolled on without him,” writes the Rav. “He is aware also of an endless future which will rush on with no less force long after he will cease to exist. The link between the ‘before’ in which he was not involved and the ‘after’ from which he will be excluded is the present moment, which vanishes before it is experienced. In fact, the whole accidental character of his being is tied up with this frightening time-consciousness.” Beautiful. And so nice to know I’m not the only one seized by this realization.
For the Rav, this was the intension of God, to create this seemingly impossible gap, forcing humans to manage a way to live in both worlds. With a secular view, aware of how the Bible was collated, I wonder, did the ancients intend just what Soloveitchik claims? To enunciate our competing nature in the very first two pages? His argument is so convincing, I’m inclined to think so.
This book raised another question as I read it. Was the Levantine’s full departure from nature religions—elements of them still part of surrounding cultures at the time—what created the seemingly impossible gap? Not the disconnect between Adam 1 and 2, but that 2 no longer had concrete access with a spiritual world as 1 had with his practical materialism. Once God was exiled from nature, God was no longer directly reachable in the outer world by Adam 2, but rather through the abstract inner world of prayer. By Louis Dumont’s "Essays on Individualism" this inward turn was part and parcel of all Axial Age movements, including Judaism.
Soloveitchik’s book left me with remarkable impressions: other ways to view human nature, our modern conundrum, and writings of the ancients.
His analysis, a good seven chapters deals with plausible reasoning about the social and psychological status of Adam I and Adam II, explaining how the first Adam pursues the goal of meeting his needs, to structure his communities for his best interests and productivity. Adam II however, is invested by his creator with the need to interact in the covenantal Prophetic/Prayer community with the creator. Only in the second community is the association with Eve extended to the level of relationship, it entails awareness of and interaction with the participation of the third person, as with the participation of God.
Through many footnotes sourcing Talmudic discussion of Hebrew commentary, this treatise presents a bird's eye view of Judaistic eschatology from the stand point of it's Orthodox Jewish author. Rav Soloveitchik argues that the narrative titles of God, called Elohim for the "majestic" Adam, versus being called YAWEH for the "covenantal" (man of faith) Adam, are illustrative (metaphorical names) of different aspects of God encountered by each. The one observes God through the mechanism of the cosmos, in his surrounding environment (Elohim), while the title "YAWEH" identifies a symbolism perpetuated down through the patriarchs, of God who calls covenantal Adam to draw near, of God who presents Eve in relationship with Adam and with himself, as co-equal in covenant rather than merely as co-worker.
Within the covenantal community, Adam and Eve participate in an existential experience of being together, not merely working together. The change from a technical-utilitarian relationship to a covenantal-existential one occurs (in the Rav's view) "...when God joins the community...Deus absconditus emerges suddenly as Deus revelatus... (while) homo absconditus sheds his mask...(now) homo revelatus."
One demonstrative illustration is the Rabbi's observation of how the Biblical text doesn't provide us any interpersonal intercourse/discourse between in-depth personalities of Eve and Adam. "Ontologically, they do not belong to each other; each is provided with an 'I' awareness and knows nothing of a 'We' awareness...the communication lines are open between two surface personalities engaged in work, dedicated to success, and speaking in cliche's and stereotypes, and not between two souls bound together in an indissoluble relation..."
The other base to cover is the significance of the stories to an understanding of covenantal theology. Any covenant assumes distinctive definitions and terms of equality between the contractual partners. This understanding often finds a void space among teachers and students of the Bible. The non-Talmud student (like me) may be approaching the literature irrespective to the parties it's addressed to. (i.e. the Levites to whom the Leviticus is addressed to.) As a Christian I'm persuaded that the ignorance of covenantal theology plays a role in substantial misappropriations of Jewish scriptures.
Rav Soloveitchik, I believe handles this topic with his best velvet gloves. While his treatise is addressed principally to the Jewish community, it is laced intermittently with precise Latin terms coined by the Christian theology community. In that respect, he also speaks to the theologically alert Christian who may be interested to understand the different goals of Jewish eschatology, including it's own ecumenical aspects. To put this into a perspective potentially accessible to my fellow Christians, there's a proverb near my door where a stray glance cannot easily escape.
"He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be an abomination." (Proverbs 28:5, ASV)
It is incumbent upon a hearer to recognize, or pay attention to whom the directive is applicable; namely to whom are the terms of the covenant applicable? Also, what are the roles of the participants which the covenant defines? Preaching becomes quite strange, when assuming the assertion from the Christian epistles, that all those things which were written were given for 'our' edification, for 'our' instruction, where the preacher fails to acknowledge the covenant provisions/restrictions actually belong to Judaism. For example:
[Only] "The covenant draws God into the society of men of faith."
-- the leader of the community
-- the teacher of his pupils
-- the shepherd of the flock.
"The prime purpose of revelation in the opinion of the Halakhah is related to the giving of the Law."
"The prophetic pilgrimage to God pursues a practical goal in whose realization the whole covenantal community shares." [...] "which is mainly a community of action."
Because Judaism doesn't have a Hell connected to the concept of "salvation", redemption isn't reduced to a Great Escape. It's more of a progression down the path of repentance, "Teshuva", as it's called. "Cathartic redemptiveness--when objectified--expresses itself in the feeling of axiological security [i.e. being anchored in halachic life.] attained through man's exercise of control over himself." "[Which]...is experienced in the privacy of one's in-depth personality, [and] cuts below the relationship between the 'I' and the 'thou'."
Abraham's story introduces the basics of covenantal community. "Both parties entering a covenantal relationship possess inalienable rights which may only be surrendered by mutual consent. The paradoxical experience of freedom, reciprocity, and 'equality' in one's personal confrontation with God is basic for the understanding of the covenantal faith community."
Without any epic myth of the fall into sin, his Orthodox comment on Tanakh originality has this to say: "The Biblical account of the original sin is the story of man of faith who realizes suddenly that faith can be utilized for the acquisition of majesty and glory and who instead of fostering a covenantal community, prefers to organize a political utilitarian community exploiting the sincerity and unqualified commitment of the crowd for non covenantal, worldly purposes." "The history of organized religion is replete with instances of desecration of the covenant."