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And from There You Shall Seek (Meotzar Horav) Hardcover – January 30, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Published in Hebrew more than 30 years ago by one of the previous century's most exceptional and revered Jewish thinkers, the long-awaited English translation of this brilliant philosophical essay on the nature of the relationship between man and God is an eloquent and intelligent effort. With an instructive introduction by scholars David Shatz and Reuven Ziegler, the translation remains loyal to the rabbi-author's melodious and meticulous style and makes this important work accessible to the English-speaking world. The essay draws upon the passionate imagery in the Song of Songs in which two lovers, long understood by Jewish commentators to refer to the love between God and the Jewish people, yearn and search for one another only to be thwarted at the last possible moment from their ultimate reunion by a curious withdrawal. Soloveitchik analyzes with genius this contradictory response in terms of the religious and philosophical nature of love and awe, mercy and justice, prophecy and related emotions and states of being. This cogent and rarified essay, like Soloveitchik's earlier work Halakhic Man, is certain to become indispensable to devotees and scholars of the man known to many as the Rav. (Apr.)
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About the Author
Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (1903-1993) was not only one of the outstanding talmudists of the twentieth century, but also one of its most creative and seminal Jewish thinkers. Drawing from a vast reservoir of Jewish and general knowledge, the Rav, as he is widely known, brought Jewish thought and law to bear on the interpretation and assessment of the modern experience. For over four decades, Rabbi Soloveitchik commuted weekly from his home in Brookline, Massachusetts to New York City, where he gave the senior shiur (class in Talmud) at Yeshiva University s affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS), where he taught and inspired generations of students, among them many of the future leaders of the Orthodox and broader Jewish community. By his extensive personal teaching and influence, he contributed vitally to the dynamic resurgence of Orthodox Judaism in America.
Top customer reviews
The book has twenty chapters and is 150 pages long. It also has fifty pages of notes, some of which are small essays. It is not a psychological study of people, but a homiletical treatise, a series of sermons, expositions on biblical verses. If Jewish philosophy starts with certain ideas, such as the teachings of Aristotle, as Maimonides did, and then using biblical verses to support them, while theology begins with biblical verses and tries to deduce ideas from them, Rabbi Soloveitchik's books are theology.
He uses the Bible's Song of Songs to describe people's search for God. People retreat from God at the moment of a potential encounter. They experience a to-and-fro with God, sometimes almost feeling an encounter and then losing it. Thus "man" - and by man, the rabbi includes non-Jews throughout this book, except when he specifically speaks of Jews - cannot know God, only the world God created.
He agrees with Maimonides who taught that people have an obligation to "know God by knowing His works - the works of creation" (page 41). But he insists that this is not enough. Man must "fulfill God's will unconditionally."
People have two forms of knowledge, the "natural" and "revelation." They can find God through what they see, hear, smell, taste, and feel; this is the natural way. Revelation is the insight people gain when they understand nature. Religion - indeed life generally - requires both.
Revelation did not end. It gives rabbis the freedom to create new interpretations. Revelation's purpose is "not in order to take (humans) out of this world, but to reform and elevate it" (123). "The goal of halakhic inquiry is to hew out new ideas and fresh, surprising conceptions" from ancient laws (109). "The Holy One, Blessed Be He, gave the Torah to Israel and commanded us to innovate and create" (110). "Intellect is the final arbiter in all matters of law and judgment (107)."
Rabbi Soloveitchik's idea of revelation leads him to his concept of religion. Humans begin their search for God with a thirst for freedom, a desire for liberation from tyrannical nature and the travail of life. But "revelational religion lusts for unrestricted control." God is a stern and terrifying judge, a punisher who demands the sacrifice of self. The goal of religion is "utter subordination," submitting entirely to God, abandoning one's will, "unlimited discipline"; a religious person "accepts the (divine) commandments against his will." He chooses to obey God out of recognition of his greatness. His subjugation is his freedom; "he feels the complete tranquility of the slave who does his master's bidding" (150). The willingness of Isaac to be bound and sacrificed to God by his father Abraham is the religious paradigm for Rabbi Soloveitchik.
But this does not mean that people should abandon from social life. The prophet Jeremiah taught in 9:23, God wants a person who "exercises loving-kindness, justice, and righteousness on the earth." The Torah does not forbid people from indulging in pleasure as long as they do so in moderation. It criticizes those who avoid pleasure. Judaism's this-worldly emphasis is seen in its teaching that miracles occur only when it is absolutely necessary, for Judaism extols the natural order (133). "Man worships his Creator with his body, his eating, and his sexual activity, and this worship is preferable to worship through prayer" (115).
Agree or not with Rabbi Soloveitchik's teachings that knowledge is important but subordinate to revelation, revelation still exists in the insights people achieve when they study nature, the scarcity of miracles, humanity's obligation to enjoy life, and enslavement to God and his laws, this book introduces readers to the thinking of a prominent rabbi and prompts them to think about these subjects and use their conclusions to improve themselves and society.