Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash
Yeshivat Har Etzion
INTRODUCTION TO THE PHILOSOPHY OF RAV SOLOVEITCHIK
by Rav Ronnie Ziegler
LECTURE #15: "The Lonely Man of Faith"
Part 1 - Presenting the Problem
In this penetrating and original work, Rav Soloveitchik tackles a number
of major issues, the central ones being: A) man's dual role in the world,
and B) the possibility of religious existence in modern, largely secular
society. Along the way, he offers startling insights on a host of other
topics. Some of these ideas develop themes we have already encountered
in his other writings; here he places them into broader perspective. Other
ideas will be familiar to those who have read "Halakhic Man"
and especially "U-vikkashtem Mi-sham." In this sense, "The
Lonely Man of Faith" occupies a central place in the Rav's writings
and can be regarded as an overture to his entire oeuvre.
Instead of focusing on strands of his thought which appear here and
tracing their development, I will attempt in the coming lectures to bring
into sharp focus this essay's central line of argument. The essay's rich
range of ideas makes reading it a challenging and exhilarating endeavor,
but at the same time it often serves to obscure the main point. As we will
see below, "The Lonely Man of Faith" is finely crafted, with
a clear structure and progression of ideas. In today's lecture, I would
like to examine closely the Rav's introductory comments, where he delineates
both the goal and the method of this work. Once we understand how the Rav
himself defines the issue he wishes to address, we will use this understanding
to guide our reading of the rest of the essay, and at the end we will return
to see how he answers the questions he poses at the beginning.
[Note: I will refer to "The Lonely Man of Faith" interchangeably
as an essay and as a book, since it was originally published in essay form
in the journal Tradition (Summer 1965) and subsequently in book form (Doubleday,
1992; Aronson, 1996 - the Aronson edition is merely an offprint of the
Doubleday edition). Page and chapter references will follow the Doubleday-Aronson
version because these printings are much more readily available than the
original issue of Tradition.]
ADAM I AND ADAM II
Let me start by doing something unpardonable: trying to sum up the main
argument of "The Lonely Man of Faith" in a few short paragraphs.
Although this will perforce be inadequate and oversimplified, I think it
will aid us greatly in understanding the Rav's characterization of the
essay in its opening section. (If this summary is enigmatic, fear not;
we will later examine these ideas at length.)
Rav Soloveitchik proposes that the two accounts of the creation of man
(in chapters 1 and 2 of Bereishit) portray two types of man, two human
ideals. In their approaches to God, the world and the self, these roughly
parallel the two personae we examined in "Majesty and Humility"
(lectures #5 and #6). The first, whom we will term Adam I, is guided by
the quest for dignity, which is a surface social quality attained by control
over one's environment. He is a creative and majestic personality who espouses
a practical-utilitarian approach to the world. Adam II, on the other hand,
is guided by the quest for redemption, which is a quality of the depth
personality attained by control over oneself. He is humble and submissive,
and yearns for an intimate relationship with God and with his fellow man
in order to overcome his sense of incompleteness and inadequacy. These
differences carry over to the type of community each one creates: the "natural
work community" (Adam I) and the "covenantal faith community"
God not only desires the existence of each of these personality types
and each of these communities, but actually bids each and every one of
us to attempt to embody both of these seemingly irreconcilable types within
ourselves. We must attempt to pursue both dignity and redemption. The demand
to be both Adam I and Adam II leads to a built-in tension in the life of
each person responsive to this call; and because one lives with a constant
dialectic, a continual oscillation between two modes of existence, one
can never fully realize the goals of either Adam I or Adam II. Unable to
feel totally at home in either community, man is burdened by loneliness.
Since this type of loneliness is inherent to one's very being as a religious
individual, the Rav terms it "ontological loneliness" (ontological
= relating to existence). In a sense, this kind of loneliness is tragic;
but since it is willed by God, it helps guide man to realize his destiny
and is ultimately a positive and constructive experience.
The contemporary man of faith, however, experiences a particular kind
of loneliness due to his historical circumstances, and this "historical
loneliness" is a purely negative phenomenon. Modern man, pursuant
to his great success in the realm of majesty-dignity, recognizes only the
Adam I side of existence, and refuses to acknowledge the inherent duality
of his being. Contemporary society speaks the language of Adam I, of cultural
achievement, and is unable or unwilling to understand the language of Adam
II, of the uniqueness and autonomy of faith. Worse, contemporary Adam I
has infiltrated and appropriated the realm of Adam II; he presents himself
as Adam II, while actually distorting covenantal man's entire message.
The details of this analysis, as well as possible courses of action
in light of it, will occupy us in the next several lectures.
A UNIVERSAL MESSAGE
We are now in a position to understand the Rav's description of the
nature of "The Lonely Man of Faith" in its opening paragraphs.
Firstly, from the very title, it is evident that the essay's message is
universal. "The Lonely Man of Faith" refers to any religious
faith, not just to Judaism. The dilemma of faith in the modern world applies
equally to all religions (or at least to Western religions, which were
the Rav's concern; he had little interest in Eastern religion). It should
also be noted that the essay addresses men and women equally; nowhere here
does the Rav distinguish between them. The word "man" in the
title should therefore be understood as "person." The essay's
universalistic bent is further expressed in the choice of the text which
stands at its center: the story of the creation of Adam and Eve, the parents
of ALL mankind. Significantly, references to Judaism and Jewish sources
appear almost exclusively in the footnotes. Finally, it is worth mentioning
that the essay originated in a series of lectures sponsored by the National
Institute of Mental Health, delivered before an audience comprised of both
Jews and non-Jews.
A PERSONAL DILEMMA
In the essay's opening sentence, Rav Soloveitchik informs us that he
will not address the intellectual challenges which modernity poses to faith,
but rather something much more basic: the challenge which modernity poses
to the EXPERIENCE of faith. He will focus on "a human life situation
in which the man of faith as an individual concrete being ... is entangled"
(p.1). In this sense, the essay is not a work of abstract theology but
rather "a tale of a personal dilemma," whose power derives from
the fact that it is based on "actual situations and experiences with
which I have been confronted" (ibid.). In a striking characterization,
unparalleled in other classic works of Jewish thought, the Rav concludes:
"Instead of talking theology, in the didactic sense, eloquently
and in balanced sentences, I would like, hesitatingly 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." (pp.1-2)
Furthermore, he confesses, he does not have a solution to the problem
he will pose, "for the dilemma is insoluble" (p.8). Why, then,
does he bother to present the problem at all? He offers two reasons:
1. "All I want is to follow the advice given byElihu the son of
Berachel of old who said, 'I will speak that I may find relief;' for there
is a redemptive quality for an agitated mind in the spoken word and a tormented
soul finds peace in confessing" (p.2).
2. "...[T]he defining itself [of the dilemma] is a worthwhile cognitive
gesture which, I hope, will yield a better understanding of ourselves and
our commitment" (p.8).
Why is the dilemma insoluble? Let us first consider the Rav's
definition of the dilemma, and then we will return to this question.
BEING LONELY AND BEING ALONE
Here we must distinguish between being alone and being lonely. Aloneness
means lacking love and friendship; this is an entirely destructive feeling.
Loneliness, on the other hand, is an awareness of one's uniqueness, and
to be unique often means to be misunderstood. A lonely person, while surrounded
by friends, feels that his unique and incommunicable experiences separate
him from them. This fills him with a gnawing sense of the seemingly insurmountable
gap which prevents true communion between individuals. While painful, this
experience can also be "stimulating" and "cathartic,"
since it "presses everything in me into the service of God,"
the Lonely One, who truly understands me.
As mentioned above, loneliness - the sense of the uniqueness and incommunicablility
of one's inner life - can have two causes: ontological and historical.
These two forms of loneliness, while stemming from the same basic dichotomy
in the human personality, are experienced differently and must be addressed
ONTOLOGICAL LONELINESS: EXPERIENCING INNER CONFLICT
The ontological loneliness of the man of faith derives from the very
nature of his religious experience. In a phrase that may seem surprising
at first, the Rav characterizes this experience as "fraught with inner
conflicts and incongruities;" he also calls it "antinomic"
and "paradoxical" (p.2). ("Antinomic" means contradictory,
or rather self-contradictory in our context. This is not to be confused
with "antinomian," which denotes refusal to recognize the authority
of moral law. While the Rav loved a good antinomy, he hated antinomianism,
which espoused rejection of Halakha.)
This description of the religious experience initially strikes us as
odd because modern man often equates religious belief with tranquility
and peace of mind. However, bearing in mind the summary of the Rav's argument
at the beginning of this lecture, it should be clear why Rav Soloveitchik
totally disagrees with this approach. In his view, God demands of man to
live in two seemingly incompatible modes of existence - that of Adam I
and that of Adam II. Thus, one who heeds God's dual demand lives a life
full of dialectical tension.
NO ENCHANTED ISLAND
However, it is important to understand that this tension does not derive
only from the requirement to be both Adam I and Adam II, but is inherent
within Adam II himself, within "Religious Man" and the religious
realm proper. Religious man himself, and not only the compound persona
of majestic and religious man, is an antithetical character. He constantly
grapples with dichotomous concepts and experiences located at the heart
of religious existence: "temporality and eternity, [divine] knowledge
and [human] choice (necessity and freedom), love and fear (the yearning
for God and the flight from His glorious splendor), incredible, overbold
daring and an extreme sense of humility, transcendence and God's closeness,
the profane and the holy, etc." (Halakhic Man, p.142).
Many contemporary popularizers of religion portray faith as offering
ready comfort and easy inner harmony to believers, providing a refuge from
the discord, doubts, fears and responsibilities of the secular realm. From
his earliest writings until his latest, Rav Soloveitchik took umbrage with
this shallow and false ideology, which he found to be particularly prevalent
in America. Religion does not provide believers with instant tranquility,
but rather forces them to confront uncomfortable dichotomies; it is "a
raging, clamorous torrent of man's consciousness with all its crises, pangs,
and torments" (ibid.). Religion is not less demanding than secularity,
but rather more so. It does not offer an escape from reality, but rather
provides the ultimate encounter with reality. It suggests no quick fixes,
but rather demands constant struggle in order to attain spiritual growth.
As the Rav so memorably put it, "Kedusha (sanctity) is not a paradise
but a paradox" ("Sacred and Profane," p.8; see also "For
Further Reference" below, #1.)
HISTORICAL LONELINESS: THE CONTEMPORARY CRISIS
Thus far we have discussed the ontological loneliness of the man of
faith, the crises and tensions inherent in religious existence. However,
Rav Soloveitchik informs us that in this essay his "prime concern"
is not ontological loneliness but rather the man of faith's experience
of historical loneliness, in which "a highly sensitized and agitated
heart, overwhelmed by the impact of social and cultural forces, filters
this root awareness [of ontological loneliness] through the medium of painful,
frustrating emotions" (p.6). Rav Soloveitchik does not wish to focus
on a general, timeless theological issue, but instead to address the predicament
of the CONTEMPORARY man of faith who, "due to his peculiar position
in our secular society ... lives through a particularly difficult and agonizing
crisis" (p.6). A sharp and prescient social critic, Rav Soloveitchik
is here keenly sensitive to the changes society has undergone and for the
need to reassess the role of the man of religion within it.
"Let me spell out this passional experience of contemporary man
of faith [passional = expressing suffering].
"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 reality. 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 ... - 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?"
The Rav is certainly not anti-intellectual or opposed to technological
advances (see, e.g., lecture #14). What he is asserting here is the autonomy
of faith. Our society speaks in pragmatic and utilitarian terms, and expects
religion to justify itself in these categories. But the value of religion,
the Rav believes, is independent of its practical utility, its usefulness
in helping man attain dignity and majesty. Rather, faith is a response
to a divine summons, a call to submit ourselves to God. Its meaning and
value far exceed justification by the human intellect. However, pragmatic
modern man - whether secular or religious - works only with categories
of the intellect, not realizing their limited purview. The danger, then,
is not just that secularists have ceased to understand the man of faith;
it is that adherents of religion have ceased to understand themselves.
We can now appreciate the true import of the concluding sentences of
the Rav's introduction:
"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." (p.9)
The Rav is not being coy or diffident here. Rather, as Rav Jonathan
Sacks points out (see Reference section, #2), this is "an expression
characteristic of the man of faith in the modern world. He no longer speaks
the shared language of society. ... How then is he to communicate? Simply
by speaking out of hiinner situation and hoping to find an echoing response
in his audience." Thus, the man of faith's uncertainty about his ability
to communicate lies at the very heart of his problem.
THE INSOLUBLE PROBLEM
Returning now to our question of why the dilemma this essay poses is
insoluble, we must offer a dual response.
A) In terms of ontological loneliness, the answer should be clear. An
essential dichotomy is woven into the very fabric of the religious experience.
As such, this basic dialectic is not subject to "solutions;"
it is part of the definition of religious existence.
B) There is no a priori reason why there should not be a solution to
the problem of historical loneliness. This feeling does not stem from any
inherent qualities or basic definitions of religiosity. Rather, it is the
product of the confrontation of the man of faith with specific historical
and cultural circumstances. Therefore, as you read the essay, keep in mind
the following questions: what are the possible solutions to this problem?
Is it perhaps insoluble? Even if the problem admits of no solution, one
must still respond to it somehow. What course of action does the Rav advocate?
We shall return to consider these questions when we reach the end of the
A READING GUIDE
To assist you in following the Rav's argument, I would like to end by
presenting two outlines of the book, one briefly presenting its overall
structure and the other detailing the contents of each chapter.
[Note that I follow the chapter numbering in the Doubleday-Aronson edition.
While the original Tradition 1965 edition counts the introduction as Chapter
1, the Doubleday edition does not number it. Therefore, Chapter 1 in the
Doubleday edition is Chapter 2 in the Tradition version, etc.
However, although the Doubleday-Aronson edition does away with sub-chapter
headings, e.g. 8.A, 8.B, etc., I will retain these in order to clarify
the internal structure of chapters. These sub-chapter divisions are indicated
in the Doubleday-Aronson edition by a blank line between paragraphs.]
THE OVERALL STRUCTURE OF THE BOOK:
Intro - I.A The problem
I.B Biblical framework
I.C - II, IV.A Contrasts between A1 & A2
III, IV.B-VII Contrasts between communities formed by A1&A2
XIII Ontological loneliness
IX Historical loneliness
IX.D, X Conclusion(s)
THE CONTENTS OF EACH CHAPTER:
I. The Issue: Loneliness
A. Ontological and historical loneliness
B. The biblical framework: Genesis 1 and 2
C-D. Adam 1
II. Contrasts between Adam 1 and Adam 2
III. Adam 1's community (natural work community)
IV. A. Dignity vs. redemption (more on A1 vs. A2)
B-C. Adam 2's community (covenantal faith community)
V. God as a member of the Adam 2 community
VI. The cosmic encounter with God
VII. Prayer and prophecy communities (A2)
VIII. Ontological loneliness - A1/A2 oscillation
A. Man's tragic destiny; the role of Halakha
B. Man must be both A1 and A2
C. Complete redemption is impossible
IX. Historical loneliness
A. Contemporary dilemma
B. Religion of Adam 1
C. Autonomy of faith (Adam 2)
D. Implications of A-C (conclusion #1)
X. Conclusion (#2)
FOR FURTHER REFERENCE:
1. Religion is No Escape from Struggle: Although this theme occupies
the Rav in many of his writings, his two classic treatments of it are found
in "Sacred and Profane" (reprinted in Shiurei Harav [Ktav, 1994])
and footnote 4 of Halakhic Man (JPS, 1983). This footnote is a small jewel
of an essay in its own right.
2. Rabbi Sacks' excellent essay on "The Lonely Man of Faith,"
as well as several other essays on the Rav, are found in his book Tradition
in an Untraditional Age (London: Valentine, 1990). The quotation is from
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