Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash
Yeshivat Har Etzion
INTRODUCTION TO THE PHILOSOPHY OF RAV SOLOVEITCHIK
by Rav Ronnie Ziegler
LECTURE #18a: "The Lonely Man of Faith" (Continuation)
Part 4 - A Perpetual Dialectic
In Chapter 8 of "The Lonely Man of Faith," the two parallel
tracks we have been examining finally intersect.
"...Adam the first, majestic man of dominion and success, and Adam
the second, the lonely man of faith, obedience and defeat, are not two
different people locked in an external confrontation ... but one person
who is involved in self-confrontation. ...In every one of us abide two
personae - the creative majestic Adam the first, and the submissive, humble
Adam the second." (pp.84-85)
Thus, according to Rav Soloveitchik, each of us is fated to live in
a perpetual dialectic, constantly oscillating between two modes of existence
and between two types of community. This fact has several important ramifications
which we shall now examine.
GOD DESIRES BOTH ADAMS
"God created two Adams and sanctioned both. Rejection of either
aspect of humanity would be tantamount to an act of disapproval of the
divine scheme of creation which was approved by God as being very good."
This is a radical message for a religious thinker. Clearly, any person
animated by faith will proclaim to others that God calls upon them to live
out the values of Adam II, covenantal man. But here Rav Soloveitchik reciprocally
calls upon people of faith not to forsake the goals of Adam I, majestic
man! The Rav grants powerful affirmation to this-worldly existence, reminding
us that just as God wants us to strive for personal and communal sanctity,
He also bids us to build and to create within the world.
In other words, contrary to the popular understanding, there is religious
value not only to the actions of Adam II but to those of Adam I as well.
He fulfills the divine mandate of "Fill the earth and subdue it"
and displays his tzelem Elokim (divine image) through his creative involvement
in the world of human affairs. Thus, he occupies a central position within
the divinely-willed scheme of events.
Rav Soloveitchik's approach silences the Enlightenment critique of religion
(still voiced in our day), which portrays religion as the enemy of human
progress and cultural development. According to these critics, religion
produces at best a quietistic and passive personality who has no interest
in engaging the world around him. The Rav, in an about-face from this position,
states that not only are science, technology and culture not inherently
antithetical and challenging to religion, but they are in fact desired
by God and therefore integrated into the broader religious worldview!
Furthermore, the Rav asserts what amounts to the independent value of
man's creative cultural endeavor. Of course, he believes that these efforts
must ultimately be within the bounds of Halakha. But once this is assured,
their value is not dependent on the service they render to that which is
religious in the narrow sense. The attainment of dignity is a value in
its own right. For example, we do not have to say that it is good that
man lofts satellites into orbit because now we can broadcast shiurim by
one or another rabbi around the globe. Rather, we value the human conquest
of space because it is a breathtaking expression of man's majesty, his
technical prowess and his creative spirit.
"Let us not forget that the majestic community is willed by God
as much as the covenantal faith community. He wants man to engage in the
pursuit of majesty-dignity as well as redemptiveness." (p.81)
COMPLETE REDEMPTION IS UNATTAINABLE
The perpetual dialectic between two modes of existence has another,
more tragic, consequence:
"The dialectical awareness, the steady oscillating between the
majestic natural community and the covenantal faith community renders the
act of complete redemption unrealizable." (p.80)
Had majestic man and covenantal man been two separate people, each abiding
in his own community, all would have been well. Each one would have confronted
a certain set of problems and would have been provided with the means to
solve them. However, the fact that God bids man to adopt both modes of
existence gives rise to insoluble difficulties, foremost among them being
the problem of loneliness.
Adam I is unaware of his loneliness, while Adam II confronts this burdensome
experience and is capable of redeeming himself from it (via his covenantal
relationship with both God and man). However, the fact that man must oscillate
between two ways of living and perceiving the world places him in a quandary.
While living as Adam II, he becomes aware of his loneliness, but he is
not afforded the opportunity to overcome it totally. The only way to defeat
loneliness is to immerse oneself fully in covenantal existence, and God
denies man this option by demanding that man participate in the majestic
community as well.
"When man gives himself to the covenantal community the Halakha
reminds him that he is also wanted and needed in another community, the
cosmic-majestic, and when it comes across man when he is involved in the
creative enterprise of the majestic community, it does not let him forget
that he is a covenantal being who will never find self-fulfillment outside
of the covenant and that God awaits his return to the covenantal community."
This results in what we referred to earlier (lecture #15) as the man
of faith's ontological loneliness (thus designated because this type of
loneliness is woven into the very fabric of the religious experience).
"Because of this onward movement from center to center, man does
not feel at home in any community. He is commanded to move on before he
strikes roots in either of these communities and so the ontological loneliness
of the man of faith persists." (p.87)
CONTRADICTORY OR COMPLEMENTARY?
Throughout most of the book, Rav Soloveitchik portrays man's oscillation
between majesty and redemption in dialectical terms. He depicts an unending
tension between two conflicting modes of existence:
"[God] summoned man to retreat from peripheral, hard-won positions
of vantage and power to the center of the faith experience. He also commanded
man to advance from the covenantal center to the cosmic periphery and recapture
the positions he gave up a while ago." (p.81)
(Note that the Rav uses different metaphors to describe the relationship
between majesty and covenant: in the above quote from p.81, he refers to
them as periphery and center, respectively, while in the preceding quote
from p.87, he terms them two alternating centers.)
However, in a brief but highly significant passage (pp.82-84) which
I would like to examine closely, the Rav paints a different picture.
"[M]any a time I have the distinct impression that the Halakha
considered the steady oscillating of the man of faith between majesty and
covenant not as a dialectical but rather as a complementary movement...
[T]he task of covenantal man is to be engaged not in dialectical surging
forward and retreating, but in uniting the two communities into one community
where man is both the creative free agent and the obedient servant of God."
Before addressing the contradiction between the previous two passages,
let us first examine the meaning of the latter one.
UNITING THE NATURAL AND THE SPIRITUAL
The ability to view man's oscillation between majesty and covenant as
a complementary movement is based upon Rav Soloveitchik's assertion that
"[T]he Halakha has a monistic approach to reality and has unreservedly
rejected any kind of dualism. The Halakha believes that there is only one
world - not divisible into secular and hallowed sectors - which can either
plunge into ugliness and hatefulness, or be roused to meaningful, redeeming
activity, gathering up all latent powers into a state of holiness."
This statement should be understandable in light of our discussion in
lecture #8 of the sanctification of physical life. Much of medieval philosophic
and religious thought was permeated by dualism, which viewed the physical
and the spiritual to be warring opposites, only one of which could prevail.
The task of religion or of philosophy, according to this approach, was
to ensure the victory of the spiritual over the natural by freeing man
from the shackles of physicality as much as possible (via asceticism, contemplation
and solitude). Dualists despaired of this-worldly existence. Believing
that one should strive to become purely spirit, since physicality is the
source of evil and hence irredeemable, they felt that one could come close
to God only by abjuring the material world.
Rav Soloveitchik rejects this approach completely. According to him,
Halakha denies the dualist contention that the physical and the spiritual
are mutually exclusive, and therefore Halakha opposes the dualist conclusion
that one must flee the physical if he wishes to attain spirituality.
"The Halakha has never despaired of man, either as a natural being
integrated into his physical environment, or as a spiritual personality
confronting God." ("Catharsis," p.38)
Rather, Halakha believes that "God saw everything that He had created,
and, behold, it was very good" (Bereishit 1:31). Man must not attempt
to escape to ethereal realms, contemptuously abandoning the world, but
rather must infuse his this-worldly existence with sanctity. The task of
the Halakha is precisely to ensure that man lives this kind of life:
"Notwithstanding the huge disparity between [the majestic and covenantal]
communities which expresses itself in the typological oppositions and conflicts
described previously, the Halakha sees in the ethico-moral norm [i.e. the
mitzvot] a uniting force. The norm which originates in the covenantal community
addresses itself almost exclusively to the majestic community where its
realization takes place. To use a metaphor, I would say that the norm in
the opinion of the Halakha is the tentacle by which the covenant, like
the ivy, attaches itself and spreads over the world of majesty." (p.84)
In other words, mitzvot emanate from the covenantal realm, where man
communes with God, but they can be fulfilled only by man who participates
in the majestic realm: "When you build a new home... When you cut
down your harvest..." etc. By addressing every aspect of man's mundane
existence, Halakha expresses its desire that man should 1) take part in
the earthly endeavor, and 2) sanctify that endeavor. What Rav Soloveitchik
is describing here is exactly the process of catharsis, which we have examined
at length in previous lectures (e.g. #6-9 and #14; see Reference #3 below
for a reminder about the meaning of catharsis). Catharsis results in the
sanctification of natural man; seen differently, the cathartic dialectic
assures that covenantal man does not become otherworldly and that majestic
man does not become demonically unrestrained and egocentric. This leads
us to the question of the central goal of Halakha.
(Continued in lecture #18b.)
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