The Lone­ly Man of Faith

Rab­bi Joseph B. Soloveitchik
  • Review
By – August 20, 2012

When Rab­bi Joseph B. Soloveitchik passed away at the age of 90 in April of 1993, the Jew­ish world mourned the loss of a major Jew­ish philoso­pher and Tal­mu­dic schol­ar whose impact, as the revered leader of main­stream Ortho­dox Jew­ry, was at the time of his death and still remains, unchal­lenged. In his sem­i­nal work, Halachik Man (1944, Hebrew; 1983, Eng­lish) the Rov,” as he was affec­tion­ate­ly known by his stu­dents, set forth, in a pro­found and schol­ar­ly for­mat, his the­o­log­i­cal world­view. Among Rab­bi Soloveitchik’s major philo­soph­i­cal works one can also name The Lone­ly Man of Faith, which first appeared in the jour­nal Tra­di­tion in 1965 and which was sub­se­quent­ly repub­lished as a sep­a­rate vol­ume by Dou­ble­day in 1992. To mark the 40th anniver­sary since its appear­ance, Three Leaf Press, a sub­sidiary of Dou­ble­day, has reis­sued this mon­u­men­tal essay. 

Com­menc­ing with the Bib­li­cal account of Adam and Eve, Rab­bi Soloveitchik draws on myr­i­ad sources from West­ern phi­los­o­phy, rel­e­vant Scrip­tur­al ref­er­ences and clas­sic rab­binic exe­ge­sis, to elu­ci­date the exis­ten­tial lone­li­ness of the man of faith in a util­i­tar­i­an, self-cen­tered and ego­tis­ti­cal world. 

The point of depar­ture for Rab­bi Soloveitchik’s mono­graph is the appar­ent dis­crep­an­cy between the two accounts of the cre­ation of man found in Gen­e­sis. In Gen­e­sis I, we read: So God cre­at­ed man in His own image, in the image of God He cre­at­ed him, male and female cre­at­ed He them (Adam I).” In the sub­se­quent account, one finds the fol­low­ing descrip­tion of man’s ori­gin: And the eter­nal God formed the man of the dust of the earth and breathed into his nos­trils the breath of life and man became a liv­ing soul. (Adam II).” Adam I, being cre­at­ed in the image of God wish­es to be human, to dis­cov­er his iden­ti­ty which is bound up with his human­i­ty.” In fact, Adam I wish­es to live with dig­ni­ty, writes the Rov. Dig­ni­ty, in the con­text of the com­mand to have domin­ion over the work of Thy hands,” implies exer­cis­ing con­trol over the envi­ron­ment; through man’s majes­tic pos­ture vis à vis his envi­ron­ment and this he achieves through his cre­ative pow­ers in a com­mu­ni­ty of the faithful. 

Adam II, on the oth­er hand, approach­es the uni­verse through intel­lec­tu­al curios­i­ty. He cog­i­tates on the mys­teri­um mag­num of Being, per se; its meta­phys­i­cal nature. He does not cre­ate a world of his own; Adam II wants to under­stand the liv­ing giv­en” world into which he has been cast. He looks for God not in log­i­cal con­structs or sci­en­tif­ic for­mu­lae, but in the moun­tains, the blos­soms and in every beam of light. Adam II seeks per­son­al redemp­tion through direct knowl­edge of the Cre­ator, an indi­vid­ual non-com­mu­nal endeav­or. And, thus, he must suf­fer the exis­ten­tial alone­ness that comes with being a man of faith. For the Rov, the sole shel­ter for Adam II, the lone­ly man of faith,” is prayer — the har­bin­ger of moral ref­or­ma­tion.” For Adam II, even as a mem­ber of a covenan­tal com­mu­ni­ty or fel­low­ship of the faith­ful, his true home, avers Rab­bi Soloveitchik, is, inevitably, the abode of lone­li­ness.” T

The Lone­ly Man of Faith is a mas­ter­piece of con­tem­po­rary and time­less thought, weav­ing strands of anguish and despair into a pat­tern of joy and ful­fill­ment. Thus the Rov achieves his stat­ed aim of focus[ing] atten­tion on a human life sit­u­a­tion in which the man of faith as an indi­vid­ual con­crete being, with his cares and hopes, con­cerns and needs, joys and sad moments, is entangled.”

Robin K. Levin­son is an award-win­ning jour­nal­ist and author of a dozen books, includ­ing the Gali Girls series of Jew­ish his­tor­i­cal fic­tion for chil­dren. She cur­rent­ly works as an assess­ment spe­cial­ist for a glob­al edu­ca­tion­al test­ing orga­ni­za­tion. She lives in Hamil­ton, NJ.

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