I have been rereading some classics I have not picked up in years including The Lonely Man of Faith by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, originally written in 1965.
Soloveitchik, became the Orthodox Chief Rabbi of Boston in the late 1930’s, a position he held to his death in the 1980’s. Known simply as “The Rav,” Rabbi Soloveitchik was not only America’s greatest Talmudic scholar but he also studied philosophy, modern critical study of religion and texts, and the physical sciences. He saw both Judaism and the world through unique eyes.
The Lonely Man of Faith reframes the two stories of creation in Genesis chapters 1 and 2 by drawing upon traditional Jewish understanding of the text and philosophical principles. The Rav writes: “the answer lies not in an alleged dual tradition but in dual man… in a real contradiction in the nature of man. The two accounts deal with two Adams, two men, two fathers of mankind, two types, two representatives of humanity.”
Calling them Adam the first and Adam the second, the Rav describes them thus:
“Adam the first is aggressive, bold and victory-minded. His motto is success, triumph over the cosmic forces. He engages in creative work, trying to imitate his Maker (imitatio Dei)…. He fashions ideas with his mind, and beauty with his heart…. His conscience is energized not by the idea of the good, but by that of the beautiful. His mind is questing not for the true, but for the pleasant and functional, which are rooted in the aesthetical, not the noetic-ethical, sphere.”
“Adam the second is… also intrigued by the cosmos… However…[he] responds to the call of the cosmos by engaging in a different kind of cognitive gesture. He does not ask a single functional question. Instead his inquiry is of a metaphysical nature and a threefold one. He wants to know: “Why is it?” What is it?” “Who is it?” (1) He wonders: “Why did the world in its totality come into existence? Why is man confronted by this stupendous and indifferent order of things and events?” 2) He asks: “What is the purpose of all this… and what does the great challenge… mean?” (3) Adam the second keeps on wondering: “Who is He who trails me steadily, uninvited and unwanted… and vanishes into the recesses of transcendence the very instant I turn around to confront this numinous, awesome and mysterious ‘He’... he wants to understand the living, “given” world into which he has been cast…. He encounters the universe in all its colorfulness, splendor, and grandeur and studies it with the naïveté, awe and admiration of the child who seeks the unusual and wonderful in every ordinary thing and event…. he establishes an intimate relation with God.”
What the Rav describes here draws upon the traditional Jewish understanding that each of us has two parts: our material, creative side and our spiritual, reflective side. In the language of Maimonides we are to balance those two sides. Both necessary. Both essential to our human-ness.
God commands Adam the first to “subdue” the earth. . . ותדשהו - Subdue is a harsh word implying a hierarchy in the relationship between humankind and nature. Adam the first’s nature is to create and cure, use and destroy. We strive to create using our understanding of how the world works. We use that knowledge to discover ways to cure disease, provide economic opportunity, cope with the harshness of nature, feed the hungry and clothe the naked. In doing so, we use the resources of the world to help our creative endeavors make the world better. In the process, we destroy those resources and often change the world in negative ways we could never have predicted. Using fossil fuels pushes carbon into the atmosphere warming our climate, something the early adopters of oil and coal could not foresee.
Switching to wind or solar power helps reduce the use of carbon resources. But it is only a reduction. It takes carbon resources to manufacture the solar panels and wind turbines. When did someone realize that windmills would pose a hazard to migrating birds? A lesser hazard perhaps than a warming climate, but still a hazard. Our Adam the first has to constantly decide is the hazard worth the gain? But he is not complete enough to make that decision. Left on its own, the part of us that is Adam the first will ultimately destroy the world as it is.
The Rav points out that Adam the first is created as a multiplicity. Genesis 1 tells us that God created the human being man and female. From the start, Adam the first was never alone and the first command to them was to multiply and fill the earth with other humans. The endeavors of Adam the first are communal not solitary. While a single scientist may discover the cure for an insidious disease, it takes thousands of clinicians, patients and evaluators to bring the cure to those who need it. The inventor who discovers “clean energy” cannot bring it to the world alone. It will take a community of people to bring the clean energy to the world.
It is with Adam the first that we in 21st Century America more easily identify.
Adam the second is different. He is created alone and not realizing he needs others. It is God who ultimately decides it is not good for Adam the second to be alone. He is commanded to cultivate and tend the garden and commanded to partake of what naturally occurs and, unlike Adam the first, a restriction is put on him - do not eat from the tree of knowledge. Adam the second lives in a perfect world, all his needs met.
This Adam’s first job is to name the animals. Naming something, or someone, requires not just creativity but, insight into the thing or the person and insight into yourself. To draw from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Adam the second has his basic needs met so he is free to think at a different level, to see into his own soul and the essence of others. The act of naming involves asking the questions the Rav writes of “Why is it? What is it? Who is it?”
Yet, perhaps out of profound loneliness Adam the second feels the need to defy God’s command and eat from the tree of knowledge. The heavenly beings respond by worrying that Adam the second and Eve will also eat from the tree of life and become gods themselves. Their punishment is to become more human by having to have to figure out how to create.
The part of us that is Adam the second longs to individualize the spiritual experience. The part of us that is Adam the first that sees we need community structure to fully appreciate the spiritual realm and thus create congregations and communities.
Adam the first compensates for Adam the second by understanding that without a community, we are not only alone but lonely, directionless and risk following paths that will lead to spiritual emptiness or self-destruction. Just as Adam the second reins in the destructive nature of Adam the first, Adam the first keeps Adam the second from descending into a spiral of deepening loneliness.
Clearly we need both Adams within us to be fully human, an integrated whole; driven to create and be in the community, while having the understanding to ask the deeper questions and see that humanity’s actions have consequences that cannot be foreseen and which need to be dealt with as they occur.
I see Shabbat as the time this unification of Adam the first and second is seen. On Shabbat we set aside some of our Adam the first and allow more of Adam the second to emerge. We pause from our creative work to allow our contemplative selves to appreciate and evaluate our creative work. We understand that without the creativity of the week, Shabbat would be a hungry time. Without Shabbat, a spiritual break from the week, we cannot fully appreciate what we have created and the world around us.
Our tradition calls Yom Kippur Shabbat Shabbatot, the ultimate Shabbat. Again, using the Rav’s lens, Yom Kippur calls us to subsume as much of our Adam the first as possible by fasting and setting aside as much of our material needs as possible, while still coming together in community, as a congregation. This allows our Adam the second, our introspective spiritual, religious, lonely person of faith to fully emerge. This skewing of the normal balance allows us to delve as deeply as possible into ourselves and ask those three questions about ourselves: Why am I? What am I? Who am I? and then re-ask them in the future tense: Why will I exist? What will I become? Who will I be?
If we find only a smidgen of the answer to any of these questions today and tomorrow, N’ila - our closing service will truly be a time to rejoice and rebalance our two Adams.
כן יהי רצון – So may God, and we, make it so.