As part of my preparation for the New Year 5783, I reread “The Lonely Man of Faith” by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the great Jewish scholar of the first half of the 20th century. This book has given generations of Jews an amazing lens through which we can read the two very different creation stories found in the first two chapters of Genesis, which we read this week as we begin the Torah cycle again.
For Soloveitchik, the Adam of Genesis Chapter One is “majestic man,” who uses his creative faculties to master his environment as mandated by God. The Adam of Genesis Chapter Two is a social being. In “The Lonely Man of Faith,” Soloveitchik describes how that man of faith must integrate both ideas as he seeks to follow God’s will.
In Genesis 1:27-30 we learn that Adam, who is created “in the image of God,” is both male and female, and has been given the mandate to be fruitful and multiply, subdue nature, master the cosmos, and be God’s custodian for the World which God has created. This Adam of Genesis 1 approaches the world and relationships—even with the Divine—in functional, pragmatic terms. The human capacity for relationship, as depicted here is, according to Soloveitchik, utilitarian, following both God’s mandate and our own worldly needs.
Soloveitchik identifies the second image of Adam, found in Genesis Two, as the contractual man, the keeper of the garden, who tills and preserves it. This image is introduced by the words “It is not good for man to be alone,” and through God’s intervention and Adam’s sacrifice (of a metaphoric rib) he gains companionship and the relief of his existential loneliness. In Genesis Two, the focus no longer is upon the creation of the physical world (Planet Earth) but the world of human society. This Adam becomes the lonely man of faith, the redemptive Adam. In this amazing book, whose origin was a series of lectures given in the 1950s, Soloveitchik speaks powerfully to me, seven decades later, of the struggle with which we as human beings continue to wrestle.
Genesis One is not a scientific description of creation. It does, however, speak to us, as a human species, of the power we have over the planet upon which we live. In verses 1:27-30 we are made custodians of the planet. Implied in Genesis 1 and specified in Genesis 2 and 3, God, for better or worse, created us with free will. One of the questions I found myself meditating upon during these Days of Awe this past month is my personal and our communal responsibility, as explicitly stated here in Genesis 1 to be caretakers of the physical world I believe that there is no doubt that humanity has totally failed, by actions and non-action, to care for the world that God has placed in our hands.
My first question for us on this Sabbath of Beginning, is whether we have the will to turn from apathy to action, and not just recognize the existential danger of climate change, but mobilize to action so that our progeny will have an inhabitable earth upon which to live.
Beginning in Genesis 2, the Torah directs our focus away from the creation of the physical universe and asks us to focus upon the world of human society. Adam and Eve are not only the product of the creation of the physical universe but are charged by God to become partners and co-creators of the world of human society. (In Hebrew and in English the word olam — world — can refer both to the physical planet upon which we live, and the society within which we live.)
In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve’s exercise of their free will by disobeying God leads to their exile from Gan Eden. In Chapter 4 we read about the birth of their twin sons, Cain and Abel. Without retelling the tale we can all read this Shabbat in our parshat hashavua, for me, the eternal challenge of the entire Torah is to reject Cain’s response of “Am I my brother’s keeper?” to God’s question, “Where is your brother Abel?” (Genesis 4:9)
As we emerge this year from the season of chesbon hanefesh, the accounting of our actions and inactions, and we simultaneously begin a return from the social isolation that has marked the past two and a half years, we are challenged by a world in which Cain’s answer has become all too normative.
For Rabbi Soloveitchik, the Adam II of Genesis 2, the Adam of human society, is the man of faith, who understands his awesome responsibility to be God’s partner in the ongoing process of creating and redeeming the world.
My second question for myself, for each of you, and for all of us, is whether in the year ahead we can accept each other’s differences and affirm our common responsibility to become God’s partners in the repair of both the physical world upon which we live and the world of human society in which we live.
I believe that this is God’s will. May we, along with all of God’s children, of every race and every faith, commit to make it our will as well in 5783.