Shmuel Polin
ניט מיט שעלטן/לאַכן קען מען די וועלט איבערמאַכן

Erev Rosh Hashana Sermon. Soloveitchik and Bereishit

In Genesis, we find eternal messages. “G-d said: ‘Let us make Man in Our image, after Our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth…’” The first of Tishrei marks the creation of man, the sixth day of creation. On this date of year one of creation, humanity was tasked with maintaining the Garden of Eden: “And G-d took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden, to work it and to keep it.”[1]

However, the text we are reading today in Genesis 1:1-Genesis 2:3 reveals a major textual discrepancy in the creation of man. This discrepancy became the working foundation of the renowned modern Jewish theologian Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik in his Lonely Man of Faith. I believe Soloveitchik’s message is very relevant today.

Soloveitchik points out[2] in his opening of Lonely Man of Faith that in Genesis 1:27-28, we read: “And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them and God said to them, ‘Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on earth’” (Gen.1:26-27).

Soloveitchik immediately contrasts this account of creation to a second account retold in Genesis 2, which ventures far from the original account in 1:26-27. Genesis 2:7-8; 15 reads, “And the eternal G-d formed the man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul. And the eternal G-d planted a garden eastward in Eden… (15) and the eternal G-d took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden to serve it and to keep it.”

Two different men are introduced—Adam the first and Adam the second—as David Shatz indicates in his forward to Soloveitchik’s Lonely Man of Faith, “in a time honored [rabbinic] manner—by raising a difficulty in the biblical text”[3] from the two separate accounts of creation in the Torah. The differences described by Soloveitchik between Adam the first and Adam the second are vast and reflect modern sensibilities as they relate to religious (halakhic) observance.

Adam the first is introduced as the essential modern man. To elaborate upon the first account of creation, when Adam receives a mandate from G-d “to fill the earth and subdue it,”[4] Adam was created alongside Eve in this account.[5] Soloveitchik posits Adam the first, who received the mandate to subdue nature, as the (modern) man who diminishes G-d’s role in creation. He uses biblical criticism to discredit religion. Furthermore, Soloveitchik posits that this Adam, who was created concurrently with Eve in community (and thus, this Adam did not create Eve sacrificially from his rib), is purely utilitarian and egocentric. Soloveitchik writes of Adam the first that he “is purely utilitarian and intrinsically egocentric, as such rules out sacrificial action.”[6] Adam the first “is narcissistic, arrogant, [even] demonic. He cannot hear Adam the second; he dismisses the covenantal faith community as something superfluous and obsolete.”[7]

Adam the second works off of another account of creation, in which man is created differently. In this account, Adam the second was, as Soloveitchik posits, fashioned humbly and through humility from the dust of the ground.[8] In this account, Adam the second was “charged with the duty to cultivate the garden and keep it.”[9] Adam the second “emerged alone, with Eve appearing subsequently as his helpmate and complement.”[10] Eve was created in his loneliness, from his body, by sacrificing a part of his body: “Adam the first was not called to sacrifice in order that his female companion come into being, while it was indispensable for Adam the second to give away part of himself in order to find a companion.”[11] Adam the second is the lonely man of faith.[12]

At the end of Soloveitchik’s discourse (and book) on these two types of men, he submits that “in every ounce of us abide two personae—the creative, majestic Adam the first and the submissive, humble Adam the second.”[13] Soloveitchik continues, “G-d created two Adams and sanctioned both. Rejection of either aspect of humanity would be tantamount to an act of disapproval”[14] of G-d. One man completes the other; without one Adam, the other could not exist. Therefore, Adam the first and Adam the second must be unified and integrated, not eliminated.

Solovetik’s message is very relevant today. His discourse on the two different accounts of creation, of Adam the first and Adam the second, is a parable for modernity. In the modern world, the world is situated upon the “I,” with modern innovations such as the iPhone, social media, Facebook, and Twitter. Giving a part of oneself and one’s time and sacrificing those can be rewarding and meaningful.  It is too easy to fall into the trap of being Adam the first. Adam the second may be ideal, but a combination of both is needed in this world. I would suggest that the act of being at shul, in community, in a humbling experience, diminishes the ego, the self, to be at one with others and to be completely in commune with the community and with G-d. In a world of the iPhone, of social media, and of self-indulgence, we need it. Let the upcoming days of awe be a reminder to ourselves of this need within ourselves, our community and G-d.

Works Cited

Hartman, David. A Living Covenant: the Innovative Spirit in Traditional Judaism. Jewish Lights, 2012.

Soloveitchik, Joseph Dov. The Lonely Man of Faith. Three Leaves Press, 2006.

PHI-402-A. Lecture by Rabbi Dr. Haim Rechnitzer on February 21, 2019.

Buber, Martin. I and Thou: A New Translation by Walter Kaufmann. Simon & Schuster, 1996.

Heschel, Abraham Joshua. G-d in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism.

Abraham Joshua Heschel. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1955.

[1] Introduction taken from Shmuel Polin.

[2] P. 10 Lonely Man of Faith

[3] Soloveitchik, Joseph Dov. The Lonely Man of Faith. Three Leaves Press, 2006. Forward IX

[4] Ibid. 11

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid. 38

[7] Ibid. Kindle Locations 77-78.

[8] Ibid. 11

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid. 38.

[12] Ibid. Kindle Location 1008.

[13] Ibid. Kindle Location 1011.

[14] Ibid. Kindle Location 1015.

About the Author
Rabbi Shmuel Polin is the Rabbi of Etz Chaim Congregation - Monroe Township Jewish Center on Monroe Township, New Jersey. A New Jersey native, he completed his B.A. at American University in Washington D.C. where he studied Jewish Studies and International Studies. He also completed both an M.A. in Holocaust and Genocide Studies and an M.A. in Jewish Studies from Gratz College of Melrose Park, Pennsylvania. His thesis focused on the depiction of European antisemitism in 1930's-1940's American and foreign cinema. Subsequent to both of masters programs, Rabbi Polin graduated with a third Masters in Hebrew Letters and received his Semikhah (Rabbinic ordination) from the Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, Ohio. Shmuel has years of experience of teaching Hebrew School at Kehillat HaNahar of New Hope, Pennsylvania, leading as a student rabbi at Beth Boruk Temple (Richmond, Indiana) and Temple Israel (Paducah, Kentucky), and also working for Israeli non-governmental organizations.
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