Halakhic Man p.4

Halakhic man is not some illegitimate, unstable hybrid. On the contrary, out of the contradictions and antimonies there emerges a radiant, holy personality whose soul has been purified in the furnace of struggle and opposition and redeemed in the fires of the torments of spiritual disharmony to a degree unmatched by the universal homo religiosus. The deep split of the soul prior to its being united may, at times, raise a man to a rank of perfection, which for sheer brilliance and beauty is unequaled by any level attained by the simple, whole personality who has never been tried by the pangs of spiritual discord. “In accordance with the suffering is the reward” [Avot 5:23] and in accordance with the split the union! This spiritual fusion that characterized halakhic man is distinguished by its consummate splendor, for did not the split touch the very depths, the innermost core, of his being?


Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik – Halakhic Man p.4

The Lonely Man of Faith p.66

Let us go further. The existential insecurity of Adam the second stems, to a great extent, also from his tragic role as a temporal being. He simply cannot pinpoint his position within the rushing stream of time. He knows of an endless past which rolled on without him. He is aware also of an endless future which will rush on with no less force long after he will cease to exist. The link between the “before” in which he was not involved and the “after” from which he will be excluded is the present moment, which vanishes before it is experienced. In fact, the whole accidental character of his being is tied up with this frightening time-consciousness. He began to exist at a certain point – the significance of which he cannot grasp – and his existence will end at another equally arbitrary point. Adam the second experiences the transience and evanescence of a “now” existence which is not warranted either by the “before” or the “after.”

Majestic man is not confronted with this time dilemma. The time with which he works and which he knows is quantified, spatialized, and measured, belonging to a cosmic coordinate system. Past and future are not two experiential realities. They just represent two horizontal directions. “Before” and “after” are understandable only within the framework of the causal sequence of events. Majestic man lives in micro-units of clock time, moving with ease from “now” to “now,” completely unaware of a “before” or an “after.” Only Adam the second, to whom time is an all-enveloping personal experience, has to cope with the tragic and paradoxical implied in it.

In the covenantal community man of faith finds deliverance from his isolation in the “now,” for the latter contains both the “before” and the “after.” Every covenantal time experience is both retrospective, reconstructing and reliving the bygone, as well as prospective, anticipating the “about to be.” In retrospect, covenantal man re-experiences the rendezvous with God in which the covenant, as a promise, hope, and vision, originated. In prospect, he beholds the full eschatological realization of this covenant, its promise, hope, and vision. Let us not forget that the covenantal community includes the “He” who addresses Himself to man not only from the “now” dimensions but also from the supposedly already vanished past, from the ashes of a dead “before” facticity as well as from the as yet unborn future, for all boundaries establishing “before,” “now,” and “after” disappear when God the Eternal speaks. Within the covenantal community not only contemporary individuals but generations are engaged in a colloquy, and each single experience of time is three-dimensional, manifesting itself in memory, actuality, and anticipatory tension. This experiential triad, translated into moral categories, results in an awesome awareness of responsibility to a great past which handed down the divine imperative to the present generation in trust and confidence and to a mute future expecting this generation to discharge its covenantal duty conscientiously and honorably. The best illustration of such a paradoxical time awareness, which involves the individual in the historic performances of the past and makes him also participate in the dramatic action of an unknown future, can be found in the Judaic masorah community. The latter represents not only a formal succession within the framework of calendaric time but the union of the three grammatical tenses in an all-embracing time experience. The masorah community cuts across the centuries, indeed millennia, of calendaric time and unites those who already played their part, delivered their message, acquired fame, and withdrew from the covenantal stage quietly and humbly with those who have not yet been given the opportunity to appear on the covenantal stage and who wait for their turn in the anonymity of the “about to be.”

Thus, the individual member of the covenantal faith community feels rooted in the past and related to the future. The “before” and the “after” are interwoven in his time experience. He is not a hitchhiker suddenly invited to get into a swiftly traveling vehicle which emerged from nowhere and from which he will be dropped into the abyss of timelessness while the vehicle will rush on into parts unknown, continually taking on new passengers and dropping the old ones. Covenantal man begins to find redemption from insecurity and to feel at home in the continuum of time and responsibility which is experienced by him in its endless totality. Me’olam ve’ad olam, from everlasting even to everlasting. He is no longer an evanescent being. He is rooted in everlasting time, in eternity itself. And so covenantal man confronts not only a transient contemporary “thou” but countless “thou” generations which advance toward him from all sides and engage him in the great colloquy in which God Himself participates with love and joy.


Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik – The Lonely Man of Faith p.66