I must admit that I was surprised. Noted New York Times columnist, David Brooks gave what I consider to be the quintessential message of Centrist Orthodoxy at a Chanukah convocation ceremony where he received an honorary doctorate. The video which appears on Gil’s blog Torah Thoughts (available for viewing below) is the address he gave upon receiving this degree. And it truly hits the nail on the head of what Centrism is all about.
What surprised me is that Mr. Brooks actually read and understood the message of one of Rav Soloveitchik’s most important works, The Lonely Man of Faith. And in my view he expressed the Rav’s thoughts rather well… and is a believer in them.
David Brooks is not an Orthodox Jew. I don’t know how observant Mr. Brooks is. But I do know he understands what being Jewish means in terms of the proper approach to God.This he takes from the Rav’s philosophy he so elegantly cited.
Briefly stated the Rav talks about the two mentions in the Torah of the creation of man. He calls them Adam I and Adam II. Basing it on the context in which the Torah mentions them, The Rav expands on them in the following way.
Adam I is majestic man. He is the conqueror of the world. He goes out and ‘accomplishes’ for his material well being. Adam II is covenental man. He is concerned inwardly. He seeks the relationship with God. He is the man of faith – inward and therefore ultimately alone in that personal relationship with God . It is in the relationship with God that man develops his moral character. He is unconcerned with worldly pleasures and seeks only to do God’s will.
Adam I on the other hand wants to seek control of his environment which includes seeing to it that his own physical well being is taken care of to the limit of his physical and mental abilities. The 2 Adams there are therefore in constant struggle. And from that dialectic struggle, our person-hood develops. That struggle informs our values and actions.
Mr. Brooks compared what Yeshiva University does to the two Adams. Something that no other university does. Whereas the best universities do a good job educating man in his role of Adam I, they completely ignore educating man in his role of Adam II. Moral teachings are absent in the secular classroom. The result is a culture of a-morality. One which is difficult to navigate without the moral underpinnings of Adam II. Which is basically an unfettered love of God.
A-moral cultures have arisen in the past… when only Adam I is educated and Adam II is ignored. Taken to its natural extreme we can easily end up with the Germany of the 1930s and early 40s. Germany did a great job educating Adam I. And we know where that took them.
Western culture today is nowhere near that. But I think it is safe to say that we too live in an a-moral society. One need not look too far to see the wide acceptance of immoral images that surround us daily. They are all over, on billboards, magazines, TV, movies, and popular music. It has been that way for a long time. I recall the mantra of my generation during the late sixties, ‘If it feels good, do it!’ That is mostly all that mattered to many of my contemporaries back then. I don’t think that as a society, we have gotten any better today. If anything we have gotten worse.
YU is to its great credit counter-culture. It teaches man how to deal well with cultural surroundings and at the same time to revere God and his moral teachings.
My hat is off to David Brooks. He is a very wise man.
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About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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