Intoxicated with God and Torah
And from there
shall you seek
Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik
Ktav, 2009, £22
Reviewed by Rabbi Harvey Belovski
This breathtaking work by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, arguably the foremost creative scholar and influential leader of 20th-century American Jewry, resists easy categorisation. Drawing on the Jewish longing for God allegorised in the Song of Songs, “the Rav” sets out to address the great existential issues from a sophisticated perspective.
In achieving his goal, he takes the reader on a demanding intellectual and spiritual expedition through the full panoply of pragmatic, esoteric and psychological concepts. While occasionally challenging, the prose is rich — in places, almost poetic (the translation is extraordinary) — but well worth the effort.
One finishes the work with a sense that the Rav has not only detailed his understanding of the elaborate inner life of the thinking Jew, but granted one privileged access to his own intoxication with God and His Torah.
I was particularly taken with his description of his childhood “friendship” with Maimonides and with the book’s concluding lines, which note that the ultimate achievements of Judaism are living according to the Torah with “great joy” and the “identification” of the wills of God and man.
Some readers may be surprised to encounter the book’s frequent references to Kant as well as Kabbalah, but the Rav welcomes any source that can offer an incisive contribution.
With a rare combination of brevity and profundity, Rabbi Soloveitchik sweeps through topics like the tension between revelation and human creativity; the experience of suffering; human yearning for eternity; the sanctification of physicality; and the error of purely contemplative religious forms. He makes a powerful case for the relevance of halachah (Jewish law) as the ultimate perpetuator of the Sinaitic revelation and demonstrates how transmitting Torah with loving-kindness enables the teacher and student to connect with the mind of the Divine.
A magnificent, albeit challenging, read.