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Joseph B.

Soloveitchik in his “Lonely Man of Faith” (1992) sketches a typology of

human being based on the two narratives of the creation of man in Genesis. His essential thesis is

that the differences in the narratives are not simply textual contradictions, but rather reflect a

fundamental duality in the very nature of man’s being. The first narrative (Adam I) describes

man as created in the divine image, formed simultaneously with woman, instructed to gain

dominion over the natural world, and who relates to his Creator as the G-d of justice, order, and

law. In contrast, the second narrative (Adam II) speaks of man being created from the dust. He is

created alone and is filled with longing and loneliness before he can be joined with a companion.

Rather than given an injunction to dominate, Adam II is told that he must work the land and act

as its caretaker. And finally, he relates to G-d with His ‘personal’ name, reflecting a relationship

that is personal and intimate, rather than distant and forbidding.

From these textual differences, Soloveitchik constructs a picture of man who embodies

contradictory ways of being. As explained by Linzer ( ), Adam I is driven to activity, to

produce, and to control. He grasps the world by means of technology and the central question of

concern to him is “how?” – “How do we build a society? How do we eradicate poverty? How do

we cure cancer, heart disease, AIDS?” (Linzer, 2008, p. 187). Adam I is pragmatic and solution

oriented. He is thoroughly social (born already with his companion) but his relationships to

others are built around common tasks and goals, not intimacy. Adam II, on the other hand has the

humility of one who is born from the dust of the earth. He seeks the intimacy of relationship with

the personal G-d who breathed life into his nostrils, and with the human other who's existence he

cannot take for granted. His relationship with others is predicated on sacrifice and mutuality and

his loneliness is the existential loneliness of absolute uniqueness. Adam II is a spiritual being

who is driven by the question of “why?” rather than how. He searches for the meaning behind
existence, the meaning of suffering, of death, and of the purpose of life. The questions he poses

cannot be answered simply but the search for meaning animates his existence.

Soloveitchik's conception of man's dual nature has broad ramifications for different areas

of life. Linzer (2008), in his application of the two Adams to an understanding of the elderly,

demonstrates how one or the other mode of existence can be dominant at different points in one's

life. Nevertheless, he maintains that people ideally must continuously balance the contradictory

demands of the two Adams, and that the sign of emotional and mental health is the ability to

oscillate between these conflictual aspects of our nature.

One area of life that can be usefully illuminated through an application of Soloveitchik's

conception of the nature of man is the parent-child relationship. The role of a parent is to raise

the child. This implies much more than some kind of didactic teacher-student relationship. The

parents do not simply teach the child how to be, they provide the very environment in which the

child's unique personhood will unfold. Inasmuch as every person consists in a duality of Adam I

and II, the way in which the child is raised will determine his/her own unique combination of

these two sides of man. Neither aspect of the two Adams can be ignored, and both are necessary

for a full, functioning human life. How the parents balance their own two Adams will determine

the nature of their relationship with their children and of their children's relationship to


One of the basic dialectics of the two Adams is that between doing [Adam I] and being

[Adam II] (Linzer, 1978). As in all areas of life, a parent must learn to shift, as need dictates,

between these two modes. When dealing with a child a parent will sometimes need to emphasize

the 'doing'. There are demands that the child must meet, and there must be disciplinary

consequences if these demands are not met. The child's first exposure to the world of 'doing' is
through the demands placed on him/her by the parents. Chores, schoolwork, family and filial

responsibilities are the familiar functional activities of Adam I. But this cannot be the only basis

for the parent-child interaction. There needs to be space for the Adam II side of existence, the

ability to simply 'be', without an eye towards a purpose or goal. Play is one of the primary ways

of experiencing 'being' without the external pressures of achieving some goal. Play can be

structured or unstructured, but its primary characteristic is the freedom from the pragmatic

concerns of the "real world". When the Adam II parent plays with his/her child, they engage in

mutual pleasure at the very fact of existence. In those moments, they experience a relationship of

intimacy rather than instrumentality.

In addition to play, a parent needs to guide their child through the painful 'bumps' in life's

road, as well. Here too, the Adam I/Adam II dialectic needs to be maintained. The child who

comes to the parent with some difficulty or painful experience needs the Adam I guidance for

how to cope with the situation, how to learn from it, and how to move on. At the same time, the

child needs the Adam II parent to empathize with the experience, to be with the child's pain

without trying to move past it and without trying to simply "patch things up". This is

paradoxical, of course, but the child learns that pain can be coped with, though the meaning of

suffering may remain inscrutable.

Finally, the parents must impart to the child the sense of confidence that comes with

mastery. The child must learn that she can deal with life's challenges head-on and she must have

the confidence (illusory though it may be) that she can have control over her life. At the same

time, the child must learn the paradoxical lesson of humility, submission, and care. That at times,

we do not have control over our lives and that instead of mastery we give ourselves over to

others needs.
Martin Buber's dialectical philosophy of I and Thou can be contrasted with Soloveitchik's

Adam I and Adam II. These two approaches have some apparent area of overlap as well as

significant differences. According to Bergman (1961), Buber was influenced in the development

of his dialogical philosophy by some of the central ideas of Hasidism. The mystical notion that

everything in the world contains divine sparks that are waiting to be released and redeemed

became the basis for Buber's notion that everything in the world, even inanimate objects, can be

encountered through a “living relationship”. He refers to this type of relationship as “I – Thou”,

and it is characterized by a genuine mutuality and reciprocity, in which the essence of the

individual as a unique subject encounters the other in their unique subjectivity. This stands in

contrast to the “I – It” relationship which, as Bergman (1961) writes, “designates the connection

of individual to thing, of subject to object, involving some form of utilization, domination, or

control” (p. 86).

On the surface, there is a certain similarity between Buber's I – It relationship and Adam

I, and between I – Thou and Adam II, inasmuch as the former pair involves relationships that are

more instrumental, and the latter pair typifies relationships based on mutuality and genuine

encounter. Buber believes, like Soloveitchik, that people live their lives oscillating between the

two poles of the dialectic and cannot continuously remain at one point. However, unlike

Soloveitchik, Buber does not see the integration of the two poles as an ideal. Man must

constantly strive for the ideal, a genuine I – Thou encounter, despite the fact that reality dictates

that this cannot be maintained and that the I – Thou devolves into an I – It relationship.

As Bergman (1961) notes, this alternations between a Thou and an It is a universal

human experience with ramifications for almost every area of human endeavor. Ideally, the

physician and the social worker should encounter every new patient and client as a unique
person, should feel the unique pain of the client, and treat the whole individual. In reality,

however, the Thou eventually becomes an It, and the unique and mutual encounter becomes “one

more case” in the clinician's caseload. This allows, perhaps, for greater efficiency. As Bergman

(1961) writes, “less time, effort, and involvement are required if one can use a technique or

system of dealing with a person's symptoms rather than with the person himself … nevertheless

it destroys the possibility of a genuine mutual relationship” (p. 89).

The difference between Soloveitchik and Buber in their approach to the two poles of

human dialectical existence is significant. For Soloveitchik, man may be a conflicted being, but

he no more should repudiate either side of his conflict, than he could. Man, according to

Soloveitchik, is defined by the way he negotiates between the different aspects of his being; how

he manages to draw upon his different possibilities according to the different contexts he finds

himself in. Sometimes he must draw upon Adam I and sometimes he must draw upon Adam II.

Neither side alone is ideal for every situation, rather the ideal comes from being able to find the

appropriate balance between the two. According to Buber, however, man must always strive to

enter into an I – Thou experience with his world. Man only comes into his full personhood to the

extent that he is able to enter into an I – Thou relationship. To the extent that he falls away from

this ideal, unavoidable as that may be, he falls away from his own genuine humanity.

The approaches of these two thinkers has critical implications for our personal lives as

well as our chosen profession of social work. In relating to our children there is a different value

to each of these approaches. In Soloveitchik's view, we should not repudiate those aspects of the

relationship that are not necessarily moments of full mutual “encounter”, there is much to gain

and much that is necessary to impart to our children that focuses on the pragmatic, the functional,

and the mundane. This allows for a greater acceptance of all the different elements that make up
the typical parent – child relationship. Buber's approach is in a sense both more pessimistic and

idealistic. Pessimistic, because we are doomed to fail in our attempts to achieve a constant state

of I – Thou relatedness; idealistic, because we must always strive to transcend our limitations

and have the capacity to connect with others in a real and genuine way that illuminates our own

humanity. Buber's philosophy helps us to see what parents implicitly always already knew – that

those moments of contact with our children where we see them in their absolute uniqueness are

moments that constitute our own most genuine and unique selves.

The field of social work in many respects shares parallel concerns as the parent – child

relationship. A therapist in any orientation is interested in promoting his/her client's personal

growth. Using the Soloveitchik paradigm, this growth must occur through the use of both the

Adam I and Adam II sides of the therapist and client. There are times when the relationship must

be used to focus on tasks and goals, and other times when the relationship is the end in itself,

where the therapist can help the client simply by being with him.

Buber's philosophy, as well, has implications for social work, and indeed has been very

influential on the psychotherapy field. The interpersonal psychoanalyst, Darlene Ehrenberg,

writes of the capacity to promote growth and change in the therapeutic context through an I –

Thou relationship. Citing Guntrip she writes, “what is therapeutic when it is achieved is 'the

moment of real meeting' of two persons as a new transforming experience for one of them”

(1992, p. 40). Of course, for Buber, the moment of genuine I – Thou encounter will be

transformative for the therapist as well as the client.

The two dialectical philosophical approaches of Soloveitchik and Buber that we have

been considering, can be usefully applied to understand the interpersonal processes that lie at the

heart of both the parent – child and therapist – client relationships. Both relationships, at their
best are transformative for each of the participants, and understanding the shifting, paradoxical,

and conflictual aspects that lie at the heart of what it means to be human can help illuminate the

ways in which we encounter ourselves and others in these relationships.