A Tale of Two Adams


Not everyone knows this, but the first two chapters of Genesis tell two different stories about the creation of humanity.

In his theological masterpiece Lonely Man of FaithRabbi Joseph Soloveitchik constructs two ideal human types based on the character of Adam in these two stories. The first, Adam I, aims to “subdue the earth and have dominion over the creatures.” He might be an engineer, a physician, or a politician; however he can, this Adam creates and controls, imposing his knowledge and technology on the world around him.

Adam II, on the other hand, does not subdue the garden, but rather tills and preserves it with humble submissiveness. This Adam–the poet and spiritual seeker–yearns for an intimate relationship with God and with other people, in order to overcome his sense of incompleteness.

According to Soloveitchik, these competing instincts can be found in each of us: Ambitious go-getter and reflective meditator. Soloveitchik acknowledges that this can lead to internal tension. But he promises that the quest to reconcile the two Adams in each of us is the quest to better understand ourselves and our place in this world.

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