People often mistake the frequent description of R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik as lonely to mean that he was a sad figure, lacking friends and companionship. This is entirely incorrect; he had a wife he very much loved, family, friends, students and confidantes. The new edition of his The Lonely Man of Faith (Koren and OU Press) is graced with an introduction by R. Reuven Ziegler in which he explains what is meant by a “lonely” man of faith (p. xi):
[W]e must distinguish between being alone and being lonely. Aloneness means lacking love and friendship; this is an entirely destructive feeling. Loneliness, on the other hand, is an awareness of one’s uniqueness, and to be unique often means to be misunderstood. A lonely person, while surrounded by friends, feels that his unique and incommunicable experiences separate him from them. This fills him with a gnawing sense of the seemingly insurmountable gap that prevents true communion between individuals. While painful, this experience can also be “stimulating” and “cathartic,” since it “presses everything in me into the service of God,” the Lonely One, who truly understands the lonely individual.