Monday, March 30, 2009

Rambam-Warning Against Teaching Maaseh Merkava- Yisodei Hatorah perek 2 halacha 12

The Rambam now discusses why he can not go further into the subjects that he has been discussing. He says,

צוו חכמים הראשונים שלא לדרוש בדברים אלו אלא לאיש אחד בלבד והוא שיהיה חכם ומבין מדעתו ואחר כך מוסרין לו ראשי הפרקים ומודיעין אותו שמץ מן הדבר והוא מבין מדעתו וידע סוף הדבר ועומקו. ודברים אלו דברים עמוקים הם עד למאד ואין כל דעת ודעת ראויה לסובלן. ועליהם אמר שלמה בחכמתו דרך משל כבשים ללבושך כך אמרו חכמים בפירוש משל זה דברים שהן כבשונו של עולם יהיו ללבושך כלומר לך לבדך ואל תדרוש אותם ברבים. ועליהם אמר יהיו לך לבדך ואין לזרים אתך. ועליהם אמר דבש וחלב תחת לשונך, כך פירשו חכמים הראשונים דברים שהן כדבש וחלב יהיו תחת לשונך:

"The earlier wise men commanded that these things [that we have discussed in the first two chapters] should not be expounded upon in front of more than one man. Even this should not be done unless this man is wise and has an acute mind to understand things. After this condition is ascertained then this subject should be transmitted to this man, first by just skimming the surface of these subjects and then by only revealing some of the subject. He should then be able to understand these ideas through his wisdom and then be able to figure out the rest of the subject and its deeper meaning through his own intellect.

The ideas that this subject deals with are very deep and not every one's knowledge is able to bear this information. Concerning these deep ideas King Solomon, in his wisdom, gave a parable, 'Let the sheep be your clothes.' The wise ones explained this parable that those things which are secret (the hebrew word word sheep can be read differently and means secret as explained in Chagiga 13A) should be like your clothes, meaning that the esoteric understanding that you attain should be kept for yourself and you should not expound upon them for the multitude. King Solomon also says regarding these matters, 'This shall be for you alone and not for a stranger [to share with you].' King Solomon states further regarding these matters, 'Like honey and milk it lies under your tongue.' The earlier wise men expounded this pasuk to be telling us that these esoteric things are like honey and milk that should be kept under your tongue."

The idea of Maaseh Merkava throughout Kabbalah is that which is mystical. However, the Rambam does not believe in mysticism so it must be understood what exactly he thought the Maaseh Merkava was teaching. In The Guide for the Perplexed the Rambam points out that he thinks the Maaseh Merkava is the subject of metaphysics that can be attained through philosophy as is pointed out in the following passage (Section 1 CHapter 34):

"Now, consider how, in the writings of the Rabbis, the admission of a person into discourses on metaphysics (Maaseh Merkava) is made dependent on distinction in social qualities, and study of philosophy, as well as in the possession of clearsightedness, intelligence, eloquence, and ability to communicate things by slight allusions. If a person satisfies these requirements, the secrets of the Law are confided to him. In the same place we also read the following passage :-R. Jochanan said to R. Elasar, 'Come, I will teach you Maaseh Merkava.' The reply was, 'I am not yet old,' or in other words, I have not yet become old, I still perceive in myself the hot blood and the rashness of youth. You learn from this that, in addition to the above-named good qualities, a certain age is also required."

The Rambam points out that this is why the subject of Maaseh Merkava is only to be taught on an exclusive level. Philosophy is something that is dangerous for the general population to become involved in. In the past, we have seen many people stray away because they have become infatuated with philosophy or science in general. This is why only an extremely wise person that will be able to figure out the truth on his own is taught metaphysics. He will be able to enhance his love of G-D and his understanding of G-D as opposed to someone who will use this knowledge to turn away from G-D.

The Rambam also points out that there are three locations where King Solomon points out that these subjects must remain hidden. There are certain ideas that the general population should not contemplate because they will not understand it and then because of their failed understanding they will turn away from G-D. We can see this to be true based on history. when someone understands some information incorrectly that leads a person in the wrong direction. It is very important to first attain a level that will allow you to understand the more complicated information before diving head first into the complicated information. It is similar to math. A person can not hope to understand complicated math theories without first attaining a knowledge of algebra and calculus. To do so would be irresponsible and foolish. This person is no more equipped to be a mathematician than I am to be an astronaut.

I think an underlying theme that exists here is that a person should not learn any subject that will test the faith of that person if they are not ready for it. Meaning, a person should not learn evolution if they believe that evolution is incompatible with the Torah. The reason for this is that if somehow the person is convinced that evolution is correct they will abandon their religion. However, if they believe that evolution could be compatible with Torah then what is the harm in learning the theory, it will not effect the persons religion in the slightest bit.

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