Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Next Gen Golem Builder

Recently I sat down for a meal with some friends and one of the other parents who is a teacher in a very orthodox school asked: “Do you teach your children about dinosaurs?” I paused, slightly shocked by the question and the answered very firmly. “But of course!”

You see, as this article’s sources show, there is a lot of discussion amongst the sages over the centuries about pre-Adamic human civilizations. The question about dinosaurs did get me thinking though about the question: “Do you teach your children metaphysics? If so, at what age?”

Well, as I have already mentioned a year ago… I am in the process of obfuscating my library to make it less obvious to my children that I have an interest in golem building, Sefer Yetzirah, metaphysics, mysticism and magic. When it comes to the law of unintended stakeholders, children may or may not be planned – but how much and how soon to expose them to metaphysics can be planned (at least to some extent).

Since in all the five years of studying Kabbalah and reporting progress on this blog I have had a grand total of three questions, I consider myself an expert at not being taken seriously. It's important to me that I don't get taken too seriously if at all... I’m hoping that my children will thus not take my interest in metaphysics seriously and pass it over. But in case they don’t, I have a plan B based on The Guide to the Perplexed by Maimonides.

As Maimonides wrote in the 12th century, there are a number of reasons for not teaching someone metaphysics before they are ready. Here is a link to the text translation, and the summary of the top few reasons:

  • First Reason--The subject itself is difficult, subtle and profound, "Far off and exceeding deep, who can find it out?" (Eccles. vii. 24).
  • Second Reason--The intelligence of man is at first insufficient; for he is not endowed with perfection at the beginning, but at first possesses perfection only in potentiâ, not in fact. Thus it is said, "And man is born a wild ass" (Job xi. 12)
  • Third Reason.--The preparatory studies are of long duration, and man, in his natural desire to reach the goal, finds them frequently too wearisome, and does not wish to be troubled by them.
  • The Fourth Reason is taken from the physical constitution of man. It has been proved that moral conduct is a preparation for intellectual progress, and that only a man whose character is pure, calm and steadfast, can attain to intellectual perfection: that is, acquire correct conceptions.
  • Fifth Reason.--Man is disturbed in his intellectual occupation by the necessity of looking after the material wants of the body, especially if the necessity of providing for wife and children be superadded: much more so if he seeks superfluities in addition to his ordinary wants, for by custom and bad habits these become a powerful motive.

In the third reason, Maimonides lists various areas of study that a person should pursue:
“...Consequently he who wishes to attain to human perfection, must therefore first study Logic, next the various branches of Mathematics in their proper order, then Physics, and lastly Metaphysics... As regards the privileged few, "the remnant whom the Lord calls" (Joel iii. 5), they only attain the perfection at which they aim after due preparatory labour. The necessity of such a preparation and the need of such a training for the acquisition of real knowledge, has been plainly stated by King Solomon in the following words: "If the iron be blunt, and he do not whet the edge, then must he put to more strength: and it is profitable to prepare for wisdom" (Eccles. x. 10); "Hear counsel, and receive instruction, that thou mayest be wise in thy latter end" (Prov. xix. 20).

There is still another urgent reason why the preliminary disciplines should be studied and understood. During the study many doubts present themselves, and the difficulties, or the objections raised against certain assertions, are soon understood, just as the demolition of a building is easier than its erection: while, on the other hand, it is impossible to prove an assertion, or to remove any doubts, without having recourse to several propositions taken from these preliminary studies. He who approaches metaphysical problems without proper preparation is like a person who journeys towards a certain place, and on the road falls into a deep pit, out of which he cannot rise, and he must perish there: if he had not gone forth, but had remained at home, it would have been better for him...”
My apologies for the lengthy quote, but I wanted to draw your attention to how seriously Maimonides takes the preparation for learning metaphysics. Although my children are too young to start formally learning Logic, Mathematics, and Physics – they are able to learn about the natural world: animals, plants, etc. This will hopefully inspire them and others to do more work for the conservation of the biosphere and gain a deeper connection to Nature.

Using this as a foundation - Plan B is to see how far they progress along Maimonides’ schedule. If and only if they complete the majority of the schedule, then I’ll sit down with them and start going through Sefer Yetzirah with a commentary… Until then the library remains hidden in plan sight.