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ואמר רב אחא בר יעקב עוד רקיע אחד יש למעלה מראשי החיות דכתיב (יחזקאל א, כב) ודמות על ראשי החיה רקיע כעין הקרח הנורא עד כאן יש לך רשות לדבר מכאן ואילך אין לך רשות לדבר שכן כתוב בספר בן סירא (בן סירא ג, יט-כ) במופלא ממך אל תדרוש ובמכוסה ממך אל תחקור במה שהורשית התבונן אין לך עסק בנסתרות. תניא, אמר רבן יוחנן בן זכאי: מה תשובה השיבתו בת קול לאותו רשע בשעה שאמר ״אעלה על במתי עב אדמה לעליון״ — יצתה בת קול ואמרה לו: רשע בן רשע, בן בנו של נמרוד הרשע, שהמריד כל העולם כולו עליו במלכותו

חגיגה יג א

I count roughly 5 or 6 reasons why it is not appropriate to learn about what happened before creation:

  1. It is forbidden/אין לך רשות לדבר/אל תדרוש
  2. It is secret/נסתרות
  3. It is covered and concealed/מופלא/מכוסה
  4. It is dangerous (see story of Nimrod)
  5. It is "beyond" and "above" our understanding/עוד רקיע אחד יש למעלה מראשי החיות
  6. It is none of our business/אין לך עסק

I am not disputing these claims and this is what I've been told all my learning life but I just want to understand them better - I would like to know why, even if not what, that's all. I've never heard a good answer to that (except a couple of things in chassidus on a couple of the points, but I'd like to widen my net)

Eg.

  1. Why is it forbidden? Is there anything I can understand to help me understand what is wrong with it? It seems like such a fair, natural, innocent question.
  2. What is secret about it? I.e. what type of secret is it? Without revealing the secret, do we know anything about what makes it a "secret" topic?
  3. What does "concealed" even mean here?
  4. What is the danger? Death? Why? What causes death to those asking this natural question?
  5. What makes it beyond our understanding? We study a lot of esoteric mathematics and philosophy, that is "beyond our understanding" and do very well, like multi-dimensional mathematics, quantum physics etc. What makes this different?
  6. What about it makes it none of our business? As per the main theme of my question: it seems like such a fair and natural thing to be curious about, perhaps even be considered necessary for someone to know what happened before they came on the scene. It seems very much our business, and therefore I would like to know why it isn't!
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    The terms נסתרות and מופלא aren't describing reasons, they are describing qualities of subject (like מכוסה, which you don't mention). their equivalents to אין לך רשות לדבר (which you bring as no. 1) are אין לך עסק (you have no business) and אל תדרוש (don't expound [upon them]), respectively. I see no actual reason for not being allowed, in the text you quote, only different qualities of the subject matter, and different types of activities one's forbidden to do with them.
    – Tamir Evan
    Mar 9, 2023 at 18:24
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    "Why is it forbidden?" "What is the danger?" Maybe "ארבעה נכנסו לפרדס אחד הציץ ומת אחד הציץ ונפגע אחד הציץ וקיצץ בנטיעות אחד נכנס בשלום ויצא בשלום"? "What is secret about it?" "What does 'concealed' even mean here?" Maybe the fact you (and I, and most of the rest of us) don't know it, and those that know enough are keeping it that way?
    – Tamir Evan
    Mar 9, 2023 at 18:52
  • The former is interesting but is still lacking explanation (although it does talk about becoming apikores because he saw an angel and thought that he was a partner of God, again, more explanation would be useful). The latter seems circular.
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Mar 9, 2023 at 18:57
  • "We study a lot of esoteric mathematics and philosophy, that is 'beyond our understanding' and do very well, like multi-dimensional mathematics, quantum physics etc." I think things like solving the Collatz conjecture, or the P versus NP problem are more in the ball park (להבדיל אלפי הבדלות בין קודש לחול). I've heard it told that many a promising mathematician have wasted their lives, their careers, and even gone mad trying unsuccessfully to solve any of those two.
    – Tamir Evan
    Mar 9, 2023 at 19:10
  • @TamirEvan interesting thank you for your responses. So this implies it is forbidden because it is unsolvable so therefore a waste of time. That might contradict it being a "secret" though?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Mar 9, 2023 at 19:18

2 Answers 2

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The Midrash tells us that, before creating our world, God created many worlds and destroyed them, because He did not like them. [Genesis Rabbah 9:2]

But why would God not want us to know about these earlier worlds, in some detail? The Midrash gives a very simple answer: If a king builds a sumptuous palace on top of a sewer, or a dung heap, or a pile of trash, he does not want the matter known, and we must respect his wish. [Genesis Rabbah 1:5]

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Based on Raschar Hirsch commentary throughout the Torah (notably in Genesis 1, but also in other places, implied in 19 letters):

In order to conduct research, we need first of all specify the goals, and choose the right methodology.

So let's investigate:

What is the goal of research?

  • Is it just curiosity, asking for the sake of knowing?
  • Is it to enhance our lives, physically or spiritually?
  • Is it to prove a point?
  • Is it to construct a lifestyle based on the findings?

And what is the right methodology?

By choosing to comprehend the reality using our intellect, emotion, physical senses, aren't we limited by the same limitations those methods are limited (inherently, or by not possessing certain skills)?

The Rishonim usually call sciences like geometry or biology "חכמת התכונה" "חכמת הרפואה" etc. because for the most part there's no intristic value to that knowledge (also see Maharal in Tiferet Yisrael in the beginning), it only gains any value when it serves the purpose of helping sustain life etc.

Thus by reseraching a period or a topic that has no effect whatsoever on our lives, first of all it's a waste of time - same as overly-sophisticated mathematic problems that serve nobody but the curious mind.

Secondly, we already have sufficient guidance for our lives, that is the Torah. What do we strive to achieve by unlocking theses secrets, which shouldn't have any influence on our lives, opinions?

There's a Midrash about Elisha Ben Avuya who saw the angel M-t sitting amongst the standing angels which caused him (or confirmed his) dualistic worldview. It's an example of how the "heavenly" order doesn't have anything to do with ours, and it's wrong to derive any conclusions from this knowledge.

Methodolgy:

"הארץ נתן לבני אדם" - the earth is for us to understand and study with our logic, it is based on certain laws, and our mind and senses can healthily interact with it.

But to how many terribly wrong conclusions have philisophers come by reseraching metaphysics? Save for a few, how many came to the truth by mind-stretching?

And cannot we acknowledge that there are some things are beyond our sense of logic, similarly to how we cannot see xray through the naked eye? Perhaps those supraearthly realms would just appear wrong to our minds, like an optical illusion?

Also, the Mekubalim didn't see an issue in studying the structure of other worlds, for the right goal (getting closer to HaShem / understanding the creation) and with the right methology (Kabbalah).

So:

  1. Forbidden, because it's a waste of time and could have negative influence on our lives / opinions.

2 + 3 + 5. It all means the same - one may see a cloaked figure, but not understand what it is, because of the inevitable veil that separates between them.

  1. The obsessive preoccupation with the otherworldy, with laws and system that have nothing to do with actual life, actual human life - is destructive. See for example the scientific preoccupation, basing the life-views on a certain stage in our understanding of biology and making thus moral conclusions; or archaeology, or eugenics...

A significant part of the world thinks that humans are nothing but molecules - because that's the current stage of scienctifc knowledge - because scientific research is "scientific" and "logical" and "wise". Doesn't that have certain very grave implications?

The same applies to diving into esoteric topics like "עבירה לשמה" / how bad is also good etc.; unless you have the right goal and the right instruments better stay off.

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  • Thank you for this very extensive answer. I would like to ask a lot of questions on it, if I may?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Mar 10, 2023 at 13:40
  • Please feel free.
    – daniel
    Mar 11, 2023 at 22:13
  • I also found a big Rambam on this, I am still working my way through it and thinking about it
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Apr 27, 2023 at 10:06

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