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Rabbeinu Bachaya, while discussing why Hashem requires us to work so hard for our livelihood and in our service of Him says in Shaar Habitachon ch. 4:

והיה מחמלת הבורא יתעלה על האדם שהטרידו בעניני עולמו ואחריתו להתעסק כל ימי חייו בזה ולא יבקש מה שאינו צריך לו ולא יוכל להשיגו בשכלו כמו עניני ההתחלה והתכלה כמו שאמר החכם (קהלת ג יא) גם את העולם נתן בלבם מבלי אשר לא ימצא האדם את המעשה אשר עשה האלהים מראש ועד סוף.

It was out of compassion for man that G-d has compelled him to be occupied with matters of this world and the next for all of his days, and so that he does not seek that which he does not need and which he cannot understand with his limited intellect, such as matters of what was before the creation and of the final end, as the wise man said "also the the world He has set into their hearts, so that man should not seek the deed which G-d did, from beginning to end." (Koheles 3:11).

When I first learned this, I had to turn it over dozens of times in my head. It doesn't seem out of the realm of possibility that what Rabbeinu Bachaye is saying is that the reason we are not meant to enquire about what came before and what came after is because Hashem commands us to live in this world, and not try to raise our awareness. A mashal to help explain my point would be the famous scene in the movie The Matrix.

In this movie, the character Neo (as well as much of humanity) thinks that he is living in the normal real world, until he encounters Morpheus, who shows him that this is not true, and offers him a choice between two pills:

Morpheus says "You take the blue pill... the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill... you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes."

Neo proceeds to take the red pill, and finds out that he is actually in some alien simulation chamber, with his brain wired up to the "matrix", which is a computer simulation. He is shown that his whole world has not been real.

The writers of this movie claimed that they based it on Kabbalistic concepts, fwiw. However, please be aware that I do not want to take anything more from the movie beyond the point made that the reality we see as filtered through our physical bodies is an incomplete picture, and we learn about what else there is to reality beyond that, by studying Torah. Examples would include that there is a spiritual world, that Hashem runs everything and not nature, that the physical gets its reality from Hashem rather than in and of itself, etc.

Anyway, the point I am trying to ask about is that it seems that, given the pasuk he brings and the way he words things, and the wider context, that it could be that our Rebbi is teaching us that the reason why we are forbidden from "seeking that which was before creation and that which will be after" is because Hashem doesn't want us to take the red pill! We are meant to take the blue pill and live in this "worldly world". Any raising of our awareness is forbidden.

Examples off the top of my head that may or may not be what Rabbeinu Bachaya is talking about:

  1. A person who views everything as the will of Hashem, and therefore hurts people and blames Hashem for causing that to happen.
  2. A person who views the physical as not real, so doesn't really mourn when someone passes away because they see the person as being in a "better place now".
  3. A person doesn't run away from danger because they think that they should instead just pray to Hashem, who is the one causing the danger and the only source of salvation.
  4. The excellent point made by user9806 in the comments: we are meant to hate the yeitzer hara, but we also learn that the yeitzer hara is a faithful servent of Hashem that is necessary for His plan and our wellbeing. If we get our head too much into the latter, we will find it hard to do the former.

Basically, the type of thinking and behaviour that we'd imagine a person might end up with if they spend too much time thinking about the reality that is above creation, so that this world is no longer "embedded in their heart".

Examples from sources:

Nefesh Hachaim (3:3) also explains that the reason we are not meant to learn Kabbalah is because it is forbidden and dangerous for us to raise our awareness like this:

וכמה זהירות יתירה צריך האדם להזהר בזה ולשמור את נפשו מאד במשמרת למשמרת. שאם ח״ו יקחנו לבנו לקבוע לנו מחשבה זו להתיר לעצמנו להתנהג גם במעשה לפי המחשבה זו. הלא יוכל להולד מזה ח״ו הריסת כמה יסודות התוה״ק ר״ל. ובנקל יוכל להלכד ח״ו ברשת היצר שיראה לו היתרא עפ״י מחשבה זו דרך משל להרהר בד״ת בשאט נפש אף במקומות המטונפי'. אחר שיוקבע אצלו תחלה שהכל אלהות גמור. ורז״ל הפליגו בזה מאד וכרתוהו ברוח קדשם מהיות לו חלק לעה״ב ר״ל. כמ״ש (ברכות כ״ד ב') שבכלל כי דבר ה' בזה הוא גם המהרהר ד״ת במבואות המטונפים. וממילא נשמע סיפי' דהאי קרא הכרת תכרת וכו' ופירשוהו ז״ל בפ' חלק (סנהדרין צ' ע״ב) הכרת בעה״ז תכרת לעה״ב. ועוד כמה טעיות שיוכל לצא' ח״ו אם היה נקבע ההנהגה במעשה עפ״י זה הדרך.

A person must exercise extreme caution in this matter and constantly guard his soul-Nefesh. For if (heaven forefend) our heart/mind would fixate on this idea, to permit ourselves to act based on this idea, it’s possible for the effect of this (heaven forefend) to be the destruction of many of the holy Torah’s basic principles (may the Merciful save us). And with ease he would be trapped (heaven forefend) in the snare of the inclination who will demonstrate to him that it is permitted based on this idea, for example, to ponder the words of Torah when in a state of disgust, even in filthy places, after he’s first determined for himself that everything is absolute Godliness. And our sages strongly opposed this, and employing their holy spirit, cut him off from having a share in the world-to-come (may the Merciful save us), as is written (Berakhot 24b) that included in the category of “for he has denigrated God’s word” is also one who ponders words of Torah in filthy alley ways. And in any case, the last part of that text says “he shall be cut off [emphatically]”, and the sages explained it to mean that he will be cut off both from this world and the world-to-come. And many more errors could be caused (heaven forefend) if one determines active behavior in that way.

By getting our head out of "the matrix" and into "wonderland", we will end up not taking this world seriously anymore. A smelly bathroom will lose it's disgust because we won't see it that way, we will just see "Godliness permeating the universe" etc.

Another related issue that comes from having "too much Emunah" in our sources is the answer from Rav Kook to why Hashem created Atheists:

“Sometimes we who believe, believe too much. We see the cruelty, the suffering, the injustice in the world and we say: ‘This is the will of God.’ We accept what we should not accept. That is when God sends us atheists to remind us that what passes for religion is not always religion. Sometimes what we accept in the name of God is what we should be fighting against in the name of God.”

See this answer.


So is this what Rabbeinu Bachaye is saying? Is this one of the answers to this question: Not inquiring about pre-creation - why?. Is there a general injuction in Torah Law against "taking the red pill"? Does it apply to today? If so, is there any reason for it beyond that we might accidentally make a bracha in the bathroom and the like (which can just be interpreted as immaturity and foolishness)? The best answer would be bringing a source that discusses this very point at length (it doesn't have to quote The Matrix though).

Note: presenting alternative explanations of this Rabbeinu Bachaya - no matter how valid and well sourced - doesn't technically answer my question because there might be multiple interpretations, so therefore that wouldn't prove the negative.

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    I wonder if this has any connection to the eitz hada'as - maybe Chava took the wrong pill! Nov 20, 2023 at 13:51
  • @MosesSupposes nice, although according to this Rav Hoffman, it's the equivalent of actually taking the blue pill! mg.alhatorah.org/SP/R.%20David%20Zvi%20Hoffmann/Bereshit/2.17, which would contradict my point
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Nov 20, 2023 at 13:58
  • I've got this weird sensation that you already asked this question a while ago Nov 20, 2023 at 20:10
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    @MosesSupposes refer to "deja vu" in the Matrix עיין שם :-)
    – Dov
    Nov 20, 2023 at 20:23
  • @Dov That was what I was referring to. Must have just been a glitch though ;-) Nov 20, 2023 at 20:31

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Regarding R. Bachayei, it seems that you think that there is some secret information that someone is trying to keep secret, and if one delves into these topics too deeply, he may find this secret information. This is not what R. Bachayei means. There are some things that are beyond the grasp of the human intellect. No human will ever be able to arrive at a full understanding of this matter. This is part of the limitations of being human. We should not delve too deeply into matters that we will never be able to understand. This can lead to frustration, and worse, can lead a person to wrong conclusions with disastrous results. A person can be lead to heresy and denial of Hashem if he arrives at the wrong conclusions, and this is a real risk. 

This is what the Nefesh HaChaim means as well: He says that thinking too deeply into these matters can lead a person astray. He might start thinking Torah thoughts in places where he is not allowed to. When the Nefesh Hachaim writes (in your translation) "it’s possible for the effect of this (heaven forefend) to be the destruction of many of the holy Torah’s basic principles (may the Merciful save us)" he does not mean that we will become too absorbed in spiritual ideas and figure out secret knowledge. He means that it can lead to thoughts of heresy and denial of Hashem.

Obviously, ideas about alien computer simulations need not even be addressed.

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    I think you've misunderstood my points (my bad), so I won't get into the discussion about "secret information". What I will try to clarify is that I am saying something akin to "someone who has 'too much emunah', for example sees the world as just a non-reality that gets its reality from Hashem, might end up disdaining the world. Might end up not sad or protest when people die because he sees the body as just a shell, as the next life as the ikar etc". A person is commanded to not let that type of thinking prevent him from having "the world set in his heart"
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Nov 22, 2023 at 9:53

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