Chapter Five (Part 4)
The same goes for our inner life; for our thoughts and emotions also need
to be subject to some level of self-control. And Rambam illustrates that
with a list of the sorts of things we'd do best to read and study, and
others that we'd be better off avoiding. Again the point is that if what
we read allows us to comprehend G-d and to thus draw close to Him,
then "there’s nothing to argue against (it)", as Rambam puts it, and all
is well and good -- even if it isn't Torah itself we're reading.
For since we're charged to study Torah as much as we can, because nothing
draws us closer to G-d than that, we'd expect that we'd be discouraged
from studying and reading anything else. But the truth is that other
things serve that purpose, too -- though not as well. In any event, Rambam
encourages us to study secular things that alert us to G-d's place in the
universe and explain His ways.
Rambam tempers his opinion, though, when it comes to certain secular
studies. He'd certainly and vehemently discourage us from delving into
things that deny G-d's existence or that foster an unhealthy cynicism in
general about our Tradition or a distrust in the Torah's authority, but
that goes without saying.
But he also doesn't favor our spending time on "(solving) problems in
algebra" and on reading about "mechanics, The Book of Cones (a classical
geometry text that one needed to be familiar with if he or she wanted to
go further in the sciences)" and the like, or our "raising a lot of
questions in geometry or hydraulics". But let's explain. While those sorts
of things, which intelligent and inquisitive people once concentrated on
in antiquity, certainly "sharpen our mind", as Rambam put it, and inform
us of many valuable things, they nonetheless don't draw anyone closer to
our ultimate goal in life, which is key.
(Rambam doesn't mean to say that we're never to study such things or their
modern equivalents, like computer science, chemistry, physics, economics
and the like, which all help to explain the world as we know it today; and
he certainly wouldn't discourage us from studying such things in the
pursuit of a profession. His point, again, is that such things are of
secondary importance at best, and that they often enough distract our
attention from and even draw us away from what matters most.)
Nonetheless our inner life certainly goes far beyond studying this or
that. So Rambam also asserts that we're to curb certain other things that
touch upon our opinions. We're to "only speak about things that will
either edify (us) or stave off personal or bodily harm; about virtues; or
in praise of virtues or of great people". That's to say that we're to not
waste time or our inner resources by delving into chitchat and the like.
Instead, we're to imbibe upon the rarefied air of uplifting conversation,
and to concentrate on the good and those who manage to achieve it.
He does say, nonetheless, that we'd also do well to actually speak badly
of wrongdoers and belittle them, and he makes the point that doing that
wouldn't be small of us, but lofty in fact. Since it would "lower (such
wrongdoers) in the eyes of others, who’d then learn a lesson and not do
what those others did", which is all for the greater good and will
likewise draw us all closer to G-d.
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Yaakov Feldman and Torah.org