Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Mishnaic Stages of Life

Chapter 5, Mishna 25 of the Pirkei Avot [Sayings of the Fathers] says
"He (Yehuda ben Taima) used to say, at five [one should begin the study of] Scriptures; at ten, Mishna; at thirteen [one becomes obligated in] the commandments; at fifteen [the study of] Talmud; at eighteen the wedding canopy; at twenty to pursue; at thirty strength; at forty understanding; at fifty counsel; at sixty old age; at seventy fullness of years; at eighty spiritual strength; at ninety bending over; at one hundred it is as if he has died and passed on from the world."
By way of comparison, Rabbi Rosenfeld cites another authority on life stages
At one year of age, man is a king, fondled and doted upon by all. At two and three he is a pig, groping in the garbage. At ten he prances around like a kid. At twenty he is a horse, preening himself in search of a wife. After marriage he works like a donkey to earn a living. When he has children he is brazen as a dog trying to raise and support his family. And at the end of his life he becomes senile and senseless as an ape.
I think I might owe apes an apology. I'm a dog approaching wisdom, myself....

Reb Rosenfeld goes on to point out an omission on the first list, a deliberate one
Our desire for "answers" even drives us to dabble in (and not at all understand) the secrets of kabbalah -- to *really* understand G-d. Hence the absurdity today of "kabbalah for beginners" classes -- an oxymoron if there ever was one. (Note that kabbalah is not even on our mishna's list!)
That is indeed one of my pet peeves. To be fair, I have a similar problem with Jewish Renewal practitioners appropriating practices from other traditions without careful consideration as to their roots and context. I'm not opposed, necessarily, to the transfer of ideas and practices between traditions -- all religion is syncretic -- but if we're going to do it, we should do it cautiously.

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