Monday, May 28, 2012

Is There an Age to Start Growing your Spiritual Side?

I think this is a fair question to ask.

This thought was instigated by the reading/hearing of the weekly Torah portion in synagogue.  In Bamidbar, also known as the book of Numbers, we learn about the census of the Israelites in the wilderness.  The criteria for counting the people really is for a military purpose in that the desert was a staging ground for the eventual and supposed swift move to Israel.  Further, the essential criteria is for men "from the age of 20, all those that went to fight" (1:3) was  clarifying who could go out to war.

The tribe of Levi was not counted with their brethren, and were selected out for a different purpose - to serve in the Mishkan (the travelling Tabernacle that was the precursor to the Temple).With a careful reading, one can see that the Levites are counted from one month and older, yet they will only serve in the Mishkan from age 30 to age 50.  Thus their training and education for their spiritual burden begins at a much earlier age as well as their actual career of practice is limited to a period of peek performance.  Juxtapose this to the military men where there is no specific criteria beyond their age (note even physicality), there is a stark difference in their call to duty.

I first digested this point in reading Gideon Weitzman's Sparks of Light a few years ago.  Weitzman, a delightful teacher and scholar on the philosophy of Rav Kook, highlights this differing roles between the national entity and spiritual component and argues that this set up was to guard a balance for the nation to "survive and thrive".

One of the most influential books that I have ever read was As a Driven Leaf by Milton Sternberg - which if you haven't read, then what are you waiting for. The book is a historical fictitious account of the life of Elisha Ben Abuye. Sternberg, in sharing the travails of the protagonist, cites the enigmatic Mishna in Pirkei Avit chapter 4:20:

Elisha the son of Abuye would say: One who learns Torah in his childhood, what is this comparable to? To ink inscribed on fresh paper. One who learns Torah in his old age, what is this comparable to? To ink inscribed on erased paper.

Connecting to the idea presented in the beginning of the post - must spiritual people be nurtured for a longer time and thus before they may be corrupted from complex or negative thoughts?  Is there a latent message in the text promoting the notion of Tabula Rasa?

As a parent AND teacher, tis a daunting task - to raise moral and good children who will strive to care for their world and the people in their community.  And we know that we have to start at a young age to impart habits and values and not just wait to our young people have the physical maturity to "take" responsibility" (I have previously written about the issue with the age of bar/bat mitzvahs). But how can we properly prepare to shape the soulful side and properly measure our effectiveness?

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