Salomon Maimon.

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finement of these thoughts ; and charmed with the inge-
nious exegesis, by which they were supported.* My
imagination was strained to the highest pitch by these
descriptions, and consequently I wished nothing so much
as the pleasure of becoming a member of this honourable
society. I resolved therefore to undertake a journey to

M , where the superior B resided. I waited

with the greatest impatience for the close of my period
of service, which lasted still for some weeks. As soon
as this came to an end, instead of going home (though
I was only two miles away), I started at once on my pil-
grimage. The journey extended over some weeks.

At last I arrived at M , and after having rested

from my journey I went to the house of the superior
under the idea that I could be introduced to him at
once. I was told, however, that he could not speak to
me at the time, but that I was invited to his table on

* Maimon in a footnote here refers, by way of a parallel, to the
interpretation by a Catholic theologian of a passage in Ezekiel
(xliv., 1-2) as an allegorical prophecy of the Virgin Mary ; but most
readers will probably prefer to leave the exposition of the allegory
to the imagination of those who choose to follow it out. — Tratu.

,58 Solomofi Mamon:

Sabbath along with the other strangers who had come to
visit him ; that I should then have the happiness of
seeing the saintly man face to face, and of hearing the
sublimest teachings out of his own mouth ; that although
this was a public audience, yet, on account of the
individual references which I should find made to my-
self, I might regard it as a special interview.

Accordingly on Sabbath I went to this solemn meal,
and found there a large number of respectable men who
had met here from various quarters. At length the
great man appeared in his awe-inspiring form, clothed in
white satin. Even his shoes and snuffbox were white,
this being among the Cabbalists the colour of grace.
He gave to every new comer his salaam, that is, his
greeting. We sat down to table and during the meal a
solemn silence reigned. After the meal was over, the
superior struck up a solemn inspiriting melody, held his
hand for some time upon his brow, and then began to

call out, " Z of H , M of R- ," and so

on. Every new comer was thus called by his own name
and the name of his residence, which excited no little
astonishment. Each recited, as he was called, some
verse of the Holy Scriptures. Thereupon the superior
began to deliver a sermon for which the verses recited
served as a text, so that although they were disconnected
verses taken from different parts of the Holy Scriptures
they were combined with as much skill as if they had
formed a single whole. What was still more extra-

An Autobiography. i6f;

ordinary, every one of the new comers believed that he
discovered, in that part of the sermon which was founded
on his verse, something that had special reference to the
facts of his own spiritual life. At this we were of course
greatly astonished.

It was not long, however, before I began to qualify
the high opinion I had formed of this superior and the
whole society. I observed that their ingenious exegesis
was at bottom false, and, in addition to that, was limited
strictly to their own extravagant principles, such as the
doctrine of self-annihilation. When a man had once
learned these, there was nothing new for him to hear.
The so-called miracles could be very naturally explained.
By means of correspondence and spies and a certain
knowledge of men, by physiognomy and skilful questions,
the superiors were able to elicit indirectly the secrets of
the heart, so that they succeeded with these simple men
in obtaining the reputation of being inspired prophets.

The whole society also displeased me not a litde by
their cynical spirit and the excess of their merriment. A
single example of this may suffice. We had met once at
the hour of prayer in the house of the superior. One of
the company arrived somewhat late, when the others
asked him the reason. He replied that he had been
detained by his wife having been that evening confined
with a daughter. As soon as they heard this, they began
to congratulate him in a somewhat uproarious fashion.
The superior thereupon came out of his study and asked


Solomon Maimon

the cause of the noise. He was told that we were con-
gratulating our friend, because his wife had brought a
girl into the world. "A girl!" he answered with the
greatest indignation, "he ought to be whipped."* The
poor fellow protested. He could not comprehend why
he should be made to suffer for his wife having brought
a girl into the world. But this was of no avail : he was
seized, thrown down on the floor, and whipped unmerci-
fully. All except the victim fell into an hilarious mood
over the affair, upon which the superior called them to
prayer in the following words, *' Now, brethren, serve the
Lord with gladness ! "

I would not stay in the place any longer. I sought
the superior's blessing, took my departure from the
society with the resolution to abandon it for ever, and
returned home.

Now I shall say something of the internal constitution
of the society. The superiors may, according to my
experience, be brought under four heads : (i) the
prudent, (2) the crafty, (3) the powerful,! (4) the good.

* A trait of these, as of all uncultivated men, is their contempt
of the other sex.

t Of this class I became acquainted with one. He was a young
man of twenty-two, of very weak bodily constitution, lean and pale.
lie travelled in Poland as a missionary. In his look there was
something so terrible, so commanding, that he ruled men by means
of it (juite despotically. Wherever he came he inquired about the
constitution of the congregation, rejected whatever displeased him,
and made new regulations which were punctually followed. The

An Autobiography. 1 7 i

The highest class, which rules all the others, is of
course the first. These are men of enlightenment, who
have attained a deep knowledge of the weaknesses of
men and the motives of their actions, and have early
learned the truth that prudence is better than power,
inasmuch as power is in part dependent on prudence,
while prudence is independent of power. A man may
have as many powers and in as high a degree as he will,
still his influence is always limited. By prudence, how-
ever, and a sort of psychological mechanics, that is, an
insight into the best possible use of these powers and
their direction, they may be infinitely strengthened.
These prudent leaders, therefore, have devoted them-
selves to the art of ruling free men, that is, of using the
w^ill and powers of other men, so that while these believe
themselves to be advancing merely their own ends, they
are in reality advancing the ends of their leaders. This
can be maintained by a judicious combination and
regulation of the powers, so that by the slightest touch
upon this instrument it may produce the greatest effect.
There is here no deceit, for, as presupposed, the others
themselves reach their own ends by this means best.

elders of the congregation, for the most part old respectable men, who
far excelled him in learning, trembled before his face. A great
scholar, who would not believe the infallibility of this superior, was
seized with such terror by his threatening look, that he fell mto a
violent fever of which he died. Such extraordinary courage and
determination had this man attained merely through early exercises
in Stoicism.

I -J 2 Solomon Maimon :

The second class, the crafty, also use the will and the
powers of others for the attainment of their ends ; but in
regard to these ends they are more short-sighted or more
impetuous than the former class. It often happens,
therefore, that they seek to attain their ends at the
expense of others ; and their skill consists not merely in
attaining their own ends, like the first class, but in care-
fully concealing from others the fact that they have not
reached theirs.

The powerful are men who, by their inborn or
acquired moral force, rule over the weakness of others,
especially when their force is such as is seldom found in
others, as, for example, the control of all the passions but
one, which is made the end of their actions.

The good are weak men who are merely passive in
respeci of their knowledge and power of will, and whose
ends are reached, not by controlling, but by allowing
themselves to be controlled.

The highest class, that of the prudent, supervising all
the others without being under their supervision, as a
matter of course rules them all. It makes use of the
crafty on their good side, and seeks to make them harm-
less on their other side by outwitting them, so that when
they believe they are deceiving, they themselves are
deceived. It makes use, moreover, of the powerful for
the attainment of more important ends, but seeks, when
necessary, to keep them in check by the opposition of
several, it may be weaker, powers. Finally it makes use

An Autobiography. 173

of the good for the attainment of its ends, not merely
with them but also with others, inasmuch as it
commends these weak brethren to the others as an
example of submission that is worthy of imitation, and
by this means clears out of the way those hindrances
that arise from the independent activity of the others.

This highest class begins usually with Stoicism, and
ends with Epicureanism. Its members consist of pious
men of the first sort, that is, such as have for a consider-
able time devoted themselves to the strictest exercise of
religious and moral laws, to the control of their desires
and passions. But they do not, like the Stoic, look upon
Stoicism as an end in itself; they regard it merely as a
means to the highest end of man, namely, happiness.
They do not therefore remain at the Stoical stage, but,
after having obtained from it all that is necessary to the
highest end, they hasten to that end itself, the enjoyment
of happiness. By their exercise in the strictest Stoicism
their sensibihty for all sorts of pleasure is heightened and
ennobled, instead of becoming duller, as it is with gross
Epicureans. By means of this exercise also they are
placed in a position to defer every pleasure that presents
itself till they have determined its real worth, which a
gross Epicurean will not do.

The first impulse to Stoicism, however, must lie in the
temperament, and it is only by a kind of self-deception
that it is shifted to the account of voluntary activity.
But this vanity imparts courage for actual undertakings

1 - ^ Solomo?i Maimon :

of a voluntary nature, and this courage is continually
fired by their successful issue. As the superiors of this
sect are not men of science, it is not to be supposed that
they have hit upon their system by the guidance of reason
alone. Rather, as already said, the motive was, in the
first instance, temperament, in the second, religious
ideas ; and it was only after that, that they could attain
to a clear knowledge and practice of their system in its

This sect was therefore, in regard to its end and its
means, a sort of secret society, which had nearly acquired
dominion over the whole nation ; and consequently one
of the greatest revolutions was to have been expected, if
the excesses of some of its members had not laid bare
many weak spots, and thus put weapons into the hands
of its enemies. Some among them, who wished to pass
for genuine Cynics, violated all the laws of decency, wan-
dered about naked in the public streets, attended to the
wants of nature in the presence of others, and so on. By
their practice of extemporising, as a consequence of their
principle of self-annihilation, they introduced into their
sermons all sorts of foolish, unintelligible, confused stuff.
By this means some of them became insane, and believed
that in fact they were no longer in existence. To all
this must be added their pride and contempt of others
who did not belong to their sect, especially of the rabbis,
who, though they had their faults, were still far more ac-
tive and useful than these ignorant idlers. Men began

An Autobiography. 175

to find out their weaknesses, to disturb their meetings,
and to persecute them everywhere. This was brought
about especially by the authority of a celebrated rabbi,
Elias of Wilna,* who stood in great esteem among the
Jews, so that now scarcely any traces of the society can
be found scattered here and there.

* Born 1720; died 1797. See Jost's Geschichte des Judenthums,
Vol. iii., pp. 248-250. — Trans.

,-6 Solomon Maitnon


Continuation of the Former, and also something about Religious


After the account of the secret society in the last chap-
ter, this seems the most appropriate place to state, for the
examination of the thoughtful reader, my opinion about
mysteries in general, and about the 7?tysteries of religion
in particular.

Mysteries in general are modes of the causal relation
between objects in nature, — modes which are real or held
to be real, but which cannot be disclosed to every man
by the natural use of his powers of knowledge. Eternal
truths, that is, those necessary relations of objects which
are founded on the nature of our powers of knowledge,
however few may be familiar with them, are not, accord-
ing to this definition, mysteries, because any one can
discover them by the use of his powers of knowledge.

On the other hand, the results of sympathy and anti-
pathy, the medical specifics, and similar effects, which
some men fall upon by mere accident, and which they
afterwards find confirmed by means of observations and
experiments, are genuine mysteries of 7iature, which can
be iiKidc known to another person, not by the use of his

An Autobiography. 177

powers of knowledge, but only either by an accident of
the same kind, or by communication from the first dis-
coverer. If mysteries of this sort are not confirmed by
observation and experiment, the belief in their reality is
called superstition.

Religion is a covenant formed between man and an-
other moral being of a higher genus. It presupposes a
natural relation between man and this higher moral
being, so that, by the mutual fulfilment of their covenant,
they advance the interest of each other. If this natural
relation (not being merely arbitrary and conventional) is
real, and the mutual obligation of the contracting persons
is founded on this relation, then it forms a true, but
otherwise z. false., natural religion. If the mutual obliga-
tion between man and the higher being or his represen-
tatives is drawn up in a formal code, there arises a posi-
tive or repealed religion.

The true religion, natural as well as revealed, which,
as already observed, constitutes Judaism, consists in a
contract, at first merely understood, but afterwards ex-
pressed, between man and the Supreme Being, who re-
vealed Himself to the patriarchs in person (in dreams
and prophetic appearances), and made known by them
His will, the reward of obeying it and the punishment of
disobedience, regarding which a covenant was then with
mutual consent concluded. Subsequently, through his
representative Moses, He renewed His covenant with the
Israelites in Egypt, determining more precisely their

I yg Solomon Maimon :

mutual obligations ; and this was afterwards on both sides
formally confirmed on Mount Sinai.

To the thoughtful reader I do not need to say, that
the representation of a covenant between God and man
is to be taken merely a?ialogically, and not in its strict
sense. The absolutely Perfect Being can reveal Himself
merely as idea to the reaso?t. What revealed itself to the
patriarchs and prophets, suitably to their power of com-
prehension, in figure, in an anthropomorphic manner,
was not the absolutely Perfect Being Himself, but a re-
presentative of Him, His sensible image. The covenant,
which this Being concludes with man, has not for its end
the mutual satisfaction of wants ; for the Supreme Being
has no wants, and the wants of man are satisfied, not
by means of this covenant, but only by observation of
those relations between himself and other natural ob-
jects, which are founded on the laws of nature. This
covenant, therefore, can have its foundation nowhere
but in the nature of reason, without reference to any

Heathenism, in my opinion, is distinguished from
;r Judaism mainly by the fact, that the latter rests upon the
formal^ absolutely necessary laws of reason, while the
former (even if it be founded on the nature of things
and therefore real) rests upon the material laws of nature
which are merely hypothetically necessary. From this
the inevitable result is polytheism; every particular
cause is personified by imagination, that is, represented

An Autobiography. 179

as a moral being, and made a particular deity. At first
this result was a matter of mere Empiricism ; but by and
by men had occasion to observe that these causes, which
were represented as particular deities, were dependent on
each other in their effects, and in a certain aspect
subordinate to each other. There thus arose gradually
a whole system of heathen theology, in which every deity
maintains his rank, and his relation to the rest is

Judaism, on the other hand, in its very origin
contemplated a system^ that is, a unity among the forces
of nature ; and thereby it received at last this pure
formal unity. This unity is merely of regulative use, that
is, for the complete systematic connection of all the
phenomena of nature ; and it presupposes a knowledge
of the 7nultiplicity of the various forces in nature. But
owing to their excessive love of system, and their anxiety
for the preservation of the principle in its purity, the
Israelites seem to have wholly neglected its application.
The result was that they preserved a religion which was
pure indeed, but at the same time very unfruitful, both
for the extension of knowledge and for its application in
practical life. By this cause may be explained their
constant murmuring against the leaders of their religion,
and their repeated relapse into idolatry. They could
not, like enlightened nations at the present day, direct
their attention to purity of principle and useful applica-
tion of their religion at the same time, and therefore of

i8o Solomon Mairnon :

necessity they failed either in the one or in the other.
Finally the Talmudists introduced a merely formal
' application of religion which aimed at no real end ; and
by this means they made matters worse and worse.

This religion, therefore, which, by the intention of its
founder, should have formed the Jews into the wisest
and most intelligent of nations, made them by its
injudicious application the most ignorant and unreason-
able of all. Instead of the knowledge of nature being
combined with the knowledge of religion, and the former
subordinated to the latter merely as the material to the
formal, the former was altogether neglected ; and the
principle, maintained in its mere abstractness, continued
without any application.

Mysteries of religion are objects and acts, which are
adapted to ideas and principles, and the inner meaning
of which is of great importance, but which have in their
outward form something unseemly or ridiculous or other-
wise objectionable. They must therefore, even in regard
to their outward form, be kept concealed from the vul-
gar eye, which cannot penetrate into the inner meaning
of anything ; and accordingly for it they must be a double
mystery. That is to say, the objects or acts themselves
constitute the lesser mysteries, and their inner meaning
the greater mysteries.

Of this sort, for example, among the Jews, in the taber-
nacle, and afterwards in the Holy of Holies in the temple,
was the ark of the covenant, which, according to the tes-

An Autobiography. i8i

timony of renowned authors, showed much resemblance
to the sacred chest in the innermost shrine of some
heathen temples. Thus we find among the Egyptians
the casket of Apis, that concealed from the vulgar eye
this dead animal, which as a symbol indeed had an im-
portant meaning, but in itself presented a repulsive as-
pect. The ark of the covenant in the first temple con-
tained, it is true, according to the testimony of Holy
Scripture, nothing besides the two tables of the law ; but
of the ark in the second temple, built after the Babylo-
nian captivity, I find in the Talmud a passage which is
too remarkable not to be adduced. According to this
passage the enemies, who seized the temple, found in the
Holy of Holies the likeness of two persons of different
sex embracing, and profaned the sacred object by a crass
exposition of its inner meaning. This likeness was said
to be a vivid sensible representation of the union between
the nation and God, and, in order to guard against abuse,
had to be withdrawn from the eye of the common
people, who cling to the symbol, but do not penetrate to
its inner meaning. For the same reason the cherubim
also were concealed behind the veil.

Of the same sort were the mysteries of the ancients in
general. But the greatest of all mysteries in the Jewish
religion consists in the name, Jehovah, expressing bare
existence, in abstraction from all particular kinds of exist-
ence, which cannot of course be conceived without exist-
ence in general The doctrine of the unity of God, and

1 82 Solomon Maimon :

the dependence of all beings on Him, in regard to their
possibility as well as their actuality, can be p.ifectly
comprehended only in conformity with a single system.
When Josephus, in his apology against Apion, says,
" The first instruction of our religion relates to the God-
head, and teaches that God comprehends all things, is
an absolutely Perfect and Blessed Being, and is the sole
cause of all existence^'' I believe that these words contain
the best explanation of the otherwise difficult passage,
where Moses says to God, " Behold, when I come unto
the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God
of your fathers hath sent me unto you, and they shall
ask, What is his name ? what shall I answer unto them ? "
and God replies, " Thus shalt thou say unto the children
of Israel, Jehovah, the God of your fathers, the God of
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob hath sent me unto you, for
this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto
all generations."* For, in my opinion, this passage
means nothing more than that the Jewish religion lays
at its foundation the unity of God as the immediate cause
of all existence ; and it says therefore precisely the same
as the remarkable inscription on the pyramid at Sais, " I
am all that is and was and shall be ; my veil has no mor-
tal removed," and that other inscription under the column
of Isis, "I am that which is." The name, Jehovah, is
called by the Talmudists Shem haezam (nomen proprium)^

* Exodus ^ iii., 13, 14,

An Autobiography. 183

the name of the essence, which belongs to God in Him-
self, without reference to His operations. The other
names of God, however, are appellative^ and express at-
tributes which he has in common with all His creatures,
only that they belong to Him in the most eminent de-
gree. For example, Elohim is a lord, a judge. El is a
mighty one, Adonai, a lord ; and the same is the case
with all the rest. The Talmudists drive this point so far
as to maintain, that the Holy Scriptures consist merely
of the manifold names of God.

The Cabbalists made use of this principle. Having
enumerated the chief attributes of God, arranged them
in order and brought them into a system which they
call Ola7n Eziloth or Sephiroth, they not only picked
out an appropriate name for each in the Holy Scriptures,
but they made in addition all sorts of combinations of
these attributes in various relations, which they expressed
by similar combinations of the corresponding names.
They could therefore easily expound the Holy Scriptures
according to their method, inasmuch as they found
therein nothing but what they had before put in them-

Besides these there may also be mysteries in a religion
which consist in the knowledge that the religion, as
understood by enlightened people, has no mysteries at
all. This knowledge may be connected either with an
endeavour to destroy gradually among the people the
belief in mysteries, and to banish the so-called lesser

1 84 Solomon Maimoti :

mysteries by publishing the greater, or, on the contrary,
with an endeavour to preserve among the people the

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