The thesis I want to defend is this: there is an Intermediate Zone that looks very much like holiness. People that get stuck there inevitably have miracles that they do, and people that come to them experience all kinds of lights and miraculous events. In fact, it is almost impossible to tell that it is the Intermediate Zone --kelipat nogah (קליפת נוגה האמורה במרכבת יחזקאל או היכלי התמורות של הזוהר) except for the effects it has on the community that surrounds the tzadik, guru, or pastor. But I believe I have found a way to skip over the Intermediate Zone: Fear of God. And this Fear of God is what is well defined in books of Mussar [Ethics] from the Middle Ages like the Duties of the Heart and the books of the disciples of Rabbi Israel Salanter.
(מדרגת האדם מיוסף הורוויץ וכוכבי אור מיצחק בלזר)
This is the multi layered thesis I want to defend.
One way I want to go about this is to examine the idea of the Rambam about what leads to Fear of God: learning Physics. [If you read Maimonides carefully (בספר המורה) you will see he holds learning the Metaphysics of Aristotle leads to Love of God, and Physics leads to Fear of God. (In Mishneh Torah he puts it all together. Learning the works of God inspires one to love and fear God. But he does not say that about learning Torah. And this idea of the Rambam is repeated by all the major books of Musar-- that learning physics and metaphysics brings to fear of God. Or lets me say they bring the actual language of the Rambam but as far as I know they might have been thinking it means kabbalah. [I mean in Reishit Chachma he brings the Rambam but seems unaware of what the Rambam was referring to. And this goes for almost all Musar books after the time of Zohar was published. They all assume Maase Bresihit מעשה בראשית and Maase Merchava מעשה מרכבה are Kabalah. Exactly not like the Rambam.] In any case I never saw kabbalah bring anyone to love and fear God, but rather to a large range of messianic illusions. Thought I think that the Ari is important as a good approach to understand Torah. But I think most people that get into Kabbalah are not thinking of it in that way. I think they are looking for a spiritual uplift (a trip) or spiritual powers. So they get caught in the Intermediate Zone of Illusions. היכלי התמורות, עץ דעת טוב ורע)
The obvious problem is that we do not see that the Natural Sciences divisions of most universities seem to have a lot of Fear of God.
I would have to argue that this impression is only superficial. And that sciences students in my experience have more internal integrity and fear of God than most Orthodox Jews who excel in external signs of fear of God.
There are paths of holiness that sometimes get blocked. The tzadik צדיק tries to clear a path, and is sometimes successful, and sometimes even if he successful, is the underbrush grows back and makes it uncross-able.
This happened to the path of [the Rambam] Maimonides. But that is because he made the connection between fear of God and science in only one direction. The truth is there is an opposite connection also--the path to physics is by fear of God. This path is unknown to date because people do not see the metaphysical significance in natural science. They think only people with talent can learn and understand science. This is not true.
The idea here is that people assume that with talent you can learn and excel in science, and without talent you can't. This only on the superficial level of science. There is a deeper level which one can reach only by Fear of God. But this fear of God is internal and unconscious. It can't be discerned by how much a person does external religious rituals.
[Of course some people with a great amount of talent go very far in science with no apparent fear of God at all because God sometimes gives people gifts and talents for no apparent reason, but here I am referring to people of average talent like myself.]
An example is the type of scientist my Dad [Philip Rosten] was. The fear of God in our home was not overt but very much present. [My Dad was responsible for a lot of the technology that went into focusing infrared rays and creating night version of the US Army and the camera for the U-2 and the satellite communication systems for SDI and other stuff ].
It does seems to me that we have a mitzvah of learning Torah and this is an obligation on every Jewish male all the time. The Rambam goes into detail describing how everyone is obligated --young old sick weary etc. He has a whole list. But he also expands this mitzvah to include Physics and Metaphysics.
I think that just like the mitzvah of learning Torah does not depend on whether one is smart or even understands his learning or not--so with physics and metaphysics. it think it is a mitzvah to learn Physics and Metaphysics --just like the Rambam said. I have no idea why this is either ignored by some Jews and take it as a general permission to learn secular subjects( though it is not a permission for general secular things); or people take great offense at it.
I have seen for example in the writings of Reb Natan the idea that learning the natural sciences is a terrible thing. I can see perhaps he was reacting to the Haskalah. But that learning science should be a bad thing is ridiculous and certainly not what any rishonim (first authorities) held..
My learning partner mentioned a source in the Talmud itself. We know the Rambam is bringing his ideas from Chagiga and the story in the Talmud about R. Yochanan Ben Zakai
But there is also a story about R Ishmael ... [using science as a proof for how long the pregnancy of certain animals lasts. My writing got interrupted here so I forgot the details but I think that this was an argument between R Ishmael and the Sages in tractate Bechorot. ]