The Beginning of Wisdom p.199

Until only yesterday, Father was a figure of authority to every young boy. To be sure, authority may have been shared with Mother, but Father was the imposing figure. His superior size and strength promised safety; his voice of authority laid down the rules and established reliable order; his patient instruction encouraged growth. At the same time – and on the other hand – Father’s power often inspired fear and awe; his moral authority, shame and guilt; and his superior competence, a sense of inadequacy that could sometimes lead to envy. And then there was his pride of place with Mother, and all that that entailed – the so-called Oedipal problem, made notorious by Freud.

The highly complex aggregate of mixed feelings and attitudes made son-to-father relationships very unusual. They certainly made difficult, if not impossible, any easygoing friendship, which usually requires and fosters equality; one cannot simply be friends with someone one holds in awe. Yet these sentiments – even the uncomfortable ones like awe, fear, and shame – were (and are) perfectly suited, on the one side, to the parental task of rearing and, on the other side, to the possibility of inheriting not just life but a decent way of life from those responsible for our proper cultivation and moral development. Precisely because he is capable of inspiring awe as well as security, shame as well as orderliness, distance as well as nearness, emulation as well as confidence, and fear as well as hope, the father is able to do the fatherly work of preparing boys for moral manhood, including, eventually, their own father hood.

To be sure, the power can be abused: fathers can be bullies and tyrants, they can abuse both their authority and their sons. And even where paternal intentions are purely benevolent, it is often difficult to achieve a finely tuned mixture of encouragement and restraint. More important, errant paternal conduct can easily betray the very teaching paternal authority aims to impart; a philandering father, once exposed, has trouble teaching fidelity. Trust betrayed is hard to recover, and hypocrisy is often unforgiven, especially by one’s children. Still, that – and how – Father exercises paternal authority, and equally, how boys come to terms with Father, may make all the difference for the future life of sons – and the grandsons, great-grandsons, and so on and on.

 

Leon Kass – The Beginning of Wisdom p.199

The Beginning of Wisdom p.158

Throughout the animal world, nature uses superficial looks (along with every other appeal that the senses can distinguish, from mating calls to aromas to pheromones) to bring the sexes together, in order to accomplish the great work of procreation. The love of the beautiful takes on still greater importance for human beings, especially as we become mindful of death and necessary decay. The beautiful lures us into regarding it as a bulwark against death, a haven from the ugliness of disintegration. The beautiful beckons, promising permanence and happiness: the beautiful seems to us to be the skin of the good. Yet appearances are often deceiving on the side of both viewer and viewed. Imagination, colored by human hopes, often distorts what we see…

Even apart from such distortions, the pursuit of the beautiful may be altogether a dead end. Appreciation of the beautiful may inspire the soul, but efforts to capture it leave one unfulfilled – even when seemingly successful. For what do we really have if and when we “possess” the beautiful? Can a beautiful wife really satisfy our soul’s longings for the eternal or the good? Does union with a beautiful woman make us any less ugly or any less perishable?

The visibly beautiful, through its harmonious and well-proportioned appearance, always seems to promise some underlying goodness. Were it able to deliver on its promise, the love of the beautiful might bring us to the good, and hence to our felicity. But as experience teaches, the promise is only infrequently fulfilled; what strikes us as beautiful is rarely yoked to the good. Nonetheless we persist, seduced by the next beauty into believing that this time we shall gain our heart’s desire. We willingly allow ourselves to be betrayed by the testimony of our eyes; we naturally and repeatedly mis-take the beautiful for the good.

 

Leon Kass – The Beginning of Wisdom p.158

The Beginning of Wisdom p.154

How exactly men took this discovery of their own impending deaths we shall consider in a moment. But we note first the special place of Noah. Noah, born in 1056, is the first man born into the world after Adam dies. Noah is therefore the first man who could have no direct contact with the first man and, therefore, with a living memory of the Garden of Eden and its prospect of immortal life. More important, Noah is the first man who enters a world in which death is already present, the first man who grows up knowing about death, know that he must die. For Noah unlike for his predecessors, mortality is a received part of the human condition: thus, Noah (not Adam or Cain) is the prototype of self-consciously mortal man. Fittingly, the name that Noah carries, received from his father, Lamech, means both “comfort” and “lament,” a perfect name for new life seen in the light of inevitable death. These facts may explain, in part, why Noah would, uniquely, later find grace in the eyes of the Lord.

 

Leon Kass – The Beginning of Wisdom p.154

The Beginning of Wisdom p.133

Sacrifice is of human origins. God neither commands nor requests it; we have reason to suspect – and will soon be given ample evidence to defend this suspicion – that the human impulse to sacrifice is, to say the least, highly problematic, and especially from God’s point of view. To be sure, God will eventually command sacrifices, though then only under the strictest rules. As in so many other matters, the problematic is permitted but only if regulated. Because He will not, or cannot, extirpate the dangerous impulses in men, God makes concessions to them, while at the same time containing them under explicit and precise commandments.

 

Leon Kass – The Beginning of Wisdom p.133

The Beginning of Wisdom p.101

For one thing, the man’s origin was lower, from the dust; the woman begins from already living flesh and, moreover, from flesh taken close to the heart. Also, the man is, in the process, rendered less than hole; he suffers a permanent but invisible wound, signifying a deep and probably unfulfillable desire. Because he is incomplete and knows it, the man will always be looking for something he lacks; but as the image of a lost rib suggests, the man cannot really know what is missing or what the sought-for wholeness would really be. Male erotic desire is a conundrum: it wants and wants ardently, but it is unsure of what exactly would fully satisfy it.

 

Leon Kass – The Beginning of Wisdom p.101