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Parashat Ki Tavo 5781 — 08/28/2021

Parashat Ki Tavo 5781 — 08/28/2021

Beginning with Bereishit 5781 (17 October 2020) we embarked on a new format. We will be considering Rambam’s (Maimonides’) great philosophical work Moreh Nevukim (Guide for the Perplexed) in the light of the knowledge of Vedic Science as expounded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The individual essays will therefore not necessarily have anything to do with the weekly Torah portion, although certainly there will be plenty of references to the Torah, the rest of the Bible, and to the Rabbinic literature. For Bereishit we described the project. The next four parshiyyot, Noach through Chayei Sarah, laid out a foundational understanding of Vedic Science, to the degree I am capable of doing so. Beginning with Toledot we started examining Moreh Nevukim.

Devarim 26:1-29:8 This week we will be transitioning from our consideration of Avicenna, who is fairly well known in the west (hence the westernized rendering of his name) to someone much closer to Rambam’s thinking, viz. ibn Bājja. Prof. Pines writes of ibn Bājja:

Ibn Bājja (d. 1138) was the founder of the Spanish school of Aristotelian philosophy, to which Maimonides belonged and which derived from al-Fārābī rather than from Avicenna; and he could not be, or at least was not, accused of teaching a doctrinally too lax and pliant philosophy. He was, however, by no means a mere disciple but an innovator full of ideas that were heterodox, if they were considered from the point of view of Aristotle, or, for that matter, of al-Fārābī. He was often criticized on this count by the faithful Aristotelian Averroes, who nevertheless respected him, as did Maimonides.

The issue on which Avicenna and ibn Bājja diverge (and that Prof. Pines chooses to focus on) is the question of the immortality (and incorporeality) of the individual soul.

One of the passages in question appears to refer to Avicenna; for it is pretty certain that he is the “modern philosopher” who is said by Maimonides to have tried to prove that the doctrine of the eternity of the world is not incompatible with belief in the afterlife of the individual soul. For, despite an unnamed adversary’s argument, it is not impossible that an infinite number of immaterial souls should exist. This would have been impossible only if these souls were in a place and had a local position. The infinity of the number of the disembodied souls is a corollary of the Aristotelian assumption that mankind is as eternal as the world. Maimonides does not endorse this argument and makes it pretty clear that he rejects Avicenna’s views on the afterlife of the soul and that he has a certain preference for ibn Bājja’s position.

Apparently whether individuality persists after the death of the body is related to the question of the eternity of the universe and its infinite extent. If souls are held to be corporeal then they take up space, and unless there is an infinite amount of space to put them, then there is a limit to how many souls there can be. Since we don’t know how big these souls need to be (“how many angels can dance on the head of a pin”) it might be that all 8 billion souls of the current population of the world could fit into a cubic centimeter, which would leave plenty of room in a mayonnaise jar (and empty – and clean – one) for many millions of years’ worth of souls. According to General Relativity, if the universe is finite in space, it is also finite in time – that is, it began its expansion from a point (that transcends space and time, rather than existing within space and time) and will eventually contract. Presumably, if the souls were corporeal, they would get crushed like everything else when the universe re-contracts into a singularity.

I’ve mentioned this simply to show that there is no inconsistency with modern physics in the position that the soul is corporeal. Of course, it is also possible that the soul can be individual and non-corporeal, just as the angels are, and Rambam and presumably Aristotle knew that. Perhaps this is why the argument over angels’ dancing on the head of the pin is held up as the paradigm of Scholastic uselessness. This, however, is just a prelude. Prof. Pines continues:

In rejecting Avicenna’s view concerning the disembodied soul, Maimonides makes one of his few explicit references to ibn Bājja. He credits this philosopher quite correctly with having made clear that as far as only the pure intellect is concerned there are no individual differences. In other words, Aristotle qua intellect is identical with the other “happy ones”; they are not a multiplicity of beings, but “one.” The intellect being regarded as the only portion of man that survives bodily death, this doctrine of ibn Bājja means that, contrary to Avicenna, nothing individual remains after death.

It seems that this controversy has been made into an either-or proposition, and it will be useful to step back and take a different tack to resolving it. We know from both physics and psychology that everything in life is structured in layers, from gross to subtle, concrete to abstract. Just as objects have a molecular layer, an atomic layer, a subatomic layer, and ultimately are complex patterns of vibration of a unified field, so our subjective world has layers – mind, intellect, ego, Pure Consciousness. Our subjective world is connected to the objective world through the medium of our bodies. Our sense organs (physical) receive physical inputs (photons to the eyes, sound waves to the ears, etc.) and eventually these physical processes end up as a perception in the mind (non-physical).

According to this analysis each individual has a physical component (the body) and a non-physical component (the “soul,” which includes mind, intellect, ego etc.). The body is the vehicle for consciousness to interact with the physical world, but it is itself just a grosser, more concrete level of manifestation of our individual consciousness. Since the body is physical it undergoes the processes of growth and decay, and at some point, ceases to be an appropriate vehicle to express the consciousness inside it. At that point the body dies and the connection between the soul and the body is severed. At this point the soul may manifest a new body to inhabit and continue its growth and evolution. This idea, that the soul takes on a new body after the death of the old one, is actually a part of normative Jewish thought, although in the last few centuries it has been downplayed and relegated to the realm of “mysticism.” But the idea that the individual soul lives on after death is the basis of many of our mourning customs, including saying kaddish and Yizkor and giving charity in the merit of the deceased.

Now Prof. Pines also speaks about a level of the soul which he calls “pure intellect,” and which is one and non-individual. I think we can equate this with Pure Consciousness, which is the basic constituent of both our soul and our body. This is the same for everyone – it is transcendental to all difference, the one Unified Field from which all differences spring. This “pure intellect” is beyond time, space and change, and therefore can neither be created nor destroyed. It is universal, not tied to any body, and therefore is not affected by any bodily changes. On this level you and I and Aristotle and the “happy ones” are the same – “one.” The difference between ordinary people and the “happy ones” is that the latter have fully realized, on the level of direct experience, that they are Pure Consciousness in essence and their individuality only by accident, and therefore they do not hold on to any aspect of their individuality. When their physical work on earth is done, they drop the body and do not need another one. Presumably, when their subtler work is done, they no longer need the subtler aspects of their individuality either, and those are let go of.

The ultimate value of the soul is called in Sanskrit Atman, and it is wholly universal, and therefore eternal. It is the one wholeness of life (Brahman) from which all individuality springs. And it alone remains when all individuality is gone, and we merge back into wholeness. Those who reach this level are indeed “happy ones.”


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Ki Tavo (When You Come In)

All the Parshas (parts) of Torah have levels: At the deepest level, they are vibrations of Gd, Gd’s Name, The Liveliness of Gd. Listening to these vibrations helps us to attune to Gd, Totality, to gain teshuvah, restoration to the Primordial Oneness.

But they also have meaning, stories, commandments that give us principles, values, rules for living life in the everyday way and attuning us to Gd through our sacred behavior, our religious behavior. In this parshah, as in all of the Book of Devarim, (Deuteronomy), Gd, through Moses, is preparing the Children of Israel to enter the Promised Land. Torah is for everyone, for all times, so he is preparing us, too, to enter the Promised Land — not literally, the Land of Canaan, but more importantly, the Real Promised Land – dwelling in Gd, Totality.

1. The first words are encouraging: Ki Tavo means “when you come in,” not when you go in. The encouragement is that Gd is inviting the Children of Israel to come in – to join Him in the Promised Land, not just sending us out from the familiar land into an unknown one where we will have to fend for ourselves.

2. Encouragement is also given by the part of the parshah in which Moses says, (paraphrase) “You have selected the Lord this day, and He has selected you.” This means whenever we move toward Wholeness-Gd — Gd moves toward us. A little love on our part brings Infinite Love from Gd.

3. Encouragement is given by the last words of the parshah: “And you shall observe the words of this covenant and fulfill them, in order that you will succeed in all that you do.” Moses tells us we will observe and fulfill, not that we must, but we will.

4. Encouragement also comes the fact that our ancestors claimed Torah for everyone, not just for the Levis—the teachers and priests. Moses rejoiced over this, “…until this day, the Lord has not given you a heart to know, eyes to see and ears to hear.” But today you have chosen Torah, chosen Gd, and you have become a people — a community, not just a collection of individuals.

Fortunately, for us, Gd has given our hearts enough Knowingness that we choose Him; enough eyes and ears that we can appreciate the beauty of His Creation (the impulses of Him, the Flows of Him), and make use of it for food, shelter, clothing, tools, and the Joy of Being Alive and Being Together.

And, fortunately, He Is, as He has told Moses earlier, Beyond Time, “I Was, I Am, and I Will Be” so He is all there is, and He is always guiding us to open our hearts to Him — to our Self, to One. And, also fortunately, we have examples, in our Jewish tradition, of Tzaddikim, the righteous, people whose hearts, eyes and ears were open enough to follow Torah well and to pass on traditions of openness. These examples confirm for us that the Goal is near, not far (paraphrasing, “It is within to us to achieve”)

Examples of Tzaddikim are the Baal Shem Tov and Schneur Zalman: August 13th, two Shabbats ago …. the Fifth of Elul, was the birthday of both.

The Baal Shem Tov we honor for bringing Direct Experience of Gd back into Judaism and bringing also the emphasis on Joy and Love in the services.

Schneur Zalman we honor for being the founder of Chabad: “Ch” for “Chochmah”,Wisdom, “B” for “Binah”, Understanding, and “D” for “Da’at”, Knowledge, the Personal Aspect of Gd as Totality. He is the author of “Tanya”, a kabbalistic explanation of Torah that seeks to add the intellectual element to the Baal Shem Tov’s highly experience and feeling-based approach.

5. We can gain encouragement from the command to offer the first fruits — symbolically, the first fruits of any of our actions — to Gd: it means fruits will be there and we will have hearts open enough to express gratitude by offering them.

6. Similarly, the command to tithe to Levites, stranger, orphan and widow gives us the chance to keep our heart open and to share what we have earned in the awareness that our earnings are gifts from Gd to be shared. We are encouraged because Gd only commands us to do what we are able to do and so this commandment assures us that we will not be living bare-bones lives with not a penny to spare but we will have enough to share.

7. Through Moses, Gd commanded our ancestors to set up huge stones plastered with lime on which “you will write the Torah.” For us, hardbound copies or Torah on our computer or the Internet will serve. But in reality, it is our good actions that lead us to be aware of Torah in our hearts, Torah as the Liveliness of Gd, One with Gd. And it is our good actions that make Torah in our hearts, tablets of Joy and Love, not of stone.

8. Fortunately, even the curses that will be spoken from Mt. Ebal (as proclaimed in Parashat Re’eh) will have a quality of blessing in them because they will be proclaimed from the mountain on which Gd has put His Name and an altar has been built and because they issue from the Mouth of Gd and are intended to restore us to act with Gd’s Will and no longer to praise ourselves as if we were the Author of our accomplishments.

So this parshah gives us encouragement today that by reading Torah, listening to Torah, following Torah we can attune ourselves to Gd and enter the Promised Land, Oneness with Gd, full restoration of our awareness.

Baruch HaShem!