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Parashat Beshallach 5783 — 02/04/2023

Parashat Beshallach 5783 — 02/04/2023

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.

Shemot 13:17-17:15
Rambam now brings up a point that has been a subject of modern study among physicists and philosophers of science:

How very many are the premises thus taken from the nature of numbers and the properties of geometrical figures from which we draw inferences concerning things that we should deny with respect to Gd, may He be exalted! And this denial is indicative to us of many notions. As for the matters pertaining to the astronomy of the spheres and to natural science, I do not consider that you should have any difficulty in grasping that those are matters necessary for the apprehension of the relation of the world to Gd’s governance as this relation is in truth and not according to imaginings.

We discussed two weeks ago that it was Einstein’s great hope that the universal constants of physics (e.g. gravitational constant) could be derived solely from the properties of numbers, and we further mentioned that the entire number system, beginning with the counting numbers (plus zero) can be derived from a small set of postulates. All the more advanced number systems (rational, irrational, complex) can be derived from the counting numbers, and all of the structures of mathematics are basically extensions of the number systems. And the structures of physics that map onto measurable quantities in the “real” world are simply a subset of all the mathematical structures that we have created.

Now all these mathematical constructs are structures of consciousness, yet they do seem to map onto the real world. The linkage between the two is the process of measurement, which is also what links the observer (the scientist) and the observed (the object being measured). Measurement is the process of comparing the magnitude of some property of the object (mass, charge, length, etc.) with a standard. If I am 181 cm tall, it means that a measuring rod of exactly 1 cm length will fit it the length of my body 181 times. This means we assign numbers to the properties of objects. But numbers are what make up the mathematical structures we just discussed. What is not obvious is why the structures formed by the numbers we associate with these measurements – that is, the relationships between the numbers associated with the different parts of various systems – should correspond so precisely to the abstract mathematical structures we have created in our consciousness without reference to anything external. Wigner called this “the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences.” I would like to argue that this “unreasonable effectiveness” is a symptom of something much deeper.

We know that the mind and the physical world are connected. We perceive objects in the outer world – there are all the physical processes of perception, for example photons hitting objects and entering the eye, where they create a cascade of neurological impulses that are interpreted and processed, and then, “magically,” form an impression on the screen of our awareness. The physical object is, as it were, transmuted into a mental phenomenon. In the same way, an intention, which is purely mental, gets transmuted into a series of physical processes in the body, which then carries out an action in the physical world.

The process of measurement is an extension of the process of perception. We use instruments that are more sensitive than our unaided senses and can perceive either more precisely, or can sense inputs that pass our sense by completely (e.g. ultraviolet sensors). Therefore, the process of measurement is a further interaction between the consciousness of the measurer and the object being measured. As our instruments became finer and finer, and we started to be able to measure much subtler levels of creation, we began to find our view of reality had to be adjusted. On the surface level, when we perceive a macroscopic object, the object remains, to all intents and purposes, unchanged. When we try to observe very small objects, on the size of atoms or subatomic particles, the rules change completely. The process of observation becomes inextricably enmeshed in the results of the observation. In other words, consciousness does not merely interact with the physical world “from a distance,” as it were, but the two are completely intertwined with one another.

We have seen this kind of development before in physics. Two things, considered at first to be separate, are discovered to interact. Further investigation shows that the two things are not actually separate things, but two aspects of one underlying system. For example, the electric and magnetic fields were originally thought to be completely separate entities. After a while, it was realized that a changing electric field produces a magnetic field, and a changing magnetic field produces an electric field. From this came a single set of equations that governed both the fields separately, until it was realized that one single equation could describe the behavior of the unified electromagnetic field. The electric and magnetic fields actually have no separate existence – the only reality is the electromagnetic field; the separate fields are just different perspectives, as it were, on this underlying reality.

Now, on a much more fundamental level, we see that non-material consciousness and the material, physical world, are very tightly bound to each other, at the surface and at the deepest levels of existence. We see them as separate classes of phenomena – one material, objective, and external to our self, and the other non-material, subjective, and the very stuff of our self. Yet the two are tightly coupled together. This suggests that consciousness and the material world are in fact not separate, but rather, two aspects of a completely abstract, underlying reality that transcends both physical and non-physical phenomena. According to the Vedic tradition this abstract, transcendental reality is alternately called Pure Being or Pure Consciousness. Pure Being represents the inert, existence aspect of the transcendent, while Pure Consciousness represents the lively, self-referential aspect of the transcendent. As we have discussed, it is the self-referential aspect of Pure Consciousness that is the basic dynamic of creation.

The exploration of “divine science” then is the exploration of Pure Conscious-ness, since it is the basis of all creation. It appears that, according to Rambam, we must go through the preliminaries of logic, mathematics, physics and astronomy, and eventually metaphysics. All this is in order to achieve true conceptions of the infinite. Vedic Science, on the other hand, gives us the technology to experience Pure Consciousness directly – precisely since it is consciousness and we are conscious beings, with a nervous system subtle and complex enough to reflect Pure Consciousness in its fullness. It would appear that the intellectual method, which tries to approach the infinite through the finite, can only achieve asymptotic success, whereas the method of direct experience gives us certain and unchanging, deep inner knowledge of Pure Consciousness. At the same time, fleeting experience of Pure Consciousness removes the barriers to its complete and permanent experience in higher states of consciousness.

Rambam has more to say on this subject, and we will continue with it next week Gd willing.

Happy Tu B’Shevat!


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Beshallach

Beshalach means “when he sent.”
After the death of the Egyptian first born, including Pharaoh’s, Pharaoh finally sends Moses and the Children of Israel out of Egypt, Mitzraim, the Land of Restrictions. The whole community leaves, with all their possessions plus wealth they received from their Egyptian neighbors.

Gd hardens Pharaoh’s heart again and Pharaoh chases after Moses and the Children of Israel who are trapped between Pharaoh’s army and the Sea of Reeds, the Red Sea.

Gd commands Moses to raise his staff and split the Red Sea so that our ancestors could pass through it on dry land.

This is an example of how Gd sometimes performs miracles through human hands, to allow us to participate in Gd’s Greatness. An even better example is when Gd tells Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move forward!” In other words, we have to do our part and then Gd will do His.

We can look at the Red Sea as what it at first seemed to be: another obstacle that arose just after our ancestors felt they had become free from the slavery in Egypt. But the obstacle turned out to be a Blessing when Gd’s Power expressed through Moses allowed our ancestors to pass through while Pharaoh, the King of Enslavement, and his army drowned, thus freeing our ancestors not only from the land of slavery but from pursuit by the slave-master. In a deeper sense, the Red Sea symbolizes the finest level of the quality of limits, of restrictions: parting it and crossing it symbolizes passing beyond localization and into the Wholeness of the Transcendent – a step in the direction of getting to the Unity of the Promised Land, the Teshuvah, Complete Restoration of Awareness that All there is, is Gd and our individualities are roles Gd plays.

In our own lives, we may often find that we escape one difficult situation and after only a short time of relative peace find ourselves in another difficulty, one which may even seem worse.

We might quit a job in which we feel we are treated unfairly but then begin to run out of money without yet having a new job.

The same type of situation might happen with relationships, contracts, hobbies, travel plans, shopping trips…

The miracle that saves us happens when we are guided by our own wisdom that Gd gives us, to relax into our situation, not to become frightened but just to innocently become aware of the possibilities within us and outside us, and then to act on some good possibility and cross over the obstacle into a new freedom. having gained confidence and lost fear.

Our religion helps us to trust that Gd is always present and Gd is always making possibilities available to us even when at first glance none seem available. With this trust, we let go our nervousness and deepen our ability to perceive opportunities, to act on them, and to cross whatever sea of obstacles seems to be presenting itself.

More important than the physical opportunities Gd gives us are the spiritual ones. In this Parshah, the physical opportunities include: water from a rock in the desert with Moses’ hand guided to strike it so it releases water; manna and quail in the desert; a Sabbath to rest from toil; and a leader (Joshua) to defeat our enemies: the Amalekites, who attacked our ancestors.

Each of these symbolizes a spiritual opportunity “water from a rock” symbolizes how Gd guides us to experience the Water of Gd’s Presence: this is the Water that truly quenches our thirst.

“Manna and quail” appear regularly, sufficient for the day: this symbolizes the Reliability of Gd, sufficient for the moment, ever fresh and new.

“Sabbath to rest” symbolizes not only the experience of Gd’s Restfulness on the Sabbath Day but the experience of Rest in every physical object and every moment of time, especially the Rest within our own bodies, thoughts and feelings.

The Amalekites (and Pharaoh) symbolize that aspect of our personalities that pursues only the limited values of life, turns away from the Unlimited, thus enslaving us and attacking us so we cannot experience the Freedom of Wholeness, the only freedom.

“A leader to defeat our enemies” symbolizes the Love within us that allows us to dissolve doubts, fears and every selfish motive and to raise them to the level of “Love the Lrd thy Gd with all thy soul, all thy heart, all thy might” and “Love thy neighbor as thyself/Self.”

Our religion helps us to reveal this Love within our self and return to Full Awareness: Oneness beyond the duality of Gd and us.

This is freedom – this Is Freedom.

Baruch HaShem