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Parashat Ki Tisa 5783 — 03/11/2023

Parashat Ki Tisa 5783 — 03/11/2023

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 30:11-34:35

Before going on to the fifth and final cause enumerated by Rambam that prevents one from leaping straight to divine science, I’d like to mention briefly one more point on the fourth cause. In last week’s first quote, Rambam wrote:

For it has been explained, or rather demonstrated, that the moral virtues are a preparation for the rational virtues, it being impossible to achieve true, rational acts – I mean perfect rationality – unless it be by a man thoroughly trained with respect to his morals and endowed with the qualities of tranquility and quiet. [My bold]

Along with moral perfection, one must exhibit the “qualities of tranquility and quiet.” This is achieved by allowing the mind to settle down to the least excited state of consciousness, Pure Consciousness. This state of Pure Consciousness is characterized by absolute silence. There is no-thing in Pure Consciousness, hence there can be no motion or change of state – it is completely silent. Having this in our awareness indeed gives us tranquility and quiet, and this is the proper platform from which to study the mechanics of creation.

Incidentally, this is also the proper platform for prayer. The Shulchan Aruch tells us that we should pray with “settled awareness” (miyushav da’at). True settled awareness is a state of consciousness where the absolute silence of Pure Consciousness is the ever-present background to all our thoughts and actions. When we pray from this level, we are praying from the level of the source of creation, and whether we are offering thanks or praise, or asking for our needs, that expression is coming from a place where it gathers maximum support to itself.

The fifth cause Rambam identifies is the fact that we all have physical concerns. We all have to eat, to put a roof over our head, to have children so humanity doesn’t die out, etc. All this takes time and energy and focus. Here’s what Rambam writes:

The fifth cause is to be found in the fact that men are occupied with the necessities of the bodies, which are the first perfection; and more particularly if, in addition, they are occupied with taking care of a wife and of children; and even more especially if there is in them, superadded to that, a demand for the superfluities of life, which becomes an established habitus as a result of a bad conduct of life and bad customs. Things are so that if even a perfect man, as we have mentioned, were to occupy himself much with these necessary things and all the more if he were to occupy himself with unnecessary things, and if his desire for them should grow strong, he would find that his theoretical desires had grown weak and had been submerged. And his demand for them would slacken and become intermittent and inattentive. He accordingly would not grasp things that otherwise would have been within his power to grasp; or else he would grasp them with a confused apprehension, a mixture of apprehension and failure to apprehend.
   In view of all these causes, these matters are only for a few solitary individuals of a very special sort, not for the multitude. For this reason, they should be hidden from the beginner, and he should be prevented from taking them up, just as a small baby is prevented from taking coarse foods and from lifting heavy weights.

Again, this is a fairly bleak picture for the great majority of us. We all need to eat, and a very few can’t support the great majority, as countries with inverted population pyramids are finding out. Not many can live in caves, so almost everyone has to put a roof over their heads. We certainly can’t all be celibate and expect humanity to survive. And we all want to improve the world – that is why we are in the world. But all these things require engagement with the physical world, and this engagement takes time and energy. This is time and energy that Rambam implies should be devoted to spiritual development.

This attitude is reminiscent of the dichotomy between body and soul that plays such a large part in Christian thought, but is not nearly as compatible with Judaism. Gd put the soul into the body to be partners in evolution. The trick is not necessarily to reduce one’s engagement in the material world, but to sanctify it. Since Rambam spent his life in an Islamic environment and not a Christian one, it is not clear why he seems to take this view, at least here. It may be that it comes from a common Greek philosophical thread, or it may simply reflect the sad fact that we get overly involved in the immediate physical situation we find ourselves in, and forget about our real, inner self, as Rambam describes in this passage.

Rambam’s conclusion is that only “a few solitary individuals of a very special sort” can and should pursue “divine science.” All the rest of us are doomed to work more or less like cattle to maintain society and support the enlightened few, relieving them of the need to engage with the physical world to the extent possible.

Vedic Science takes a different approach. The technology associated with Vedic Science allows the mind to settle down in a natural and effortless way, and substantial progress can be made with a short period of meditation each day. This democratizes spiritual development. Now, instead of a long process of preparation, one can begin to enjoy the benefits of contact with the transcendent right away, without withdrawing from the world to do so. Surprisingly, the benefits of spiritual development are not limited to the spiritual realm. The benefits are palpable in the world of action as well. Since our actions are more and more in accord with the laws of nature as Pure Consciousness gets more and more established in the mind, those actions are more and more supported by nature. We are able to do less and accomplish more. When Pure Consciousness is totally stabilized, we realize that we are the transcendent, which is eternally silent while all the activity of creation goes on around us, including the activity of our body and our individual personality. In the words of Pirke Avot (II:4) Make His Will like your will, so that He will make your will like His Will.

We mentioned above that some philosophical systems posit an adversarial relation between the physical and the spiritual. There is some basis for this only if developing our spiritual nature required renouncing engagement with the physical world. According to Vedic Science renunciation is not something we do, rather it is a state of consciousness where the unbounded transcendent is recognized as the Self, and everything in the created world is not Self. This is the essence of renunciation, where we do not take ownership of anything, but engage with the world while remaining, in our essence, transcendental to it. I would argue that this engagement with the world in a way that reveals Gd as creator and maintainer of creation, and indeed that creation is nothing other than Gd displaying Himself to Himself in all possible forms, is what Judaism is all about. All the mitzvot that we do are meant to demonstrate and realize the truth of ayn od milvado – there is nothing but Gd.


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Ki Tisa
“Ki Tisa” means “when you take”. The parshah begins with “The Lord spoke to Moses saying, ‘When you take the sum of the Children of Israel according to their numbers, let each one give to the Lrd an atonement for his soul when they are counted so there will be no plague among them when they are counted.'”This brings us several important points about our drawing on Torah as a help in our return to Oneness, Teshuvah.The first is that taking a census is a way of revealing that a community is not just a mass of people: each one matters, each one is to be known.The second is that taking is not just something that Moses was commanded to do so that he would know the community in detail but also something that showed to every member of community that they mattered.

The third is that this principle of knowing the details of the community applies to knowing anything, anyone, including knowing Gd — and it applies not only to Moses but to everyone at all times.

Fourth is that, having shown they matter to Gd, they need to show that Gd matters to them: they need to make a donation as “an atonement for their soul”, a donation to dissolve any impurity that clouds their soul so they can experience “at-Onement”, Oneness with Gd. The donation in this parshah is a half-shekel and this is symbolic of our relation with Gd: we do our part and Gd does the rest. It is extremely kind of Gd to suggest to us that we are doing half and Gd is doing half. The reality, of course, is that we do our maximum and it is only a tiny drop of the Unbounded Doing that Gd does.

If impurities are not dissolved, then they will distort our perception of Gd’s Presence and the Eternal Blessing that is Gd will be experienced as a plague. This is a particularly apt concern in this time when Covid-19 has spread like a plague. Our donation at this time is to take very good care of our health: get good rest, good food, wash hands (see for guidelines and information), get vaccinated if we feel that is useful. As always, donations to charity with an open heart help us to stay pure and get purer.

Fifth is that the half-shekel will go to provide oil.

In the previous parshah, we presented the view that the oil intended to provide fuel for the Eternal Flame is by our Sages considered symbolic of wisdom and that wisdom and eternity belong to Gd so the Eternal Flame is symbolic of Gd.

The oil people bring will be enhanced by the “art of the perfumer” with various spices and will be used in anointing the Tabernacle, the Ark, the priests and various parts of the Tabernacle. This anointing oil will be holy and everything anointed becomes holy as does everyone who touches the holy objects. “Holy” means “Whole”, Teshuvah, Full Restoration of the Awareness of One beyond the duality of Gd and individual.

One way to look at this is that the enhancing brings out qualities in the pure oil that were latent without the enhancement. This is like the census that revealed details within the community. My guess is that not only were these qualities perceivable in the anointing oil but they also began to be perceivable in the un-enhanced oil used in the Eternal Flame and as Gd’s Presence in the Tabernacle and the Tent of Meeting. These qualities would be not only that of fragrance but of visibility, audibility, touch-ability. Gd would be Concrete and Detailed: The reality that Gd is All and Everyone, Everything, everywhere would be perceivable in the Eternal Flame and the Eternal Flame would be perceivable everywhere in everything.  Our ancestors would be gaining Omniscience, they would be making significant progress to complete Teshuvah, complete restoration of the Awareness that all is One, beyond the duality of Gd and person. Gd and things.

The fact that enhancement of the oil and the enhancement of perception was needed is suggested by the fact that in this parshah we are also told that when Moses came down from listening to Gd at the top of Mt. Sinai, he found the people worshiping the Golden Calf, dancing around it. Despite hearing Gd’s voice, and seeing Gd in flame and smoke, our ancestors needed something concrete to trust in.

To make Gd Concrete in our lives, we need to offer not only abstract wisdom, symbolized by pure oil, but also something we ourselves create, not something to worship instead of Gd, like the Golden Calf created by Aaron from vessels brought by our ancestors but something to enhance our worship of Gd, to make it personal, like the enhancements of the pure oil with the spices and the art of the perfumer. Living our daily life with such creativity. Gd becomes more perceivable to us, and we do not need a Golden Calf or any material object to substitute for Gd: we perceive Gd by Direct Experience sufficiently to trust that Gd is Real, Almighty, Omnipresent, Omniscient, Omnipotent, Omni-Joyful. Omni-Compassionate, Omni-Loving and to realize that Gd disguises Gd as us, plays the important roles our individual lives have in the Divine Story.

The cheerful respect and competence that our Congregation displays at each service suggests we are doing well in our lives to be pure, loving, generous, simple and making our relationship with Gd, concrete and personal. This makes me very happy.

Baruch HaShem