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Parshiyyot Nitzavim-Vayelech 5777 — 09/16/2017

A joyous New Year to all!

Nitzavim: Devarim 29:9-30:20

Vayelech: Devarim 31:1 – 31:30

For this commandment that I command you today, it is not hidden from you and it is not distant.  It is not in the heavens, to say, “Who can ascend to the heavens for us and take it for us, and let us hear it, so that we can perform it?”  Nor is it across the sea, to say, “Who can cross to the other side of the sea for us and take it for us, and let us hear it, that we can perform it?”  Rather the matter is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to perform it.  (30:11-14)

Earlier, verse 11 states, “it is not distant,” rather than “it is not distant from you.”  We would have thus expected our verse (14) to have said only “rather, the matter is very near,” instead of “very near to you.”  But verse 11 referred to spatial distance, as is clear from the following verse, “It is not in the heavens.”  The phrase “to you” of our verse indicates that “near” is not meant here in a spatial sense.  Rather, “near” in our verse means that the Torah can be internalized.  By means of study of the Written and Oral Torah, it is “in your mouth and your heart.”  (Artscroll comment to Rashi on v. 14)

Knowledge is structured in consciousness, where all the laws of nature reside.  (Rg Veda)

As I wrote in a previous edition, our verse “Rather the matter is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to perform it,” is often understood that in some magical way, whatever we feel to do is correct.  This idea is used to justify any and all deviation from normative Jewish practice on the basis of “if it feels good, do it.”  I doubt this was Moshe Rabbeinu’s intent when he spoke these words.  But what did he really mean?

Let me start with a bit of physics.  Physics tells us that life is structured in layers.  The obvious physical layer is underlain by the molecular layer, the atomic layer, the subatomic layer etc.  Each of these layers has its specific laws of nature.  We believe that underlying all of material creation is one Unified Field, which has different modes of vibration.  All the subatomic particles of nature and all their interactions are nothing other than different vibrations of this one, underlying field.  Thus, all macroscopic objects are great symphonies of vibration of the Unified Field – every particle in every object is one “tone,” and all the tones combine together to create the beautiful world.

If our beliefs pan out, the Unified Field would encompass all the laws of nature at all the expressed levels.  We could, in principle at least, derive all the laws of nature on the surface from the laws governing the internal dynamics of the Unified Field.

In a similar way, we find that consciousness is structured in layers.  We are generally aware of thoughts on the surface layer, but we also experience sometimes that we are able to think on quieter, more subtle levels as well.  This often happens when we wake up refreshed after a good night’s sleep.  We also experience that when we can think on these subtler levels, our thoughts are more powerful and produce better results.  When we are more tired, we are unable to project our thoughts from these subtler levels, and the thoughts that we have seem to be muddied, distorted, and don’t seem to receive as much support from the environment.

We know that the objective, physical world, and our subjective, inner world interact with one another.  We have an intention (subjective) and that somehow gets translated into nerve impulses and muscle movements – we act (objective).  Physical stimuli (objective) impinge on our sense organs, producing electrical signals in our brains that are somehow interpreted as perceptions (subjective).

The history of physics has shown that when two phenomena interact, they are actually two different aspects of one, underlying phenomenon.  I believe that we can say the same for the entire subjective and objective realms – they are two aspects of one underlying wholeness, and they have a parallel, layered structure.  And just as underlying the physical world is a single, unified field, so many traditions tell us that underlying our entire subjective life is a field of unity that expresses itself as the diversity of our subjective experience.

I will extend this similarity here by positing that just as the Unified Field of physics is the home, or source, of all the laws of physical nature, so the field of unity that underlies our subjective life is the home, or source, of all the laws of nature that govern subjective life, including the moral laws.  If we can station our awareness at this level, then our thoughts will be projected in a way that is consonant with all the laws of (subjective) nature.

I think this is the underlying meaning of Moshe Rabbeinu’s statement that Torah is not somewhere else, but rather it is in us.  It is deep within us, at the level of our unbounded, eternal soul.  At the deepest level of our personality is an unbounded, unified field – our Sages call it “a piece of the Divine from Above.”  By analogy with the Unified Field of physics, it is the home of all the laws of nature that govern human life.  In this sense, Torah is not distant from us; it is structured in the deepest level of our existence.

Where I think people go wrong is in assuming that we automatically have access to this level – that we can think and act spontaneously in accordance with natural law.  This is obviously not true, as a casual glance around at the state of the world will bear out.  What is required is that we find a way to turn inward and bring our awareness into contact with this Unified Field.  When that happens, living a life in accord with natural law will indeed be “in our mouth and in our heart.”

L’Shanah Tovah uM’tukah!

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Reflections on This Week’s Torah Portion

by Steve Sufian

Parashat Nitzavim-Vayelech

In Parshah Netzavim, Moses tells our ancestors (and us) that Torah is not far from us, it is near, in our hearts to do.

In Parshah Vayelech, he tells us that our ancestors (and us) that we will turn from Torah, and Gd will hide His Face from us, but that Torah shall not be forgotten from the mouths of our descendants.

This means to me that though we close our heart and turn away from Torah, yet at any time, we can open our heart and Torah will be seen there as It Always Is (Torah is the Word of Gd, the Liveliness of Gd, never separate, always there).

When we open our heart, we are new people, descendants of the old people that we no longer are but our descendants, new people, people in whom Torah and Gd are alive in our hearts, our words, our actions and in the response of Gd to us.

As Rosh HaShanah nears, this is a reminder that the New Year is not only a New Year in calendar time but an opportunity for a new year in our hearts, souls, thoughts, speech, action and in the response Gd gives us – a time when we open to Gd and Gd opens to us so no part of Gd’s Face is hidden and we remember and live the Oneness which we always are (though we may have hidden from it), and not only remember and  live but enjoy everywhere, all around us, Gd/Torah singing to us, dancing to us, in the sky, earth, pebbles, streams and leaves—everywhere.

This is a preview of the opportunity for the celebration of Newness—New Year, New Us, New World.

A great time!

Baruch HaShem