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Parashat Kedoshim 5784 — 05/11/2024

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.

Vayikra 19:1-20:27

As with Tazria and Metzora, Acharei Mot and Kedoshim are generally read together. This year, Acharei Mot was read last week and Kedoshim is read this week.

This week we’ll wrap up our consideration of negative attributes in our current chapter (Chapter I:59). But first, I had an interesting thought during services on this past Shabbat morning about the apparent contradiction between the ideas of a Gd Who is unchanging, and a Gd Who acts in the world. Around the time of the eclipse, we were discussing the revolution of the earth around the sun. I pointed out that in fact, the sun and earth both revolve around their common center of mass. Now since the mass of the sun is about 333,000 times the mass of the earth, the center of mass of the earth-sun system is fairly close to the center of the sun. For practical purposes the earth revolves around the sun. But for a system where the two objects are about the same size, such as a binary star system, the two objects’ center of mass is more or less in between them in the middle, and the two objects rotate around this point in space under their mutual gravitational attraction.

Now in the case of our binary star system, it is obvious that each member of the system affects the other member. This is the law of action and reaction. The force that A exerts on B is equal and opposite to the force B exerts on A, and if their masses are about equal, the behaviors induced by those forces will be about equal as well. However, in the case of the sun, the mass of the sun is so great that the reaction force the earth exerts on the sun hardly makes it budge, while the force of the sun on the earth keeps it in its orbit. Although technically each side affects and changes the other, practically speaking the earth doesn’t affect the sun at all.

I think you can see where we’re going with this. Gd acts in the world, and, according to Scripture, Gd’s actions are often in response to human actions – measure for measure, which is really just an expanded version of Newton’s law of action and reaction. Just as Gd’s actions change us, if we are to take the analogy to the earth and the sun at face value, our actions would change Gd. That of course is impossible – Gd does not change. I think the answer is simply that Gd is infinite – the “center of mass” of the human-Gd system is right with Gd. We orbit around Gd, because there is an absolute, infinite difference between Gd and human beings. We are so impossibly small compared to Gd that nothing we do can affect Gd in the least. If we do mitzvot or transgressions, we reap the consequences, but we don’t give Gd pleasure or otherwise in the process. And as we have studied in Rambam up to this point, any Scriptural allusion to the contrary is not to be taken literally.

One last point – this discussion is another way of formulating the question how a transcendental Gd can act in the relative world. Of course, we have been answering this by analogy to the Unified Field of physics, where all phenomena are nothing other than the Unified Field forming itself into patterns of vibration – in other words, the only reality is the transcendent, and all the levels of manifest “reality” that we perceive are just the Unified Field (by analogy, the transcendent) moving virtually within itself. Gd’s actions in the world then are nothing other than Gd displaying His creativity to Himself within Himself. It’s a beautiful conception, and the more I ponder it, the less I think I understand it.

Returning to Rambam, he continues his discussion by quoting a famous Talmudic passage:

You also know their [the Talmudic Sages] famous dictum – would that all dicta were like it. I shall quote it to you textually, even though it is well remembered [trans: well-known], so as to draw your attention to the various significations it expresses. They have said (Berachot 33b) Someone who came into the presence of Rabbi Haninah said [in prayer]: Gd the Great, the Valiant, the Terrible [RAR: i.e. Awesome], the Mighty, the Strong, the Tremendous, the Powerful. Thereupon [Rabbi Haninah] said to him: Have you finished all the praises of your Master? Even as regards the first three epithets [used by you] we could not have uttered them if Moses our Master had not pronounced them in the Law and if the men of the Great Synagogue had not [subsequently] come and established [their use] the prayer. And you come and say all this. What does this resemble? It is as a mortal king who had millions of gold pieces were praised for possessing silver. Would this not be an offense to him? Here ends the dictum of this perfect one. Consider in the first place his reluctance and unwillingness to multiply the affirmative attributes. Consider also that he has stated clearly that if we were left only to our intellects we should never have mentioned these attributes or stated a thing appertaining to them. Yet the necessity to address men in such terms as would make them achieve some representation – in accordance with the dictum of the Sages: The Torah speaks in the language of the sons of man – obliged resort to predicating of Gd their own perfections when speaking to them. It must then be our purpose to draw a line at using these expressions and not to apply them to Him except only in reading the Torah. However, as the men of the Great Synagogue, who were prophets, appeared in their turn and inserted the mention of these attributes in the prayer, it is our purpose to pronounce only these attributes when saying our prayers. According to the spirit, this dictum makes it clear that, as it happened, two necessary obligations determined our naming these attributes in our prayers: one of them is that they occur in the Torah, and the other is that the prophets in question used them in the prayer they composed.

Once again, we have the conundrum that if we want to speak about Gd, we have to use words that define the infinite, and even when Torah speaks about Gd it uses such terms. Furthermore, when we want to pray, we also use terms that indicate positive attributes (e.g. Great, Mighty and Exalted). How are we allowed to do this? Rambam tells us that we can’t. Torah can because Moshe Rabbeinu was a prophet and could cognize the appropriate names to use in each situation. Similarly, the “Men of the Great Assembly” had prophetic powers and could recognize the correct ways to refer to Gd in the prayers they composed. Since we are not at that level we wind up “gilding the lily” so to speak, adding more and more words of praise that do not bring us one whit closer to the infinite. Not even asymptotically.

What is to be done? We can pray and learn Torah using the words of those in a position to tell us what the appropriate expressions are to connect with Gd. We can also continually refine our awareness and come closer to a knowledge of Gd, so that our intuition gets to the point where we know intuitively how to address Gd. At that point, we can express our devotion to Gd without any words at all.

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Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Kedoshim
“Kedoshim” means “holy ones.”  This parshah presents two of the six major statements of Holiness, Wholeness in Torah:

“Be thou Holy, for I Am Holy.”

“Love thy neighbor as thyself.”

The other four are:

“I Was, I Am and I Will Be”: Gd’s answer to Moses when Moses asks Gd “What shall I tell the people when they ask Who You Are?

“Listen [not just “Hear”: Listen!], Oh Israel: The Lrd, thy Gd, is One!”.

“Be Still and Know that I Am Gd”

“Thou shalt love the Lrd, thy Gd, with all thy heart, all thy soul, all thy might.”

How to be Holy?

Gd commands: honor thy parents, don’t worship idols, contribute to the poor, be honest and not greedy. Overall, to be holy we need to orient ourselves toward Wholeness, respecting everyone and everything as an expression of Wholeness, not getting lost in a part.

How to love our neighbor as ourself?

First, we need to know ourself and to love the self we know. This gets easier as we behave in the moral way the first statement tells us – we begin to know ourselves as Wholeness, Pure Love, Single Self, not just our limited individuality. We begin to experience that our individuality and all individualities are expressions of the One Self, All-in-All, Pure Love.

Torah, siddurs (prayerbooks), family and cultural traditions help us as do our own thoughts, feelings, intuitions.

We are doing well. Let us continue to expand our awareness and our sense of family, community, world, Creation so that we can be fully Holy in our lives and all souls will experience themselves as Holy. Pure Love, Pure Joy.

Baruch HaShem