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Parashat Tzav 5783 — 04/01/2023

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.

Vayikra 6:1-8:36

Rambam concludes this chapter with a consideration of one who believes Gd is something other than what He actually is. This essentially means that he believes that Gd is bounded in some way – that Gd is like us, only much bigger and more powerful. Here are Rambam’s words:

What then should be the state of him whose infidelity bears upon His essence, may He be exalted, and consists in believing Him to be different from what He really is? I mean to say that he does not believe that He exists; or believes that there are two gods, or that He is a body, or that he is subject to affections; or again that he ascribes to Gd some deficiency or other, Such a man is indubitably more blameworthy than a worshipper of idols who regards the latter as intermediaries or as having the power to do good or ill. Know accordingly, you who are that man, that when you believe in the doctrine of the corporeality of Gd or believe that one of the states of the body belongs to Him, you provoke His jealousy and anger, kindle the fire of His wrath, and are a hater, an enemy, and an adversary of Gd, much more so than an idolater. If, however, it should occur to you that one who believes in the corporeality of Gd should be excused because of his having been brought up in this doctrine or because of his ignorance and the shortcomings of his apprehension, you ought to hold a similar belief with regard to an idolater; for he only worships idols because of his ignorance or because of his upbringing: They continue in the custom of their fathers. If, however, you should say that the external sense of the biblical text causes men to fall into this doubt, you ought to know that an idolater is similarly impelled to his idolatry by imaginings and defective representations. Accordingly, there is no excuse for one who does not accept the authority of men who inquire into the truth and are engaged in speculation if he himself is incapable of engaging in such speculation. I do not consider as an infidel one who cannot demonstrate that the corporeality of Gd should be negated. But I do consider as an infidel one who does not believe in its negation; and this particularly in view of the existence of the interpretations of Onqelos and of Jonathan ben Uziel, may peace be on both of them, who cause their readers to keep away as far as possible from the belief in the corporeality of Gd. This was the subject of this chapter.

Rambam already established that the deeper the level of knowledge or belief, the more devastating is any deviation from the truth. We explained that using simple trigonometry – the further away the target, the more any deviation is magnified. If we are shooting for infinity, any deviation is infinitely problematic. Now he turns to the most problematic deviation imaginable – misconstruing the nature of Gd, in particular understanding Gd as a finite being, made of parts, rather than as one, infinite, incomparable whole.

Here Rambam indicates that there are two ways to ascertain the truth. One can come to the realization of the truth about Gd (to the extent humanly possible) – one can engage in inquir[ing] into the truth and engag[ing] in speculation, or, if one cannot speculate and inquire oneself, one can (or must) accept the authority of those who can. The point is that it is injurious to the individual and to the community to have wrong opinions about reality, and especially about the reality of Gd. Now when we use the word “opinion,” it generally means that we have picked a side in a dispute which there is no objective way of deciding one way or the other. If this is what Rambam meant, it is unclear why it would be so injurious, unless one were to use violence to force one’s opinion on others. Think of the Spanish Inquisition for example, and there are modern examples as well.

I believe that Rambam is at least hinting at something much deeper, which is perhaps lost in the translation. I believe that he is referring to actual knowledge of reality, and especially knowledge of the reality of Gd. As we read in Jeremiah (31:33): and they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying: ‘Know the LRD’; for they shall all know Me , from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LRD (my bold). This verse is speaking of Messianic times, when (Habakkuk 2:14) …the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LRD, as the waters cover the sea.

In the meantime, when knowledge of Gd will be restricted to a fortunate few, we must rely on their authority. But in either case, it is knowledge of Gd that is demanded, not mere belief or opinion (in the modern sense of these words). And this knowledge is not mere intellectual knowledge, it must be experiential knowledge, and experiential knowledge on the basis of pure, unbounded consciousness, for any level of consciousness below that will be incapable of grasping the nature of an infinite Gd. Even though we have Scripture to guide us, sometimes Scripture speaks of Gd in anthropomorphic terms, and we still need the guidance of authoritative interpreters of Scripture to avoid misunderstandings.

The question now becomes, how does one rise to the level of experience where we “know” Gd? Apparently one of the chief means is through “speculation.” A disclaimer at this point – I don’t know either the Arabic word Rambam used that we translate as “speculation,” nor the Hebrew word his translators use. I am going to use the etymology of the English word, which comes from a proto-Indo-European root that means to look at, or see. Another derivative of this root is speculum or mirror, which allows us to see ourselves.

I would like to suggest that we read “speculation” not in the modern sense of making educated (at best) guesses, but rather in the sense of gaining internal, intuitive knowledge. Now, as Rambam points out, not everyone is up to the task of engaging in speculation. We all have stress that clouds our vision, whether of the external, objective world or of the much greater internal world of our own consciousness. Those whose consciousness and nervous system are clear, on the other hand, are able to cognize the mechanics of creation and manifestation as the internal dynamics of their own Pure Consciousness, and can express this to others. Further, as we know from Vedic Science, the practice of “speculation” – that is, the practice of allowing the mind to settle down and experience Pure Consciousness, purifies the nervous system and allows it to support the experience of both Pure Consciousness and its internal dynamics. Read this way, it appears that there is a way for almost anyone to take a few minutes each day, and in an effortless way begin to experience pure inner knowledge of their own infinite Pure Consciousness, and in so doing gain authoritative knowledge of creation and its infinite basis.
Next week is Pesach and I want to reflect on the themes of freedom and renewal.

A chag kasher v’same’ach to all!


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Tzav

Tzav” means “command.”  In the previous parshah, Vayikra, Gd called to Moses to tell Aaron and his sons, the priests, the nature of the offerings they will make. In this parshah, Tzav, Gd commands Moses to tell Aaron and his sons their rights and their responsibilities regarding the offerings and the eternal fire into which the offerings are made.

The symbolism here is very sweet: in order for the fire to be eternal, to not go out, it needs to be fed each morning with fresh wood. The eternal fire symbolizes the relation between Gd and humanity; for it to be eternal it needs to be fed each day with our right actions so we can experience the Full Restoration of our awareness to Oneness with Gd, the Eternal, the One.

Similarly, the fire symbolizes the Fire of our own soul, which guides us to act lovingly so our actions are good actions, our actions draw us near to Gd and also near to all the expressions, The Total Creation, of Gd: our family, friends, neighbors, strangers, trees, plants, rivers, stones—everyone and everything.

And in order for this fire to be kept burning, for our soul to be kept interacting with Gd and with Gd’s world, we need to make offerings, good actions not only every morning as with wood for the eternal fire in the Tabernacle, but every moment.

Bob Rabinoff shared this sweet link about the Eternal Fire: Emmylou Harris – Pledging My Love – YouTube. [RAR: Sorry for the poor syncing with the video.]