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Parashat Vayetze 5781 — 11/28/2020

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.

Bereishit 28:10-32:3

Last week we opined that Rambam’s work is meant to teach the knowledge of Gd, of wholeness, from the perspective of wholeness, not from the perspective of parts and their interactions. It also appears that Rambam takes experience of wholeness to be primary, and analysis of wholeness through philosophical reasoning, to be secondary – a way of gaining intellectual understanding of the experience of wholeness. I would like to turn to Rambam’s method of teaching through Moreh Nevukim, based again on Prof. Strauss’ introduction.

Rambam prefaces his treatise with an Epistle Dedicatory – a letter to his student, one Rabbi Joseph, who had studied with him for some time and had made good progress, but then was forced to break off his studies for some reason. There are probably people who debate who R. Joseph might be, or if he even exists. It doesn’t really matter – what matters are Rambam’s words. He writes:

When thereupon you read under my guidance texts dealing with the science of astronomy and prior to that texts dealing with mathematics, which is necessary as an introduction to astronomy … I saw that your longing for mathematics was great and hence I let you train yourself in that science, knowing where you would end. When thereupon you read under my guidance texts dealing with the art of logic, my hopes fastened upon you, and I saw that you are one worthy to have the secrets of the prophetic books revealed to you so that you would consider in them that which perfect men ought to consider. … Then I saw that you demanded of me additional knowledge and asked me to make clear to you certain things pertaining to divine matters, … Yet I did not cease dissuading you from this and enjoining upon you to approach matters in an orderly manner. My purpose in this was that the truth should be established in your mind according to the proper methods, and that certainty should not come to you by accident. …

There are two components of knowledge – direct experience and intellectual understanding of that experience. Without experience, the intellect can go off on flights of fancy that are completely divorced from reality, and therefore useless for any practical application. On the other hand, without intellectual understanding we may easily dismiss or degrade very precious and useful experiences. For example, in the process of transcending, the individual ego is left behind and one experiences one’s own universal nature. This vast expansion of consciousness can actually be frightening, as we feel that our self is being extinguished in the vast ocean of Being. If we understand the process and its value to our life, we are able to let go and allow it to proceed without worry.

Prof. Strauss lays out the sequential order of knowledge that Rambam will expound.

More important, Maimonides’ choice of his typical addressee [i.e. R. Joseph] is the key to the whole plan of the Guide, to the apparent lack of order or to the obscurity of the plan. The plan of the Guide appears to be obscure only so long as one does not consider the kind of reader for which the book is written or so long as one seeks for an order agreeing with the essential order of subject matter. We recall the order of the sciences: logic precedes mathematics, mathematics precedes natural science, and natural science precedes divine science; and we recall that while Joseph was sufficiently trained in logic and mathematics, he is supposed to be introduced into divine science without having been trained properly in natural science. Maimonides must therefore seek for a substitute for natural science. He finds that substitute in the traditional Jewish beliefs and ultimately in the biblical texts correctly interpreted: The immediate preparation for divine science in the Guide is exegetic rather than speculative.

Now the sequence logic → mathematics → natural science makes perfect sense to us, as that is more or less the way we proceed in our studies. Mathematical proofs are logical sequences of statements, so logic precedes mathematics, and mathematics is the language of what we call the natural sciences. Of course, both mathematics and (natural) science were substantially smaller fields in the 12th century than they are now. In fact, logic itself has expanded from its Aristotelian framework; basic assumptions such as that something can be an A or not an A, but it can’t be both, have come into question, and self-consistent logical systems employing other assumptions have been developed. Mathematics has expanded to include algebra and calculus and many other fields unknown a millennium ago. If you think algebra is difficult by the way, try calculating the apparent paths of planets without it! And our conception of the way the natural world works has been completely transformed by our ability to measure both the very large (astronomical scales) and the very small (subatomic scales).

I want to focus for a bit on a comment of Prof Strauss’: Maimonides must therefore seek for a substitute for natural science. He finds that substitute in the traditional Jewish beliefs and ultimately in the biblical texts correctly interpreted: When we think of natural science we think of experimental science – that is, knowledge gained by experience through a specific, designed procedure of controlling variables to isolate the phenomenon under investigation. When the technology of observation was not nearly as well developed, and statistical methods were unknown, observation was much more informal, and inferences were often shaky, if not downright wrong. Therefore, there was much greater reliance on Scriptural authority, as Scripture was held to be Gd’s Revelation and everything was contained within it.

We will continue this discussion next week.

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Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Vayeitzei

Chabad.org quotes Maimonides as saying that the place where Jacob dreamed of the ladder and of Gd speaking to him is the same place where the Altar of the Holy Temple stood, where David and Solomon built an altar, where Abraham bound Isaac, where Noah built an altar, where Cain and Abel made offerings, where Adam made offerings and from whose earth Adam was fashioned.

This is obviously a very special place but as Torah says, “Be still and know that I am Gd.”

We have the ability to experience Gd not only at the place of Jacob’s dream but also within our own Stillness and to build the Altar of the Holy Temple within this Stillness, becoming aware of Gd, Gd’s Altar of Holiness, of Liveliness, of Love.

We are doing this. Let us continue more and more sweetly, easily, lovingly and experience the Altar in our Still, Lively, Loving Consciousness – which is within us and everywhere.

• Jacob’s dream occurs when he is fleeing his brother, Esau, symbolizing the material world. Jacob dreams of angels ascending and descending a ladder, Gd above the ladder, telling him He will Bless him, Make him a great nation, Be with him.

I draw on sources such as chabad.org, kabblahonline.org, and Wikipedia plus my memory and intuition to discuss the Kabbalistic view of the dream and of the nature of prayer.

The common Kabbalistic view of the ladder is that it represents prayer which enables us to ascend from our material world to increasingly unmanifest worlds, and eventually to intimacy with Gd. This view derives particularly from the Zohar, one of the foundational texts of Kabbalah. The Zohar’s view is that the ladder represents the four worlds (Atzilut, , Beriyah, Yetzira, Asiyah) ranging from the most unmanifest, most heavenly, to the most manifest, most physical.

Prayer is the means through which we ascend to come close to Gd, to join with Gd, Who stands above the worlds, Who is One, within which all multiplicity exists as expressions. These four worlds – and a fifth, Adam Kadmon, more subtle still, are mentioned in Isaiah, 43:7, and are considered to exist within the Ein Sof (The Endless), Gd beyond description.

Asiyah is the physical world, the world of action, our familiar world.

Higher than this is Yetzirah, the world of formation, then Beriyah, the world of creation.

Still higher is Atzilut, the world of intimacy.

• Lurianic Kabbalah precedes Atzilut with Adam Kadmon, (The Primordial), which includes all potential creation in latent form.
How is prayer the means to ascend this ladder and to go beyond the veils with which Ein Sof pretends to hide itself? One fundamental kabbalistic view of prayer, according to livingwisdom.kabbalah.com, is given in Genesis when Gd gives Adam the power to name all beasts and fowls and thus to become master of the power of words and master of the world the words describe.

The prayers in our siddurs, the prayers of our services, are primarily praises of Gd, expressions of gratitude through which we use words to increasingly appreciate Gd in subtle and subtler, more and more complete ways and thus ascend the ladder to be One with Gd, “standing above.”

We can use these prayers today and every day, and also our own innocent, heartfelt prayers to climb the ladder and return to Oneness.

Baruch HaShem