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Parashat HaAzinu 5784 — 09/23/2023

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.

Shabbat Shuvah

Devarim 32:1-52

Rambam now goes a little more deeply into the senses of sight and hearing. We have a bit of an issue in trying to determine what exactly Scripture means when it ascribes eyes / sight or ears / hearing to Gd. The Talmud, which is in no way a systematic discussion of Scripture, doesn’t deal with philosophical problems such as the nature of Gd and how we might understand Gd’s nature, and the Midrashim, which provide imaginative descriptions of underlying spiritual reality, are perhaps the chief “culprits” in assigning senses to the Deity. Therefore Rambam turns to Onkelos (c 35-120 CE) to see the way he translates these concepts from Hebrew to Aramaic. Onkelos translated Torah into Aramaic. Although Hebrew and Aramaic are closely cognate languages, Onkelos often does not translate the Hebrew literally. Rather it is an interpretive translation, where words and ideas may be expanded upon.

Here is an example of an interpretive translation, from the translation of Yonatan ben Uzziel of the kedushah (this appears in the daily morning liturgy):

Hebrew: v’kara zeh el zeh v’amar: Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh Hashem tz’va’ot, m’lo kol ha’aretz k’vodo. (Isa 6:3)
English: One calls to the other and says: Holy Holy Holy is Hashem, Master of Legions, the whole world is full of His glory!

Targum Yonatan:
Um’kablin dein min dein v’amrin:
Kadish b’shmei m’roma ila’ah beit sh’chinteh
Kadish al ar’a ovad g’vurteh
Kodish l’alam ul’almei almaya Hashem tz’va’ot, malya chol ar’a ziv y’kareh
English to Targum Yonatan:
And they receive [permission] from one another and say:
Holy in the most exalted heavens, the abode of His Presence;
Holy on earth, product of His strength;
Holy forever and ever is Hashem, Master of Legions – the entire world is filled with the radiance of His glory.
(English translations by Artscroll)

You can see that Yonatan ben Uzziel expands greatly on the terse language of the Bible (in this case the quote is from the Prophets, for which Targum Yonatan is the standard Aramaic “translation”). Note that each mention of Kadosh / “Holy” is expanded into an entire phrase. I’m certain that these phrases reflect a Midrashic tradition of the meanings behind each mention of Kadosh / Holy in the verse, but Yonatan made it explicit in the way that a more straightforward translation can’t. Incidentally, there is another “addition” that Yonatan ben Uzziel makes. The Hebrew says that “the whole earth is full of His glory ,” while Targum Yonatan says, “…filled with the radiance of His glory.” Gd’s Glory is very close to Gd’s essence, and is really invisible. Targum Yonatan talks about our perception of Gd’s Glory as perception of the radiance of Gd’s Glory – something more directly perceptible. This is as Rambam has described the way anthropomorphic terms are applied figuratively to Gd.

This is also the way Onkelos tends to translate problematic terms in the Torah. Now since Torah is immutable and not, generally, explained in such a straightforward way, Onkelos seems rather more loath to expand on the actual works of Torah than Yonatan ben Uzziel is to expand the words of the prophets. Here’s the way Rambam puts it (in relation to hearing and sight). First hearing:

In all cases in which the notion of hearing occurs with reference to Gd, may He be exalted, you will find that Onkelos the Proselyte avoids the expression and has interpreted its meaning as signifying that the matter in question reached Him, may He be exalted, or that He apprehended it. Or if it occurs with regard to a prayer, he interprets its meaning as signifying that He accepted it or did not accept it. Thus when interpreting the words, The Lord heard , he always says, It was heard before the Lord. And with regard to prayer, he translates, I will surely hear his cry by the phrase, I will surely accept. This happens continually in his interpretation, and he does not deviate from this usage in any place.

First, Onkelos is called the Proselyte because, according to tradition, he was a Roman convert, and not just any Roman, but a close relative of the emperor, who tried in many ways to dissuade him. Second, we notice here that Onkelos simply changes from the active voice (“Gd heard”) to a passive voice (“it was heard before Gd”). This somewhat mitigates the anthropomorphism – it indicates that Gd apprehends something which we would apprehend by hearing it, without saying directly that Gd hears it. In the case of prayer, by changing the verb from “hear” (indicating an action, even if only of the sense organs) to “accept,” Onkelos removes the verse from the action of apprehension to the act of Will, choosing what to do with that apprehension. This is more an internal function of Gd’s consciousness rather than the more mechanical and external function of bringing “outside” information “inside,” which is irrelevant when we’re speaking of Gd!

The situation with sight is a bit more involved:

As for the expressions denoting sight that occur with reference to Him, may He be exalted, Onkelos varies with regard to them in a strange way, the purpose and intention of which are not clear to me. For in some place he interprets the words, And the Lord saw, by the words, And the Lord beheld; whereas in other passages he interprets these as follows: And it was revealed before the Lord. Now the fact that in his interpretation he uses the words, And the Lord beheld, is a clear proof that the word to behold is equivocal in the Syriac [trans: i.e. Aramaic] language, inasmuch as it indicates both the notion of an apprehension of the intellect and that of an apprehension of the senses.

This particular usage is similar to the description of the way hearing is translated as discussed above. But there is another usage:

This being so, according to his opinion, would that I knew why in some cases he avoids the expression and interprets the Hebrew words as: And it was revealed before the Lord. When I examined the copies of this translation that I could find and withal what I had heard in the course of instruction, I discovered that in the cases in which the word seeing is found in conjunction with wrongdoing or harming and committing an act of aggression, he interprets it as: It was revealed before the Lord. Thus there is no doubt that the word to behold has in that language the meaning: to apprehend and to establish the thing apprehended as it is apprehended . Therefore when seeing is mentioned in connection with wrongdoing, he did not say, And He beheld, but, And it was revealed before the Lord. For I found that he used the word to behold to interpret the term seeing in all the passages in the whole of Torah in which the [Hebrew] word is used with reference to Gd, except in the verses that I am about to cite to you. Because the Lord hath seen my affliction translated by him: Because my affliction was revealed before the Lord. For I have seen all that Laban doeth unto thee, translated by him: For before me it is revealed; although in this case the speaker is but an angel, an apprehension indicative of his establishing the fact apprehended by him cannot be ascribed to him because this fact consists in wrongdoing. And Gd saw the children of Israel translated by him: And the enslavement of the children of Israel was revealed before the LrdI have surely seen the affliction of My people, translated by him: The enslavement of My people was surely revealed before MeAnd I have also seen the oppression, translated by him: And the oppression was also revealed before MeAnd that He had seen their affliction, translated by him: For their enslavement was revealed before HimI have seen this people, translated by him: This people was revealed before me – for the meaning of this verse is: I saw their disobedience; just as in the verse, And God saw the children of Israel, the meaning is that He saw their misery.

Apparently there are two types of “seeing” with respect to Gd – positive and negative. Onkelos translates each of these with a different phrase, as demonstrated above. Rambam says that he doesn’t understand why, and I’m certainly not going to second-guess Rambam. He does give a hint however, when he says that the apprehension of evil or wrongdoing cannot be ascribed to Gd, because Gd is perfect, and Gd’s knowledge, according to Rambam, is equivalent to Gd’s Essence. As we read in this week’s parashah:

The Rock! – Whose deeds are perfect,
Yea, all Gd’s ways are just;
A faithful Gd, never false,
True and upright indeed.
Unworthy children –
That crooked, perverse generation –
Their baseness has played Gd false. (Deut 32:4-5)

It seems to me that Onkelos is hinting at the most basic question that all religions ask, and I’m not sure any of them answers – if Gd is perfect, why is there suffering in the world? In other words, how can Gd even know about suffering, how can suffering have any reality, if Gd is perfect?  Remember, we have been discussing that everything that happens in the world of activity is actually virtual activity within Gd, so how can that activity create suffering?

Perhaps we can find an answer in the Upanishads, which tell us that suffering is born of duality. Gd is unified, therefore He is beyond duality, and there is no suffering on the level of Unity. When we consider our own situation however, if our consciousness is not established on the level of unity, we are caught up in duality, and indeed experience suffering. Is the suffering real? From Gd’s perspective, no. From our perspective, obviously it is, and to imply to the sufferer anything else is cruel, and untrue on their level. Duality may not be the ultimate reality, but as long as we are not living life in perfection, it is our reality, and we have to deal with it. Of course, by transcending regularly we experience Unity directly and gradually lift ourselves out of the mire of sin and suffering.


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat HaAzinu

“Ha’azinu” means “Listen”: not just “hear” but “listen, listen with full attention.”
As he speaks to our ancestors (and to us), Moses calls upon Heaven and Earth to listen. Not only Heaven and Earth outside us, but within us.
He praises Gd and rebukes Israel from turning away from Gd. Moses concludes by telling our ancestors (and all generations) to set our heart to his words so that we may command our children to obey Torah. Better than this is to live so Torah is alive in us and our words and lives will be so alive we need not command our children to obey Torah–they will Live in our Universal Love, in Torah and will naturally be and act in harmony with Torah.

The central message in Moses’s song is that there is no god besides Gd.

Gd Says, “See now that it is I! (who Am your Rock and Your Shelter). I Am the One and there is no god like Me.”  See now that I, I am the One, and there is no god with Me; I kill and give life, I struck down and I will heal, and none can save from My Hand.” Deuteronomy 32:39

As we realize this, we realize the implications of Gd’s Being One: not only is there no god besides Gd, there is nothing but Gd and all that exists is an expression of Gd, within Gd. Everything is Gd from the Universe, to galaxies, stars, planets, mountains, trees, people, ants, stones and quantum bubbles; all actions, thoughts, feelings, decisions, memories and plans.

And so, when Gd praises or rebukes, Gd is Praising or Rebuking Gd; Gd is playing a game in which Gd is the Director, Screenwriter, Actors, Camera Crew, Audience and Reviewers. Gd is the virtuous and the villains.

Gd is all thoughts and all decisions, all actions and all roles.

But, that said, we can’t spend our lives constantly thinking “Gd is All, Gd is my thought, I have nothing to do with anything…” and so on.

We have free will to act naturally, spontaneously, just being the people we are, with the personalities and skills we have, yet always favoring what we know to be right, letting our heart always fill with love for Gd and our neighbor.

Torah as Divine Sounds and Glowing Streams in our consciousness: Torah as meaning, literal and symbolic; Torah in the vast range of commentaries on it; Torah in our feelings, thoughts and conversations, help us to develop a firm sense of right and wrong, help us to act with wisdom, and to better and better return to our Source – Gd.

Gd Hides, playing the roles of every limited value: humans, galaxies, ants, stones, quantum strings; Gd Guides the seeking to return for all roles and Reveals Gd to the roles as Gd Chooses.

So not only at the time of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur but every moment always, let us do the greatest kindness, the greatest love, to ourselves and our neighbors and attune ourselves to Torah, to Gd: naturally, spontaneously comfortably, easily but steadily, consistently, routinely, uniting more and more with Universal Love and Joy, the One and Only “I”: Gd.

Baruch HaShem