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Parashat Bamidbar 5782 — 06/04/2022

Parashat Bamidbar 5782 — 06/04/2022

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.

Bamidbar 1:1-4:20
Last week we considered the division Rambam makes between “Divine science” and “natural science,” and argued that from a Vedic perspective the two really form a continuum, in the same way that modern physics has discovered that the laws of nature that hold on earth, also hold in the heavens (at least the physical heavens). This week I would like to discuss another aspect of what Rambam wrote in Chapter 17, namely “Particular Privation.” The idea of privation was introduced by Aristotle, so once again I will be calling on the expertise of my daughter, Eve, and once again, claiming full “credit” for any inaccuracy in the exposition. Here is what Rambam wrote:

Now you know that the principles of the existents subject to generation and corruption are three: Matter, Form, and Particularized Privation, which is always conjoined with Matter. For, were it not for this conjunction with Privation, Matter would not receive Form. It is in this sense that Privation is to be considered as one of the principles. However, when a form is achieved, the particular privation in question, I mean the privation of the form that is achieved, disappears, and another privation is conjoined with matter; and this goes on forever, as has been made clear in natural science.

What is “Particular Privation”? First, from (

Privation is the lack of a quality or form normally required by the nature of a thing. It is a type of contrariety, and is thus to be distinguished from simple negation, which is based on contradictory opposition. Privation is opposed either to possession or to form as to its contrary.

Our first understanding is that privation has to do with specificity. If matter takes on some form, it therefore does not take on some other form. A block of marble may be chiseled in a statue of King David or into the Pietá, but it can’t be both. Any time some specific form is placed on inchoate matter, there is a contraction from all possibilities to the one actualized possibility.

Rambam discusses this further in the third part of Moreh Nevukim, quoted in The Matter and Form of Maimonides’ Guide by Josef Stern (©2013 Harvard University Press):

ln fact, not only Plato but also Aristotle holds that privation figures in alterations, and Aristotle also sometimes acknowledges three principles in change, including a form, its contrary, and matter. However, for Aristotle in an alteration from a privation of a particular form to its actualization, once the form has been actualized, the privation ceases and the motion is completed. The picture depicted in Guide I:17 is different. Although the privation of the particular form that is actualized ceases to exist, particularized privation as such does not. One particularized privation goes out of existence only to ‘bring into existence” a new one. Privation – that is, a state of privation – is ineliminable. Interpreting Solomon’s parable of the married harlot (Prov. 6:26), Maimonides writes:

The nature and the true reality of matter are such that it never ceases to be joined to privation; hence no form remains constantly in it, for it perpetually puts off one form and puts on another … This is the state of matter. For whatever form is found in it, does but prepare it to receive another form. And it does not cease to move with a view to putting off that form that actually is in it and to obtaining another form; and the selfsame state obtains after that other form has been obtained in actu.(III:8:430-431)

Because of its perpetual conjunction with privation matter constantly seeks to exchange successive forms, one after another. Each change from the privation of a form to its actualization is simply preparation for the next change in which the actualized form is ‘put off’ in order to satisfy another privation. Never satisfied with any given form, matter never rests: each form actualized only generates at new privation yet to be satisfied.

Here it appears that Rambam (following Aristotle) sees privation as the driver of change (presumably of matter from one form to another). In other words, since each form that matter adopts excludes other forms, the change of matter from one form to another is a matter of one privation’s going away and another taking its place. In fact, of course, the process of change is continuous (the few discontinuities in nature are in fact continuous changes over a very short period of time or over a very short distance in space). Thus, the privations would have to slip from one to the other in a continuous manner.

Here is what my daughter wrote:

A particular privation is lacking something specific, or being specifically differentiated from something. A red ball is not square is the particular privation, as compared to the red ball is not. Or when you’re talking about matter, matter (for the sake of illustration, let’s say clay) is not form, it’s nothing definite, and it’s by virtue of this quality that it can receive forms (the clay is shaped into a statue). But absolute matter is nothing actual (even unformed clay is something, even if it is less definite of a something than a statue), so we understand matter and form through particular privations (the statue of a horse is one thing, it is not the unformed clay that lacks shape, the statue of a penguin is not unformed clay and it is not a horse).

Again, to summarize, particular privation has to do with something being specific, as opposed to an abstract, generalized state of matter. Whether privation is a dynamic process or not, it has to do with an infinite field of possibilities becoming limited to one actual possibility. It is kind of an ossification of reality. It does have a striking parallel to a fundamental idea in the Vedic understanding of the process of creation.

The first word of Rg Veda is Agnim. The first letter is A which is pronounced with a simple, open mouth – the lips and tongue do not interfere. “A” represents the wholeness of Pure Consciousness or Pure Existence. The second letter is actually a “K” which become voiced between the A and the voiced nasal N. “K” is the quintessential stop – the air flow is completely blocked. “K” represents the point singularity – the opposite of the infinity of “A.” The first syllable, then, of the Veda, describes the collapse, as it were, of wholeness to a point. This collapse is the most fundamental step of creation. It is the introduction of the generic boundary into the unbounded wholeness of Being, without affecting that wholeness in the least.

It seems to me that this concept of the collapse of infinity to a point is what is being hinted at in the notion of privation. Pure matter, without any form, is entirely abstract. Since it has no form, it is unbounded. We can think of a lump of clay as an analogy, but that is all it is – a physical analogy to a completely abstract reality. When the matter accepts a form, that unbounded, abstract matter has collapsed into an actual, physical, bounded piece of matter displaying a particular form. Compared to the infinite variety of forms that the matter could assume, the one form that it does assume is just a point, a single instance in an unbounded sea of potential instances.

In Jewish tradition there is an idea that is very similar to the “collapse of ‘A’” and that is the idea of contraction, tzimtzum. Gd is pictured as “contracting” Himself to “leave room” for finite creation. Again, we have Gd, infinite and eternal, unchanging, so to speak “limiting Himself” so that something finite can exist – the abstract contracts into something concrete.

The three traditions: Vedic, Greek and Jewish seem to be pointing to the same phenomenon: the first step in creation is creating a virtual duality within the structure of the absolute Unity at the basis of existence. This virtual duality is based on the observer’s/infinite/subject’s self-referential relationship to itself as observed/finite (point)/object. Naturally, this is a schema, or an analogy, to give us some insight into the actual dynamics of the infinite in terms the intellect can comprehend. Real understanding can only come with direct experience of Pure Consciousness as the Self of our individual life and the Self of all objects in the universe, and that comes in Unity Consciousness.


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Bamidbar – “In the Desert, the Wilderness”

The desert/wilderness symbolizes both barrenness and transcendence. Depending on our level of awareness we perceive it either as the opportunity of transcendence or the sorrow of barrenness. Fortunately, even the sorrow is temporary because the relation between Gd and Israel, Gd and human, Wholeness and expression, is such that Gd more and more deeply unfolds the opportunities within the seeming barrenness, eventually revealing to each individual that even within the barrenness there is Gd and that Gd Is all there is, each individual is an expression.

We have a saying, “Gd helps those who help themselves,” not selfishly but as members of a community dedicated to service of Gd, Full Restoration of Awareness. For those experiencing bamidbar as transcendence helping our selves means acting with Love to bring the Transcendent Self into the everyday life of our self and our community.

For those who are experiencing bamidbar as sorrow, acting to create joy in that sorrow, fertility in the barrenness, is the way to reduce the sorrow and reveal the Transcendent within it.

We have another saying “Gd is in the details” meaning: “Don’t just look at the Transcendent as an Emptiness, but see the liveliness within it; see it vibrating; hear it singing. And meaning “Look more carefully, more lovingly, into the barrenness and find opportunities for growth and happiness.

When we don’t just pray to Gd for help but act from our own side to fulfill our desires then Gd is more and more revealed as the Source of our desires and our actions and not only is our immediate desire fulfilled but the purpose of all life is fulfilled: the return to experience the Oneness which we Are and which expresses Itself within Itself as Infinite Detail, Infinitely Harmonized.”

In this parshah, Gd commands a census — revealing the details of the population of the Children of Israel — at least, of the males of military age, and revealing the detailed opportunity to serve.

We also say, “You count!”  People can get the sad feeling that they don’t matter: they’re just one person in a crowd. With a census it becomes clear that everyone counts, matters.

We also say, “Stand up and be counted!”: stand up for what you believe in. The census requires everyone to stand up and acknowledge they are not just individuals, they are part of the Children of Israel, the Community of the World, dedicated not just to their individuality but to Gd.

When Gd gives details or asks for details, He is showing us something of the Details of Gd, of the All-in-All. Gd is Showing us that Gd Is not just an abstract mass of Fullness, Gd has a Structure, just as do our bodies, our communities, our nations, planet, Universe. In the census that took place in Bamidbar, I could not think of any way the number “603,550” — the number of males of military age, excluding the Levites that were counted separately — connects to the Nature of Gd and I found only one source on the Internet that addresses the issue.

The source looks at the census from the point-of-view of Gematria, a traditional way of interpreting Torah from the standpoint of the symbolism intuited from comparing one word to another through the use of the numerical value that each letter in the Hebrew alphabet has.

The author looks at the earlier census Gd commanded and to this one, finds the number 1820 is significant in terms of one aspect of the difference between the censuses, and finds that this number is significant in terms of some of the Names of Gd and also the nature of Creation, of Amen, of the Messiah.

I mention this source, because from the standpoint that Gd is in the details, the author is attempting to attend to the detail of the census, to find meaning in it, and since every aspect of Torah is useful in our life, paying attention to its detail is an action that helps reveal to us the Nature of Gd as All-in-All, One that is All-in-All.

The parshah also describes the separate roles of the three Levite clans and also the spatial orientation of the different tribes in the encampment: Levites, including Moses, Aaron and Aaron’s sons, in the inner circle, the twelve tribes around that in the groups of three tribes for each direction.

Here we have a possible symbolism of Gd not just in terms of numbers but also in terms of space: not that Gd is limited to space that we can perceive with our senses but that Gd is Wholeness with a structure that we can perceive more and more as through our actions we attend to the details of Torah and of our lives as members of families, communities, planet, universe.

We have in Torah: “Gd created Man (Humanity) in His own Image” Genesis 1:27.

Torah is the Liveliness of Gd, One with Gd, and so to look at its structure and meaning helps us to find the way, the ways, in which we are Images of Gd, and to gradually find that we are not merely Images of Gd, but expressions of Gd. We find that Gd fully Acts through us.

Let us continue standing up to be counted, to act in the Service of Gd so that we can continue growing together and Fully Remember and Experience our Oneness.

Baruch HaShem