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Parashat Bereshit 5781 — 10/17/2020

Parashat Bereshit 5781 — 10/17/2020

Bereishit 1:1 – 6:8

Beginning with Bereishit 5781 (17 October 2020) we have 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 will be describing the project.  The next four parshiyyot, Noach through Chayei Sarah, we will lay out a foundational understanding of Vedic Science, to the degree I am capable of doing so.  Beginning with Toledot we will start examining Moreh Nevukim.

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Alexander Pope (1711), Elvis Presley (1972)

Over the last number of weeks I have been listening to a series of shiurim (classes) on Rambam’s (Maimonides’) 13 Principles of Faith. (The link is just an example of the standard summary of the 13 principles found in most Orthodox siddurim. What Rambam actually wrote is considerably more detailed and precise.) The shiurim make reference to Rambam’s great philosophical work, Moreh Nevukim / The Guide for the Perplexed. As I listened I was often struck by the thought that perhaps there is a deeper perspective on Rambam’s work than was being presented.

As those of you who have read my offerings on the parshiyyot over the past 11 or so years, I use the perspective that I have learned, to the extent that I am capable, from my own Rebbe, who was probably the greatest Master of the Vedic tradition in modern times. When I taught physics at Maharishi International University (1975-84) we were instructed to teach the discipline in its integrity and illuminate it with the principles of Maharishi’s Vedic Science. This is not difficult to do in the case of physics, because physics is a (mostly) mathematical description of what is, and it naturally models the principles of Vedic Science, which are the basic laws of nature by which the universe is structured.

With philosophy and religion, it is not so straightforward. One must be careful to explicate the text (be it Scripture or commentary, or philosophical treatise) as it is, and try to not put one’s own ideas into the author’s mouth. Over the years I have done my best to present the Scriptural passage and the commentary in a straightforward manner, and then suggest a different way of looking at the text that may give us a deeper insight into the reality the text is expressing. I make no claim that this is the “real intent” of the author (or Author, in the case of Torah), but simply a perspective on the text that can illuminate it in a different light. I’ll leave it to others to judge the extent to which I have succeeded.

What I am planning to do this year, and likely beyond, is to take Rambam’s Moreh Nevukim as my basic text and go through it, Gd willing illuminating Rambam’s thought from the perspective of Vedic Science. Moreh Nevukim is a religio-philosophical text that aims to place the foundations of Judaism on a firm footing in both physics and metaphysics. To Rambam, the philosopher par excellence is Aristotle, and to understand Rambam, one should have some grounding in Aristotle. The last time I read Aristotle was in 1965 in my freshman year at Columbia. I was 17, so you can guess how much of what I learned has stuck with me through the intervening half-century. Fortunately, I have an in-house tutor who has graciously agreed to help out, namely my daughter, Eve, whose Perception in Aristotle’s Ethics was published in 2018. Any parent knows that we can always learn a tremendous amount from our children if we but keep our eyes and ears and hearts and minds open. But it is a really special treat for a parent to become their child’s pupil. Needless to say, any errors that are found creeping (flooding?) into this effort are my own.

My plan is as follows. In the space I have left I want to discuss Rambam’s life and work, so as to set the entire work within the context of the growth of Jewish thought. Then I plan to spend some pages describing and motivating the basic principles of Maharishi’s Vedic Science. With that background, we will dive into Moreh Nevukim itself. The editions I will be using are: Shlomo Pines’ translation with introduction and notes, Part I, University of Chicago Press, 1963 – it’s available on Amazon for $35. (Part II may be out of print but you can find it used on line: ISBN 978-0-226-50231-1.). The other edition is on, translated by M. Friedlander (1903) from the Hebrew translation from the original Judeo-Arabic by Ibn Tibbon. I have downloaded the text (English) from sefaria, and when I get a chance I plan to import it into a Word document, which I will make available when that day comes. You can check out for free; if you’re going to use it a lot (and there’s a mountain of great stuff there) you can donate something to keep them going. Both of these editions have extensive introductions, and I plan to begin with those, to give (and get) an overview of the work as a whole from a true scholarly perspective. The Pines introduction runs to about 130 pages, so this may take some time, but I think it will be a worthwhile warm-up before we plunge into Rambam’s work itself.

Rambam (the name is an acronym for Rav Moshe Ben Maimon, the Greek form Maimonides will be found outside the Jewish world) was born in Cordoba, in Muslim Spain, in 1138 (some say 1135) and died in Egypt in 1204. His family was forced to flee an Islamic terrorist state in Spain when he was young, and he settled in N. Africa, where he would remain for most of his life. He became court physician to the Sultan of Egypt and died in Cairo. He is buried in Tiberias, Israel.

Rambam wrote three major works. His commentary on the Mishnah was written in his late 20’s, and contains his famous 13 principles of the faith (in the introduction to the commentary on the 10th chapter of Sanhedrin). Since he references later works, at least in the 13 principles, it is clear that he returned and revised some of his works throughout his lifetime. The Commentary on the Mishnah was written in Arabic.

In his middle years he wrote his comprehensive code of Jewish law, the Mishneh Torah (“repetition of the Torah” or “second Torah”). The Shulchan Aruch, the authoritative code of Jewish law, is based largely on the Rambam’s codifications. The Mishneh Torah (also called the Yad haChazakeh / “Strong Hand”) was written in Hebrew in the style of the Mishnah itself.

Towards the end of his life Rambam wrote the Moreh Nevukim (in Judeo-Arabic). This is a philosophical work which harmonizes, to the extent possible, all the secular wisdom of his day with the thousands of years of Jewish wisdom from Torah and forward. Rambam was no isolationist, neither in his personal life nor in his faith. His motto was, “Truth is truth, no matter who says it.” This is an approach which is particularly relevant to the challenges we face today.

Much additional information on Rambam’s life and works is readily available on the Internet.

Gd willing we will begin to look at Vedic Science next week.


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat V’Zot HaBerachah and Beresheit

Torah is beyond language, beyond verbal definitions and grammar — it is the fundamental liveliness of Gd. On our level of life, of awareness, the sound value of Torah comes closer to the transcendental and all-pervading quality of Torah.

From this standpoint, here are two sources to listen to the beginning of Beresheit: the first is traditional; the second is creative.
1 Beresheit 1-8 with cantillation: Very sweet, easy to listen to.

2 Very lively. Award-winning singer Noa sings Beresheit with Philarmonic Rishon Le Tzion.

On Simchat Torah we read the last part of Torah, V’Zot Haberacha, and the beginning of the first part, Beresheit.

Consider Beresheit the seed of Teshuvah — return to Oneness – and V’zot HaBeracha, the last parshah of the Chumash, the fruit: As we read V’Zot Haberacha do we see that the seed has borne its intended fruit?

If we take it on plain level of meaning, no: the children of Israel (that’s not only long time ago but today and in all times) have not yet entered the Promised Land, and Moses, the great leader, never will.

But perhaps we can say that Moses, one of the guests that visits the sukkah during Succoth, has entered Gan Eden, as tradition has it, and so the human race has returned at least a few people to the Gan Eden from which Adam and Eve were evicted: not quite Teshuvah but definitely a return to a higher status.

And later in Beresheit, we see Enoch mentioned as walking with Gd — definitely teshuvah — and Noah as being a righteous person, one whom Gd trusts to maintain life on our planet when the rest of humanity, due its wickedness, is destroyed in the flood.

So even early in Torah, taken on the level of meaning, we see examples of the fruit of the seed appearing: people who walk with Gd, who are righteous.

And also, very importantly, Gd’s Torah, One with Gd flowed though Moses — what wonderful Teshuvah! Punctuated by the Word, the Command, the Kiss of Gd’s mouth which Parshah V’Zot HaBrachah tells us Moses was the way Moses died. By the Touch of Gd is certainly Teshuvah.

Before he died , the man of Gd, the servant of Gd, gathered all the tribes together and spoke to them first as one, as the Children of Israel, giving them the command to obey Torah, then he gave specific blessings to each tribe. This is revealing first unity, then the diversity within the unity. This the action that in its Fullness, restores each individual in a community not only to unity with the community while retaining the special individual role but also, symbolically, to Oneness.

So the Five Books of Moses end with ripe fruit.

Having considered the fruit, let us consider the seed:

Beresheit begins in Hebrew: “Beresheit bara Elohim et HaShamayim v’et Ha’aretz…

The way this is commonly translated to English, Beresheit reads: “In the beginning, Gd created heaven and earth…”.

The way the ArtScroll Chumash and translate it, it reads, “In the beginning of Gd’s creating the heavens and the earth…”

This is not only according to scholars more grammatically correct but makes more sense because Gd is without beginning or end, so what does “beginning” refer to? Perhaps any point in the Infinite Vibration of Gd’s Self-Referral Awareness, as Maharishi puts it, is a beginning of detailing further details within the Never-Separated Nature of Gd.

Gd is always One, Unity in Diversity, as it is described in Maharishi Vedic Science, so let’s look at “beginning.”

The best way of looking at the meaning of ‘beginning” is that it refers to any point in the infinite liveliness of Gd — separation and unification are always going on, everywhere and so at any point heaven and earth are always being separated and united.

Within every point is the Whole Unbounded Ocean of Gd and everything is always going on everywhere, in sequence and also in simultaneity. To Gd, Gd is always Totally Present, Infinitely Lively, Infinitely Silent, Omnidirectional, Omnipresent, Omniscient, Omnipotent, Omnijoyful, Omniloving, and so the idea of beginning is just part of Gd’s “let’s pretend” to be limited.

In addition, Wikipedia notes that not only is “bara” a verb that is only used in reference to Gd but doesn’t mean “create”, it means “differentiate/separate, assign roles to.”  From this standpoint, the heavens and the earth already existed but they were not separated/distinguished/ from each other or given special roles until Gd did so. So Beresheit refers to the beginning of distinguishing “heavens”, the inner, subtle, abstract levels of the details of God, from “earth”, the concrete aspect.

Jeff Benner ( translates “bara” as “shaped”: from this standpoint, there is neither creating nor separating, there is only refining what already exists.

Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, in his “Body, Mind and Soul: Kabbalah on Human Physiology, Disease and Healing”, notes that “create” and “heal” in Hebrew have the same root: b-r-a: from this angle, we can say that the beginning of Torah is always the beginning of healing, of Teshuvah, of healing individual humans of their limits and restoring us to our unlimited status as impulses of One and also restoring us to our status as the Full Ocean of One functioning through our individual personalities and bodies.

What a Joy to Be Restored to full memory of the reality that only One exists and we are This!

So creation, healing begins, when Torah, which in its fullness is the fundamental liveliness of Gd, beyond language, beyond grammar, beyond definitions, Gd conversing with Gd, begins to be perceived by individual humans.

And there are surely many more interpretations of “Beresheit Bara Elohim”: our own intuitions will add to the cornucopia.

On the ordinary human level of awareness, this variety of interpretations is consistent with the way we experience life. Again, as Maharishi puts it, “Knowledge is Structured in Consciousness”. As we rise to higher levels and to Consciousness beyond levels, – the Wholeness within which all levels exist — we are able to see the usefulness of each interpretation.

We humans are individual impulses of Gd who pretends to be limited for the fun of playing Hide and Seek, Peek-a-Boo in us, so He, pretending to be we limited souls, can have the fun of seeking as us, and Gd as Gd, can have the pleasure of Hinting and Revealing, through Torah sounds, Torah stories, Torah mitzvah and whatever way He wishes.

In this game, this Game, little by little, and also suddenly, we find as Gd’s Grace Reveals.

Gd dissolves the veils of limits and reveals to us that Gd is All, within us and all around us, everywhere, One without a Second.

And this can happen with any sound of Torah, any word, any parshah, even the last one as we suddenly See and Know the Truth within the Stories.

And because Torah in a written book is only the most infinitesimal aspect of Torah as One with Gd, Torah can hint to us and reveal to us when we’re eating breakfast, walking down a street, snoozing — at any time, any place.

Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden, the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good And Evil as well as the serpent, are within us, ready to be clearly experienced as Omnidirectional, All-in-All Points of One, and the duality between Gd and the uncreated creation, is ready to be experienced as the Fun of Gd, always within Gd as One.

So, too, are the all the details of Torah as the Book and Torah as Gd. Beresheit is a good seed that bears good fruit in V’Zot Haberacha.
We do our best to tune to Gd/Torah with “Be still and know!”; with “to love Gd with all our heart, all our soul and all our might”, with “love our neighbor as our self”, as our Self, and as we do we begin to see, hear, taste, touch, smell the Beauty of Gd in every leaf, every sound, every bite of food, everyone and everything — everywhere.

Sukkot/Hoshanah Raba/Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah are special times of Joy to make our tuning more charming, delightful, effective.

Very encouraging!

Let’s keep on tuning.

Practice! Practice! Practice!

Baruch HaShem.