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Parashat Bo 5782 — 01/08/2022

Parashat Bo 5782 — 01/08/2022

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.

Shemot 10:1-13:16
In Chapter 3 Rambam goes on to compare another pair of words that seem, on the surface, to be similar, but in fact have different nuances. Only one is ever applied to Gd in our Scriptures. The two words are tavnit and temunah. Here is what Rambam says:

It is thought that in the Hebrew language the meanings of the words figure [temunah] and shape [tabnith] are identical. This is not the case. For tabnith is a term deriving from the verb banoh [to build], and it signifies the build and aspect of a thing; I mean to say its shape, for instance, its being a square, a circle, a triangle, or some other shape. Accordingly, it says: The shape of the tabernacle and the shape of all as vessels. And it says: According to the shape which thou wast shown upon the mountain; the shape of any bird; the shape of a hand; the shape of the porch. In all these passages the word means shape. For this reason, the Hebrew language does not use this word with reference to attributes that apply in any way to the deity.
As for the term figure, it is used amphibiously in three different senses. It is used to designate the form of a thing outside the mind that is apprehended by the senses, I mean the shape and configuration of the thing. Thus, it says: And make you a graven image, the figure of any, and so on; For ye saw no figure. It is also used to designate the imaginary form of an individual object existing in the imagination after the object of which it is the form is no longer manifest to the senses. Thus, it says, In thoughts from the visions of the night, and so on, the conclusion of the dictum being, It stood still, but I could not discern the appearance thereof, a figure was before mine eyes. He means: a phantasm of the imagination that is before my eyes while in sleep. The term is also used to designate the true notion grasped by the intellect. It is with a view to this third meaning that the word figure is used with reference to Gd, may He be exalted. Thus it says: And the figure of the Lord shall he look upon. The meaning and interpretation of this verse are: he grasps the truth of Gd.

This actually is the entirety of the third chapter. As it is brief, I will keep my remarks brief as well.

First, consider tabnit. Rambam tells us that it comes from the root “to build,” and building involves putting pieces together. This certainly creates a level of unity that is more than the sum of the parts, as anyone who has ever built anything can attest. Yet this unity is not the ultimate unity, which is a unity that has no parts and is therefore not subject to change. Therefore, this word cannot be applied to Gd. It is simply too crude.

Here is another angle on the same point. The bilateral root B-N is at the basis of the word bein = “between” and binah = “intellect.” The intellect, of course, is that which distinguishes between two things, as we discussed at some length the past two weeks in our consideration of Adam’s sin in chapter 2 of the Guide. The intellect is what analyses things – breaking them apart into their components, while it is the integrative faculty that builds things up from parts. So, the thrust of the word tavnit, based on its roots, has to do with parts. Since Gd is the ultimate integrative force in creation, and is a Unity without parts, Tanach never uses this word or its derivatives in relation to Gd.

The root of temunah, on the other hand, is min, which means “kind,” “species,” and has a secondary meaning, in Mishnaic Hebrew, of a heretic or sectarian. The “blessing” of the slanderers in the Amidah did not originally read malshinim (slanderers) but minim (heretics/sectarians). Later censors insisted on the change, holding the wording to be insulting to Christianity. In some texts the word notzrim (Nazarenes) is added to minim, which is definitely insulting to Christianity.

The word temunah, which is derived from min, therefore has a less concrete cast to it than tavnit. Instead of calling to mind a whole made up of parts, it rather implies a gestalt, an abstraction, a conception of the thing it’s a temunah of. Thus Rambam says, “The term is also used to designate the true notion grasped by the intellect.” In other words, a temunah is a more abstract term for an image of a thing, focusing on the whole value rather than just the parts and their relationships. In more modern terms perhaps we might say it captures not just the elements and their interactions but the new properties that emerge from those interactions. Thus, Rambam says that the term means the underlying truth of something, and can therefore be applied to Gd.

I think the thrust here is that you can’t put Humpty Dumpty together again – you cannot make Unity out of parts. You can make levels of relative unity – the functioning of a complex system is different from the functioning of its individual parts, but the ultimate Unity, Gd, cannot be assembled like a piece of IKEA furniture. Anything that is composed of pieces cannot be eternal and is certainly not primary – the pieces are. So tavnit is unsuitable when speaking of Gd – temunah is more appropriate.

To Rambam, the greatest sin is to believe that Gd is corporeal (and to back it up by quoting the anthropomorphic passages in Scripture). A corporeal Gd is not one that can be the Unity that underlies all diversity, hence it is a contradiction in terms. Rambam’s purpose in his analysis of the linguistics of Scripture seems to be to show that Torah’s careful use of language not only does not support the idea of a corporeal Gd, but directly contradicts it.


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Bo

“Bo” means “come” or “go.”  After seven plagues, the Lrd tells Moses, “Come to Pharaoh, tell him to let my people go but I have hardened his heart so he will not and I will visit three more plagues upon him and his people so know that I am the Lrd.” (paraphrasing).

We see Gd who is Totality playing the roles of Moses and Aaron but also of Pharaoh: As Moses and Aaron, He worships Wholeness; as Pharaoh, he worships partial values and refuses to open Himself to Wholeness.

This is a reminder to us, that Gd is All: He is our friend, He is our opponent, He is the neutrals, He is All.

It is a reminder to place Wholeness first in our lives and to draw upon Universal Love so we ARE this Love and it flows freely through us to transform restrictions, opponents, troubles into Wholeness, friends and Blessings.

Pharoah refuses to let Israelites go and three more plagues are visited upon him and all Egypt.

With the plague of the death of the first born and the death of his first-born son Pharaoh finally drives the Children of Israel out of Egypt to worship the Lrd. They take with them their children, flocks and wealth they have borrowed from their Egyptian friends – wealth borrowed from Mitzrayim, Restrictions, which will never be returned to the restricted value and will remain with the Children of Israel, dedicated to Unlimited.

Literally, “first born” refers to the first-born child; symbolically, it is whatever is our most precious desire, our link between our present status and the future status we hope to achieve.

Our religion guides us to cherish most a first-born that can never die, making our most precious desire the desire to be restored to full awareness of Oneness, One with the One, One with Gd, Who Is All There Is, Unborn and Undying.

And our religion guides us to “worship Gd with all our heart and all our soul” and “love our neighbor as our Self,” and thus to free ourselves from enslavement to limited values of life, which were the values of Pharaoh’s Egypt / Mitzraim / Restrictions, and to gently become fully aware of the Wholeness within which all limits are no longer experienced as limits but are experienced as expressions of the Wholeness within which they exist, flow, flourish.

This parshah reminds us to keep our priorities in order and to free ourselves from restrictions so we have time to worship the Lrd, and thus to transform restrictions into Expressions of the Lrd, of Wholeness, and that includes restoring our experience of our restricted self to Full Awareness, One with the One.

Baruch HaShem