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Parashat HaAzinu 5778 — 09/23/2017

Parashat HaAzinu 5778 — 09/23/2017

A joyous New Year to all!

Devarim 32:1-52

Yeshurun [RAR: i.e. the Jewish people] became fat and kicked.  You became fat, you became thick, you became corpulent – and he deserted Gd his Maker… [32:15]

… [you] forgot the Gd Who brought you forth [32:18]

…and He will say, ‘I will hide My face from them and see what is their end;’

They infuriated me with a non-god … so shall I infuriate them with a non-people … [32:21]

The poetic part of Parashat HaAzinu is another tochachah, perhaps a “tochachah lite,” as it’s not as graphic or frightening as the two “official” tochachot (in parashat Bechokotai and Ki Tavo).  Nevertheless, it gives us what I think is a fascinating insight into the structure of creation and the process of evolution.

The three words that are all translated as some variant of “fat” are shamanta, avita, casitaShamanta comes from the root shemen, oil or fat—one gets the image of a sleazy, unctuous small-town politician.  Avita comes from the root “thick,” as is clear from the translation.  Gd spoke to us at Mt. Sinai from within the “thickness” of the cloud.  The cloud hid Gd’s Essence from us; all we perceived was a Voice.  Casita literally means “you were covered.”  In the plain meaning, one gets the image of some kind of Jabba the Hutt, rolls of fatt covering his whole body.

All this is well and good, and works on the level of plain meaning.  I’d like to explore a deeper meaning that I think we can find in these words.  But first, some Physics.  Modern physics is quite close to realizing Einstein’s dream of finding a Unified Field Theory.  This theory describes a single, unified, unbounded field that can vibrate in different ways to give rise the whole spectrum of subatomic particles that are known to exist.  Since all atoms are made up of these particles, and all molecules are made up of atoms, and all macroscopic objects are made up of molecules, it turns out that everything in the universe, from stars to insects to amoebae, are all nothing other than a set of very complex, self-interacting vibrations of this underlying unified field.  The unified field is all that there is (in the sense of physical creation); everything in the physical world is an expression of this field, in the same way that waves on the surface of the ocean are expressions of the ocean, but ultimately, the ocean is all that there is.

The same structure can be found in our inner life.  We all experience that we have different levels of thought.  Sometimes our thinking is “loud” inside, in which instances it is often incoherent and neither very powerful nor very life supporting.  At other times, generally when we’re well-rested, we seem to be able to pick up our thoughts at quieter, less expressed levels, and these thoughts are generally more coherent, more powerful, and produce better results for ourselves and everyone around us.  Through meditative techniques, the mind can be allowed to quiet down until we go beyond the thinking process altogether, and experience a state of awareness in which we are awake inside ourselves, but are not thinking any particular thought nor having any particular perception.  It is an unbounded state of awareness – since we are not thinking or perceiving any thing, we just have the subject of awareness without the boundaries of any object.  Yet this pure awareness, like the ocean, rises in waves, as does the ocean.  Thoughts are the expression of this pure awareness.

We have discussed in previous offerings the mechanics by which the eternally silent, unbounded unified field rises in waves of expression.  There is an aspect of this which we haven’t considered before: when the unbounded expresses itself, its expressions hide its essential nature.  How does this work?

On the level of our everyday perception we can see this happening when we look at the ocean.  What we see is the waves of expression of the ocean.  We see waves, even though the waves are nothing other than the ocean in motion.  The waves hide the essential nature of the ocean.  We are focused on activity, not on Being.  Our senses are set up to record changes, contrast.  If something doesn’t change, we become so habituated to it that we literally lose perception of it.  The “unified field” level of our consciousness, where there are no objects of thought or perception, is beyond time, space and change, since there are no objects, or boundaries, to move or change.  It is perfectly understandable then that it is out of our awareness under ordinary circumstances.

In the same way, the process of creation, the process of the unchanging expressing itself in waves of change, is a process of hiding.  The unchanging nature of the basis of life is hidden by its expressions.  Our esoteric tradition describes this process as tzimtzum, “contraction.”  Gd as it were “contracts” Himself to leave “space” for creation.  This is clearly one of those ideas that we can’t take too literally – Gd doesn’t exist within space or time, rather, space and time are themselves created as the arena in which objects exist and interact.  I think the image of Gd’s “hiding His Face” is perhaps more apt.  Gd, in some way, dims His infinite effulgence so that His finite expressions are not overwhelmed by His infinite essence, the way a candle would be overwhelmed by the bright sunlight.

In short – when we get steeped in the material, physical level of creation (“grow fat”) we cover over our delicate, inner, spiritual essence.  It is as if Gd is hiding His Face from us, but the truth is Gd wants nothing more for us than to uncover our own eyes and see the reality behind the surface of life.  We focus on the ephemeral world, which has no substantial reality; Gd in turn allows us to try to deal with this non-reality until the whole project comes crashing down on our heads.  When we finally realize that we are not self-sufficient, that indeed the entire creation is not self-sufficient, then we can begin to do t’shuvah, to return to Gd.  May this New Year see our eyes open to ultimate reality!


Reflections on the Parashah

by Steve Sufian

Rosh HaShanah

Rosh HaShanah, New Year, is never mentioned in Torah: What Torah says is:

“The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month (the month in which our ancestors left Egypt) shall mark for you the beginning of the months; it shall be the first of the months of the year for you” (Exodus 12:1ff).This month was simply called in Torah “First of the months”. The name we use now, Nissan, comes from Babylonia.

The day we celebrate as Rosh HaShanah is called in Torah, “Yom Teruah”, the Day of Shouting, Loud Noise (can be trumpets or shouts).

“Speak to the people of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a day of solemn rest, a memorial proclaimed with blast of trumpets, a holy convocation.” Leviticus 23:24.

One view of how this day, Yom Teruah, became Rosh HaShanah, is expressed by their view is that when our ancestors were in Babylon, Yom Teruah often coincided with a Babylonian festival of the New Year, Akitu, which was celebrated twice: once six months before the time of Yom Teruah and a second time at around the time of Yom Terumah.

Just as American Jews often Christmasize Channukah, so it seems, Babylonian Jews Akitu-sized Yom Terumah.

There are other explanations of why Rosh Hashanah is celebrated at the time of Yom Teruah instead of at the time of the beginning of the first month, the month in which we celebrate Passover.

But the tradition is established and though the name is not really corrected, it is always delightful to have a day of rest and to hear the sound of the shofar, externally and internally, waking us to the New Year outside and to a new year inside our consciousness, opening us to Fully Developed Consciousness, our consciousness which has opened and returned, experienced Teshuvah, to the Primordial Oneness, eternal, yet ever new!

Let us rest, blow the shofar, and shout with Joy!

Shanah Tova!