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Parashat Korach 5781 — 06/12/2021

Parashat Korach 5781 — 06/12/2021

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 16:1-18:32
Last week we began to look at “political philosophy” – a consideration of the relationship between the individual and society. We began with Aristotle, who took an empirical approach to the problem: we observe that everyone lives within a society, so we inquire into the nature of society. In particular, we conclude that the philosopher, who lives a life (almost) entirely of the mind, stands apart from social organizations other than providing for his minimal physical needs. This is a position that doesn’t square very well with Judaism’s orientation towards the communal aspect of human life. The idea of a “personal Messiah” espoused by some branches of Christianity perhaps comes from Aristotle’s conception of the philosopher. When I used to get asked why Jews do not accept Jesus, I would answer that he didn’t do any of the things we expect the Messiah to do, e.g. throw off the yoke of foreign oppression, re-establish Jewish sovereignty, etc. I would always get a puzzled look, because this was a description of the Messiah that was distinctly foreign to their thought.

Plato, Aristotle’s teacher, took a different approach to the relationship between the philosopher and society:

Plato’s position is different. He does not regard the existence of the cities or of human societies in general as a primary datum or as the direct product of the social instincts and propensities of mankind. The starting point of his political doctrine as set forth in the Republic is from a certain point of view prior to the city (just as the starting point of the natural science of the Timaeus is prior to the cosmos). It is individual man and his material needs, the realm of Ananke. For it is economic necessity (chreia) that impels the human individual to form the embryo of a city (see Republic 369B5 ff). On the other hand, beyond all existent cities, there is the ideal polis ruled by philosophers. Though the latter is a conception that may and probably will never be realized, its very notion implies that no actually existent regime can be regarded as an end in itself. On the part of the philosopher, the acceptance of this conception entails in a way a double allegiance, the point being that, contrary to Aristotle, philosophy even in its highest reaches cannot be held to be a purely private occupation. Man qua metaphysical animal is obligatorily tied up with man the political animal.
   But this connection cannot be easily defined or circumscribed; for it has different aspects. The Platonic philosopher is called upon to be the ruler of the ideal city. But he also constitutes an apparent or real danger for the real city and is himself in danger in it. It is an equivocal position. For evident reasons, the perils inherent in it for the philosopher were incalculably increased with the advent, or, in the case of Judaism, with the crystallization into a definitive pattern, of the monotheistic prophetic religions – tending as they do to evolve a hard-and-fast concept of orthodoxy.

Here we do have an a priori notion of sociability, that the “form” of humankind is sociability. That is, part of the essence of a human being is a desire/need to socialize with others, over and above any practical advantage such affiliation might offer. I might point out that this seems to be closer to the Jewish view – Gd says, “It is not good for the man [i.e. Adam] to be alone.” In any event, the natural state of human beings is in relationship to other human beings.

In addition, the “philosopher” is called upon to rule the city. Why should that be the case? In our current understanding of what a philosopher is, perhaps we could understand it this way. When she was yet in graduate school, I asked Eve what she would be able to do with a degree in Philosophy, other than teach Philosophy. “Anything,” she replied. “Philosophy teaches you how to think and to analyze, which are very general skills.” Indeed, after a number of relatively short-term positions, she is no longer working in academia. Her brother, Daniel, who also is a philosopher, has been working in AI and data analysis, all of which use his analytic skills, but don’t have anything explicitly to do with philosophy. This is consistent with our Western understanding of “intellect” and “philosophy.”

I think the Platonic ideal of the philosopher-king and the ideal city-state over which he rules, fit more with our expanded view of the intellect as consciousness and the philosopher as someone with Pure Consciousness permanently established in the awareness. “The starting point of his political doctrine as set forth in the Republic is from a certain point of view prior to the city…” That is, the city is an instantiation of some form, some archetype, that exists on a subtler level, just like any particular chair is an instantiation of the form of a chair, etc. In other words, the city is an a priori type of organization, not something that happened to evolve in some contingent way.
In a similar way, the ideal “form” of human beings is social. When people join together in social enterprises, they are instantiating this form, not simply gathering together for purely utilitarian purposes. “Man qua metaphysical animal is obligatorily tied up with man the political animal” in Prof. Pines’ words. To return to Maharishi’s description of his own teacher’s life:

It took a long time, twenty years, to persuade him to come out of loneliness and accept the holy throne of Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math [RAR: the principal seat of spiritual teaching in India] in Badariashramam, Himalayas. At the age of 72, in the year 1941, a well marked time in the political and religious history of India, he was installed as Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math, and that was a turning point in the destiny of the nation.

The solitary man, living in the silence of Pure Consciousness, became responsible for the spiritual destiny of hundreds of millions of people. He recognized that at that moment his assuming a position of political/spiritual leadership was what was necessary for the evolution of the country through the war that was raging and into independence from the British. His individual growth was inextricably bound up with the growth of the polity.

According to Vedic Science, the “philosophers,” i.e. those who are living the full value of consciousness, may be solitary and within themselves on the level of their awareness, but they have a responsibility to society to bring every individual up to, or at least towards, their level. The “ideal city” or “ideal society” is one in which every individual is living the full value of wholeness in their awareness; everyone solitary on the inside, but displaying ideal, loving action on the outside. The “philosopher-king” of Plato’s Republic can issue commands that aim to create an orderly society, and indeed, is in a preferred position to do so, since his own consciousness is maximally ordered. However, if those orders are to be carried out in the most perfect way, they have to be given to people whose own consciousness is also maximally ordered. Otherwise, like a message passed down a noisy communication channel, there will inevitably be distortion and the results will be suboptimal.

Vedic Science provides the technology by which anyone can experience Transcendental Consciousness on a regular basis and thereby train both mind and body to maintain Transcendental Consciousness along with the other three states of consciousness. As we have seen, when this happens, one’s actions become orderly and ideal, in accordance with natural law. When a sufficient proportion of a society practices this technology together, and atmosphere of orderliness is created throughout the whole society, which then enhances everyone’s growth. This is the way to make everyone a “philosopher.” Whether either Plato or Aristotle believed this situation to be obtainable, I doubt either of them would object! I think they would see it as a fulfillment of their political philosophy.

Next week we will begin a consideration of Avicenna’s influence on Rambam, Gd willing.


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Korach

Parashat Korach reminds us that what is important in life is to live in harmony with Gd, not to worry much about our status relative to other humans – “to love Gd with all our heart, all our soul, all our might” and to “love our neighbor as ourself.”

Korach, Moses’ first cousin, along with 249 other leaders of the Children of Israel challenges Moses’ right to lead, claiming that all of Israel is holy and Moses should not place himself above everyone. They did not love Gd with all their heart, soul and might otherwise they would have felt Gd’s leadership flowing through Moses. They did not love their neighbor as their selves otherwise they would have been happy for Moses to be such an open person that Gd could flow through him.

Korach and the others forgot that Moses was selected by Gd, not by himself, to lead the Children of Israel out of slavery and into the Promised Land: They forgot that when the 10 Commandments were given out, all of the Children of Israel were frightened that they would die if they heard any more of Gd’s voice: they requested Him to give the rest of Torah to Moses — so they also placed Moses above them, more pure, more capable.

Moses pleads with them to be grateful for what they have been given but they do not listen. Moses tells them to bring their fire pans (the pans through which they make offerings) and we will see whose offerings Gd accepts.

Gd tells Moses He will destroy the rebellious.

At the appointed time, Moses tells the people of Israel, paraphrase. “We will see who Gd wishes to lead. If these people die a natural death, then they are right. If not, then Gd has appointed me to lead.” The ground opens up and all of the 250 are swallowed alive. Moses’s genuineness is confirmed.

We see a lot in Torah of complaining, sinning, Moses pleading for forgiveness for his neighbors, the Children of Israel. A lesson we can learn from Moses is to be open to Gd, to love our neighbor as ourself, to plead with others to be open also, and to plead with Gd that he forgive those who lack openness.

In such ways, little by little, person by person, we help to create a world in which harmony, respect, friendliness, love, contentment, fulfillment exist.

In this world, Torah is experienced not just as words in a book but as the living eternal reality of the liveliness of Gd, of One. We function not just as our individual selves but as Totality functioning through all.

And this world is the Real World – achievable soon. Let’s continue creating it and request that Gd bring it NOW!

Love and Love and Love,

Baruch HaShem