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Parashat Lech L’cha 5781 — 10/31/2020

Parashat Lech L’cha 5781 — 10/31/2020

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.

Bereishit 12:1-17:27

In the previous entry we delineated the three layers describing physical reality that we have from modern physics. They are:
• Classical Physics, the most surface layer, the physics of rigidly bounded and defined objects, Newtonian physics
• Quantum Mechanics: particles have wave-like qualities. Spread out, boundaries “fuzzier”
• Quantum Field Theory: particles are excitations of underlying fields. Each particle has its own field

Before proceeding to the fourth level, I would like to point out an interesting fact. In the history of physics, whenever two entities are discovered to interact, a deeper examination shows that they are simply two aspects of a deeper, underlying reality. A simple example is the electric and magnetic fields. By the 19th century it was understood that a changing electric field could produce a magnetic field (think electromagnet) and a changing magnetic field could produce an electric field (think electrical generator). Light was recognized as waves of electric and magnetic fields propagating through space as each varying (vibrating) field produced the other in a back-and-forth dance across the universe. After Maxwell’s equations formalized the relationship between the two fields, it was quickly realized that both fields could be derived from a single, underlying field, the electromagnetic field. In 1979, Steven Weinberg and Sheldon Glashow (both of whom went to my High School by the way), along with Abdus Salam of Pakistan, won the Nobel Prize for unifying the electromagnetic field with the fields responsible for the weak nuclear interaction, and it seemed like the path was clear to a unified field theory of all the forces of nature. (Incidentally, if you think that science is beset by reactionary forces of politics and religion in the US, look up the story of Abdus Salam and see how much worse it could be.)

The path to a Unified Field theory of all the forces of nature was not smooth, as gravity was hard to fit into it. In any event, such a theory dealt only with “forces” to the neglect of “matter” – the particles which produce the forces and upon which the forces act. What was really needed was a true unified field theory that gives rise to all the several dozen elementary particles and all their interactions. Various proposals have been made and debated, and the field is still a wide-open area of research. What we can say, however, is that every particle in nature and every interaction between particles in nature, is a particular mode or pattern of vibration of the single, unified field. And that means that in fact, there is only one reality on the physical level, and that is the Unified Field (whatever form it may have). All of manifest physical creation is a rich, beautifully interwoven pattern of vibrations of this one field, expressing itself to itself, within itself.

Turning to the inner sphere of life, the realm of consciousness, it is our common experience that our awareness, too, is structured in layers. The outer layers are more expressed, while the inner layers are more abstract, quieter, more subtle and powerful. When we wake up in the morning from a good night’s sleep, our thoughts are quiet, coherent, and powerful. If we put together our to-do list first thing in the morning, we generally get a pretty good, orderly list, and our activity is correspondingly orderly and coherent, and we achieve our goals efficiently. By contrast, if we put together a to-do list right before bed, when we’re stressed out from the day’s activities, the list is generally incoherent, and, if you’re like me, completely illegible. So more superficial, incoherent, scattered thoughts lead to ineffective action, deeper, quieter thoughts lead to more effective action.

Now consider the following thought experiment. You are at a movie theater watching an excellent movie about oranges. At the end of the movie the credits roll over the image of an orange in the middle of the screen. Finally, we’re left with the image of the orange by itself. We are the Observer of the orange and the orange is the Observed. Now the orange begins to fade away, gradually becoming more and more vague, transparent, diaphanous, until it is gone completely. The fluctuations of our consciousness that are the image of the orange on the screen of our mind have settled down and become less and less pronounced, the way the waves on an ocean might settle down as the wind stops blowing. Finally, the orange completely fades away and our consciousness is left silent, flat, like an ocean with no waves at all, no boundaries, no movement (there’s nothing to move), infinite, eternal silence.

This is, according to the Veda, the pure state of consciousness, unadulterated, as it were, with anything outside itself. It is, in fact, our essential nature; all of our thoughts and feelings are expressions or fluctuations of this pure consciousness. The Veda describes the experience of pure or transcendental consciousness as a fourth major state of consciousness, because it is distinct from the three ordinary states of consciousness. It is distinct from waking and dreaming because the mind is non-active, and it is distinct from deep sleep because the mind is awake. It also has a distinct style of brain functioning, characterized by very high coherence across the whole brain in the alpha-1 band, which is a marker of a state of restful alertness. Further, the body is in a state of very deep rest, much deeper than that seen even in deep sleep.

Repeated alternation of the experience of transcendental consciousness with waking dreaming and sleeping cultures the mind and body to maintain transcendental consciousness along with the three ordinary states of consciousness. This, too, is a distinct state of consciousness and has a distinct style of physiological functioning. Gd willing next week we will discuss the higher states of human awareness posited by the Veda.


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Lech Lecha

Genesis 12-17:27

Audio-recording of Lech Lecha:

Genesis 17:1

And Abram was ninety-nine years old, and Gd appeared to Abram, and He said to him, “I am the Almighty Gd; walk before Me and be perfect”.

Torah tells us that Noah walked with Gd, was righteous and perfect but Torah doesn’t tell us how this came about; with Abram we can see what he did after Gd’s command and we can draw some tips about how we may also walk before Gd and be perfect. The deepest activity is the literal meaning of the name of the Parshah: “Lech Lecha” means “Go to yourself”. It’s not usually translated that way but the Lubavitcher Rebbe writes this:
“2. Lech Lecha: Go To Yourself
This is usually translated as “Get thee out (from your country and your birthplace and your father’s house….)” But it literally means, “Go to yourself.” “Going” has the connotation in Torah of moving towards one’s ultimate purpose—of service towards one’s Creator. And this is strongly hinted at by the phrase, “Go to yourself” — meaning, towards your soul’s essence and your ultimate purpose, that for which you were created.” (Source: Likkutei Sichot, Vol. V pp. 57-67)

This view of the Lubavitcher Rebbe resonates beautifully to most, perhaps all, of our Beth Shalom Congregation. “Go to your Self,” your universal, unbounded, Self is the first step in acting so that we walk before Gd.

What does it mean to “walk before Gd”? The preëminent commentator on Torah is Rashi, and he says it means “serve Me, cleave to My service”. The Rebbe looks at it the same way so we can be very confident in this guidance.

Whenever Abram was commanded by Gd, he did what Gd commanded. To Abram, Gd appeared in visions: Abram must have been very close to walking with Gd in order to trust such commands as to leave his home and to “go to a place which I will show you.”  I personally don’t feel that confident that I can trust visions or voices and so I am left with cleaving to Gd’s service by doing the ordinary things that good people everywhere do: honor my religion, do my best to be healthy, happy and to share my happiness with others through work with organizations I respect so I can attune myself to Gd through service to people I feel are wiser, more experienced than I and to at least one who I feel does walk with Gd.

What did Abram do to be perfect? Prior to this command of Gd to leave his homeland, Abram had already come to the conclusion that all creation was made by One Creator, Gd, and he and Sarai spread the word and brought many to share this belief — and perhaps a taste of the experience.

Parshat Lech Lecha tells us that, after leaving his homeland to go to an unknown place, Abram continued to spread the word of monotheism and to build altars to Gd. From this we learn the very important message that we should share what we know, especially what we know by experience, and that Gd, as it says in Kaddish, is “beyond any words to describe” so simple acts of reverence, such as offering prayers, building altars, and temples for them to be in are ways to grow in our ability to walk before Gd and with Gd.

When a famine caused him and Sarai to leave Canaan (the land where Gd promised him he would make him a great nation) and go to Egypt, this may have seemed like an exile but the Rebbe comments that it was an exile with a purpose: it gave Abram an opportunity to serve Gd by spreading the word of One Gd to a people who worshiped only partial values of Gd.

Abram told Sarai to say that she was his sister, not his wife. He did this because he thought otherwise, he would be killed.

Few of us are likely to be in such an extreme situation but we may take it that a lie to save our life, if we are otherwise innocent of any crime, is a way of serving Gd and being perfect.

In Egypt, Abram and his nephew, Lot, acquired many possessions, including cattle, which they took to Canaan. In Canaan their herdsmen quarreled. Abram and Lot decided to separate. This is like taking a rest from duality. Though on the surface, there were two separate groups in two separate lands, at the depth there was the freedom, the peace, from quarrels. There was a transcendence.

From this we can learn, that if we have no other way to create harmony, separation is a valid way to create harmony, which is the essence of serving Gd. In a deeper sense, Lot moved to Sodom, an evil kingdom, and was captured when the city was captured. Abram took his trained men, though they were only few, and pursued the army holding Lot, defeated them, restored Lot’s possessions to him and restored four kingdoms, including Sodom, to their kings.  From this we learn, that we should be concerned with following right action as a way of serving Gd, not be afraid that our resources are to small: Gd protects those who serve Him.

Abram refused to accept any recompense from the King of Sodom for restoring his possessions to him. His reason: he did not want the King of Sodom to be able to claim he had made Abram rich. A traditional explanation of Abram’s reasoning is that he wanted it to be clear to everyone that any accomplishment of his was through Gd: it was not Abram who defeated the armies, it was Gd; it could not be through evil hands such as those of the King of Sodom that he would acquire possessions but only through the Hand of Gd. Certainly we can be kind to even those who are evil; our kindness will give them a softening of heart and they will become less evil. We certainly should refuse to accept any compensation from them – there is a saying “The gifts of the evil do not bring blessings.”  Certainly, we can recognize that any accomplishments of ours are Gd’s Gift to us.

Abram is blessed by Malchizedek, who was a king but also a priest of the Most High — this means Malchizedek was not only a monotheist In belief but also in experience and enough experience of Gd to serve as Gd’s priest, and to be referred to more as a priest than as a king. We too can put One first and material possessions second so that we are protected by our sense of proportion and serve Gd first.

And we can read Torah, listen to Torah, read from the Siddur, attend services at the Synagogue, as ways to raise ourselves up to direct experience and to priestly service, whatever our actual roles are in life.

Abram tells Gd, when Gd says his reward for this action will be great: Of what use is this to me since I have no son to inherit? And Gd responds: you will have a son and be a mighty nation, more than the stars. From this we learn that service to Gd can include asking Gd to redress a situation we feel is amiss: we can pray for help; we can ask simply and Gd responds. To Abram, He responded clearly; to us, perhaps not so clearly but we need to be alert to the response.

Abram’s son, Ishmael, is born with Hagar, Sarai’s maidservant, and Isaac is born, with Sarah.

From this we learn that when we serve Gd, we raise ourselves up, and what Gd promises, Gd delivers. Trusting Gd is very important and when we are not able to experience Gd directly, trusting our Traditions, especially Torah, is very important.

Gd tells Abram to circumcise his son and that all males of the community shall be circumcised as a Covenant with Gd. From the Babylonian Talmud we learn that through circumcision Abram became sanctified. he became not merely a physical person fathering physical children but a spiritual person protecting Gd’s Spiritual Wisdom and spreading it in its purity.

We can treat circumcision not merely as something physical for males, but something everyone, males and females, can do: cut off anything that binds us only to the physical and thus rise to be spiritual: to walk before Gd and become perfect as Abram did, become Abraham, father not only of Isaac and Ishmael but of nations, and as Sarai did and became Sarah: princess not only of Abram but of all souls.

Baruch HaShem!