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Parashat Miketz 5781 — 12/19/2020

Parashat Miketz 5781 — 12/19/2020

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.

Bereishit 41:1-44:17

In discussing the works that influenced Rambam, the first influence, which is often taken for granted, is the Jewish tradition itself. More than providing answers, Jewish tradition provides some of the most important questions that perplex most people, and which Rambam seeks to answer, based on a melding of philosophy and Rabbinic thought. Among these questions are the nature of Gd and the nature of Divine Providence. This is a pretty substantial swathe of human knowledge – what is Gd and what does He do?!

As we have seen, it appears that Rambam takes Scripture and the Rabbinic literature as the primary arbiter of truth, with the proviso that nothing in Torah (broadly understood) can be contrary to reason, and that any apparent contradictions between what is written and what we understand from the process of logical deduction must be chalked up to misunderstanding of Scripture – generally taking it too literally. We see this problem in our own day in the debate about apparent contradictions between modern science and Scripture, including the debate over biological evolution and the age of the earth and of the universe. But these issues are examples of the general problem of understanding what Scripture is and what it isn’t.

The discussion of Rambam’s sources will be based on the Translator’s Introduction to the University of Chicago Press edition, by Shlomo Pines. Pines was born in France, emigrated to Mandatory Palestine in 1940 and taught at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem from 1952 until his death in 1990. He was a scholar of extraordinary breadth and depth; among his works (available at is a translation of an Arabic translation of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Since Pines knew Sanskrit as well as a number of Semitic and European languages, he was presumably able to compare Al-Biruni’s Arabic rendering with the original Sanskrit. His primary interest was the influence of Greek philosophy on medieval Islamic and Jewish thought, which of course put him in an ideal position to translate Rambam.

Prof. Pines begins his introduction by describing Rambam’s view of what philosophy is:

The Introduction to the Guide makes it clear that philosophic science may be dangerous; that the study of philosophy, or of its rudiments, may bring about that state of perplexity – due to an unresolved conflict between religious tradition and nonreligious knowledge – which gives the book its name; that strict precautions must be taken with a view to keeping the average reader, who is also an average man, in the dark concerning the philosophic solution propounded by Maimonides. Philosophy is thus regarded as a dangerous temptation and as a very potent one at that. From Maimonides’ point of view the fascination it exercises can easily be accounted for. It is the fascination of truth.

Now graduate schools of philosophy may be very selective in whom they admit for advanced study, but I am reasonably certain this is not because anybody considers philosophy to be dangerous. Perhaps this is because society, having questioned all the old verities, has given up on finding any absolute truth. If every narrative, every perspective is equally valid, then the concept of truth loses all meaning. In this case, no act is unthinkable, as we have witnessed over and over again in the past century and a half. This is indeed dangerous, but I don’t think this is the danger that Rambam is worried about.

I think that philosophy was considered dangerous in the same way that Kabbalah was (and is) considered dangerous. When we think of philosophy as an intellectual endeavor, as we currently do in the West, we think of something that goes on, more or less, on the surface level of thought – the level of finite concepts and their interrelationships. We attempt to parse the world into these sets of concepts, and hope that our map corresponds well enough to reality for it to be useful as a guide to action. In the words of a philosophy professor friend of mine, “In the West, a philosopher is a professional thinker.”

Kabbalah operates on a different level altogether – it operates on the level of direct experience of the divine. Originally, of course, this direct experience was Moshe Rabbeinu’s experience, but apparently he was able to pass it down to his disciples and students, because throughout the generations, at least through the end of prophecy, people did have direct experience of the divine. The few prophets recorded in the Bible were the tip of the iceberg – there were literally millions of prophets throughout the generations, and there were “schools of prophets” that trained people to have that experience.

In the course of time that knowledge not only became rare almost to the point of extinction, but it began to be considered dangerous. Thus, in the Talmud, we have the story of “the four who entered the Garden” (these were first century CE Sages). One died, one went mad, one became a heretic, and only R. Akiva “entered in peace and came out in peace.” In other words, if one has not sufficiently purified oneself, creating the experience of the divine (perhaps with a guide who is already adept at such experiences) can be so overwhelming as to leave lasting damage to the individual. Even worse, in the case of the one who became a heretic, there can be damage to the community or the nation as a whole, as the heretic can lead others astray. A quick glance at the career of Shabtai Zvi, the 17th century false Messiah, will make this point clear.

Next week we will begin to look at solutions to this problem.


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Miketz

We have two sayings that help inform this parshah:

  • “Gd is in the details”
  • “The Whole is Greater than the Sum of the Parts”

“Details” are parts that need to be connected to make a whole. When the parts are not connected, they are fragments, restrictions. These are represented by Egypt, whose name in Hebrew is “Mitzrayim”, restrictions. For the land to be this way, its inhabitants must be this way: unable to connect the parts of their own personalities, including their bodies, together in order to be whole humans.

“Whole” is Totality, One beyond the duality of Gd and creation. When individuals are living harmoniously so that all the parts of their personalities fit together and people are able to experience the Whole, then all the aspects of their life are in synchronicity: this is the land of Canaan, whose name in Hebrew means “Synchronicity.”

In this parshah, Joseph, an unwilling representative to Egypt-Mitzraim, the Land of Restrictions, from Canaan, the Land of Synchronicity, of Harmony, successfully interprets two dreams of Mitzraim’s ruler, Pharoah, and is given de facto control of Mitzraim.

This is Harmony bringing the parts together so they can make a Whole.

Joseph correctly interpreted Pharoah’s dreams of seven fat cows devoured by seven lean cows and of seven healthy stalks of wheat devoured by seven lean stalks to mean that seven years of plenty would be followed by seven years of famine and therefore, Mitzrayim should store up during the fat years so it would have enough to last through the lean years.

Joseph’s Harmony was so great that Pharoah recognized the validity of Joseph’s interpretation and Joseph’s integrity was so great that Pharoah gave him control of organizing the stocking up, organizing which gave him de facto control of the kingdom.

Meanwhile, Harmony in Canaan had already been disturbed by Jacob’s failure to raise his children so that all felt equally loved — even though each might have different skills, some might be wiser, some more skilled in battle, some more skilled in leadership, in peace….

Jacob has failed to completely attend to detail and to reveal Gd in the details of everyday life and relationships in Canaan: Canaan was only partially Canaan, only partially and superficially, The Land of Synchronicity.

And the Harmony was broken further by the sons not learning to flow with their father’s behavior and to give him love, no matter what, so they raise him and themselves the level where they could feel Full Love, no matter what the surface appearance.

This resulted in betrayal of Jacob’s trust, selling Joseph into slavery, lying to their father, and, eventually bringing famine in Canaan — a solid breakdown of the Plenty that exists when Canaan is Whole, functioning to bring all details into synchronicity, into harmony, and to Reveal Gd as the Wholeness, the Totality, which brings Complete Synchronicity, The Wholeness that is Oneness, of which all the parts are Expressions.

With the famine in Canaan, in Synchronicity, Jacob’s sons had to go to Mitzrayim, raised by Gd through Joseph, to a land of Synchronicity, Fullness.

And they will abandon the land Canaan to settle in Raised Up Mitzrayim, until eventually Wholeness breaks down there and several hundred years later, they need to escape restrictions, return to Canaan within themselves and to the physical land of Canaan. Of this we will learn more in the next Parshah.

This Parshah teaches us, that even in the midst of the ups and downs of life, we can maintain our purity, our Joyful and Reverent Daily Routine, so that we can Love Gd with all our Heart and Soul, Love our Neighbor as Our Self, and fill the fragments, the details, with Harmony, fill limits with Wholeness.

Of course, there are deeper levels of interpretation: All is Gd’s Plan as Joseph later tells his brothers. There are no mistakes in Torah, no villains, no heroes, only Gd telling stories to teach us how to integrate the fragments of life into Wholeness – and at the deepest level, Torah is Gd Humming Torah within Himself, within The Self, our Self, the Only Self.

To this we in our community are rising: Joy and Love, which we have a lot of, radiate a lot of, share a lot of are signs of the return to Wholeness, Teshuvah. Gd, the Self, Is Joy, Is Love.

Baruch HaShem