Skip to content

Parashat Miketz 5784 — 12/16/2023

Parashat Miketz 5784 — 12/16/2023

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

This Sunday, 12/17/2023, is the 50th anniversary of my becoming a teacher of Transcendental Meditation. I think it is the aspiration of every TM Teacher to be the knowledge of the transcendent, rather than just speaking it out — it should be our essence, rather than an accident (see below). I certainly haven’t reached that level, but I’m a lot closer now than 50 years ago, thanks to a number of people: Guru Dev and Maharishi first and foremost of course, who trusted me with that knowledge; Chaya Green, who mentored me when I first became a teacher and again after my refresher course; Marie Smallow who helped me out of my ego and helped me to become somewhat of a mensch; all the Rabbis, teachers and friends who have helped guide me along the path back to Jewish tradition, helped me learn to read a text and always challenged me to grow in observance and knowledge; to all the students I have taught over the years, both to meditate and at MIU – the teacher always learns more than the student of course. Gd willing, I will have more years of learning and teaching ahead of me. May Gd grant each of us enlightenment, and through us the world. Jai Guru Dev

Before we continue our consideration of primary intelligibles and sense perceptions, I want to return to a comment that Rambam made in last week’s passage:

Yet since strange opinions have arisen due either to people who committed errors or to people who acted with some end in view…

It appears that Rambam finds two ways in which false notions enter the marketplace of ideas. First, there is simple error. Anybody can make a mistake, and in a community the mistake will eventually be discovered and corrected – this is the way peer-review in the scientific community is supposed to work. The other source of error is more pernicious – acting “with some end in view.” That is, corruption. And the particular end in view often has to do with money. Examples abound: Think of the tobacco industry’s suppression of lung cancer data, or the oil industry’s suppression of global warming data. Sometimes the end is political – think of all the COVID disinformation out there. It can be hard enough to get to the truth under the best of circumstances. When there is a lack of integrity, things are exponentially worse.

Writing about faith (bitachon) in Gd, the Beis haLevi (R. Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, 1820-1892, great-grandfather and namesake of the great American Rabbi who educated generations of American Rabbis at Yeshiva University) points out that faith in Gd saves us from many sins, including sins stemming from fear and avarice. The reason is simple – fear and avarice stem from a sense of lack, and when one has perfect faith that Gd is taking care of his every need, he does not fear any lack. The Psalmist puts it beautifully: The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want (Ps 23:1) and Hashem is with me, I have no fear, what can a man do to me? (Ps 118:6). We are living fulfillment, because the goal of life is connection to and closeness with the transcendent. The transcendent is unbounded and eternal and completely unaffected by any change in the manifest universe. In such a case, we can say along with Ya’akov, “I have everything!” and it is literally true.

This state of complete faith is not a mood we can make. We can’t convince ourselves that our consciousness is fully expanded when it is not, nor can we try to replicate the experience of perfect faith based on other people’s description of it. It is a state of consciousness that can be developed by alternating the experience of the transcendent with the regular activity of daily life, as we have discussed. Faith then becomes a matter of direct experience rather than belief with little evidence. At that level we can seek the truth with no pernicious hidden (or explicit) agendas. In fact, since our awareness is on the level from which all manifestation arises, we possess, in seed form, all knowledge within ourselves. We can perceive the truth directly, not by directing our gaze outward towards the objective world, but on the level of our own inner awareness.

Continuing with our discussion of Gd’s attributes, Rambam goes on to write:

To this category belongs the denial of essential attributes to Gd, may He be exalted. For that denial is a primary intelligible, inasmuch as an attribute is not the essence of the thing of which it is predicated, but is a certain mode of the essence and hence an accident. If, however, the attribute were the essence of the thing of which it is predicated, the attribute would be either a tautology – as if you were saying that man is man – or the attribute would be a mere explanation of a term – as if you said that man is a rational living being. For being a rational animal is the essence and true reality of man, and there does not exist in this case a third notion, apart from those of animal and of rational, that constitutes man. For man is the being of which life and rationality are predicated. Thus those attributes merely signify an explanation of a term and nothing else. It is as if you said that the thing denoted by the term “man” is the thing composed of life and rationality. It is then clear that an attribute may be only one of two things. It is either the essence of the thing of which it is predicated, in which case it is an explanation of a term. We, in this respect, do not consider it impossible to predicate such an attribute of Gd, but do consider it impossible in another respect, as shall be made clear. [In the next chapter.] Or the attribute is different from the thing of which it is predicated, being a notion superadded to that thing. This would lead to the conclusion that that attribute is an accident belonging to that essence.

Rambam appears to be saying that attributes are either essential or accidents. An essential attribute is something that is inseparable from the being of the subject of that attribute. An accident is something that is specific to the particular instance of a class – that is, it is not essential to that class. Thus, the attributes of being alive and being rational are essential to a human being, in Rambam’s example. One has to wonder about someone with dementia or other brain disorder or chemical imbalance that makes them non-rational. Jewish Law certainly considers them fully-fledged human beings as I’m sure Rambam does, but they seem to be lacking an essential attribute of humanity. Perhaps the essentiality applies to the species, and if a specific individual differs in some way it is due to an accident, as Rambam (and Aristotle) defines accident. Also, we don’t always think or act rationally – we are not Vulcans. We have an emotional side as well. Is that part of our essence, or is it a blemish in our rationality? I don’t know enough to say how Aristotle or Rambam would treat that issue.

An accident is a characteristic of an individual of a species that is not essential to the species – that is, it is an individual trait of a particular individual. For example, If I’m 5’11” tall, that is an accident – I was the same me when I was 5’1” tall at my Bar Mitzvah, and when I was almost 6’ tall before gravity compressed my discs and shrunk me. My height is an accident, as is my skin color, my religion, my marital status, etc. All those things can change without changing my essence.

This helps us understand the idea of Gd’s attributes. First, Gd is a perfect Unity, not composed of parts nor divisible into parts. Gd is pure Wholeness. Gd is also One, and there is nothing other than Gd, as Moshe Rabbeinu tells us: ayn od milvado, “there is nothing besides Him.” What this means is that Gd is pure Essence, and there is nothing besides Gd that can be predicated about Him (including gender, by the way, but that’s just the way the language works). Therefore, Gd cannot have any “accidents” and any attribution to Him of qualities is incorrect. I think this will lead back to Rambam’s theory of “negative theology” – the assertion that we cannot say anything positive about Gd, e.g. that He is merciful or strict in judgment or the like. We can only say what He is not – He is not unmerciful for example. But since merciful or strict are accidents (e.g. one person is more merciful than another), we cannot say what Gd is. All we can give are synonyms for Gd’s essence, which really don’t exist, because language is finite and Gd is not!

We will continue in this vein next week Gd willing.


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Miketz

We have two sayings that help inform this parshah:

“God 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