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Parashat Mishpatim 5781 — 02/13/2021

Parashat Mishpatim 5781 — 02/13/2021

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.

Shemot 21:1-24:18

Last week we outlined Rambam’s strategy to promote the fundamental Jewish concept that Gd created the universe at a specific time, as opposed to the Aristotelian view that the universe is eternal. By Rambam’s time it was well known that the observed motion of the planets did not fit well with Aristotelian physics. Rambam was able to conclude that to the extent that Aristotle’s belief in the eternity of the universe was dependent on observation, it could be called into question from other sources, and did not have the status of a logical inference from first principles.

I would like to point out that any system of thought, religious or otherwise, that is dependent on observation of the outside, objective world, will, at some point, find itself on shaky ground. The most obvious example is the Catholic Church’s banning of Galileo’s scientific works. Galileo was forced to recant his advocacy of the Copernican (heliocentric) system in favor of the Ptolemaic (geocentric), but of course further developments proved Galileo was right all along, and left the Church to figure out how their theology wasn’t really dependent on Ptolemy’s ideas after all. Galileo’s books, first banned in the 1600’s, were only removed from the “no-read zone” a century later, and it was not until the 1990’s that the Church finally admitted once and for all that he was right. See this Wikipedia article.

This phenomenon has not gone away either, by the way, as the rampant science denial in the US, in areas such as biological evolution, climate change, and our response to the e COVID crisis demonstrates. And this attitude has real human costs; the US just passed 400,000 COVID deaths today (1/19/2021). I find it ironic that the people who loudly proclaim that science is “just a theory” often hitch their personal belief systems to the theories least likely to be proven correct.

The difficulty, as we have already discussed, is that objective science only deals with the finite, changing world. The reason for this is that subjectivity, as we generally know it, is highly variable. The problems with eyewitness testimony are well documented, and confirmation bias is a strong, and generally unrecognized force that leads us astray in our judgment of the validity of evidence. Objective science approaches this issue by assigning numbers to the properties of the systems it studies. These numbers are assigned by comparing the property with a standard – e.g. length is compared to a meter stick. Once properties are assigned numbers, their relationships and dynamics can be described mathematically – mathematics becomes the language of science.

This program removes to a large extent the problem of the variability of subjectivity. It has its own difficulties however. There is the possibility of measurement error – in fact, all measurements have an amount of uncertainty – you see it as “error bars” on a graph. This is partly due to our fallible senses, and partly due to the finite nature of our instruments. But there is an intrinsic uncertainty due to the quantum nature of reality – this is given by the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, and it states that the state of a system cannot be completely specified on the basis of measuring properties (such as position and momentum). The basis of this uncertainty is the fact that all forms and phenomena in the physical world are actually fluctuations of underlying fields, and not rigidly defined “things” that we can measure exactly. In other words, there is something fundamentally wrong with the entire program of objective science.

Before we consider how Vedic Science can help to resolve this difficulty, I’d like to point out that our ability to use mathematics as the language of science is not given a priori. Mathematics, after all, is a product of human consciousness – as one wag put it, “a game played in the mind and you keep score with pencil and paper.” This correspondence between human consciousness and the physical world is so striking, that Einstein proposed that all the laws of physics, including the values of all the physical constants (charge of the electron, gravitational constant, etc.), should be derivable from the integers alone. (Note that all more complex number systems can be derived from the properties of the integers, so this is not as restrictive as it seems.) Whether modern Unified Field theories have brought us closer to that goal I don’t know.

However, consider this: if it were true that all physics could be derived from the number system, then this theory of physics would in fact have “the force of a demonstration.” Since the number system is purely a creation of our consciousness, something purely abstract and derivable from a few first principles, then anything derived from it must be a logical consequence of those first principles. If, therefore, our derived physical theory included an eternal universe, it would be a much more serious challenge to Rambam’s position. Physics would have been removed from the realm of the empirical and placed in the realm of pure logic.

Vedic Science adds the subjective means of gaining knowledge to the mix. Until recently, subjectivity was always variable, as we have discussed. This is because our common understanding of the nature of the mind is that it is always active. Vedic Science offers a technology for contacting Transcendental Consciousness, which is the silent basis of all the activity of the mind, and which is unchanging. If the awareness is stationed at that level and cognizes the mechanics by which all levels of creation emerge from itself, then that cognition is at once empirical, as it is based on experience, and in some way has the “force of a demonstration,” since “demonstrations” themselves are nothing other than forms of consciousness. That is, logical structures are structures of consciousness, as are mathematical structures, which themselves depend on logical derivation. This would fulfill both Einstein’s and Rambam’s dream, to derive the structure and mechanics of creation from first principles – principles rooted in our consciousness. In fact, this is the only kind of certain knowledge that exists. Anything short of this kind of “inside” knowledge is only partial at best, constantly needing to be updated, not anything solid that we can really trust.

Next week I want to consider the concepts of time and eternity from the point of view of physics as it has evolved, and from the perspective of Vedic Science, and see what are the implications for our understanding of the dispute between Rambam and Aristotle.


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Mishpatim

“Mishpatim” means “laws.” In this parshah, Gd gives many laws: The most important is “And you shall worship the Lord, your Gd, and He will bless your food and your drink, and I will remove illness from your midst.”

How are we to know that we are doing well in our worship?

Joy in eating and drinking is a sign that we are doing well and illness is a sign that we are lax in our worship.

Gd gives 53 laws in this parshah — 30 positive mitzvot and 23 prohibitions.

Moses tells the laws to the people and they say, “All that the Lrd has commanded we will do”!

These 53 mitzvot are details in our worship of Gd — so worship is not just saying a blessing, praising Gd, but acting in daily life, in and out of formal services, according to Gd’s Will — as best we can. The mitzvot in this parshah illustrate in many ways how we can worship Gd by “loving our neighbor as ourself”— as our Self.

Our ancestors heard Gd speak on Mt Sinai/Mount Horeb (there is disagreement as to whether this is one place or two separate places, whether the Ten Utterances/Words/Commandments were given out on Mt. Sinai or Mt. Horeb) and they heard Him speak through Moses which He does also in this parshah. This is a sign that despite such faults as worshiping the Golden Calf, our ancestors were quite good in their worship. They must have been doing quite well, generally, in performing the mitzvot — doing what should be done, avoiding what should not.

Some of these laws though clearly moral seem very secular: laws about slaves, homicide, insults, assault, crops. Only a few of the laws pertain directly to duty to Gd.

How are we to know in our time that in our daily life we are worshiping Gd and not just taking care of our individual selves, families, property?

Most of the mitzvot in this parshah are things that good people everywhere learn from their parents and their culture but also there are specific details for which regular reading of Torah and studying Torah can be helpful so that we become more and more attentive to the details of a good life, a life of worship. An example is offering first fruits to Gd. Unless we’re farmers or gardeners we have to think about what this means in our life. It could be symbolic of offering some part of any money we receive to Gd or to charity. It could mean that the first fruit of any thought we think we need to align with what we know of what Gd wants.

Worshiping Gd is an ongoing learning experience: Comfort in our life is a sign that happiness is growing, Joy is growing. Comfort is a sign that we are learning how to be natural, unstrained, to act in harmony with Life, with Gd’s Will. And definitely when comfort rises to be Joy in our life we have a sign we are getting better, we are learning. We are becoming increasingly aware that Joy is Gd and by helping others to be comfortable, unstrained, we are sharing Joy, sharing Gd, Loving Gd. We are growing in our ability to know our Self The Self and to share this with others: we are growing in our ability to “Love Gd with all our heart, all our soul and all our might” and in our ability to “Love thy neighbor as thyself [Thy Self].”

Opening ourselves to comfort, Joy and Love is opening our awareness to Totality, the Primordial Oneness within which everything and everyone exists as an impulse, a flow — as ripples are the ocean flowing within itself.

Because this is Reality, our growing sense of Gd in this way is a real taste and by devoting our self through comfort and kindness to Gd and to our neighbor. we commit ourselves innocently to develop Full Comfort, Full Kindness : Oneness with Gd. The mitzvot in this parshah help us to do this.

Through this commitment, our ancestors worshiped and we worship. Whatever words we recite in service and in prayer raise our awareness to deeper and deeper Tastes of Gd and innocently dedicate ourselves only to One and to nothing less. Whatever acts we perform outside of formal religious service are still service, acts dedicated to Totality..

We settle for no partial value: We accept nothing less than Totality — Omnipresent, Omniscient, Omnipotent, Omni-Joyful, Omni-Loving, Totality, All-in-All, nothing left out.

Through this commitment we worship and through this commitment we grow in appreciating every aspect of life as truly Gd, we grow in our ability to love every detail of life as our Self, we grow in our ability to “love Gd with all our heart and soul”. We grow in fulfillment, restoring awareness of Oneness within our self and everywhere and we grow in the extent to which this Fulfillment is shared, experienced by everyone and every thing, every where and every when.

This is a life worth living. The various laws of parshat Mishpatim, some seeming secular and some clearly sacred, are aids in living this life and finding that Fulfillment always Is, never is missing, always Is.

Baruch HaShem