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Parashat Naso 5783 — 06/03/2023

Parashat Naso 5783 — 06/03/2023

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.

Bamidbar 4:21-7:89
Rambam continues his discussion of ru’ach with a number of examples. In all cases the translator translates ru’ach as “air,” which almost always sounds quite strange, as it is generally translated “spirit” in phrases like ru’ach hakodesh (“holy spirit”) or ru’ach Elokim (“spirit of Gd”). We touched on this point last week, but today I decided to pull out my trusty Google translate and translate some of these phrases into Arabic, which, after all, is the language in which Rambam wrote Moreh Nevukim. The phrases ru’ach hakodesh and ru’ach Elokim translate to alruwh alquds and ruh Allah respectively, which means the Arabic phrases are directly cognate to the Hebrew (Allah = al ‘ilah = the supreme power = El-okim). When I put the English “air” into Google I get hawa’ in Arabic and ‘avir in Hebrew (not sure if those two are cognate). Now although Rambam wrote Moreh Nevukim in (Judeo-)Arabic, presumably he quoted Scripture in Hebrew, and when it was translated into Hebrew (by ibn Tibbon, during Rambam’s lifetime and in consultation with Rambam) the Scriptural quotes must have stayed the same – namely, the way they are in Scripture. So I’m not sure what the translator into English is trying to convey when he consistently translates ru’ach as “air.” Most translations of the Scripture use “spirit.” The only thing I can really think of is that in fact Rambam translated the Scriptural verses into Arabic, and the translator uses the English “air” for the Arabic term, to indicate that it’s Arabic. But from the Google translate results, I think that in fact the Arabic ruh and the Hebrew ru’ach generally don’t mean just air, as we shall see.

It is also a term denoting the blowing wind. Thus: And the east air [wind] brought the locusts (Ex 10:19)… This use is frequent.

I think the main point here is the motion. Air by itself is passive. A wind is active, dynamic. In the case of air, something outside causes the passive air to become dynamic (differential heating by the sun between the equator and the poles). In the case of spirit / consciousness, we have seen that although consciousness is inherently infinitely silent, its nature as consciousness makes it inherently self-referential (self-observing) and it is this self-referential nature that creates virtual dynamism within the silence.

It is also a term denoting the animal spirit. Thus: An air [Artscroll: a fleeting breath] that passeth away and cometh not again (Ps 78:39); Wherein is the air [Artscroll: breath] of life (Gen 7:15).

Many languages and cultures equate the breath with the soul – atma, prana in Sanskrit; nefesh, ru’ach, neshama in Hebrew, etc. In Hebrew, ru’ach is that level of soul that animates the body (anima is Latin for “soul”); it is the second lowest level. Now the Latin word for breath is halitus (think halitosis = bad breath), from which we get inhale and exhale, which in Latin are inspirare and exspirare, from which we get the words inspire and expire. When we are inspired, our spirit is uplifted. When we expire Gd forbid, our soul / spirit leaves the body. As above, the breath is the active principle, like the wind, of the “dweller in the body,” whereas the higher levels are more silent.

It is also a term denoting the thing that remains of man after his death and that does not undergo passing-away [the translators note says “corruption,” i.e. decay]. Thus: And the air [Artscroll: spirit] shall return unto Gd who gave it (Eccles 12:7 – we just said this verse in Yizkor on Shavuot).

What remains after death is more than just the ru’ach, although it appears that it is used as a general term for all the levels of the soul that remain after the death of the body. The body becomes inanimate when the anima, the soul that animates it, departs.

It is also a term denoting the divine intellectual overflow that overflows to the prophets and in virtue of which they prophesy, as we shall explain to you when speaking of prophecy, in the way in which it is proper to mention it in this Treatise. Thus: And I will take of the air [spirit] which is upon thee, and I will put it upon them (Num 11:17 – Gd tells Moshe to select 70 Elders who will form the Sanhedrin and help govern the nation along with Moshe). And it came to pass when the air [spirit] rested on them (Num 11:25); The air [spirit] of the Lord spoke by me (II Sam 23:2 – these are King David’s last words). This use of the word is frequent.

This use of the word ru’ach refers to ru’ach hakodesh / the Holy Spirit (not part of the Christian trinity). It is sometimes considered a lower form of prophecy, and one which is sometimes asserted to be active in great men and women even today. If someone appears to know things they could not have known through ordinary means, one might say they knew it through ru’ach hakodesh. Rambam appears to be using the term in a more expansive sense, to include all instances of prophecy, although it is unclear if Moshe’s prophecy, which is held to be sui generis, is included. Note however, that Rambam describes this ru’ach as inhering in the prophet, while defining it as a “divine intellectual overflow” – i.e. something that comes from Gd. I suppose that once it comes from Gd it rests within the prophet, although it is not clear whether the prophet can access this spirit at any time he or she wants.  Only Moshe Rabbeinu was said to be able to access prophecy at will.

Rambam will have much more to say about prophecy later, but in general Jewish tradition considers prophecy a gift from Gd to people who are worthy of some level of revelation. One can prepare oneself to receive prophecy, mostly through self-purification, and Scripture tells of groups of “sons of the prophets” who tried to achieve prophecy. Nonetheless, one can be completely pure and not receive prophecy, if that isn’t one’s mission in life. This is certainly true once we got into the Second Temple era and prophecy came to an end, but even when the prophets flourished not everyone who was “trained” actually received prophecy (and fewer still made it into the Bible – only those whose messages remained timeless). Thus, we speak of the (holy) spirit “resting on” a person, as if it comes from outside. The person has to be prepared of course, or Gd may speak to him and he may be unable to hear. But preparation alone is not enough.

We find a similar situation in Vedic Science. Vedic Science deals with consciousness, and posits that Pure Consciousness is the basis of all creation. Since it is consciousness, Pure Consciousness can be experienced by our consciousness, when it settles down and becomes itself infinite and unbounded. Once we have become very familiar with the nature of Pure Consciousness, we begin to be able to recognize the finest fluctuations within the structure of Pure Consciousness as the fine fluctuations of our own consciousness. This is called Vedic cognition, and I believe that in some way it corresponds to what we think of as prophecy in Jewish (and Western) tradition.

The big difference, I believe, between the two is this. According to Maharishi, once the nervous system is fully purified and enhanced, one more or less automatically begins to perceive at the level of Vedic cognition. I hasten to add that this very high level of purification may not be achieved readily in the stressful atmosphere in which we live. This is as opposed to the idea of prophecy as something external to us, which may or may not be bestowed upon the prepared person from without. I think this is actually a matter of perspective. Judaism takes the perspective that Gd is outside ourselves – Gd is the Creator and we are but finite creatures.

Vedic Science takes the perspective that our individual consciousness can expand to infinity and achieve the same status as Pure Consciousness – that is, the full knowledge of the mechanics of creation are at our disposal internally. This of course does not mean that we become Gd, Gd forbid. Gd is still infinitely greater than even the most enlightened rishi. But it seems like the Vedic Science description of consciousness and its development allows a much closer approach to Gd than does Jewish tradition. I suspect this is because Jewish tradition has not had for a very long time any systematic way of developing consciousness. We do have Torah study, mitzvot and prayer and these absolutely help to expand our consciousness, but their full potential is far from being realized, as we can see by looking at the state of our communities, and the world around us as a whole.

I think I will stop here and return to some of these ideas when we get to Rambam’s discussion of prophecy.

There is one more way that ru’ach is used that Rambam elucidates, and we will conclude our discussion of this chapter next week Gd willing.


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Naso (Raise the Heads, Count, Uplift)

In this parshah, Gd commands a census (raising of heads) of the Gershonite branch of the Levis. Moses completes the Tabernacle, Gd gives Aaron and his sons, through Moses, the Priestly Blessing, three blessings that raise us up:

Numbers 6:24-26:

“May HaShem Bless you and Safeguard you”
“May HaShem Illuminate His Countenance for you and be Gracious to you.
May HaShem Lift His Countenance to you and Establish Peace for you.” (Art Scroll Stone Edition Chumash)

“Bless,” “Safeguard,” “Illuminate His countenance for you,” “Be Gracious to you,” “Lift His countenance to you,” “Establish Peace for you”—all these combine to bestow Gd’s Name on us, the result of which is that Gd Blesses us, Lifts us up.

What does it mean to have Gd’s Name (not “Names”) Bestowed on us?

It means that the complexities of life are simplified, the many ways we experience Gd are united into One and our life becomes one with Gd, not separate from Gd: “All Your names are one” we know from the Aleinu “It is our duty” prayer we recite daily.

What additional lifting up occurs when Gd Blesses us through a census?

Within the Unity, the Oneness, the diversity is raised: we are One with Gd and yet also continue to play our roles as individuals, roles in which we continue to behave devotedly to Gd, to “Love Gd with all our heart, and soul and all our might” and to love Gd’s Nature, including all people, to “love our neighbor as ourself (our Self).”

Gd, from His Point of View, Blesses us, Raises us higher and higher so that there is no distance between Gd playing the role of Gd and Gd playing the role of Creation, including us.

May we be lifted up today and every day to experience deeper and deeper openness to the Priestly Blessings, to Gd’s Name, to Gd’s Blessings and deeper openness to living these and sharing these will all and all.

Love and Baruch HaShem