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Parashat Nitzavim 5781 — 09/04/2021

Parashat Nitzavim 5781 — 09/04/2021

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.

Devarim 29:9-30:20

We touched earlier on al-Fārābī’s political philosophy. Prof. Pines contrasts it with ibn Bājja’s:

In pointed contrast to al-Fārābī, who considered that political activity was, if circumstances permitted it, a most essential duty of the philosopher, Ibn Bājja held that under the unfavorable conditions prevailing in his time, conditions that were not likely to be changed for the better in any foreseeable future, there was no possibility of working for the creation of a philosophic city. It may be argued that this position merely implies a shift of emphasis away from politics and statesmanship rather than a doctrinal opposition to al-Fārābī. However, it transforms the whole temper of Ibn Bājja’s philosophy. He advises the philosopher to choose solitude and loneliness as his lot in his own country; but he should commune in spirit with his fellow philosophers, those who lived before him and those who live like himself in isolation in various, sometimes distant countries. Ibn Bājja was able to adopt this view, because he believed that man’s supreme goal was union with the Active Intellect, and that this union was not dependent upon living in the ideal philosophic city but could be achieved in solitude. Some remarks of Maimonides may echo the conception or the vocabulary used by Ibn Bājja when dealing with these problems; his recommendation of solitude with a view to rational meditation in III:51 may be a case in point. A more significant instance occurs in II:56, in a passage in which Maimonides speaks of the human individual apt to be a prophet. He describes him as a perfect solitary, who regards the common run of human beings as either domestic animals or beasts of prey. Such a superior person has only two wishes in his sometimes-unavoidable dealings with the multitude of his inferiors: (1) to avoid being harmed by them, and (2) to make such use of them as his material necessities may oblige him to. This passage indubitably reflects both in terminology and in spirit Ibn Bājja’s thought. On the other hand, it does not, if it is taken by itself, give an adequate idea of the attitude of Maimonides.

It seems that the argument is practical and contingent on the political conditions in the environment of each of the two protagonists, but I believe that it goes deeper than that. I think this argument bears on the relationship between the individual and society, and how to arrange that relationship for the maximum evolution of both the individual and society.

Al-Fārābī held that the philosopher should take an activist role in society, using his superior status to take the reins in organizing the society to provide the maximum benefit. Given the philosophers’ general disdain for the hoi polloi, I would doubt that general education to bring all people up to the level of philosophic knowledge was on the agenda – for one thing, it was felt that the lower classes could never comprehend these subtle truths. Better that they be ruled benevolently by their betters, who have broader vision and less ego.

One can see that such a setup is a fertile field for abuse, power grabs and oppression, as we have seen far too often in history, including our own here in the US. The issue is not whether the masses are incapable of philosophical knowledge – a quick glance at our “civil” discourse shows that the great bulk of the people seem to be incapable of any critical thought whatsoever. The problem is at the top, where instead of philosophers, or even statesmen we have thieves and charlatans, venal individuals whose only thought is their own personal aggrandizement.

Ibn Bājja, on the other hand, advises the philosopher to withdraw from practical life and live in solitude, within himself, only interacting with the outer world enough to take care of his physical needs. In one sense this seems quite selfish and solipsistic (I’ve always wanted to use that word in a sentence!). The philosopher is self-sufficient, not really needing anyone’s company. On the other hand, is it truly virtuous to leave the rest of the world to wallow in its misery? Perhaps we can argue that since “under the unfavorable conditions prevailing in his time, conditions that were not likely to be changed for the better in any foreseeable future, there was no possibility of working for the creation of a philosophic city,” there is no point for the philosopher to waste his time and energy chasing a chimera. Maybe under different circumstances he would have supported a more activist role for the philosopher.

In any event, from the point of view of Vedic Science we can see merit in both sides. If we substitute “enlightened person” for “philosopher,” where an enlightened person is one whose awareness maintains Pure Consciousness at all times and who therefore thinks and acts from the most comprehensive level of life, then the philosopher is the ideal leader of any polity. The decisions he or she will make will be based 100% on natural law, and will therefore be most evolutionary for the society as a whole. What is even more ideal is if the leader can set up an educational system that will bring the hoi polloi up to the same enlightened level. Since, in Vedic Science, the technology to develop consciousness is effortless and rooted in the natural tendency of the mind, rather than in exhaustive study of the various philosophical disciplines, such an educational system is quite feasible. In fact, it is quite necessary, for the following reason. The leader may well be enlightened and functioning in accord with natural law, but if the mass of the people are not on that level, their implementation of the leader’s policies will be imperfect, and will not create the envisioned results. When Peter the Great was asked how it felt to be emperor of such a vast country he replied, “Not I but 10,000 clerks rule Russia!” The plans of many a great leader have foundered on the rocks of ignorance of their followers.

As far as living a life of solitude, anyone who identifies the Self with Pure Consciousness is living a life of solitude. Pure Consciousness is transcendental to the entire world of activity and relationships; it is as if a silent witness to all that goes on in the outer world. One living life on this level is completely self-sufficient. His body and mind may be acting, but he, in his essence, is withdrawn from activity. It is possible for a philosopher to be a recluse, but it is not necessary. Enlightenment is available to householders as well.

Vedic Science is not, in itself, a political philosophy. It is a body of knowledge with a practical technology that can bring fulfillment to any political system. Different countries have different customs and laws of nature, and differences in political systems are the natural consequence. Whatever the system, if the leaders are enlightened and use the technology to bring their constituents up to that level, it will find fulfillment in the happiness and creativity of its people.

l’Shanah Tovah uM’tukah

Best wishes for a healthy, happy New Year


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Nitzavim

In Parshah Nitzavim ,“standing”, Moses tells us that we stand before Gd as a nation, not a mere collection of people. It is love of Gd and love of one’s neighbor that binds us together and it is this same love that binds together the different aspects of our personality: our thoughts, our feelings, our body, our routines, our career, family, friends….

So, love and Love, Universal Love, are vital for us to live our life in unity, wholeness, not as a mere collection of fragments.

Moses tells our ancestors (and us) that Torah is not far from us, it is near, in our hearts to do. It is the Universal Love that allows us to live in Wholeness.

Moses also warns our ancestors (and us) of the desolation that we will occur if we turn from Torah, but comforts us that we will turn back and Gd will gather us together into the Promised Land. This means that though we may sometimes close our heart and turn away from Torah, yet at any time, we can open our heart and Torah will be seen there as It Always Is (Torah is the Word of Gd, the Liveliness of Gd, never separate, always there).

When we open our hearts, we are new people, descendants of the old people that we no longer are, new people, people in whom Torah and Gd are alive in our hearts, our words, our actions and in the response of Gd to us.

Moses tells us we are free to choose: the blessing of Torah, or the desolation of turning from it and he says “You shall choose life”. I am confident that our congregation is honoring Gd’s words spoken through Moses, and is choosing life.

As Rosh HaShanah nears, this is a reminder that the New Year is not only a New Year in calendar time but an opportunity for a new year in our hearts, souls, thoughts, speech, action and in the response Gd gives us. A time when we open even more to Gd and we become more aware that Gd is always open to us so no part of Gd’s Face is hidden and we remember and live the Oneness which we always Are (though we may have hidden from it). And not only remember and live but enjoy everywhere, all around us, Gd/Torah singing to us, dancing to us, within us, within the sky, earth, pebbles, streams and leaves—everywhere. Today and every day is an opportunity for the celebration of Newness – and Rosh HaShanah is especially so – New Year, New Us, New World.

A great time!

Baruch HaShem