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Parashat Pinchas 5781 — 07/03/2021

Parashat Pinchas 5781 — 07/03/2021

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.

Bamidbar 25:10-30:1

This week I would like to consider the second part of Prof. Pines’ quote from the previous essay:

What are the implications of this deviation from the strict Aristotelian doctrine if one considers Maimonides’ philosophic position as a whole? Prima facie they seem to be considerable. For according to this view the existence of the universe ceases to be the primary datum postulated by Aristotle, beyond which one cannot and must not go; the cosmos is no longer taken for granted. Considered by itself, it is an accident that might not have occurred. Should one add (for the last phrase might seem unsatisfactory, attributing as it does the existence of the universe to chance): that might not have occurred but for the will of Gd?
Avicenna leaves no loophole for such an interpretation, if it implies that Gd might have chosen not to create a universe at all, or not this universe but a different one. In fact, in his philosophic system the contingent character of the world merely veils and disguises the essential necessity of the latter. For every contingent being is only contingent if it is taken by itself, but is ineluctably necessary if it is considered in relation to the concatenation of causes and effects starting with the First Cause, Gd, to which it owes its existence. In fact, Avicenna`s system is strictly deterministic. And this determinism extends to Gd and His activity.

Apparently, for Aristotle, the existence of the universe is a “primary datum … beyond which one cannot and must not go.” Just on the surface it would seem that such a statement is impossible to square with any monotheistic religious tradition, or, in fact, any tradition which posits an unbounded unity at the basis of all diversity. In any such system there is something that is unified, not composite, completely undifferentiated, at the basis of creation, and diversity springs from that unity. Since the universe is composite, with untold numbers of particles forming layer after layer of structure, it can hardly be said to be a primary datum. For Aristotle, however, it appears that he considers the universe to be uncreated and eternal. Judaism and Islam take the opposite tack – Gd is the only Being Who is uncreated and eternal, and is the Creator of the universe.

This now raises the question: on the view that the universe is created and therefore contingent (i.e., it depends on something else), is it possible that Gd might have decided not to create the universe, or that He might have decided to create a different universe, or many other universes? According to Prof Pines, Avicenna’s position is that Gd must create the universe: In fact, Avicenna’s system is strictly deterministic. And this determinism extends to Gd and His activity.

It seems to me that there are several strands of knowledge that can be brought to bear on this issue. Judaism certainly has something to say about it, as does modern physics. Vedic Science also deals with the issue of multiplicity’s arising out of Unity.

One of Judaism’s fundamental principles is that human beings have free will. We can make choices to act or not to act, to do good or otherwise. Since we are created by Gd, it follows that Gd must be at least as free as we are, and one would presume that this would include the freedom to create or not, and to create universes very different from ours, or a series of universes, or an infinite number of “parallel universes.” The universe we see, with its three spatial dimensions and one time dimension, might be an infinitesimal slice of a much bigger system with more dimensions, creating “room” for an infinity of universes.

This, in fact, is the view of modern physics. By now physicists are pretty well convinced that there is a Unified Field that is multidimensional, and projects the 3+1 dimensional space-time in which we live, as well, perhaps, of an infinity of other universes, perhaps with the same laws of nature, perhaps with similar laws but slightly different parameters, perhaps interacting with our universe, perhaps not. The Unified Field itself, though governed by its own rules, still has freedom to create an infinite variety of patterns of vibration within itself.

Avicenna appears to take the position that however wide one casts the net, seeking to expand the (physical) system of cause and effect, everything comes down to a First Cause, and that First Cause, like any other cause in the cause-and-effect chain, is governed by rules. Since everything, from start to the furthest ramification, is rule-driven, the entire system is pre-determined. This is a deterministic system, and fits well with our understanding of classical physics. In classical physics we can, in principle, define the state of a system exactly, and, if we know the laws of interaction between the particles of the system, we can predict the further evolution of the system exactly.

The trouble is, according to quantum mechanics, it is in principle impossible to specify the state of a system exactly, at least in terms of the usual parameters like position and momentum. This makes the kind of predictions of future states of the system envisaged above impossible. Even if we consider only quantum-mechanical states of the system, which do evolve deterministically, one cannot, by measurement, determine the exact quantum-mechanical state of a system, because interaction of the system with the measuring instruments and the consciousness of the observer, changes the state (“collapse of the wave function”).

According to Vedic Science, the transcendental field that lies at the basis of all creation is the field of Pure Consciousness. Since Pure Consciousness has the nature of consciousness, it has to be conscious of something. Since it is transcendental, devoid of any object of consciousness, the only thing it can become conscious of is itself. Thus, Pure Consciousness takes on the roles of Observer, Observed and process of observation, all within its own nature. This virtual “split” allows for a dynamic interaction of Pure Consciousness with itself. Everything in creation is nothing more than the virtual, internal dynamics of Pure Consciousness.

Since Pure Consciousness is infinitely flexible, it is capable of forming itself into an infinite number of configurations. There are certainly laws that govern the behavior of Pure Consciousness – those are the Veda – but it is a government that guides without essentially constricting the infinite creativity inherent in Pure Consciousness. In fact, the laws of nature that guide creativity strengthen and channel the creativity like the banks of a river channel the water and turn a destructive flood into a useful river. So, I think the equation of lawful behavior and determinism is untenable, if that is what Avicenna really meant. Of course, we’re really interested in what Rambam meant, and we will have the chance to analyze the Rambam when we get into his actual words!


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Pinchas
Although this parshah is named after Pinchas who stopped a plague by slaying a prince and a prostitute who openly violated the laws against adultery, the central event in this parshah is Gd fulfilling Moses’ request to appoint someone to lead B’nei Israel into the Promised Land. Gd tells Moses to lay his hands on Joshua so that some of Moses’ spirit will enter Joshua and Joshua will be able to lead the people into the physical Promised Land. According to the Gemara the elders of the generation called this a “great embarrassment,” that Joshua was like the moon whereas Moses was like the sun.

If the Gemara is correct then the question arises, “Why did Gd appoint a leader who was less than Moses? who had only part of Moses’ spirit?” Perhaps Moses did not need to enter the Promised Land to experience Teshuvah — he already had it, being soaked in Gd’s Presence as he was.

The Children of Israel, however, including Joshua did need to enter the Promised Land in order to be fully aware of Gd’s Presence. If all of Moses’ spirit were given to Joshua, then he also would have no need to enter the Promised Land and the people would have no leader.

What can this mean in our lives?

The Promised Land is within us even when we are acting in the (relative) desert that is the ordinary life of human beings. The qualities of our awareness that are less than full — our thoughts, our feelings, our sensory awareness — lead us to the Wholeness, the Promised Land that transcends them and pervades them.

These thoughts, feeling and sensory awareness are like Joshua — they allow us, through use, through practice, to experience more and more refined levels of them and eventually (Dear Gd, Please! Now!) to experience the Promised Land, the Wholeness, the Oneness in which Torah and Gd and all we experience as our own Self, One.

Now, please, Now!