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Parashat Shoftim 5781 — 08/14/2021

Parashat Shoftim 5781 — 08/14/2021

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 16:18-21:9

We are almost done with our consideration of Avicenna’s influence on Rambam; after that we will quickly come to Rambam’s work itself. I’m aiming to begin with Bereishit 5782, exactly one year from beginning this project. We’re now in the month of Elul, in the final countdown to the Days of Awe, and hopefully that momentum will carry us through this introduction. Having taken a look at “negative theology,” Prof. Pines goes in the other direction and considers an area where Aristotle and his followers do say something positive about Gd. This is in the area of Gd’s cognition.

The discussion of Maimonides’ negative theology can be fittingly followed by a reference to his conception of Gd’s intellectual activity, not because the two are complementary, but because they appear to be contradictory. The second doctrine has in the last analysis its source in Aristotle and is expounded by all the Peripatetic philosophers, but its conjunction with radical negative theology is by no means usual and may not be attested at all before the advent of Avicenna’s philosophy. Maimonides for his part gives this doctrine an interpretation that brings out, more than Avicenna’s does, its incompatibility with negative theology.

The doctrine in question states (see I 68; cf. I 55) that Gd is engaged in intellectual cognition, and that He is both the subject and the object of cognition and the cognitive activity, three in one. This conception derives from Aristotle’s Metaphysics Ʌ, and the philosophic proposition embodying it, which is quoted by Maimonides at the beginning of I 68, represents a stock formula used by practically all Aristotelian philosophers. In Aristotle’s Metaphysics this conception ties up with the idea that Gd only cognizes Himself, because all other things are unworthy of being known by Him. If, in accordance with a probable intention of Aristotle, the last statement is interpreted as excluding Gd’s cognition of the ideas or the universals, the content of Gd’s cognition would be most strictly circumscribed.

As you probably have guessed, Vedic Science will have a lot to add to this discussion. We have discussed this earlier but I’d like to review it and perhaps bring out some additional aspects of the subject. “Negative theology” posits our inability to say anything positive about Gd and His Attributes, because they are so far beyond our experience that it is impossible to get our heads, let alone our language, around Gd, Who is infinite. Yet Aristotle and those who came after, did say something positive about Gd, namely that (a) He engages in intellectual cognition and (b) He is the subject and the object of said cognition. Certainly, if we, who are Gd’s creatures, can cognize, Gd must also be able to cognize, therefore (a) must be true. But if Gd is all that there really is, then there is nothing else for Him to cognize, therefore (b) must also be true. As Prof. Pines indicates, this leaves open the question whether Gd can cognize (know) anything outside Himself, in particular the “ideas” or “universals” – the abstract entities that underlie all tangible forms and phenomena. As Prof. Pines puts it, “If … the last statement is interpreted as excluding Gd’s cognition of the ideas or the universals, the content of Gd’s cognition would be most strictly circumscribed.” It is this restriction, caused by the finite nature of our concepts, that is the reason behind negative theology to begin with!

The nature of human cognition in the waking state of consciousness is that the subject becomes overshadowed by the object – the object as it were invades and swallows up the subject. This is because the true nature of the subject – our true nature(!) – is Pure Consciousness, and the experience of Pure Consciousness is very delicate. Pure Consciousness is complete silence, and, at least at first, any activity drowns it out. From a physiological point of view, the nervous system must be completely flexible to be able to appreciate Pure Consciousness. Any stiffness will blur the experience. If one regularly experiences Pure Consciousness, allowing the mind to go silent and the nervous system to get extremely deep rest. This purifies the mind and nervous system to the point where the experience of Pure Consciousness is no longer overshadowed by the activity of thought or perception. The identity of the subject (Pure Consciousness) and the object has been broken – Pure Consciousness, the Self, is detached from the activity of the world. This is quite the opposite of the “unity” that prevailed in ordinary waking state. I don’t know if that is the kind of unity to which Aristotle referred when he described human intellection.

We described earlier that, according to Vedic Science, there is a higher state of unity between subject and object that is available to human beings. This does not involve degrading the Self from infinite, unbounded Pure Consciousness to the level of a finite object, but rather raising the value of the object to the same infinite, unbounded status as ourself. This is called Unity Consciousness and, in this case, we have an identity between the subject and the object of cognition on the level of the infinite. This could be called Pure Consciousness cognizing itself. Indeed, on this view, Pure Consciousness is all that there is, and everything that we see around us is simply Pure Consciousness expressing itself to itself, and we are, as it were, the mechanism by which Pure Consciousness knows itself.

There is one more step we can take with this. We have described the growth of consciousness from the human point of view – starting with waking state, where there is no experience of Pure Consciousness, to the state where Pure Consciousness is experienced as separate from the world of activity, to Unity Consciousness, where Pure Consciousness is perceived as the all-pervasive reality of life. This is all well and good, but it presupposes a human nervous system to project, or support, these different states of consciousness. The question is, where did the human nervous system come from, and why does Pure Consciousness need this “intermediary” to experience itself? And I think the answer is that, in truth, Pure Consciousness is really the only reality, and the human nervous system and everything that is needed to sustain it – galaxies, stars, planets – are all the internal dynamics of Pure Consciousness. That means that when Pure Consciousness cognizes itself, it is cognizing its own essential nature and all its expressions at once, because those expressions are not essentially different or disconnected from Pure Consciousness. If this is true, then the question whether Gd can cognize “lower” forms or ideas does not arise – in cognizing Himself, Gd cognizes all levels of creation from the most sublime and abstract to the grossest forms of matter.

Disclaimer – I am not equating Gd and Pure Consciousness. Maharishi, as I understand him, said that Gd is more than just Pure Consciousness. I am just pointing out that a conundrum that Aristotle stated about Gd (however he understood Gd) may be solved using Pure Consciousness as an analogy.


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Shoftim

Parshah Shoftim has the theme of “Justice”, and illustrates through this the discussion of appointment and behavior of judges and kings, the need for witnesses to prevent violations of Torah law and witnesses to attest that a crime has been committed.

In discussing Gd’s Judgment given on Rosh HaShana, Rebbetzin Tiporah Gottlieb said something very lovely, in a recent webinar: “Gd Judges us to see what we need” – judgment is not a matter of punishment or reward: it is a matter of determining (so to speak – Gd always knows, no need to make a special point of determining on a particular occasion) on Rosh HaShanah, the Head of the Year, what we need. Gd gives us Justice, what we need.

“Justice” means that which will bring us to Full Attunement with Gd: only in perfect attunement can we act completely justly — but good intentions and good actions from innocent hearts can move us in the right direction.

“Shoftim” means “judges” and this parshah speaks about judges, kings and prophets, people who might be sufficiently attuned to Gd that they can serve as intermediaries between us and Gd to know what we need and to guide us to act more and more justly until our hearts are completely pure, our souls are just and we are “Holy, as Gd is Holy.”

In this parshah, Moses tells us that in Hebron, Mt Sinai (Exodus says “Sinai,” Deuteronomy says “Horeb”) our ancestors heard Gd’s voice and bid Moses to go on the mountain and speak with Gd, lest they die. Gd tells Moses they have said well: an intermediary is needed.

And Moses speaks of judges, kings and prophets who will be appointed and will arise: intermediaries who will guide us when we are still not pure enough to be completely at ease in Gd’s Presence, to “love Gd with all our heart, all our soul and might” which includes perceiving Gd everywhere and so “loving our neighbor as ourselves” – which requires us to know our self as Self, One, and to Love our neighbors as expressions of our Self, within our Self.

Fortunately, there can be a situation and come a time when we do not need intermediaries, when we know Gd directly: In Jeremiah 31:33-34, Gd says we will all know Him: no intermediary is necessary.
“And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor and every man his brother saying ‘Know G d,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them” (Jeremiah 31:33)! (translation from “Modern Times”, by Jacob Immanuel Shochet, posted on

Joy is rising in our world, though the headlines may not seem to show it. Soon we will be pure enough, our world will be pure enough, open enough to Gd, to Love, so that the fear of Gd’s voice which existed at Sinai/Hebron will no longer rise. “Justice” seems a bit of an austere word: Think of it as “Love”, as in “Love Gd above all else” and “Love Thy neighbor as thy self [Self]” and it feels better. Where there is Love, there is no blemish, no violation – there is Perfect Attunement, Justice.

“Shoftim” means “judges” and the commandment to establish judges indicates that people are not able to act completely in harmony with Gd’s Will, so there will be disagreements. The appointment of judges also suggests that there are some people, the judges, who are able to act at least to a good degree in accord with Gd’s Will —promising help to those a bit out of tune to get into tune and participate in a harmonious society.

Judges will be appointed in every generation and they will administer justice without bias and they will teach Torah law and people must follow, not deviating. Teaching Torah law means not just teaching the 10 utterances, the 613 commandments, for people to memorize and follow: it means teaching harmony with Torah, which is harmony with Gd, teshuvah, return to Oneness. It means teaching people to realize they are impulses of Gd, characters in a story Gd, One, tells within Himself/Herself/The Self.

At this time, the closest we our formal Jewish structure seems to come — and we hope that it is close — to the formally appointed judges intended by Gd is the Supreme Rabbinical Court in Israel which is respected by rabbinical judges not only in Israel but throughout the world. But, fortunately, we are growing in the ability to spontaneously Love and to create the world so pure that the Rabbinical Court will be a place for Torah recitation, singing, dancing in the Joy of Oneness — no disagreements to resolve, no needs to diagnose and prescribe paths to satisfaction.

Shoftim repeats the law against idolatry and adds a law against sorcery: both involve putting trust in a partial value not in the Wholeness that is Gd. Our Beth Shalom community is growing in Wholeness so that we are guiding our life more and more within Wholeness, in Fulfillment, so there is less chance we will get drawn into fragments of Life.

Shoftim talks about kings: they are like judges in their power and Gd commands them to be humble, not to think themselves better than others, and each king is commanded to write a copy of the Torah Scroll for himself, to keep it with him always.  Greatness comes from humility, because humility is the awareness that the individual is only great through connection to Wholeness, Gd, the Self. What is commanded for a king can certainly be useful for anyone. Learning to create our own Torah scroll in the way that the trained soferim, Torah scribes, do would be a wonderful experience in attuning ourselves to Torah on the level of meaning, language, words, but also on the level of letters, the level of the way body, mind, feeling, ink, pen and parchment interact to produce letters, words, spaces, words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters, all of Torah in written form. This delightful action can help reveal to us the Torah that is not words on paper but the Liveliness of Gd, One with Gd.

To become a Torah scribe requires considerable training and Torah scrolls created by them are quite expensive so for most of us, we will probably have to substitute reading the Torah, reciting Torah, and keeping a printed copy of Torah by our bedside or some other place that is convenient. But, now and again, we can copy the words by hand, the best we can and rise through this Joy.

Torah is on the Internet in many places and so anytime we are near a computer, we can take a few minutes now and again to dip into Torah and return to our other activity with some fine refreshment. In a deeper sense, “writing our own Torah” means experiencing Torah as fundamental vibrations of Consciousness, of Gd – experiencing this within our own consciousness. Writing and reading Torah in our everyday world can help this experience to grow.

Shoftim describes the creating of cities of refuge: Here we see justice in another form — places where someone who accidentally killed will be safe from retribution. Better to rise in purity so that our world rises with us and there are no accidents, much less accidental killings, and no need for cities of refuge.

Symbolically, “cities of refuge” are places within our own awareness where stressful thoughts, memories, anticipations do not arise – A Transcendental realm within our awareness.

Unblemished offerings:
These symbolize the purity that justice is — unblemished. Since the real offering is not the physical offering, or even the prayers that we offer today as a substitute for the physical offerings: the real offering is our self. So we offer ourselves to Gd as the Mi Shebeirach prayer says: “Give us the courage to make our lives a blessing.”

Witnesses: As an example of standards of evidence, two adults witnessing someone about to break Torah law were required to warn him. In a world, where all live in Canaan, the Promised Land, fully realized Synchronicity/Integration, this might not even be necessary for small children. But even when it is, in a world where everyone experiences “The World is My Family” anyone seeing any child in danger of breaking a law would certainly unhesitatingly, lovingly warn the child. Symbolically, two adults mean both our waking state self and our Transcendental Self. A child is a thought rising that wants to blossom into action.

Rules of war: Peace terms are to be offered before attacking a city. In a world where everyone is in harmony with Gd, with One, wars will not arise. Similarly, wars will not arise within our mind regarding different choices, interpretations.

No Wanton Destruction: For example, no cutting down a fruit tree that is bearing fruit in order to use its wood to build a house. A harmonious world shows us exactly the appropriate materials and tools at exactly the right time. A harmonious mind bears fruit for action and the action leads to not merely a wooden house, but to The Home of Fulfillment.

Action: When a dead body is found without witnesses to the murder: the whole community is held responsible; it is the community’s lack of attunement to Torah, to Gd, that led to the crime. With each of us becoming more and more attuned, the community becomes attuned, murder does not occur. Similarly, no useless thoughts, dead thoughts, arise in our mind: we think from the Source of Thought and every thought that arises is Live.

These specific examples of justice depend on our attunement to Wholeness, to Oneness, and this depends greatly on the justice, the purity, of our daily routine. When our daily routine is healthy, we see things as they are, act appropriately in a spontaneous way.

Shoftim is an aspect of Torah that gives specific examples of the qualities of judges and specific examples of ways to ensure that justice is done. Through our reading, reciting, hearing, writing this passage we can move to the Universal Justice that is Love, Joy, Harmony, Oneness, Wholeness, Gd, Self.

How nice!

Baruch HaShem