Skip to content

Parashat Terumah 5784 — 02/17/2024

Parashat Terumah 5784 — 02/17/2024

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 25:1-27:19

Before we leave the topic of Gd’s attributes and actions I’d like to look at what Rambam has to say about two of the most common types of attributes/actions that we ascribe to Gd, namely favor/reward and wrath/punishment. Here’s what Rambam has to say:

For instance, one apprehends the kindness of His governance in the production of the embryos of living beings, the bringing of various faculties to existence in them and in those who rear them after birth – faculties that preserve them from destruction and annihilation and protect them against harm and are useful to them in all the doings that are necessary to them. Now actions of this kind proceed from us only after we feel a certain affection and compassion, and this is as it is said, Like a father is merciful to his children [Ps. 103:13], and it says, And I will pity them as a man pitieth his own son [Mal 3:17]. It is not that He, may He be exalted, is affected and has compassion. But an action similar to that which proceeds from a father in respect to his child and that is attached to compassion, pity and an absolute passion, proceeds from Him, may He be exalted, in reference to His holy ones [RAR i.e. the Jewish people] not because of a passion or a change.

This is the favor/reward axis. Gd takes, as it were, a parental role, giving us (and all creatures for that matter) what we need to thrive, as it says (Ps 145) Pote’ach et yadecha umasbi’a l’chol chai ratzon / He opens His Hand and satisfies all living things with favor. This is, or should be, the normal state of affairs. The universe was created on the basis of goodness and in order for Gd to bestow goodness on all creatures, as it says, The world is built by chesed / Olam chesed yibaneh. In Maharishi’s words, “Expansion of happiness is the purpose of creation.”

Human beings, however, have free will, and can act in accord with Gd’s Will or otherwise. When we choose the otherwise the results are generally not good at all, and we feel Gd’s wrath:

Similarly we find among His actions that proceed with regard to the Adamites [RAR i.e. human beings] great calamities overtaking certain individuals and destroying them, or some universal event annihilating whole tribes or even an entire region, exterminating the children and the children of the children, leaving in existence neither the products of the soil nor the offspring of living beings – for instance, submergence of land, earthquakes, destructive storms, military expeditions of one people against others in order to exterminate the latter by the sword and to efface all traces of them. Many of these actions would proceed from one of us in reference to another only because of a violent anger or a great hatred or a desire for vengeance. With reference to these actions He is called jealous and avenging and keeping anger and wrathful, meaning that actions similar to those that proceed from us from a certain aptitude of the soul – namely, jealousy, holding fast to vengeance, hatred, or anger – proceed from Him, may He be exalted, because of the deserts of those who are punished, and not because of any passion whatever, may He be exalted above every deficiency. Similarly all actions are such as resemble the actions proceeding from the Adamites on account of passions and aptitudes of the soul, hut they by no means proceed from Him, may He be exalted, on account of a notion superadded to His essence.

Again, Rambam makes a distinction between the actions which we ascribe to Gd and our actions. Our actions stem from the “aptitudes of the soul,” and we project those emotions onto Gd, Who of course transcends completely all such notions. Nevertheless, we do see Gd’s actions in terms of these two poles, reward and punishment. What is going on?

It is a given in Jewish thought that Gd responds to human action midah k’neged midah / measure for measure. In broad strokes, when we do Gd’s Will, we get rewarded, and when our actions contravene Gd’s Will we receive “punishment.” But, as Rambam points out in the quoted passages, when our actions are in accord with Gd’s Will, we receive the very natural nourishment that appears to be built in to the structure of creation. In other words, the laws of nature, or Gd’s Will, are structured in a way that growth and development is the natural course of nature. (Even senescence and death contribute to the overall evolution of the ecosystem, both local and global.) As long as our action is in accord with this general flow of nature, we too experience growth and evolution and this experience is pleasurable. Gd’s “reward” is automatic – our own nature is arranged in a way that feels harmony and pleasure – at an extreme, bliss – when we are in tune with Gd’s Will. Swimming with the powerful current of evolution is almost effortless.

The language Rambam uses in the case of “punishment” is somewhat different. He talks about actions that are damaging and/or cause suffering to individuals or groups of individuals, and comments that were such actions to be taken by an individual, we would attribute those actions to the emotions of anger or hatred or a desire for vengeance (all of which, by the way, are forbidden by the Torah). For example, Vengeance is mine [says Gd] (Deut 32:35) and numerous examples of “Gd’s wrath was aroused” found throughout the Bible, whenever Israel’s actions were inappropriate.

Of course Gd does not lash out from anger, as Gd is beyond all emotions, and all duality (e.g. of anger vs delight) for that matter. In this case Rambam asserts that the reaction from Gd that we classify as anger is in reality due to “the deserts of those who are punished, and not because of any passion whatever.” In other words, and in line with much of Jewish thought, Gd’s “punishments” are seen as corrective measures, designed to restore balance and harmony in nature and society. Even in the case of capital crimes punishable by the courts, the Torah often specifies “and you shall put the evil out of your midst.” In other words, this action caused such a great imbalance that it had to be removed completely for nature to heal the breach.

We have stated that the natural flow of creation is in the direction of evolution, growth of complexity and harmonious interconnectedness that reflects more and more the perfection of the Unity from which creation has sprung. This evolution is governed by the laws of nature and when we act in accord with the laws of nature our own evolution is carried along with cosmic evolution. This gives rise inside us of feelings of harmony and bliss. We feel Gd’s “love” – the power of unification of the individual with the cosmos. On the other hand, violation of the laws of nature, which means acting in a way that leads to disunion and disharmony, causes a reaction in nature to try to restore balance and harmony. Since this reaction is opposite to our action, we feel strain, lack of fulfillment, and suffering. We feel that we are being “punished.” If enough violation of the laws of nature build up, the strain on the entire society may become so much that the reaction of nature to redress the balance becomes catastrophic, and whole communities or nations may be swept away, by war or famine or pestilence or conquest.

We see that according to Rambam Gd does not act out of any human emotion whatsoever – rather He has finely tuned the laws of nature to make sure nature stays in balance and progressing to ever higher levels of organization and structure, and He has left it up to each of us to what extent we wish to participate on the right side of history. Obviously, it is up to us to choose wisely.