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Parashat Tetzaveh 5782 — 02/12/2022

Parashat Tetzaveh 5782 — 02/12/2022

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 27:20-30:10

Last week we were discussing the root Y-L-D which has the meaning of “giving birth,” and figuratively as a cause creating an effect. Now the chain of cause and effect, while often complex in practice, seems a rather straightforward idea in principle. Objective science is based on this principle, as is all technology. In ancient times knowledge of the sun’s behavior allowed agriculture to develop. Children learn early that certain behaviors will create specific (over)reactions on the part of their parents (at least until the parents learn TM).

There is a problem with strict cause-and-effect, and that has to do with human, and perhaps more important, Divine creativity and freedom. If the universe is a billiard-ball universe, with the state of the system at each moment solely dependent on its state the moment before, where is there room for a human being to exercise free will? And if there is no free will, how can Gd reward or punish anyone for the actions that they are compelled to take? While we may be aware that our choices are constrained by circumstance and upbringing, we know, based on our inner experience, that there is always a point where we can make moral decisions.

A billiard-ball universe also affects our view of Gd. In a universe that is governed strictly by natural law, even Gd’s hands are tied, so to speak. Gd may have created the universe, but once everything is set in motion, just like a clockmaker, all Gd can do is watch all of cosmic history play itself out in its inevitable course. It is hard to imagine any concept of a Deity who is so trammeled by His own creation!

Now there are potential solutions to some of these issues in modern physics, which I hope to discuss, and I believe there are solutions in Vedic science. However, these ideas were not available in Rambam’s time, and the problem was addressed by both Jewish and Muslim philosophers (I would assume that Christian philosophers dealt with it as well). One prominent approach, espoused by the school of the kalām, actually holds that Gd creates the universe anew constantly, and that any apparent regularity that we might see (or think we see) is either because Gd decides at every moment to create the “next” universe as if it had evolved naturally from the “previous” one, or because each time Gd creates the universe he creates us as we now find ourselves, with our memories in place and everything set up in our mind to organize those memories into regularities. The first approach is more objective – an actual, physical universe is created at every moment. The second appears to be more subjective – it is our mental world that gets created anew; we actually have no information about any objective world “out there,” just our own mental state at that moment.

Lest you think such theories strain credulity, some very bright people have seen merit in them. Bertrand Russel points out that we have no way of determining objectively that the universe was not created 5 minutes ago, with our mental state set up with our “memories” and libraries full of history books, and billion-year-old rocks beneath our feet. In the century after Rambam, Ramban (Nachmanides) also held that the laws of nature were not laws in any strict sense, but only the way Gd chooses to run the world, except when He doesn’t. Thus, to Ramban, every ordinary occurrence is a “hidden” miracle, created by Gd through an act of Will, but acting through the ordinary laws of nature, while “open” miracles, like the splitting of the Sea or the sun’s standing still for Joshua, involve Gd’s decision to alter the laws of nature – that is, to will the sequence of events in a very unlikely, unusual manner.

Since Scripture records many alterations of the laws of nature (i.e. miracles), some mechanism had to be posited to allow this to happen. Not everyone is happy with the kalām approach, for a couple of reasons. First, it uproots the entire philosophical underpinning of our everyday life. We are forced to rely on the regularity of nature for everything in our life, from the working of our bodies to the rising and setting of the sun, moon and stars. Second, there is no way to test the hypothesis. If Gd is creating the world moment-after-moment in the exact way that it looks to us (who are also being created moment-after-moment) like the scientific laws of nature are real, then there is apparently no way we can step out of this system and see the moment-after-moment creation’s taking place. In other words, whether the hypothesis is true or not makes not a scintilla of  difference to life as we live it. People therefore looked for other, more naturalistic explanations for miracles (and for the phenomenon of free will).

In point of fact, our classical physics world view is indeed a billiard-ball universe. All particles are conceived of as points of mass, charge, angular momentum, etc., all  interacting with one another by means of forces like gravity and electromagnetism. Most important, everything about each particle can, in principle, be measured exactly. And while measuring the position and state of motion of every particle in the universe is practically impossible, if we could somehow collect that data, we could, in principle, predict the entire future course of the history of the cosmos.

So, progress in finding some scientific justification for free will – both ours and Gd’s – had to wait for some developments in modern physics to shake up the foundations of our understanding of the universe. First, Einstein’s Relativity theory turned space and time from being the backdrop of physical processes to being participants in the dynamics of the universe. Second, quantum mechanics upended our notion of what a particle is. No longer a discrete packet of mass, charge, etc., particles are now understood to be waves, and the outcome of any experiment (e.g. to determine the position of a particle) only has probabilistic results. It appears that the act of measurement – that is, connecting our consciousness to the physical phenomenon, changes that phenomenon. Objective science needs to take subjectivity into account to create a complete theory. Furthermore, the phenomenon of quantum entanglement brings into question the notion that phenomena are inherently local, which is foundational to the classical world view.

Next week, Gd willing, we will take up these ideas in some more detail, and see what Vedic Science has to bring to the table.


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Tetzaveh
In this parashah, Gd continues giving Moses many instructions to command the children of Israel to do so that He will dwell among them.

The first is that they shall bring pure olive oil to kindle the Eternal Flame continually.

Oil, lamps and light all have deep symbolism that guides us to live in such a way that we will be aware of Gd’s Presence within every aspect of our mind, body, soul, heart and in the world around us, that guide us to experience the Eternal.

Oil, for example, symbolizes the aspect of Gd through which He appears, speaks to us. It is used for anointing kings and priests, making them holy (Whole) so they can serve Gd.

Lamps are containers to hold kindling, such as oil, and they symbolize we human beings who have become pure enough to know that Gd’s Presence is already within us.

Light, for example, symbolizes the actions in which we not only know Gd’s Presence but also act with Gd’s Presence enlivening, purifying, enlightening every action of ours so that they are in accord with Gd’s Will and spread awareness of Gd’s Presence so we are aware of it everywhere and so is everyone else, so is every impulse of Gd, all of what we call Creation, the Universe.

In addition to oil for the lamps, Gd commands Moses to bring Aaron and his sons “near to yourself”: this is raising them close to the level of awareness Moses has: constant awareness of the Presence of Gd.

They are to be brought near and Moses and those who Gd has “filled with the spirit of wisdom” shall make garments for them, garments that Gd describes in great detail. The High Priest was to wear tunic, cloaks, apron, breastplate, turban, gold plate above the turban, belt and pants and these were to made of gold, linen, wool, precious stones. The ordinary priests were to wear tunics, turbans, belts and pants.

The extensive detail suggests deep symbolism, symbolizing different levels of drawing near to Gd and different levels of bringing not only the priests into harmony with Gd but bringing all of Israel and all life into Harmony.

The main point for us is that whatever literal garments we wear and whatever actions we do, thoughts we think, feelings we have clothe our souls so we should be guided by our sense of harmony and purity: continue to increase those things which allow us to experience and radiate harmony and joy, Harmony and Joy; and continue to let fall away anything which limits joy and harmony, clouds them.

As we do this, Gd fills us more and more with the spirit of wisdom and we are able to make, not only pure physical materials and the garments but spiritual ones as well — our innocent hearts and minds are the materials and our thoughts and actions are the garments that enable us to serve Gd with Holiness, to serve as High Priests and priests even while walking, talking, working, playing — all the things we do in our daily life, no matter what our literal profession.

Just by reading this parashah, in Hebrew or in English, or hearing it a bit, a lot or all of it we become Lamps in which Gd’s Presence is apparent and Lights in which Gd’s Will is done — a little, more, a lot, and then All, and we return through our openness and our good actions to the Oneness in which all separations are dissolved and all details are  enjoyed as harmonious, joyful, loving expressions within the Oneness which is Gd, our Self, One.

Baruch HaShem