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Parashat Vayechi 5783 — 01/07/2023

Parashat Vayechi 5783 — 01/07/2023

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.

Bereishit 47:28-50:26

In his next chapter (34) Rambam delineates the 5 reasons that we do not begin by teaching people “divine science” right off the bat. Here is the list (in Rambam’s words), and we’ll consider them one by one:

    1. The first cause is the difficulty, subtlety and obscurity of the matter itself.
    2. The second cause is the insufficiency of the minds of all men at their beginnings [RAR: i.e. from birth].
    3. The third cause lies in the length of the preliminaries.
    4. The fourth cause is to be found in the natural aptitudes.
    5. The fifth cause is to be found in the fact that men are occupied with the necessities of the bodies, which are the first perfection; and more particularly if, in addition they are occupied with taking care of a wife and of children; and even more especially if there is in them, superadded to that, a demand for the superfluities of life, which becomes an established habitus as a result of a bad conduct of life and bad customs.

The first cause is the difficulty, subtlety and obscurity of the matter itself. Thus Scripture says That which was is far off and exceeding deep; who can find it out? (Eccl 7:24). And it is said: But wisdom, where shall it be found? (Job 28:12). Now it is not fitting in teaching to begin with what is most difficult and obscure for the understanding. One of the parables generally known in our community is that likening knowledge to water. Now the Sages, peace be on them, explained several notions by means of this parable; one of them being that he who knows how to swim brings up pearls from the bottom of the sea, whereas he who does not know, drowns. For this reason, no one should expose himself to the risk of swimming except he who has been trained in learning to swim.

We have speculated that “divine science” is really the knowledge of the transcendent, and this knowledge is indeed “far off and exceeding deep” when viewed from the perspective of a bounded individual mind. If an individual tries to imagine the transcendent, or intellectually understand it, or worse, make a mood that he is experiencing it, it will quickly lead to internal contradictions and will be harmful to one’s mental health. This is borne out by the story of the “Four Who Entered the Garden / Paradise” which we discussed not long ago. Thoughts, emotions, logic, perception, feelings are all finite, and as such, cannot directly plumb the depths of the transcendent, which is beyond all finite values.

It is possible, of course, to allow the mind to settle down in a natural manner and transcend all the boundaries of thought and emotion, and become as if one with the transcendent. This, however, cannot be manipulated or rushed, and must begin where the mind is, which is on a thought – a finite thought. The thought then gets progressively more refined and subtle – that is, the mind experiences the thought at progressively subtle levels – until the mind settles down completely to a state of absolute silence, transcendental to even the finest fluctuation of thought. At this point the mind becomes Pure Consciousness, which knows itself. This is really the first, vital step on the road to total knowledge, which is knowledge of “divine science,” in Rambam’s terms. As we have discussed, this is knowledge on the basis of direct experience, pure inner knowledge.

Note here that, as we have discussed, knowledge and experience of Pure Consciousness or the transcendent is unlike all other kinds of knowledge with which we are familiar. All other kinds of knowledge are of things (perhaps even abstract “things” like ideas) that are extrinsic to ourselves, something other than our consciousness, the “object” of knowledge (or perception) as opposed to our inner self, which is the subject of perception. The experience of Pure Consciousness, on the other hand, is the experience of the Self, within itself, by itself. It is completely self-referential, self-contained. It is also completely full and unbounded, not empty, as we will see.

When we first experience Pure Consciousness we experience it as pure silence. The mind has settled down, all objects of perception have faded away completely, and the Self is left by itself. As we become more and more familiar with the experience, we gradually become aware of a vibration within Pure Consciousness. At first it is an inchoate hum, like the sound one might hear from a busy marketplace when one is far away. As one draws closer, one can make out the individual sounds of the merchants hawking their wares in each stall. In a similar way, we grow from perceiving the dynamism of Pure Consciousness as a hum, to being able to pick up the very subtlest levels of its vibration as individual laws of nature, individual impulses guiding one part of creation or another.

In terms of Vedic Science, this is Vedic cognition, and, I believe, in Rambam’s terms, this is Divine science. And it is indeed subtle, and for anyone who does not have Pure Consciousness established in their awareness all the time, it is most difficult and obscure. Since people are almost never born with this awareness, we cannot jump immediately into Divine science, thinking that we will master it intellectually. It takes time to purify the nervous system to the point where it can maintain Pure Consciousness. Only then is intellectual study of the finest realms of creation valid, as it is just elucidating our direct experience of those realms. If we try to understand it intellectually without having purified the nervous system and gained direct experience of Pure Consciousness, we are going to get very confused at best.

We’ll continue this discussion next week when we discuss the kind of growth the nervous system must go through to achieve perfection.

Chazak, Chazak v’Nitchazeik!


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Vayechi (“And he lived”)

Jacob lives in Egypt for 17 years, his end draws near, Israel asks Joseph to promise he will be buried Jacob in the Holy Land, with his fathers. Joseph swears.

From the point of view, Jacob is called “Jacob” when he toils, “Israel” when he is free from toil. When Jacob was wrestling with a man, then an angel, then Gd, he was toiling; when he prevailed, he was free from toil, and so called “Israel.”

Living in Egypt, Mitzraim, Restrictions, is living with toiling; returning to Canaan, Synchronicity, Wholeness, he will be free from restrictions, from toil, he will be “Israel”. So as his end draws near, he is blessed with a taste of his status as Israel and it is from this level of freedom, of Joy, that he asks Joseph to swear to bury his body in Canaan, the Holy Land, the Land of Wholeness.

We do not need to die in order to be free from toil. We can simply open ourselves to the deeper and deeper levels of Torah, the levels which are deeper than the level of meaning, which is a level of restrictions. We can open ourselves to Torah, within which all levels exist, Torah which is One with Gd, Totality. This is the real Holy Land, the real Land of Wholeness.

As Jacob, he becomes ill, toiling to rise from his bed when Joseph brings Joseph’s sons to him. When he sees Joseph’s sons, he is raised in spirit and is Israel.

As Israel, he blesses Joseph’s sons, and adopts them and as Israel he blesses Joseph, too, giving one portion more than he gives to his other sons.

It is as Jacob, though that he assembles his other sons and blesses each of them, so this level of blessing involves toil, much harmony but to some degree out-of-tune with the Harmony of Gd. But still! there is great harmony: When Jacob blesses his sons, he asks them to assemble and then he blesses them individually. This can be taken, and Rabbi Yehuda Berg of the Kabbalah Center takes it that way, to indicate that Jacob is emphasizing that the individual blessings will be fruitful when the sons act as an assembly, a unity, a family. And, when the tribes of Jacob’s sons are considered together, they are considered the Children of Israel, a unity, in Harmony, free from toil.

From this we can see an affirmation of what many of us already feel and act on: we are able to fulfill ourselves as individuals when we act together as a community, a family. It is through Love, through inclusion, gathering together, excluding no one, that we rise to the level of Israel, free from toil, completely in Harmony with Gd, with Oneness.

As the father of the Children of Israel, Israel dies and Joseph, Israel’s family and entourage (except for the youngest children who remain in Egypt tending the flocks), accompanied by Pharaoh’s ministers, and many leaders of Mitzraim, bring him and bury him in the cave of Machpelah, (“Cave of the Double Caves,” integration of restrictions and unboundedness) where Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca were buried.

This gathering of the leaders of Mitzraim – Restrictions, toil – with Israel’s family, taking Israel’s body to Canaan, Wholeness, is another example of how appreciation, love, can raise us to gathering and thus to Wholeness.

Also, we can think of the “burying of the body” as “transcendence of the body, of individuality” and this takes place through Appreciation, Love, letting go the limited sense of self and rising to the Unlimited Experience of Self, the Common Self, All-in-All, One.

Physical death is not necessary to experience this transcendence: many in our congregation and many around the world experience this Unlimited Experience and, at least a few, are experiencing permanently.

May all souls experience this Teshuvah, this return to Full Awareness, so that all of Life lives in Fulfillment, in Harmony.

Baruch HaShem