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Parashat Vayishlach 5782 — 11/20/2021

Parashat Vayishlach 5782 — 11/20/2021

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.

L’ilui nishmat Marie Smallow on her 7th Yahrzeit

Bereshit 32:4-36:43
Rambam concludes his introduction with an “Instruction with Respect to this Treatise.” I’m hopeful that we can conclude our consideration of the introduction today with an analysis of these Instructions.

Rambam begins by telling us that his aim is to help us understand Totality:

If you wish to grasp the totality of what this Treatise contains, so that nothing of it will escape you, then you must connect its chapters one with another; and when reading a given chapter, your intention must be not only to understand the totality of the subject of that chapter, but also to grasp each word that occurs in it in the course of the speech, even if that word does not belong to the intention of the chapter. For the diction of this Treatise has not been chosen at haphazard, but with great exactness and exceeding precision, and with care to avoid failing to explain any obscure point. And nothing has been mentioned out of its place, save with a view to explaining some matter in its proper place.

Rambam here appears to be claiming to be creating a structure of Wholeness, chapter by chapter, by stitching them together through language and concepts, in much the way we described the Brahma Sutras a week or two ago. We will probably not be able to discern the “exactness and exceeding precision” with which Rambam chose his words, as we are reading those words in translation. I am assuming that Prof. Pines translated directly from the Judeo-Arabic; if he translated from ibn Tibbon’s Hebrew translation, then it’s two levels removed from the original intent. Perhaps more to the point, if we are not on a level of consciousness to be able to comprehend fully the Totality of life, then we will not be able to appreciate (fully) the expressions of that Totality, even under the assumption that Rambam was on the level where he was able to cognize the precise expressions of Totality that can convey its experience to human consciousness.

Rambam continues:

I know that, among men generally, every beginner will derive benefit from some of the chapters of this Treatise, though he lacks even an inkling of what is involved in speculation. A perfect man, on the other hand, devoted to Law and, as I have mentioned, perplexed, will benefit from all its chapters. How greatly will he rejoice in them and how pleasant will it be to hear them! But those who are confused and whose brains have been polluted by false opinions and misleading ways deemed by them to be true sciences, and who hold themselves to be men of speculation without having any knowledge of anything that can truly be called science, those will flee from many of its chapters. Indeed, these chapters will be very difficult for them to bear because they cannot apprehend their meaning and also because they would be led to recognize the falseness of the counterfeit money in their hands-their treasure and fortune held ready for future calamities.

Rambam proposes to reveal Truth in his work, and recognizes that Truth can have different effects on different people, according to the level of their development (which Vedic Science proposes is a function of the purity of their nervous systems). The average person will grow and perceive truth in Rambam’s words. The more developed the person is, the more Rambam’s words will resonate with his experience (his “speculation” – the root of the word is “speculum” = mirror, so this might refer to gaining Self-knowledge). A person on a very low level, when exposed to the light of the transcendent may find it too intense for his stress-ridden nervous system to sustain. He runs away to preserve what he has. What he really needs is a way to purify his nervous system gently, so that he can make his was up the ladder of evolution without plunging off it into the abyss. The technology of Vedic Science is calibrated to produce this balance between comfort and purification. Whether such technology was available in Rambam’s time I don’t know, but if it was, it was certainly not widely available – given the limitations of communication compared to now, this is perhaps not surprising.

Rambam concludes with a discussion of apparent contradictions in the literature, and Gd willing we will conclude our introduction with that next week, and then proceed into Part I, Chapter 1 the week after.

Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Vayishlach

Torah is more vital on the level of sound than on the level of meaning. Here is a recording of this parshah:

I felt great joy in listening to Rabbi Michael recite this parshah and think he was feeling similar joy.

Joy is a sign of Teshuvah, return to the One who/which is all Joy, all Love, Total Balance, Total Integration.

On the level of meaning, There are three central events in this parshah.

  1. Jacob’s wrestling with a man who is an angel Who is Gd.
  2. Jacob’s reunion with his brother, Esau.
  3. The worshiping of idols by Jacob’s family which led to a breakdown of Gd’s protection, the rape of Jacob’s daughter, Dinah and the deceptive retaliation by Jacob’s sons.

Jacob wrestling at night with someone who at first is a man, then an angel, then Gd.

This is very inspiring: we humans can directly experience Gd – not only that, we don’t have to seek Gd; Gd will come to us.

Prior to this, however, three strange things happen that I’m wrestling with.

“Vayishlach” means “and he sent”: Jacob is returning home after 20 years and he wants his brother Esau to welcome him in peace so Jacob sends angel messengers and commands them to tell his master Esau that he is returning with great wealth and wishes to find favor in Esau’s eyes. The angels return saying that his brother is coming toward him with 400 men.

The previous parshah, Vayetze, began with Jacob’s dream of a ladder on which angels ascended and descended and it concluded by saying that Gd sent angels to meet him. This is the first strange event: why did Gd send angels rather than just one angel? When Gd sent three angels to Abraham, each angel had a specific purpose. How many angels did Gd send and what were the multiple purposes of the multiple angels Gd sent to Jacob? Torah doesn’t tell us.

The second strange event is that instead of the angels delivering messages to Jacob, Jacob gives the angels a message to deliver. A third strange thing is that Torah doesn’t tell us the angels delivered Jacob’s message; it only tells us that the angels returned with the news that Esau was approaching with 400 men.

A possible interpretation is consistent with the view that Torah is about the integration of rest and activity.

Jacob names the place where the angels met him, “Mahanaim”” two camps, two companies. He so named it because he felt that Gd was appearing through the angels so there were two camps: one the small one of Jacob and the other, the Total of Gd. Perhaps there were two angels, one representing Gd as Wholeness and the other representing Gd with a specific purpose for a specific place and time.

Perhaps the purpose of the angels was to serve as messengers from Jacob.

And perhaps they did deliver his message and that is how Esau knew that Jacob was approaching.

With these supposes, let’s consider the essence of the parshah.

Two major events in this parshah, show a type of integration of stillness and activity, of partiality and totality.

First, Jacob wrestles with a man who then seems to be an angel and perhaps is God, although many commentators consider the wrestling a wrestling within himself to overcome his fears, his lower human self and to rise to the level where he acts from a higher level of his personality, one that is more heavenly, more divine, more Gdly. This is a very useful way to look at this.

When Jacob wrestles with someone in the night, the Hebrew says: Genesis, XXXII, 25, that it was a man, but in Genesis XXXII, 29, the man says, (Soncino Press, Pentateuch, Rabbi Hertz translation), “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but ‘Israel”; for thou hast striven with Gd and with men, and hast prevailed”. From this, we get the higher sense: the man is in some way a representative of Gd, perhaps Gd Himself.

Personally, I feel the important point here is that we can overcome our inertia, our lower self and rise to Teshuvah, return to Oneness, Totality. However far Jacob rose in this event, commentators differ and we can differ but the event is an expression within Torah and therefore within Gd so reading it can enliven greater ability within us to live and act as Totality, not merely as an impulse of Totality.

Jacob says of this experience “I have seen Gd face-to-face and lived” though there are those who translate as “I have seen an angel of Gd face-to-face and lived.”

Jacob names the place “Peniel”: Face of God. “Pe” means “face” and “El” means “Gd”. So Jacob felt he wrestled with Gd, not just a man, or an angel. What began as Wrestling” concludes as honoring and embracing: first Gd embraces and honors Jacob, then Jacob embraces and honors Gd.

This is encouraging, that however lost we feel, Gd may at any time reveal that we are always in Gd’s embrace, and wrestles with us to wake us so we will embrace Gd to Totality, go beyond loss, confusion, fear and return to Total Awareness, Love, Joy, Confidence, Nothing left out.

Intriguingly, by wrestling with Jacob, Gd causes Jacob, the “quiet man who sits in tents,” to strive, to becomes an active man, “one who strives with Gd and with men,” to become like his brother Esau, a man of the fields – although perhaps at a much higher level of activity since we do not see anything in Torah that speaks about Gd speaking or clinging to Esau.

Second, when Esau and Jacob finally meet, Jacob prostrates before Esau seven times and Esau embraces him and kisses him wholeheartedly: they part on good terms. As with everything in life, and seemingly Torah too, there are those who say Esau’s kiss was not wholehearted but the succeeding conversation in which they speak to each other as loving brothers seems to support the wholehearted view.

In these two events we see integration of the opposites that Jacob and Esau are often treated as representing (although these interpretations avoid how much they have in common, as all humans have, despite their differences):
Jacob, representing silence, in the direction of “Be still and know that I am Gd” (Psalm 46) and Esau symbolizing striving in the sense of striving for success in the field of action. A striving that needs to cease in order to Be still and know. When the stillness bows down to the activity and the activity embraces the silence we have lively stillness, a Knowing that integrates opposites and experiences Gd as the Wholeness within which they exist. We also have two brothers, one family.

So can we all do by letting our silence bow to our activity through prayer and other good actions and letting our actions embrace our silence by pausing routinely from action to let our activity settle into silence—and eventually find that the two are one, active silence, silent activity.
And, on the social level, we have a world in which each respects all and the world as one family.

A good direction we are moving in and this parshah is a help in the progress.

Idolotary, the Rape of Dinah, by Jacob’s Sons, Reuven and Levi

While dwelling in Shechem in Canaan, members of Jacob’s family begin worshipping the idols of the land. The consequence is a breakdown of integration, of Gd’s Protection, and the rape of Jacob’s daughter Dinah.

Prince Shechem, the assaulter, has fallen in love with Dinah and he begs that she be given him as a bride.

Jacob’s sons consent on condition that the men of Shechem become circumcised so they and the family of Jacob can intermarry and become one people. When the Shechemites are in pain from the circumcision, Reuven and Levi slaughter every one of them.

Hearing of this, Jacob says that the sons have defiled his reputation and the surrounding nations will slaughter him and his family

Gd tells Jacob to move to another land and Jacob tells his sons to abandon the idols.

The guidance we can see from this is that idols represent only a part of life and we need to always be oriented to the Whole and to perceive the Whole within every detail. Then we integrate the small with the Whole by perceiving that the small is a lovely detail of the Whole.

This is Happiness!

Baruch HaShem