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Parshiyyot BeHar-BeChukotai 5781 — 05/08/2021

Parshiyyot BeHar-BeChukotai 5781 — 05/08/2021

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.

BeHar: Vayikra 25:1-26:2

Bechukotai: Vayikra 26:3-27:34

In the quotation with which we ended last week’s offering, it appeared that al-Fārābī does in fact describe a state of life

…in which he is supremely happy. In that state, which is the state of being endowed with the so-called acquired intellect, man is exceedingly close to the Active Intellect, and, at the same time, his activity is not transitive, it does not go beyond his own self. In fact, man, his act, and the fact that he is accomplishing an act are one and the same.

I’d like to try to unpack this statement a little bit. First let’s deal with the “supremely happy” part. The Vedic term for Pure Consciousness is Sat-Chit-Ananda – Absolute Bliss Consciousness. The nature of Pure Consciousness is Bliss, infinite happiness, and that is who we are in our essential nature. Even based on our everyday experience that the mind finds a settled state of consciousness more charming than an active, scattered state, we can understand, or extrapolate, that the most settled state of consciousness must be the most charming, infinitely charming to the mind. When the mind settles there, it is completely fulfilled, completely happy. Initially, however, the mind comes out of that state, back into the active, waking state. As the popular song goes, “All you have is memories of happiness, lingering on.” However, those “memories of happiness” get stronger and stronger with repeated experience of Pure Consciousness, until they are no longer overshadowed and the state of infinite happiness becomes permanent. It appears that this may be the state to which al-Fārābī is referring as the highest state of human development. We will return to this issue anon.

The quote continues: man is exceeding close to the Active Intellect. Let us try to understand what the Active Intellect is. The very fact that the words are capitalized (in English; neither Hebrew nor, as far as I know, Arabic, has upper- and lower-case letters, although Greek does) should give us a clue that it is something out of the ordinary, something transcendental or divine perhaps.

Here is what my daughter Eve has to say about the Aristotelean concept of intellect:

First: Aristotle’s notion of what it is for intellect to know something is that intellect becomes identical to the object known (where what is truly knowable is what is unchanging and universal). ‘Intellect is nothing before it thinks’ when it takes on the form, the object of knowledge. Intellect is also ‘unmixed with body’ – that’s necessary if it is to be capable of thinking all things (v. the senses, each of which is limited by bodily composition to receive a certain kind of sensory object). Like with sense perception, when some actual color is received by the sense of sight, so with knowledge there must be some active agent that impresses itself on the mind. This active agent is active intellect, with no potential, always knowing. Potential intellect is in us, and it’s not clear from the chapter whether active intellect refers to Aristotle’s Gd (thought thinking itself) or to something else, or whether the distinction between active and passive intellect applies to the individual soul or not. …
So, what is active intellect? It is mind that is actively knowing, without any potential. Aristotle indicates that this mind is separate, but he’s really not clear about what it is separate from or the nature of its separability. So, as I mentioned, some people take this mind to be God, others take it to be part of the human soul, that is separate logically from the other parts.

First, it appears that to Aristotle the intellect is quite different from what we call intellect. In modern parlance, intellect is the faculty that makes distinctions. The intellectual life is one of thought, where one analyzes and categorizes the phenomena we experience, seeking subtler and subtler levels of organization.

On the other hand, it appears from the description that Eve has given that the concept of intellect as used by Aristotle is broader than that. In order for perception or thought to take place, the intellect must unite with the object of knowledge. But this, as we saw earlier, is the way consciousness operates. When we perceive something, that something is projected on the screen of our consciousness, and, until Pure Consciousness is fully established in our awareness, the object as if “takes over” our consciousness and overshadows our sense of our self.

If my identification of intellect, as used by philosophers, with consciousness, as understood by Vedic Science, then it would seem that the Active Intellect might be associated with Pure Consciousness. Although Eve describes the Active Intellect as having “no potential, always knowing.” Vedic Science describes Pure Consciousness as being pure potential, able to manifest as virtually anything. However, it also describes it as “Pure Knowledge,” eternally knowing itself. It is this self-knowledge, that is, Pure Consciousness’ assuming the role of both observer and object of observation, that gives rise to its infinite creativity, as we discussed in the first few entries of this series. This might be characterized as “thought thinking itself” – clearly an allusion to the kind of self-referential status of Pure Consciousness.

Eve goes on to say Aristotle indicates that this mind is separate, but he’s really not clear about what it is separate from or the nature of its separability. Again, if we take the Active Intellect to be Pure Consciousness, we experience Pure Consciousness to be transcendental to all the phenomena in creation, including time, space, objects and their interactions. There is no greater separateness than this. Furthermore, perhaps Aristotle didn’t specify what the Active Intellect was separate from simply because it is separate from everything. In the Wikipedia article on the Active Intellect, Aristotle is quoted: This sort of intellect … is separate, as well as being without attributes and unmixed…. It appears that this is in fact a description of something transcendental to all forms and phenomena, “pure” in the sense of unmixed, and without attributes because all attributes have been abstracted away.

The idea of the Active Intellect will prove to be very important to Rambam’s thought, because of the question of how closely a human being can be identified with it. This issue is fundamental to Rambam’s evaluation of Moshe Rabbeinu, to whom he owes a theological commitment as the greatest of all prophets. However, I will leave this for now, and we will return to it when we come across it again in the text of Rambam itself.

Next week we will begin a new topic and a new Book of Torah.

Chazak, Chazak v’Nitchazeik!


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parshiyyot BeHar-BeChukotai

The main thing that we can learn from these parshiyyot is to schedule regular periods of rest into our lives and schedule deeper, longer rest also regularly: just as we are to rest every seventh day and the land is to rest every seventh year and all are to be freed in the 50th year.

“Behar” means “on the mountain”, literally, Mt. Sinai; symbolically, that highest level of our awareness when we are able to hear Gd and to express Gd’s Will in our actions in our familiar everyday world.

Also, since Rabbinic tradition derives “Sinai” from “sin-ah”, “hatred”, a reference to the hatred of other nations for the Jews who received the Word of Gd, we might see Mt. Sinai as being the mountain of Wholeness which is hated by those who see only pieces. But Wholeness doesn’t mind just as a parent doesn’t mind the anger of a child.

Contacting the Mountain of Wholeness within us through rest, loosens the restrictions that veil Wholeness, opens the awareness to fuller happiness and ability and dissolves fear and hatred. The Sabbath and the Sabbatical Year are examples of means to gain this rest and to gain the experience that brings trust and releases doubt and fear.

But even on days other than the Sabbath, we begin the day with prayers, pray afternoon and evening and conclude the day with prayers. These prayers and other spiritual practices we may do can serve as times of rest during the day.

Ideally, our continued prayers, activity, and Sabbaths become integrated and we experience a continuous state of lively rest that pervades every moment of our day: we become perfectly attuned with Gd and are restored to Full Awareness, that Gd is One, that our individual personalities are roles that Gd plays, and we are One with the One, we are All in All, the One and Only “I”. In Behar, Gd declares that land belongs to Him and cannot be sold permanently. And just as every 7th day, we must rest from work, so also every seventh year, the land must rest. In truth, everything belongs to Gd including our energy, our thoughts, our body and all these must rest, not only during sleep but also during days, hours and moments when we take a break from our projects. I’ve seen it commonly advised to take a break from the computer for 10 seconds every ten minutes and 10 minutes every hour.

In this parshah, Gd tells Moses about the Sabbatical year: every seventh year, no work is to be done on a field and the produce is free for anyone to take: human or animal. Lev 25: 21. Gd says that in the sixth year, He will bless the land so that it produces enough for three years, and, thus have not only enough for the sixth year, but for the seventh and the eighth also.

Symbolically, the Sabbatical can mean that when we are fully attuned to Gd, our work is easy, and the benefits of it do not feel hard-earned but like Gifts from Gd, Gifts that we can share freely, KNOWING that Gd is our Shepherd, we shall not want. So, the Sabbath is not only every seventh year, or day, but the all-time reality of our life; each moment Gd is giving us rest, each moment is bearing fruit for itself and for the future.

And the seventh Sabbatical, the 49th year, all work ceases, all indentured servants are set free.

Just as the land belongs to Gd, so does everyone and everything, including servants.

Symbolically, this can mean that the restrictions we place on the freedom of our thoughts and feelings to flow into action – restrictions that come from, for example, from our choice of professions, daily routines, residence — the restrictions are released and we can live life freely in the confidence that Gd is blessing our thoughts and feelings, renewing our lives. Interestingly, when we look at the cortex of the brain, the grey matter, we see it has six layers and below the cortex is white matter. We can look at this as a concrete basis, symbolizing the six days in which Gd created/revealed the separation between Heaven (the subtle) and Earth (the gross); the seventh is the day of rest. Similarly, in terms of years, and in terms of seven times seven years — each group of six is a subtler level of the cortex and of the affairs of the physiology and of our lives governed by that level; each seventh is, similarly, a transcendence within the layer to a more restful level of functioning.

So Torah is built into our physiology, our physiology is built of Torah, and by attuning ourself to Torah, we attune every aspect of our personality to Gd and Gd’s Creation – we become capable of loving Gd with “all our heart, all our soul, all our might” and we become capable of loving not only “our neighbor as our self” but also all of Gd’s Creation – land, crops, animals, mountains.

Torah and the various aspects of Rabbinical Guidance (Talmud and Siddur, for example) and our healthy life style create the routines and intuition that can return us to full knowledge of the Oneness that is Gd and We Combined, of the Oneness that is Pure Oneness, of our Self that is Pure Love, capable of Loving Itself and our neighbor, all Creation, as our Self.

“Bechukotai” means “By my decrees”: Gd declares that when we follow Gd’s Decrees, all will be well. Rain will fall, harvests will be abundant, we will be at peace, victorious over enemies, fertile (“productive”), and be aware of Gd’s Presence. The opposite will happen if we do not follow Gd’s Decrees.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman, author of Tanya, dedicated to unifying the ritualistic ways of the Vilna Gaon, with the Joyful ways of the Bal Shem Tov, comments that “Bechukotai” comes from the word “chok”, which means “engraved” and so we need to follow Gd’s decrees to such a deep and natural extent that we do not even have to think about doing right – the decrees are engraved in our soul and we automatically follow them.

Signs of this engraving are spontaneous Joy in our lives.

My experience with members of our congregation is we generally radiate great Joy, sharing it through every action, becoming more and more aware and Aware of Gd’s Presence every moment and experiencing every moment the softening of the duality of Gd as Wholeness and we as limited expressions of Gd.

Life is definitely worth living!

Baruch HaShem