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Parshiyyot Matot-Masei 5781 — 07/10/2021

Parshiyyot Matot-Masei 5781 — 07/10/2021

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.

Matot: Bamidbar 30:2 – 32:42
Mas’ei: Bamidbar 33:1 – 34:29
I had asked my daughter and Aristotle expert, Eve, to review the last few entries. In true professional philosopher fashion she wrote a brief paragraph that went right to the heart of the issues involved:

My main thought is that it’s hard to see what essence pure consciousness has/is, from an Aristotelian perspective. For Aristotle, essence is the whatness and actuality of something, closely related to definition. I think you were emphasizing the potentiality of pure consciousness in an earlier installment (am I misremembering?). Aristotle’s god, thought thinking itself, is pure actuality. My second thought is really a question: what do you mean by abstract? Is this an epistemological kind of abstraction? Or in some way metaphysically abstract (and what would that mean?)?

This, of course required a lot of clarification on my part. This week I offer the results.

The first book Maharishi wrote, back in 1963, was called The Science of Being and the Art of Living. In it, he locates the basis of all creation in the field of Pure Being, Pure Existence. It is totally without specificity, and I think, to some extent, that’s what I mean by abstract– Being is purely abstract, as all concrete details that would apply to any one being have been abstracted away.

Let me give an example from physics. If you have two charged particles, they exert a force on one another. There’s a perfectly simple formula for that force and it involves the product of the two charges: F = k q1 x q2 / r^2. Now suppose we’re really interested in the influence q1 has on its environment. In that case, we don’t really care what the force is, only what it might potentially be in the presence of other charges. We abstract away the second charge (in this case just divide by q2) and we’re left with the electric field, which is a more abstract entity than a force (E = k q1 / r^2). So in that sense, the electric field is more abstract than the electric force. If I’m using the term correctly, q2 is an accidental feature of the force. The field, which doesn’t depend on q2, is the more essential phenomenon, and it gets realized or instantiated as a force when a particular q2 is inserted. (The interesting thing is that this field, which started out as nothing more than a mathematical convenience, is actually quite real and has its own dynamics, irrespective of the charges that create it.)

This is the way I imagine Pure Being – it’s where you get when you take out all possible q2’s from anything at all. Like everything funnels down to Pure Being.

Now Maharishi goes on to describe Being as inert. It is objective, as if we approach the unbounded from the objective side. There is also a subjective side – since we humans have both an objective side and a subjective side, so whatever is at the basis of our existence must have objective and subjective sides as well. The subjective side is our consciousness, and Pure Consciousness is the “subjective” side of Pure Being. Since we experience consciousness, we can experience Pure Consciousness, and that is what happens in TM as we experience thought at progressively subtler and subtler levels, until the finest, faintest thought goes away and we are left alone, awake inside ourselves, conscious, but not conscious of any thing (i.e. anything outside ourselves). Thus “Pure” Consciousness, unadulterated if you will by anything outside itself. This is of course quite different from our everyday way of perceiving, where the subject (us) is different from the object (the thing we perceive).

Going further with this, if Pure Consciousness is conscious, but has no object of perception, then the only thing it can be conscious of is itself. Pure Consciousness becomes the Observer, the Observed and the process of observation. It is this self-referential nature of Pure Consciousness that causes it to be able to create. The way Maharishi describes the process is that once there is this virtual duality within the Unity of Pure Consciousness, a kind of vibration is set up between the two poles, and the patterns these vibrations make are in fact what we see as both subjective creation (thoughts and emotions) and objective creation (things).

This description is echoed in modern physics with theories of the Unified Field. This field exists, and its various forms and modes of vibration (i.e. its internal dynamics) are what we think of as the elementary particles of which the entire universe is constructed. Interestingly, the basis of the liveliness of the field is its self-interacting nature. The equations governing the unified field are non-linear. This means that there are cross terms that involve more than one type of behavior of the system — this shows up as “interactions” between different types of particles, but, since the different particles are really only different expressions of the underlying, unified field, those interactions are just the unified field interacting with itself.

So the idea is that this transcendental basis of all life is in fact the only reality, and the “reality” we see is just the internal dynamics of that basis. It’s like waves on the ocean. The only thing that really exists is the ocean; the activity we see on the surface, the waves, are not and never have been anything but ocean. The transcendent reality therefore has actuality — more so in fact than any of the forms and phenomena which are only expressions of it — but it is also a field of infinite potentiality, because all those forms and phenomena, and who knows how many others, arise from it. Maybe this confluence of existence (actuality) and potentiality is related to the idea of Avicenna’s and Rambam’s that in Gd, and Gd alone, we find existence and essence being one and the same?

One last point, on Aristotle’s god being “thought thinking itself.” I don’t know how that reads in Greek, but in Vedic thought, thoughts are fluctuations of consciousness, and as such can’t really think. But we certainly can have Consciousness that is aware of itself — in fact, that is what we’ve just been discussing. I don’t want to go ahead and equate Pure Consciousness, god, and/or Gd, but they do seem to have this characteristic of self-reference. I think Prof. Pines actually has something to say about that later, and hopefully Rambam will too.

Hope this clarifies some of these issues. It did for me!


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parshiyyot Matot-Masei
Why are the parshiyyot Matos and Masei combined?  “Matos” means literally “wooden staff” but figuratively a tribe of Israel. “Masei” means “journey.”  The Lubavitcher Rebbe comments: ( that during prayer people are like branches of the divine tree and we are at home. But outside of prayer we are like wooden staffs, people in exile from the “King’s Palace.” We need to be firm and strong to do right action so we journey home.

In Matos, there is a discussion of vows, when they can be annulled and when they must be kept. We can think of the time when a vow can be annulled as a time when we are connected to the tree and we have the supple nature of a live branch. The time when the vow must be kept is a time when we are like a wooden staff: we must be firm and strong to keep the vow.

Parshat Matos begins with Moses declaring that Gd has said whatever we vow to Gd to do or to refrain from doing, we must do or refrain from; the exceptions are a daughter’s vow may be annulled by her father and a wife’s by her husband at the time of hearing the vow. Rashi adds a third and fourth source of annulment, based on the fact that Moses spoke these words to the princes and not to all Israel: a single expert may annul (The Lubavitcher Rebbe says “a sage”) or three laymen.

I found the Rebbe’s discussion particularly helpful: he presented the view that we need to bind ourself to Gd as the Father and let nothing stand between us and His Will – knowing it and doing it. Similarly, we need to betroth ourself to Gd and do His Will so the bondage of the world is annulled and we rise to the state of marriage to Gd, in Oneness, with the “children” of our marriage being our good deeds

We must rise to the level of marriage with Gd in which with Gd’s help we annul the bonds that keep us and our world in illusion, concealing Gd’s Presence: We become Live Branches on the Divine Tree, no longer wooden staffs.

“…nullifying in himself and the world, the masks of illusion that hide G d’s presence from man. And this power is “retroactive,” that is, beyond the normal limitations of time and space. Just as a vow binds, and an annulment breaks the bond, so he, with the help of Gd, releases the world from its bondage, from falsehood, finitude and the concealment of Gd.””Matos

Matos also deals with a battle: here again when we are facing challenges that isolate us from Wholeness, we must be firm like a wooden staff so that we are not lost in the fragments of life but see Wholeness, draw on Wholeness and transform challenges and battles into opportunities to stay connected to the Tree or return to it if we are in exile.
Our Tradition helps us move in this direction.

Masei deals with journeys, battle, apportioning land, cities of refuge. Gd chooses Joshua and Eleazer and a chieftain from each tribe to apportion the land.

Why did Gd choose Joshua and Eleazer to lead to the Promised Land, destroy the inhabitants and apportion the Land even though they were less than Moses, a prophet never equaled in the life of Israel?

The same principle that the Rebbe uses in reference to annulment of vows by father or betrothed or husband, applies here:
Neither Moses nor Joshua nor Eleazer was the real leader, the real shepherd, the real High Priest: Gd is the Leader, the Shepherd, the High Priest.
As David puts it in Psalm 23 “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want; he leadeth me to lie down in green pastures, besides the still waters. He restoreth my soul…”
And in Joshuah I:5-9, Gd puts it this way to Joshuah:
“5 No man shall stand up before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so shall I be with you. I will not weaken My grasp on you nor will I abandon you.
6 Be strong and have courage; for you will cause this nation to inherit the land that I have sworn to their ancestors to give to them.
7 Just be strong and very courageous to observe and do in accordance with all of the Torah that Moses My servant has commanded you. Do not stray therefrom right or left, in order that you succeed wherever you go.
8 This book of the Torah shall not leave your mouth; you shall meditate therein day and night, in order that you observe to do all that is written in it, for then will you succeed in all your ways and then will you prosper.
9 Did I not command you, be strong and have courage, do not fear and do not be dismayed, for the Lrd your Gd is with you wherever you go.”

Moses, Joshua and Eleazer are not merely historic figures. They are also levels of consciousness within us and symbolic of aspects of our physiology.

So Gd guides Joshua and Eleazer as he guided Moses and all that they do is Gd’s Will – perfect!

And when we open ourself innocently to Gd, to Wholeness, Oneness – our actions are fully guided, perfect!

Prayer, Torah reading, good actions and the various spiritual practices we do lead us on our journey from exile in individuality to Fulfillment as Wholeness.

Baruch HaShem