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Parshiyyot Matot-Masei 5783 — 07/15/2023

Parshiyyot Matot-Masei 5783 — 07/15/2023

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.

Matot: Bamidbar 30:2-32:42

Balak: Bamidbar 33:1-34:29

Next, Rambam tackles the word kanaf / wing:

Wing [kanaph] is an equivocal term, and its equivocality is mostly due to its being used in a figurative sense. The first meaning given to it is that of a wing of the living beings that fly. Thus: Any winged fowl that flieth in the heaven (Deut 4:17). Subsequently it was applied figuratively to the extremities and corners of garments. Thus: Upon the four wings of thy covering (Deut 22:12 – Artscroll: the four corners of your garment with which you cover yourself). Afterwards it was applied figuratively to the farthest ends and extremities of the habitable part of the earth, which are remote from the places where we live. Thus: That it might take hold of the wings of the earth (Job 38:13 – Artscroll: To grasp the edges of the earth); From the uttermost wing of the earth have we heard songs (Isa 24:16 – Artscroll: From the edge of the earth etc.).

Note that we have similar constructions in English, using the word “corner” – the 4-cornered garment to which tzitzit are attached is called in Hebrew arba kanfot (4 “wings” or 4 corners), and we speak of the 4 corners of the earth, even though the earth, being spherical, has no corners at all (and even if it were a big cube it would have 8).

The figurative meaning is, I think, more interesting:

Ibn Janāḥ says that the term also occurs with the signification of concealing, as it is akin to the Arabic, in which one may say, “kanaftu” a thing, meaning; I have concealed it. He accordingly interprets the verse, Yet shall not thy Teacher be winged [yikaneph] (Isa 30:20 – Artscroll: Your Teacher will no longer be hidden), as meaning: thy Enlightener shall not be concealed and hidden away from thee; and this is a good explanation. In my opinion this meaning occurs also in the verse, And he shall not uncover the wing of his father (Deut 23:1 – Artscroll: He shall not uncover the robe of his father… This is a euphemism for “uncovering nakedness” as the beginning of the verse makes clear: A man shall not marry the wife of his father, which means even after the death or divorce of the father), which means that he shall not uncover that of his father which is concealed. Similarly, the verse, Spread therefore thy wings over thy handmaid (Ruth 3:9 – Artscroll: Spread your robe over your handmaid – Ruth says this to Boaz after lying at his feet overnight), has to be interpreted in my opinion as meaning: spread that by which thou concealest over thy handmaid.

The extension from “wings” to “covering” is really not such a stretch, when you consider how the wings of a bird do cover its body. We don’t use that metaphor in everyday speech in English, but, as Rambam shows, it is very common in Hebrew. Interestingly, Rambam goes on to describe the way the angels (the seraphim specifically) cover themselves with their wings in Isaiah’s vision (6:2 – Isaiah’s prophecy is held to begin with the 6th chapter; the first 5 chapters being later prophecies; I don’t know why the book is arranged this way). When used for Gd we speak of creatures (generally people) seeking refuge under the wings of Gd or the Shechinah – that means, under Gd’s protection. Again, think of a bird on its nest sheltering its eggs or its chicks from the elements or from predators.

The idea of concealment is important in Judaism, when we discuss the nature of the relationship of Gd, the Creator, and the creation. The word for “world” or “universe” is olam which is related to the root ayin-lamed-mem which has the meaning of “hidden.” The world is the world of activity and activity can hide the inactive, silent layer of Pure Consciousness that underlies all that activity. We say that Gd’s Face is “hidden” – because we, being caught up in the boundaries of the created world, can’t see beyond them to their infinite basis.

An analogy our Sages often use is that of clothes. Clothes can both conceal and reveal. Clothes hide our bodies, but they also reveal our bodies’ shape. Think of the Invisible Man – he’s actually pretty hard to deal with when he’s naked, because he’s invisible. But when he’s wearing clothes, you can see everything but his face. A sweater may cover everything from the waist up as Jewish modesty demands, but might be so tight-fitting that the whole concept of modesty is destroyed.

Now the concepts of “hidden” and “revealed” relate to our consciousness – they denote different relationships between the observer and the reality that the observer is perceiving. In everyday waking state of consciousness all we see are the boundaries of macroscopic objects. Everything is finite and concrete; we cannot perceive any deeper levels. With the advancement of physics, we’ve found that the solid objects are made up of molecules, which are made up of atoms, which are made up of subatomic particles, which themselves are states of excitation of quantum fields. We are reasonably certain that all the different fields corresponding to the different elementary particles, are all different aspects of one, underlying, Unified Field, and everything we see around us, including our bodies and the universe as a whole, is nothing other than a very rich, complex pattern of vibration of the Unified Field. From this perspective the Unified Field alone exists. Everything that we call reality is just the Unified Field vibrating. If I can’t pass my hand through the surface of my desk, it is only because the Unified Field cannot vibrate that way, or perhaps does not generally vibrate that way. The only problem is, that is not the way we perceive things.

We may not be able to see the Unified Field of physics, but we can comprehend it intellectually, in the form of the equations that describe its dynamics. In the case of Pure Consciousness, we can indeed experience it directly by the mind, but that doesn’t necessarily change our level of perception. The true nature of our Self, which is infinite, unbounded, eternal Pure Consciousness, is now uncovered, no longer hidden, and the activity of thinking and perception does not cloud it over. However, once the nervous system is fully purified, so that the mind has Pure Consciousness permanently established, the senses do start to become more and more refined, until eventually, in Unity Consciousness, the boundaries on the surface become as if shadowy as the light of the same Pure Consciousness that is at our basis, is perceived as the basis of the objective creation. The world no longer hides its basis from our perception, and I would argue that the whole purpose of Jewish tradition is to bring us all up to this level where Gd’s Face is no longer hidden behind the thick and concrete boundaries of the created world. As Rambam puts it later in our chapter:

This means that the cause of his existence, I mean that of the angel, is most hidden and concealed, that cause being indicated by the expression his face. And similarly the things of which he, I mean the angel, is the cause – these being his feet, as we have made clear when dealing with the equivocality of the word foot – are also hidden. For the acts of the intellects are hidden, and their effects become clear only after one has trained oneself. This is due to two causes, one of which should be referred to them and one to us. I mean the weakness of our apprehension and the difficulty of apprehending, in its true reality, that which is separate from matter.

We have to train ourselves to peek through the veil of unreality that covers up the truth, otherwise our lives will not be complete or satisfying.

Chazak! Chazak! V’Nitchazeik!


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Matot-Massei

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.

Parashat 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 Lubavitcher Rebbe’s discussion particularly helpful: he presented the view that we need to bind ourselves to Gd as the Wholeness and let nothing stand between us and the Will of Wholeness so we always knowing it and doing it. Similarly, we need to betroth ourselves to Gd and do Gd’s Will so the bondage of the world is annulled, and we rise to the state of marriage to Gd, to 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 Gd’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 also deals with a battle: here again when we are facing challenges that isolate us from Wholeness, we must be supple branches of the Tree of Life and also firm like a wooden staff so that we are not lost in the fragments of life but experience 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 Lubavitcher 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 Lrd 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.”
(Translation from

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 Gd 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