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Parshiyyot Tazria-Metzora 5783 — 04/22/2023

Parshiyyot Tazria-Metzora 5783 — 04/22/2023

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.

Tazria – Vayikra 12:1-13:59

Metzora –Vayikra 14:1-15:33

Rambam continues with his consideration of the word “Face” (panim) as it is used in relationship to Gd:

It has accordingly been made clear to you that the hearing of a speech without the intermediary of an angel is described as being face to face. In this sense it is also said: But My face shall not be seen, meaning that the true reality of My existence as it veritably is cannot be grasped. Face is also an adverb of place that is rendered in Arabic by the words: in front of thee or in thy presence. It is often used in this sense with regard to Gd, may He be exalted. Thus: In the face of the Lord [Gen 18:22 – “before Gd”]. The biblical expression, But My Face shall not be seen, is understood in this sense in the interpretation of Onqelos, who translates: And those in front of Me shall not be seen. He indicates by this that there are likewise great created beings whom man cannot apprehend as they really are. These are the separate intellects. They have been thought to be in a relation to Gd as being constantly in front of Him and in His presence because of the power of the providence constantly watching over them. On the other hand, the things that in his opinion, I mean that of Onqelos, can be grasped in their true reality are such as are beneath the separate intellects with respect to their rank in that which exists. I mean things endowed with matter and form. Of them [Onqelos] has said: And thou shalt see that which is behind Me. He means the beings from which I [RAR: i.e. Gd] have, as it were, turned away, and upon which, speaking in parables, I have turned My back, because of their remoteness from the existence of Gd, may He be exalted. Further on you shall hear my interpretation of that which was demanded by Moses our Master, peace be on him. Face is also an adverb of time having the meaning: before or ancient. Thus: In the face in Israel [Ruth 4:7 – Artscroll translates: Formerly], In the face Thou didst lay the foundation of the earth [Ps 102:26 – Artscroll translates Of old]. Face is also a term denoting protection and providence. Thus: Thou shalt not bear the face of the poor [Lev 19:15 – the reference is to judges who are not, out of pity, to favor the poor]; And the honorable man [Isaiah 3:3 – lit lifted face]; Who does not bear the face [Deut 10:7 – i.e. show favoritism; “bear” = “lift up” and it is usually translated this way]. This use is frequent. In this sense it is also said: The Lord bear His face to thee and give thee peace [Num 6:26 – this is in the Priestly blessing and is usually rendered lift up His Face to you], which refers to His making providence accompany us.

There are several points here that bear scrutiny. The first is the use of “Face” to indicate “Presence.” This is not a big stretch from our everyday use of the word – if we are face-to-face with someone, we are in their presence. When we speak with someone face-to-face we are, as Rambam says, speaking without an intermediary, directly. We surmised last week that such a face-to-face relationship with Gd is possible on the basis of the ability of our minds to expand to infinity. We know Gd from within ourselves once Pure Consciousness is established on the level of our conscious awareness, and even more so as it gets established on the level of perception, in Unity Consciousness.

This idea that we can have a direct relationship with Gd is embodied in our liturgy – every time we say Blessed are You…, we acknowledge that we are speaking directly to Gd, with no intermediaries necessary. And in the Haggadah we just read, Gd tells us that He and He alone will come down to Egypt and redeem us from slavery. But this remains on a level of intellectual understanding until we establish the infinite in our awareness.

Rambam goes on to assert that Gd’s Face represents “the true reality of {Gd’s] existence as it veritably is” and “which cannot be grasped” (My Face shall not be seen). We have been talking about the possibility of knowing Gd “from the inside,” but here it appears that Rambam is saying that this is not possible. As I have mentioned before, while Pure Consciousness is indeed infinite and unbounded, as we experience when we transcend, I don’t believe it is the same as Gd, or coextensive with Gd. I believe that this position is backed up by the Jewish understanding of Gd, and also Maharishi’s understanding of Gd.

From the point of view of Jewish tradition, Gd’s essence is completely unknowable. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so are My ways above your ways, and My thoughts above your thoughts (Isa 55:9 – this is part of the Haftarah for a public fast day, and a good reminder of the value of humility!). Gd is the Creator of the entire cosmos and therefore understands it perfectly – everything going on at every place and at every time, the entire fabric of cosmic history. This is, of course, beyond our ken. More fundamentally, Gd created us – our body, mind, intellect and ego. Therefore, Gd’s intelligence and knowledge has to encompass all possible states of human consciousness and activity – Gd must be above and beyond anything and everything that a human being possibly can be. Gd can get His head around us, but we can’t get our heads around Gd.

Maharishi was once asked what the difference is between Gd and an enlightened person. He replied that an enlightened person is something that Gd is proud to have created. He also explained that while an enlightened person could know anything, one thing at a time, Gd’s knowledge is comprehensive – Gd knows all things, all of the time. Again, Gd is much greater than any human being, even an enlightened human being.

Now, if a human being can comprehend the infinite within his own awareness, why is it that he cannot comprehend Gd? A small excursion into the mathematics of infinity may shed some light on this. A set is a collection of objects, and is generally denoted as {object 1, object 2, …}. A set with no objects is called the empty set and is denoted { }. Now consider a set with two objects, S = {a, b}. A subset of S is any set that contains only elements of S (with no duplicates). There are 4 subsets of S: { }, {a}, {b}, {a, b}. If we have a set with 3 elements, there are 8 subsets: { }, {a}, {b}, {c}, {a, b}, {a, c}, {b, c}, {a, b, c}. If there are 4 elements there are 16 subsets, and if there are n elements there are 2^n subsets. This is not hard to prove. This means that the set of all subsets of S (called the “power set” of S) is always bigger than (has more elements than) S.

Now consider an infinite set, say the set of non-negative integers: ℵ0 (“aleph-0”) = {0, 1, 2, 3, …}. It, too, has a power set, and one can prove that the size of the power set of ℵ0 is greater than ℵ0. The proof is not hard, but it’s not as straightforward as you might think. Similarly, the power set of the power set of ℵ0 is larger still, ad infinitum. So, infinity comes in layers. This is similar to the development and maturation of Unity Consciousness – at first infinity is enlivened in the object of primary focus, then the object of secondary focus, etc., until infinity is all-pervasive, from the infinitely near – our own Self, to the infinitely farthest reaches of the universe, both seen and unseen.

Nonetheless, in the words of our liturgy (Kaddish), Gd is above all blessing and songs, praise and consolation that we can utter – in other words Gd is bigger than all the infinities we can conceive, and encompasses them all. Since Gd encompasses the entire creation, which is Gd’s own virtual internal dynamics, Gd must be above all infinities that exist in creation, whether in physical reality or in our minds. This being the case, we can understand why we cannot comprehend Gd’s essential nature. Some infinities are bigger than others. One infinity is bigger than all the others. That is whom we worship.


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parshiyyot Tazria-Metzora

Tazria means “childbirth”: symbolically, the successful completion of any project. This parshah presents Gd’s commands about the states of being unclean and clean and also about the date for celebrating the beginning of a new year. When we are clean, we can enter the Sanctuary and get the added ability to enjoy Gd’s Presence that the Harmonious Nature of the Sanctuary provides. Similarly, it seems to me, a new year provides such an opportunity since it is an opportunity to let go any troubles that might have been veiling our experience of Gd’s Presence.

Oddly, a woman is considered unclean for some time after she gives birth: I say, “oddly,” because considering the Holiness of giving birth, we might expect that a new mother would be particularly clean and therefore most able to perceive Gd’s Presence and most welcome to enter the Sanctuary.

Nechoma Greisman on suggests an explanation that makes sense to me: Gd has commanded that a person who touches a dead body is ritually impure; when a woman is carrying her fetus in the womb, she is extra pure – she has two lives. When the child is born, she has only one inside herself, and so there is, in a sense, a loss of life. So, she needs a bit of time and some ritual to feel fully alive again inside herself and not dependent upon her child outside herself to feel fully alive.

Whether this makes sense to everyone, I do not know and I would be very happy to hear from anyone, especially mothers, about its plausibility.

In other areas of our lives – for example, working on some extended project for work, home, service to community – there would certainly be the desire to celebrate when the project is complete but there might also be a feeling of loss, a feeling of emptiness because we no longer have the joy of hope to connect us to Gd’s Presence, we no longer have the silent prayer “Gd, please help!”  We have, instead, the joy of fulfillment, but perhaps some loss of the feeling that we need Gd and therefore less attention to the various spiritual practices that we do to connect to Gd.

Hopefully, we don’t have much of a loss, and we don’t have much time before we return to the perspective that what matters most in our life is not the fulfillment of any particular project, even childbirth, but deepening our connection with Gd, restoring our awareness to Fullness, to the experience of Oneness, Wholeness.

Parashat Metzora teaches us the importance of living in love so that we do not set ourselves apart from our neighbors, near and far; we do not speak ill of others and we do not feel that we are better than others. Whatever skills we have, we remember, as the joke goes, “You’re unique, just like everybody else.”

It’s only through “loving Gd with all our heart, all our soul, all our might” and “loving our neighbor as our self (our Self)” that we can return to Full Awareness of the Source, Gd, our own Full Nature.

This parshah tells us we need to look at our lives as something we are personally responsible for and that is certainly vital for us to do. It is also vital that we ask what is the source of our thoughts, our decisions, our right actions, our wrong ones? What is the source of our health and our afflictions?

In Parashat Metzora, the angle is that the individual who has an affliction, a skin disease, is personally responsible. True!

But Torah and the parshah do not discuss that the thoughts and actions that lead to health or afflictions come to the individual from the Source the individual does not know. We need to rise to the level of awareness where we are aware of the Source, are One with the Source, are the Source and then our actions as individuals will always be healthy for us and everyone, never harmful, never!

Through love we rise to Love, to Happiness, Joy, Return to Full Awareness of One.

According to a Rabbinic drash, “Metzora”, short for three Hebrew words (motzi shem ra) means “saying bad things about people.” When a person develops skin lesions – incorrectly thought by some to be similar to leprosy – the community takes it as a sign that he has consistently spoken bad things about people and is therefore spiritually impure. comments beautifully that through failure to love he has isolated himself from the community. Part of the healing process is that he should be physically isolated from the community. Gd commands that he stay outside the camp (interpreters comment this has the value of allowing him time to reflect on his immoral behavior, to commit himself to moral behavior and to be healed; some also comment that this protects the members of the community from being further harmed, perhaps infected, by him). It is also a physical reminder of how damaging he has been to himself by isolating himself from his neighbors through his unloving thoughts, speech, actions; and through his conception of himself as greater than others.

When a kohen (priest) goes outside the camp and sees that the metzora is healed of his skin affliction, the process of purifying the metzora‘s whole personality, his soul, begins. again comments beautifully that by leaving the camp where Gd’s Presence is so manifest in order to see if the metzora has been healed, the kohen is showing great love, he is a great role model for the metzora.

The purification process continues with two birds, spring water in an earthen vessel, a piece of cedar, a scarlet thread and hyssop.

One bird will be slaughtered, its blood put in the spring water in the earthen vessel. The other bird, the cedar stick, the scarlet thread and the hyssop will then be dipped in the water.

Rashi, the most-quoted commentator on Torah, observes that the birds constantly chatter and it is the chatter of the metzora that needs to be purified, restored to loving; the cedar tree is tall and so it symbolizes the haughtiness with which the metzora considered himself higher than others (and through the naturally tall cedar he can naturally be restored to his full height as a human being, an expression of Gd, High without Limit).

One bird is slaughtered: this is the old speech, unloving. The other bird lives: this is the healthy speech to which the metzora now becomes attached.

Spring water is a common symbol of purity and so it symbolizes the purity which the metzora will return to. Earth is a common symbol of Love, of stability, and so it symbolizes the stable love the metzora will return to.

The scarlet thread symbolizes the red tongue, to be purified by dipping it in the water.

Hyssop is a symbol of purity (it was used to paint the blood on doors to protect our ancestors from the plague of the death of the first born) and also a symbol of humility – it was used by our ancestors for so many purposes it serves as a symbol of willingness to serve Gd in whatever way Gd chooses.

Our religion, whatever spiritual practices we do, help us to act purely, to become increasingly aware of our Source, to become increasingly healthy, whole and to prevent ourselves from falling ill.

We have a very loving, joyful congregation, a blessing, a Blessing!

Baruch HaShem.