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Parashat VaEtchanan 5781 — 07/24/2021

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.

Devarim 3:23 – 7:11
I’d like to continue our discussion of “negative theology” from last week. Recall that Rambam asserts that there is nothing positive we can know about Gd – any concept that we would like to apply to Gd would only be a limitation of Gd. This is a consequence of our finite minds and our necessarily finite way of expressing ourselves using language. Thus, we cannot say anything about Gd’s knowledge, only that Gd is certainly not ignorant. We cannot even say that Gd exists, only that He is certainly not non-existent. The reason is that Gd’s existence is not anything like our existence, and Gd’s knowledge is not anything like our knowledge. Gd, Gd’s existence and Gd’s knowledge are one and the same, unbounded, eternal, unified and transcendental to all of the boundaries and activity of creation, beyond all description.

We also pointed out that through TM we can experience Pure Consciousness, which itself is transcendental to all experience of objects, and is unified and self-referential. It cannot be described, much as poets and mystics have tried throughout the ages. All they have been able to say is what it is not. “Bigger than the biggest and smaller than the smallest” (Bhagavad-Gita). “The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao” (Tao Te Ching). We may not be able to describe or define Pure Consciousness, but we can experience it; in fact, our mind becomes Pure Consciousness when we transcend the world of experience.

Prof. Pines continues his exposition:

In this context Maimonides’ insistence (I 59) on the value of the cognition of the various negative attributes should be mentioned. A similar approach may be found in mystical writings, but Maimonides is no mystic. His intention is not to recommend progressive detachment from the knowledge of all things that are not Gd, but to further that kind of knowledge by teaching people to avoid misplaced references to Gd‘s essence.
    Moses, whose request to apprehend Gd’s essence was refused because it was impossible to fulfil it, was granted another boon: he achieved knowledge of Gd’s workings in the universe (I 54). These divine activities, taken in conjunction with the various descriptions and qualifications given to them by people judging them from the human point of view, represent Gd’s attributes of action. On one hand knowledge of these attributes is the only positive knowledge concerning Gd possible to man, On the other hand this knowledge – if it is unadulterated by human moral judgment – can practically he equated with the grasp of the sequence and (natural) causes of the natural phenomena.
    Thus Maimonides is quite consistent when, in a formula that forcibly calls to mind Spinoza, he speaks of “divine,” i.e., natural, actions (III 52). The study of nature and of the order of nature is the only way open to man to know something of Gd.

We will see what Rambam actually said when we get to the passage Prof. Pines mentions (I:59), but I would like to focus on the idea of “progressive detachment from the knowledge of all things that are not Gd.” He contrasts that with “…further[ing] that kind of knowledge by teaching people to avoid misplaced references to Gd’s essence.” I would like to suggest that, according to Vedic Science, the former is actually the path to the latter, as follows.

As we discussed last week, the mind is generally projected outward to the world of objects, to creation. This is all necessary, because we need to eat, drink, sleep in a dry place, procreate, etc., and all these functions involve interaction with the outside world. Unfortunately, for most people, projecting the mind outward is all that they do, and, as we discussed, the inner, unbounded nature of the mind, of one’s consciousness, gets overshadowed by the objects of perception.

During the practice of the TM technique, we allow the mind to perceive a thought at progressively subtler levels. The thought gets vaguer and more abstract – in fact, it becomes progressively detached from the surface world of sense perceptions, the world of creation, which is, on this level of consideration, the world of non-Gd. Eventually, the thought fades out altogether (or, alternatively, the fluctuations of consciousness, which are what thoughts are, settle down completely) and we are left alone with Pure Consciousness, which is transcendental to the entire world of thought, speech, action, objects, etc. At this point we are totally “detached from the knowledge of all things that are not Gd.”

When this experience of transcending is repeated many times the mind and the nervous system become trained to maintain the experience of Pure Consciousness along with the ordinary states of consciousness: waking, dreaming and sleeping. When this happens, we identify with the Pure Consciousness component of our awareness – this is what we would call our Self, capital S. This is completely detached from all the activity of the world, while all parts of creation, including our individuality, our mind, our emotions and our body, continue to act according to their own natures.

As we become more and more accustomed to living in this state of detachment, we begin to find that our perception of outside objects gets more and more refined. Eventually, even our perception bridges the gap between the finest relative value of the object we are perceiving, and the infinite inside us “recognizes” the infinite at the basis of the object of our focus. We have thus gained full value of knowledge of the object, from its transcendental basis through all the levels of its manifestation, subtle and gross. If we want to know all things that are not Gd, the path is to first, in our consciousness, detach ourselves from those things until we stabilize knowledge of our Self. Once we know our Self, we can know anything. We will defer discussing knowledge of Gd’s essence for now.

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Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat VaEtchanan

“VaEtchanan” means “And I pleaded”. Moses says he pleaded with Gd to let him enter the Promised Land but Gd said, “No.” You can only view it from the mountain.

To be in the Promised Land is to Be, to Be Fully Restored to the Awareness that our individual lives are Gd in disguise, to Be fully restored to the Awareness that we are All-in-All and that our individuality is one cherished role of the Infinite roles we play.

The surface level of this parshah doesn’t tell us this; it tells us the story of Moses only from the individual level and we have to perceive that Moses was only speaking about his physical body entering the physical Promised Land: his soul was already in real Promised Land, Oneness with Gd.

“Play nice; don’t fight.” Momma may have said this to us and our playmates when we were children: Moses reviews the events since leaving Egypt, including the Ten Commandments/Statements/Utterances, which tell us in detail that we should play nice with Gd, not fight Gd; we should not fight our parents; we should not fight truth; we should play nice with our spouses, with everyone. In many different ways Gd declares in the 10 Commandments that we should cherish Gd above all and we should cherish every aspect of life as an expression of Gd, respect all and live in honor and in peace. When we play nice in this way, we stay together, we live as members of a community, of a nation, moving together along a sacred path.

When we play nice, Gd appears to us and leads us so that trouble does not approach us but we are guided into the good land, the Good Land, the land of our soul in which we directly experience that Gd is Gd, there is no other and the physical land wherever we are is Holy, the Promised Land.

Deuteronomy 7:6 “For you are a holy people to the Lrd, your Gd; the Lrd, your Gd, has chosen you to be His treasured people, out of all the peoples upon the face of the Earth”. (translation, chabad.org)

What qualities do we as the Jewish people have that make us holy that Gd loves us particularly and protects us?

The answer to this may lie with the qualities that Moses had, the qualities that enabled him to be in Gd’s presence and living though our ancestors were afraid they would die if they even heard one word more of Gd’s voice than they heard when He gave the 10 Statements/Utterances/ Command-ments at Mt Sinai.

What qualities were those? Do we as Jews have them specially? Are we Jewish if we don’t have them? Is anyone who has them holy and treasured by Gd whether they are Jewish or not? How can we get these qualities of holiness if we don’t have them? Increase them if we do?

Torah tells us that Moses was the humblest man there was: and humility means he was completely open to Gd; though Gd preserved Moses’ personality, Moses used it entirely to serve Gd, even though this sometimes meant challenging Gd. It also meant that he was aware that everything he did, every thought he had, was Gd acting through him, thinking within him.

This openness and awareness meant Moses could be in Gd’s Presence without fear.

This openness meant he was open to the Holiness that is Gd and therefore, he experienced himself as holy, treasured, special.

Our ancestors also had some of this quality, enough to be special enough to deserve special attention.

Would we say today that the mere fact of being born Jewish, raised Jewish, converted to Judaism makes us holy, treasured, special? Some would, I don’t.

In our community of Fairfield we have people of many religions, and many who are not much observant of the details of their religion but we have a community that is extraordinarily friendly: “love thy neighbor as thyself, thy Self” is very much the reality of our community. Perhaps from Gd’s point of view, we Jews are a little more loving, a little more friendly, humble, open than others in our community but my perception is not fine enough to say this is so or not so.

I do feel that our religion is a good source of guidance to grow in holiness, friendliness, love of Gd above all, love of our neighbor as our Self.

These qualities we can continue to grow in by doing our best to follow the guidance of Torah, the Rabbis, and the Righteous, the Tzaddakim; our parents, our family, our elders, our teachers, our friends: as we grow in respect and humility, in love and in the desire to serve Gd and our neighbors, we lose any fear that might cause us to put obstacles between us and Gd’s Presence and we lose any fear that would cause us to put distance between ourselves and our neighbors. We become open for Gd to reveal Gd’s Oneness within us, and we become “We” and we become One. We play nice: we don’t fight.

Lovely! Let us keep acting this way, growing this way, and experience Fulfillment, Holiness we can live and share with everyone.

Baruch HaShem