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Parashat Lech L’cha 5782 — 10/16/2021

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.

Bereshit 12:1-17:27
Rambam continues to lay out his agenda:

I do not say that this Treatise will remove all difficulties for those who understand it. I do, however, say that it will remove most of the difficulties, and those of the greatest moment. A sensible man thus should not demand of me or hope that when we mention a subject, we shall make a complete exposition of it, or that when we engage in the explanation of the meaning of one of the parables, we shall set forth exhaustively all that is expressed in that parable. An intelligent man would be unable to do so even by speaking directly to an interlocutor. How then could he put it down in writing without becoming a butt for every ignoramus who, thinking that he has the necessary knowledge, would let fly at him the shafts of his ignorance? We have already explained in our legal compilations some general propositions concerning this subject and have drawn attention to many themes. Thus, we have mentioned there that the “Account of the Beginning” is identical with natural science, and the “Account of the Chariot” with divine science; and have explained the rabbinic saying: The Account of the Chariot ought not to be taught even to one man, except he be wise and able to understand by himself in which case only the chapter headings may be transmitted to him. Hence you should not ask of me here anything beyond the chapter headings.

The reference to the “Chapter headings” hearkens back to the Talmud where, as Rambam states, it is forbidden to teach any “mystical” teachings to more than one or two people, and then only in hints and parables that point to a deeper reality. The Rabbis were always very reticent about teaching the deepest levels of knowledge even to other scholars, let alone the common people. Why?

We know from physics that deeper layers of nature are more powerful. Chemical energy (e.g., fire) is more powerful than mechanical energy (e.g., wind). Nuclear energy is more powerful still. If we could control the Unified Field we would have virtually limitless power to create or destroy. It is this kind of power that the Rabbis were afraid of unleashing were it to be made accessible to anyone. The reason is twofold: contact with this power can be dangerous for oneself, and it can be dangerous for the environment and society.
There are two clear examples of the first danger in our tradition. In parashat Shemini, during the inauguration of the Tabernacle in the wilderness, Aharon’s two eldest sons, Nadav and Avihu, bring “strange fire” and incense which they were not commanded. The result was that a fire came from Gd and consumed them, from the inside. Apparently, their nervous systems were not strong enough to sustain the experience of the Divine energy flowing through them, and it destroyed them like a surge of electricity can destroy electronic devices.

In fact, something similar happened during the Revelation at Mt. Sinai. In this case Gd had carefully instructed Moses to keep the people at a distance from the mountain so that He not “break through against them.” This was in fact done, and the people stood “at a distance” (the plain meaning of this is that they were physically distanced from the mountain, but a deeper meaning might be that they did not attempt to come closer to Gd in a spiritual sense than Gd was willing to permit). Once again, the experience was overwhelming and the people beg Moses to be their intermediary. The Midrash goes so far as to say that their souls left them and they had to be angelically revived when the Revelation was over.

During the time of R. Akiva (2nd century CE) there were “four who entered the garden / Paradise.” Led by R. Akiva, R. Shimon ben Zoma, R. Shimon ben Azzai and Elisha ben Abuyah practiced techniques that allowed them to ascend to great spiritual heights. Unfortunately, “one looked and died, one looked and went mad, Elisha ben Abuyah became an apostate, and only R. Akiva entered in peace and left in peace.” Again, the spiritual ascent was too much for those three who were not sufficiently prepared to handle the experience.

In terms of the environment, it is clear that great power in the hands of someone who is incapable of handling and controlling that power, can be very dangerous. An example from Greek mythology is Phaethon, the son of the sun-god Helios, who cajoles his father into letting him drive the chariot of the sun. He is, however, not strong enough to control the horses and the chariot runs wild, scorching the earth until he is killed. In popular culture there is the 1956 classic film Forbidden Planet, where a scientist on an alien world hooks into a machine that will project his every thought – but it projects his destructive thoughts just as well as his good ones, and he inadvertently almost destroys himself and everything he loves. And of course, we don’t have to deal with science fiction or Greek mythology to see the destruction one can wreak if one has too much power over nature and too little power over one’s self – we see it all around us in the multitude of environmental crises we have created for ourselves.

From the perspective of the Veda, the problem in all the above approaches was that we were trying to grasp the infinite, and its infinite power, with a finite mind and finite capabilities. We have already noted that Pure Consciousness is the basis of all of the phenomenal universe. By analogy with the Unified Field of physics we saw that everything we perceive, including our own individual self, is a projection of the internal, virtual dynamics of Pure Consciousness. When one’s individual mind has expanded to the universal value of Pure Consciousness, it naturally, from within itself, functions on the most universal level, and from this level one can produce any result one wants in manifest creation.

It is this power that is dangerous if misused – dangerous for the individual misusing it and dangerous for the environment if the great power of nature is wrongly directed. Now it is the human nervous system which sustains our subjective experience. If there are stresses and strains distorting the structure and functioning of the nervous system, then perception will be cloudy, and our ability to project our thoughts will also be limited. In other words, even if we could project our thoughts from the level of Pure Consciousness, impurities in the nervous system will distort them and cause unwanted “side effects.” When the wholeness of Pure Consciousness unrestrictedly moves within itself there is no such distortion and the full “computing power” of nature, which takes the whole cosmos into account at every moment, is behind every individual action. When there is distortion, the wholeness breaks into fragments and we get disintegration.

Danger arises when we try to develop our capabilities in pieces. It is certainly possible to do so and through the ages people have learned techniques for this purpose. Unfortunately, these techniques typically don’t do much to expand consciousness to its full capability. When the person seeks to gain insight or to exert some influence, the impurities left in the nervous system distort the functioning of the mind, and the blast of pure, powerful consciousness can be too much for the nervous system to handle. The energy breaks up as it were on the hard rocks of impurities.

The trick is to develop our consciousness in a balanced way that does not let our capabilities outstrip our purity. The Vedic technology of development of consciousness does exactly that. When the mind settles down and experiences Pure Consciousness, albeit briefly at first, the body settles down as well and is then able to throw off deep-rooted stresses and strains, the structural and material impurities that prevent the nervous system from sustaining the experience of Pure Consciousness. Development of capability goes hand-in-hand with the expansion of consciousness and with it, the ability to act in a way that is life-supporting for all creation.

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Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Lech Lecha

Genesis 12-17:27
Audio-recording of Lech Lecha:
http://www.chabad.org/parshah/article_cdo/aid/3481585/jewish/Lech-Lecha-Audio-Recording.htm

Genesis 17,1:
“And Abram was ninety-nine years old, and Gd appeared to Abram, and He said to him, “I am the Almighty Gd; walk before Me and be perfect.”

Torah tells us that Noah walked with Gd, was righteous and perfect but Torah doesn’t tell us how this came about; with Abram we can see what he did after Gd’s command and we can draw some tips about how we may also walk before Gd and be perfect. The deepest activity is the literal meaning of the name of the Parshah: “Lech Lecha” means “Go to yourself”. It’s not usually translated that way but the Lubavitcher Rebbe writes this:

Lech Lecha: Go To Yourself
This is usually translated as “Get thee out (from your country and your birthplace and your father’s house….)” But it literally means, “Go to yourself.” “Going” has the connotation in Torah of moving towards one’s ultimate purpose — of service towards one’s Creator. And this is strongly hinted at by the phrase, “Go to yourself” — meaning, towards your soul’s essence6 and your ultimate purpose, that for which you were created.” chabad.org (Source: Likkutei Sichot, Vol. V pp. 57-67)

This view of the Lubavitcher Rebbe resonates beautifully to most, perhaps all, of our Beth Shalom Congregation. “Go to your Self,”  your universal, unbounded, Self is the first step in acting so that we walk before Gd.

What does it mean to “walk before Gd”? The primary commentator on Torah is Rashi, and Rashi says it means “serve Me, cleave to My service.”  The Rebbe looks at it the same way so we can be very confident in this guidance.

Whenever Abram was commanded by Gd, he did what Gd commanded. To Abram, Gd appeared in visions: Abram must have been very close to walking with Gd in order to trust such commands as to leave his home and to “go to a place which I will show you”. I personally don’t feel that confident that I can trust visions or voices and so I am left with cleaving to Gd’s service by doing the ordinary things that good people everywhere do: honor my religion, do my best to be healthy, happy and to share my happiness with others through work with organizations I respect so I can attune myself to Gd through service to people I feel are wiser, more experienced than I and to at least one who I feel does walk with Gd.

What did Abram do to be perfect? Prior to this command of Gd to leave his homeland, Abram had already come to the conclusion that all creation was made by One Creator, Gd, and he and Sarai spread the word and brought many to share this belief — and perhaps a taste of the experience.

“Parshat Lech Lecha tells us that, after leaving his homeland to go to an unknown place, Abram continued to spread the word of monotheism and to build altars to Gd. From this we learn the very important message that we should share what we know, especially what we know by experience, and that Gd, as it says in Kaddish, is “beyond any words to describe” so simple acts of reverence, such as offering prayers, building altars, and temples for ourselves , our Self, to be in are ways to grow in our ability to walk before Gd and with Gd And to be perfect.”

When a famine caused him and Sarai to leave Canaan (the land where Gd promised him he would make him a great nation) and go to Egypt, this may have seemed like an exile but the Rebbe comments that it was an exile with a purpose: it gave Abram an opportunity to serve Gd by spreading the word of One Gd to a people who worshiped only partial values of Gd.

Abram told Sarai to say that she was his sister, not his wife. He did this because he thought otherwise, he would be killed.

Few of us are likely to be in such an extreme situation but we may take it that a lie to save our life, if we are otherwise innocent of any crime, is a way of serving Gd and being perfect.

In Egypt, Abram and his nephew, Lot, acquired many possessions, including cattle, which they took to Canaan. In Canaan their herdsmen quarreled. Abram and Lot decided to separate. This is like taking a rest from duality. Though on the surface, there were two separate groups in two separate lands, at the depth there was the freedom, the peace, from quarrels. There was a transcendence.

From this we can learn, that if we have no other way to create harmony, separation is a valid way to create harmony, which is the essence of serving Gd. In a deeper sense, Lot moved to plains near Sodom, an evil kingdom, Why did he move so close to an evil kingdom? A good question for further research and intuition. Sodom was attacked and Lot was captured when the city was captured: Abram took his trained men, though they were only few, and pursued the army holding Lot, defeated them, restored Lot’s possessions to him and restored four kingdoms, including Sodom, to their kings. Why did he restore evil kingdoms to their kings instead of taking them over and guiding them to righteousness? A deep mystery! But we can learn from Abram’s victory that we should be concerned with following right action as a way of serving Gd and not be afraid that our resources are too small: Gd protects those who serve Him.

Abram refused to accept any recompense from the King of Sodom for restoring his possessions to him. His reason: he did not want the King of Sodom to be able to claim he had made Abram rich. A traditional explanation of Abram’s reasoning is that he wanted it to be clear to everyone that any accomplishment of his was through Gd: it was not Abram who defeated the armies, it was Gd; it could not be through evil hands such as those of the King of Sodom that he would acquire possessions but only through the Hand of Gd. Certainly we can be kind to even those who are evil – our kindness will give them a softening of heart and they will become less evil. We certainly should refuse to accept any compensation from them – there is a saying “The gifts of the evil do not bring blessings”. Certainly we can recognize that any accomplishments of ours are Gd’s Gift to us.

Abram is blessed by Melchizedek, who was a king but also a priest of the Most High — this means Melchizedek was not only a monotheist in belief but also in experience.  Enough experience of Gd to serve as Gd’s priest, and to be referred to more as a priest than as a king. We too, can put One first and material possessions second so that we are protected by our sense of proportion and serve Gd first.

And we can read Torah, listen to Torah, read from the Siddur, attend services at the Synagogue, as ways to raise ourselves up to direct experience and to priestly service, whatever our actual roles are in life.

Abram tells Gd, when Gd says his reward for this action will be great: Of what use is this to me since I have no son to inherit? And Gd responds: you will have a son and be a mighty nation, more than the stars. From this we learn that service to Gd can include asking Gd to redress a situation we feel is amiss: we can pray for help, we can ask simply and Gd responds. To Abram, He responded clearly; to us, perhaps not so clearly but we need to be alert to the response.

Abram’s son, Ishmael, is born with Hagar, Sarai’s maidservant, and Isaac is born, with Sarah.

From this we learn that when we serve Gd, we raise ourselves up, and what Gd promises, Gd delivers. Trusting Gd is very important and when we are not able to experience Gd directly, trusting our Traditions, especially Torah, is very important.

Gd tells Abram to circumcise his son and that all males of the community shall be circumcised as a Covenant with Gd. From the Babylonian Talmud we learn that through circumcision Abram became sanctified. He became not merely a physical person fathering physical children but a spiritual person protecting Gd’s Spiritual Wisdom and spreading it in its purity.

We can treat circumcision not merely as something physical for males, but something everyone, males and females, can do: cut off anything that binds us only to the physical and thus rise to be spiritual: to walk before Gd and become perfect as Abram did, and Sarai did: become Abraham, father not only of Isaac and Ishmael but of nations, and as Sarai did and became Sarah: princess not only of Abram but of all souls.

Baruch HaShem!