On the Weekly Torah Portion of Bechukotay

David_Bohm

David Bohm

The opening verses of the Torah portion of bechukotai, (Leviticus 26:3 – 27:34) reminded me of the ideas of American physicist David Bohm (1917-1992). An innovative thinker, Bohm did not limit himself to physics and went further than many in trying to grapple with the implications of quantum physics on our understanding of mind and brain. He also engaged in famous conversations with J.D. Krishnamurti, one of the most significant spiritual teachers of the 20th century, and developed a system of “dialogue,” a way for people to conduct a conversation which takes the insights he has gained into the nature of mind and consciousness into account.

One of Bohm’s ideas was that of Implicate and Explicate order. For Bohm, explicate order (which he also refers to as “unfolded” order) is the order that we normally perceive around us, the perceived order of space, time, and particles. Underlying this order, for Bohm, is a deeper one, which he calls “implicate” (or “enfolded”) order. It is that order which he was interested learning and accessing, and his process of dialogue was aimed at that.

Bohm felt that accessing this implicate order through the process of dialogue was an end in itself, and therefore the application of this form of dialogue for practical, “worldly” purpose was left to his students and successors (bear with me, this will tie in with the weekly portion very soon…). One of these is William Isaacs, author of Dialogue: The Art Of Thinking Together. In his book, Isaacs brings many case studies in which companies fared poorly due to lack of real communication between the various branches of labor, management, and R&D. But as soon as the system of dialogue was introduced and applied—that is, to use both Bohm’s and Isaacs’ assertions, as soon as the implicate order was accessed together by the various stake-holders—the company or organization turned around.

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It was upon reading these testimonies that the verses of bechukotai came to life. In those beginning verses, Y-H-V-H makes a promise to the Israelites, which on the face of it looks very simplistic: if they conduct their lives according to His laws and obey His commandments, they will flourish. And if they don’t, they will be severely punished.

אִם בְּחֻקֹּתַי תֵּלֵכוּ וְאֶת מִצְוֹתַי תִּשְׁמְרוּ וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אֹתָם: וְנָתַתִּי גִשְׁמֵיכֶם בְּעִתָּם וְנָתְנָה הָאָרֶץ יְבוּלָהּ וְעֵץ הַשָּׂדֶה יִתֵּן פִּרְיוֹ: וְהִשִּׂיג לָכֶם דַּיִשׁ אֶת בָּצִיר וּבָצִיר יַשִּׂיג אֶת זָרַע וַאֲכַלְתֶּם לַחְמְכֶם לָשֹׂבַע וִישַׁבְתֶּם לָבֶטַח בְּאַרְצְכֶם:… וְאִם לֹא תִשְׁמְעוּ לִי וְלֹא תַעֲשׂוּ אֵת כָּל הַמִּצְוֹת הָאֵלֶּה: וְאִם בְּחֻקֹּתַי תִּמְאָסוּ וְאִם אֶת מִשְׁפָּטַי תִּגְעַל נַפְשְׁכֶם לְבִלְתִּי עֲשׂוֹת אֶת כָּל מִצְוֹתַי לְהַפְרְכֶם אֶת בְּרִיתִי: אַף אֲנִי אֶעֱשֶׂה זֹּאת לָכֶם וְהִפְקַדְתִּי עֲלֵיכֶם בֶּהָלָה אֶת הַשַּׁחֶפֶת וְאֶת הַקַּדַּחַת מְכַלּוֹת עֵינַיִם וּמְדִיבֹת נָפֶשׁ וּזְרַעְתֶּם לָרִיק זַרְעֲכֶם וַאֲכָלֻהוּ אֹיְבֵיכֶם:
If you conduct yourself according to My laws and observe My commandments, I will grant your rains in their season, so that the earth shall yield its produce and the trees of the field their fruit. Your threshing shall overtake the vintage, and your vintage shall overtake the sowing; you shall eat your fill of bread and dwell securely in your land…. But if you do not obey me and do not observe all these commandments, if you reject My laws and spurn My rules, so that you do not observe all My commandments and you break My covenant, in turn I will do this to you: I will wreak misery upon you—consumption and fever, which cause the eyes to pine and the body to languish, you shall sow your seed to no purpose, for your enemies shall eat it. (Leviticus 26:3-5, 14-17).

So yes, I know that most present day rabbis and orthodox Jews will claim that the text simply talks about following God’s commandments, the mitzvoth, as interpreted by the 2,000 rabbinical tradition. And I am not going to argue with that, because surely there is nothing wrong with following the commandments. But I think there is a deeper way in which we can understand the words lalechet bechukuotay, i.e., walk in my commandments. And that deeper way comes from within the Jewish tradition, not from outside.

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In the biblical book of Proverbs, chokhma (חכמה), “Wisdom”, is personified. She has a monologue, which she opens with the words:

יְהוָה–קָנָנִי, רֵאשִׁית דַּרְכּוֹ:    קֶדֶם מִפְעָלָיו מֵאָז.
מֵעוֹלָם, נִסַּכְתִּי מֵרֹאשׁ–    מִקַּדְמֵי-אָרֶץ.
בְּאֵין-תְּהֹמוֹת חוֹלָלְתִּי;    בְּאֵין מַעְיָנוֹת, נִכְבַּדֵּי-מָיִם.
בְּטֶרֶם הָרִים הָטְבָּעוּ;    לִפְנֵי גְבָעוֹת חוֹלָלְתִּי.
Y-H-V-H created me in the beginning of his course
As the first of His works of old.
In the distant past I was fashioned,
At the beginning, at the origin of earth.
There was still no deep when I was brought forth,
No springs rich in water;
Before [the foundation of] the mountains were sunk,
Before the hills I was born.
(Proverbs 8:22-25)

Who is this wisdom personified? Without exception, throughout time and in all the streams of Judaism (mystics or scholars, traditional or modern), the fact that this personified Wisdom, chokhmah, is none other than the Torah has been taken for granted. Torah is revealed here not as a text, but as a primordial level of wisdom that existed before creation came into being, before space and time.

The midrash and the Talmud went even further. Not only did Torah exist as a primordial wisdom before creation came about, it is in fact the blueprint of creation. God, it is said, uses the letters of the Torah as the “workers” which he uses to bring creation about. It is the sequence of the letter in the Torah, according to those ancient traditions, that is the code through which creation comes into being.

* * *

This way of relating to the Torah, which mirrors the way the Vedic tradition relates to Veda and echos Bohm’s concept of implicit order, makes profound sense to me. It makes sense to me, that living in accordance with that level of intelligence of nature one life would have better chances of prospering than otherwise.

While I am, like many others, weary of any attempts to “prove” anything that appears in the Bible through the use of science, I can safely say that David Bohm’s concept of implicit order helped me to live in piece with the statements in the bechukotay portion of the week, which I otherwise have many factual and historical problems with. Thank you, David Bohm.