DEVOTEE: The Vedas have an oral and a written tradition. Originally they were handed down from guru to disciple orally. Five thousand years ago the Vedas were compiled by Srila Vyäsadeva in Sanskrit for the benefit of mankind. Do the Jewish scriptures also have oral and written traditions?
RABBI: Yes. There are both oral and written traditions of the Torah. First it existed in oral form and later as the written Torah. It is said, "It [the written Torah] is explicitly mentioned in section 99 [of the Bahir] as the light that nourishes the lamp of the oral Torah: "Such is the oral Torah: although it is a lamp it has need of the written Torah in order to resolve its difficulties and explain its mysteries." [Origins of the Kabbalah, page 145] Were the written Vedas required to help understand the oral tradition?
DEVOTEE: In this age, Kali-yuga, people are generally less intelligent than in previous ages. That is why Srila Vyäsadeva gave us the Vedas in written form about five thousand years ago. He divided the Vedas into sections and expanded on them so that they would be easier to understand. In former ages, people in general had keen memories, having heard the Vedic instructions once from their spiritual master, they would perfectly understand and remember them for the rest of their lives. There was no need for written words.
RABBI: It is said, "And thus the written Torah cannot adopt corporeal form, except through the power of the oral Torah: that is, that the former cannot be truly understood without the latter, just as the mode of divine Mercy can only be grasped and perceived through the mode of Judgment." [Origins of the Kabbalah, page 288]
DEVOTEE: This verse seems to say that one cannot understand the written Torah without the help of the oral Torah. Yet a few minutes ago, you quoted a verse that seemed to indicate the opposite - that to understand the mysteries of the oral Torah, one must take the help of the written Torah. Can you explain this apparent contradiction?
RABBI: As I understand it, the written Torah is required to fully understand the oral Torah, another aspect of the oral Torah is the rabbi's personal teachings, using the written Torah as a guide, the realized rabbi teaches the qualified student its inner meanings. This is especially important when the rabbi is teaching, not only the part of the Torah known to the Christians as the Old Testament, but especially the more complex expanded body of Jewish religious law, including the Bahir, the Talmud, the Zohar, and the Sefer Yetzirah. The Zohar itself is composed of innumerable discourses, which expand on the verses of the Torah. In this way, the oral tradition is continuing and assisting in the understanding of the written Torah, and with that understanding there is no contradiction at all between the two verses I have quoted.
DEVOTEE: Thank you for your explanation, Rabbi. Exactly the same principle holds true regarding the Vedas. By including the bona fide commentaries on the already existing Vedas, the Vedas are being expanded. Veda means knowledge. As Srila Vyäsadeva has divided and expanded the original Vedas to make them easier to understand, the various representatives of Srila Vyäsadeva are also writing commentaries on his works, toward the same end. The most recent representative of Srila Vyäsadeva is His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, whose translations and commentaries on the Vedas I have quoted many times in our discussions.
RABBI: It is said, "First, God took two names. The first became the great fire or the sefirah geburah, while the other unfolded to become the 'form of the written Torah, which is the color of white fire.' It corresponds to the sefirah of the divine Mercy, or tif'ereth. The lowest sefirah, on the other hand, contains, by virtue of its correspondence to the action of divine judgment in the world, the oral Torah, which is black fire burning upon an underlayer of white fire." [Origins of the Kabbalah, Page 288] Is there anything in the Vedas that seems to correspond with this statement?
DEVOTEE: According to the Vedas, the original name of God is Krsna, and the name of His first expansion is Balaräma. Lord Krsna appears blackish in color (and is the hidden secret of the Vedas), and Lord Balaräma appears whitish. Lord Balaräma is known as the original spiritual master (one who reveals the hidden knowledge of God), as is Srila Vyäsadeva who compiled the Vedic literatures. It is with the help of Lord Balaräma or Srila Vyäsadeva, or their bona fide representatives that the Vedas can be understood. It was Srila Vyäsadeva who actually compiled the Vedas in written form, and he is ultimately a representative of Lord Balaräma who is the source of the Vedic oral tradition.
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