A GODLY KING
RABBI: In the Torah, Moses describes to the people some of
the requirements of a king. One of the requirements is, "When [the king]
is established on his royal throne, he must write a copy of the Torah as a
scroll edited by the Levitical priests. [This scroll] must always be with him,
and he shall read from it all the days of his life. He will then learn to be in
awe of God his Lord, and carefully keep every word of the Torah and these
rules. He will then [also] not begin to feel superior to his brethren, and he
will not stray from the mandate to the right or the left. He and his
descendants will thus have a long reign in the midst of Israel." [Torah,
Duet., Shoftim 17:18] Do the Vedas give any description of the qualities of a
king similar to these?
DEVOTEE: The Vedic kings were known as Rajarsis, or saintly
kings. The Vedas describe the qualities of a saintly king. A saintly king rules
the citizens on behalf of God, his primary goal being to help his citizens
gradually elevate themselves on the path of spiritual life. The saintly kings
were very learned in the scriptures, and, although very powerful, they always
felt themselves to be the insignificant servants of God. One very good example
of a saintly king was Dhruva Maharaja who is described in the Srimad
Bhagavatam. "Dhruva Maharaja was endowed with all godly qualities; he was
very respectful to the devotees of the Supreme Lord and very kind to the poor
and innocent, and he protected religious principles. With all these
qualifications, he was considered to be the direct father of all the
citizens." [Bhag. 4.12.12]
TRANSLATING SCRIPTURES AND UNDERSTANDING THEIR ESSENCE
DEVOTEE: Rabbi, based on this passage that I will read from
the translator's Introduction to the Torah, it appears that due to the
complexity of translating the Torah from Hebrew, it must be very difficult for
the common Jew to ascertain it's true meaning. It says, "Another problem
in translating the Torah is that of sentence structure. Clearly, the sentence
structure of Hebrew three thousand years ago bears little, if any, resemblance
to that of any modern language. Therefore, if one slavishly adheres to the
original sentence structure in translating, he will often produce a result very
different from that intended by the original. At best, many passages will be
difficult, if not impossible, to understand. Moreover, the translator will
sometimes have to use many words to translate a single word, while at other
times he will have to use a single word to translate many. He will have to add
and delete words so that the concept may be clearly expressed in the language
into which he is translating."
RABBI: It is true that very few people are qualified to
directly translate the Jewish scriptures and to thereby directly ascertain
their essence. But since the conclusion of the Torah is to love God, and that
does not require any scholarship, even the common people can understand that
essence based on bona fide translations and explanations of others.
DEVOTEE: Rabbi, are you telling me that as a Jew, if I
actually love God, I will be able to understand the real meaning of the Torah,
the Zohar, and the Bahir?
RABBI: Yes that is correct.
DEVOTEE: In Vedic culture, spiritual qualifications of the
person translating or explaining transcendental literatures are considered even
more important than their scholarship. Most of the Vedic scriptures were
originally recorded in Sanskrit, and in Sanskrit, sometimes a single word can
have dozens of meanings according to the context. How then can the translator
be sure that he is giving the true meaning? He must understand the essence and
goal of all the Vedas, and then naturally he will be able to choose the correct
word meanings. In other words, if he is firmly fixed in his understanding,
realization and practical application that one must surrender everything to the
pure service of the Lord, then he will be able to understand the descriptions
that the scriptures give about the Lord, His service, His instructions, etc. To
have a pure service attitude towards God means to have pure love for the Lord.
FREE WILL AND DESTINY
DEVOTEE: Rabbi, what is the extent of our free will, and to
what magnitude are our lives controlled by destiny?
RABBI: In the Torah, in his final discourse, Moses said to
his people, "See! Today I have set before you [a free choice] between life
and good [on one side], and death and evil [on the other]. I have commanded you
today to love God your Lord, to walk in His paths, and to keep His
commandments, decrees and laws. You will then survive and flourish, and God
your Lord will bless you in the land that you are about to occupy. But if your
heart turns aside and you do not listen, you will be led astray to bow down to
foreign gods and worship them. I am warning you today, that [if you do that]
you will be utterly exterminated. You will not last very long in the land which
you are crossing the Jordan and coming to occupy. I call heaven and earth as
witnesses! Before you I have placed life and death, the blessing and the curse.
You must choose life, so that you and your descendants will survive. [You must
thus make the choice] to love God your Lord, to obey Him, and to attach
yourself to Him. This is your sole means of survival and long life when you
dwell in the land that God swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,
[promising] that He would give it to them." [Torah, Duet. Netzavim,
30:15-20] In other words, Moses is explaining that God is giving the people the
free will to act as they like, but is warning them that if they act wrongly,
against the will of the Lord, they will suffer the results of their misdeeds.
The people are to that extent the controllers of their destiny.
DEVOTEE: The Vedic understanding is similar. The Supreme
Lord directs us what to do and what not to do. If we act against the directions
of Lord Krsna, we become fully responsible for the results of our actions.
Ignorance of the law is no excuse to be saved from punishment. According to His
Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, "Without knowing the
subtle laws of nature, if we tried to justify all our deeds as influenced by
the will of the Personality of Godhead, we would be attempting to bring
partiality, inebriety, and gracelessness into the acts of the all-good
Personality of Godhead. It should never be imagined that various mundane
discrepancies arise by the will of the Personality of Godhead--that some are
happy by His will and others are unhappy by His will. Such differences in the
world are due to the proper or improper use of free will enjoyed by the
individual living entity." [Message of Godhead]
RABBI: These are very good points. I have personally seen
many times, that when a man is in extreme difficulty and does not have a good
understanding that his difficulties are ultimately due to his own misdeeds, he
loses his faith in God. He may actually become an atheist because he cannot
accept that a good and loving God would allow an apparently good person to
suffer. Many people give up their religious faiths, including Judaism, due to
an imperfect or incomplete understanding of free will and destiny.
DEVOTEE: Yes Rabbi. It is so very important that everyone
understands the basic principles of free will and destiny from a theistic
perspective. The Vedic understanding of karma and of reincarnation are very
important to the theistic understanding of why things happen they way that they
do. If we cannot explain free will and destiny theistically, then we will
concoct an atheistic philosophy to explain it. To follow an atheistic path
ruins our chances to develop love for God and to return to His eternal abode.
Karma is an inescapable subtle material law of actions and reactions. For every
action that man performs, there will be a perfectly proportionate reaction.
Often times the results will come from a previous life's activities and he
cannot determine what good or evil he may have done to cause his present life's
condition. Ultimately, we should free ourselves from all material reactions by
engaging in only those activities that will directly lead us back to God. Such
activities are called transcendental and are performed only to please the Lord.
Transcendental activities do not bind us to this world but liberate us, whereas
material actions, those done against the will of the Lord will certainly bind
us to this world of suffering.