This Sunday, 8 Teves, is the anniversary of a tragic event that occurred over two thousand years ago and is part of what we remember on the Tenth of Teves – Asara B’Teves. As related in the Gemora – Megillah: 9a, King Ptolemy of Egypt gathered 72 of the Sages of Israel, each in his separate room, and ordered each one to translate the (written) Torah into Greek.
King Ptolemy of Egypt gathered 72 of the Sages of Israel, … and ordered each one to translate the (written) Torah into Greek. Despite the miraculous outcome – that all 72 made the exact same tweaks and modifications in the translation to avoid blatant misunderstandings by the non-Jews, Chazal consider the day this happened as a great tragedy. In fact – in Maseches Sofrim (1:7) it says it was as tragic as the day of the Golden Calf.
What was the tragedy? It should be considered a day of great pride for the Jewish People to finally show off the greatly revered and feared Torah to the non-Jewish world. The following statement in Megilas Taanis explains: To what may the matter be likened? To a lion captured and imprisoned. Before his imprisonment, all feared him and fled from his presence. Then, all came to gaze at him and said, ‘Where is this one’s strength’?
Likewise the Torah, as long as it was only in Hebrew and was interpreted by the Sages, evoked reverence, and many feared to cast any blemish upon it. Even the non-Jews who desired to study the Torah, could have no contact with the Torah until he or she entered into the Divine covenant and had acquired a knowledge of the holy tongue and the prescribed ways for understanding the Torah.
The Sages, therefore, likened the event of this day, to the day on which the Golden Calf was made. Once the Torah was imprisoned in the Greek translation, it was as if the Torah was divested of reverence, minimalized and trivialized R’L. Whoever wished to, could now claim understanding of the Torah. Anyone who wanted to find fault with its logic, could now do so based on the narrow perspective of its translation into only one of 70 potential languages. The Sages, therefore, likened the event of this day, to the day on which the Golden Calf was made. (An unknown writer suggested the following connection) – For just as the Golden Calf had no reality, and yet those who served it regarded it as having real substance, likewise the translation, devoid of the true substance of Torah, allowed non-Jews to imagine that they already knew the Torah.
While this message itself is extremely important and worth internalizing, it points out what an unbelievable privilege we and especially our children have, in the ability to study Torah. Our Rabbis consider the fact that the Torah is now available in translation as a tremendous descent from previous heights and a tragedy of epic proportions. While in our day, so many who were deprived of the opportunity for in-depth Torah study in their youth, are so grateful for the plethora of translated materials, our children can achieve so much more. The depth and multi-faceted levels of brilliance and profundity that exist in every Pasuk, every Mishna and blatt of Gemora, can be accessed by one with the tools for learning in the original Lashon Kodesh and is of a totally different dimension.
…we should come to appreciate what an invaluable treasure is still within our reach…What does this tell us about the great privilege of learning Torah, in Lashon Kodesh – in the original and sending our children to a yeshiva where they acquire the tools to do so? Do we appreciate enough the priceless gift we give our children by making the sacrifices that enable them to learn Torah as Hashem intended it to be learned? Do our children appreciate the incredible opportunity they have when they make the effort and become someone who can hear the authentic voice of Hashem, in all His messages and meanings, through the authentic study of Torah?
From what our Rabbis considered a terrible loss, we should come to appreciate what an invaluable treasure is still within our reach and not settle for one-dimensional Judaism. As we mourn the Torah’s descent in the eyes of the non-Jews and lament over the beginning of the destruction of Yerusholayim, we need to keep our eyes focused on the priceless legacy that is still ours and our children’s – knowledge of Torah in all its glorious profundity and brilliance, that can be achieved with consistent effort, joy and commitment.
Best wishes for a wonderful and meaningful Shabbos,
Rabbi Kalman Baumann