DVAR TORAH: Asara B'Teves

Talmei Hamelech (Ptolomy of Egypt), King of Greece is a name that shall live in infamy. In the early days of the Bayis Sheini (2nd Temple), the Jews were ruled by the Persian empire. The Persian empire eventually gave way to the Greeks, and the Jews became subjugated to all the whims of the new Greek superpower.


In 330 b.c.e., on the 8th day of Teves, Talmei Hamelech ordered the Chachamim (Torah Sages) to appear before him. He gathered 72 Rabbis and placed them in 72 separate rooms without revealing the purpose for which he summoned them. He then went into each room individually and commanded them each to translate the Torah from Hebrew to Greek.


The fact that he placed them in separate rooms like this shows that he didn't trust them. He suspected that they would deliberately give him a fake translation in order to keep the words of the Torah secret. Till that time, the Torah had never been translated to another language. Only the Jews who knew Hebrew had access to the Torah. But now, if the chachamim made any changes or alterations in their translation, he would know it, for it would surely show up when the 72 copies were examined and cross-checked.


Indeed, this was a superhuman task. Even if the sages were to try to produce the most accurate translation possible, Torah is so deep and rich and full of allusion, it is impossible to decide which is the best way to translate it, much less to guess what 71 others would choose. If you translate it literally you turn the Torah into an empty shell, devoid of it's esoteric treasures. If you translate it allegorically, you lose the simple straightforward meaning. There's often more than one meaning for a word - which one do you choose? Which one will the others choose.  Further, the chachamim did not want to translate it one hundred per cent accurately. There were verses which they felt would only be misunderstood or misconstrued by the non-jews.


What a bind they were in. If their translations varied, the non-jews would claim that Torah was not true. They would assert that if it were true, then why is there disagreement. This would constitute a public desecration of G-d's name. The fact that Talmei Hamelech put the chachamim in this position exposes the wickedness of his intent.


The sages lifted their eyes to heaven and received ruach hakodesh (holy inspiration). Hashem (G-d) put it in each one's heart to translate exactly as the others did. No discrepancy could be found, even though there were a number of places where the sages deliberately altered the translation. This was indeed a miracle and a kiddush Hashem - a public sanctification of G-d's name.


Still, this is considered a dark day for Israel, and is one of the reasons why we fast on Asara B'Teves. Till this point, the Torah was in the hands of the Jews and elucidated by the chachamim. The chachamim who were expert in the study of the Torah, would convey the full and accurate meaning of the Torah. Once it was translated into Greek, it was as if the Torah was divested of its reverence. Any misguided ignoramus, or any hothead with an agenda, could now gaze at the Torah and find fault, or fabricate any interpretation they fancied.


On this sad day, let us vow to counteract this tragedy by immersing ourselves in Torah study in depth. Let us delve to find the true meaning of the words of our Torah, so that we can never be swayed or led astray by falsehood and distortion of our holy Torah.


Dedicated by Avi & Ros Dimenstein on the occasion of the Yahrtzeit of Rabbi Henry Soille o.b.m.

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