Three Days of Tragedy are lumped together, one right upon the other, for our people, starting today. We only fast formally on the 10th of Teves (Sunday January 8th this year), as three days of fasting would not be feasible for most of us weak-constituted folks who need our food. Below, I’ll do an analysis of the day-to-day tragedies whose events left pain for generations for us.
CHES TEVES: On the eighth of Teves, many years ago, King Talmai took a group of Talmidei Chachamin [Torah Scholars] and locked them away in separate rooms to block them from communicating with each other. He then ordered each one of them to translate the Torah into Greek. He did this to make sure he was getting an accurate translation and that they wouldn’t hide any Torah from him. The sages, although they could not communicate, all made the same minor changes in the translation EXACTLY as if they had discussed matters beforehand. The changes they made were to ensure their translation would not give wrong ideas to the outside world. For example, the first verse in the Torah, “Breishis Bara Elokim” they switched to “Elokim Bara Breishis”. Why? Because they realized idol worshippers might say that Braishis, the word meaning ‘in the beginning’, is the name of one of their idols and try to “prove” one of their idols created G-d by quoting the verse in that off-kilter way. So the sages switched the verse to begin with the word G-d, to make it clear to everyone that nothing comes before G-d. One of the other changes was to say that a certain animal “young of foot” was not kosher. In Hebrew, the animal is not called “young of foot” but is called an Arnevet. However, Talmai’s wife happened to have as her name the word Arnevet, so the rabbis realized she might become insulted to hear a verse saying Arnevet is not Kosher. They, therefore, worded the name of the animal differently.
It was a complete miracle that so many rabbis, all separated from each other and translating in seclusion, came up with the identical ideas of how to translate the Torah accurately and make the adjustments; and all of them handed in translations exactly the same. Yet, the day on which they had completed the translation is considered a national tragedy for the Jews. Why?
The Chasam Sofer explains that the translation of the Torah took away its dimensions. How do we understand this? Each word in the Torah comes along with 70 meanings. Translating it into literal secular sentences flattens it to one-faceted text. Let me explain a bit about dimensions. An ant walking along the floor sees something – only in flatness – 2-dimensions. The ant is not big enough to see height and width. A human who stands taller than the ant, can see the same object from a few angles and, therefore, sees more of its dimensions. A scientist looking through a microscope can see even more dimensions to the same object because the scientist can see inside the dimensions we can see with our naked eyes to even more dimensions.
When we read the verse, for example of Braishis Bara Elokim, we Jews know those words mean 70 different things, such as “bishvil Raishis – for the sake of Raishis (which is the Torah) Hashem created the world. We know the verse is telling us that Braishis Bara Elokim, G-d created the concept of time, of “in the beginning” – that time is relative to the world. It took Einstein many years later to learn what he could have learned from this verse, that time is relative and is a creation like all creations.
Anyone learning Torah without the rich, deeper translations only gets to see one dimension, they don’t get to learn all the lessons which could be gotten from the Torah. That is why most non-Jews and some unlearned Jews have such issues with some verses, because they don’t understand what is being said, because they only have a flat translation – just as the ant cannot understand how a dresser, a cliff and a wall are different. The ant cannot see fully – it just sees: large object ahead = wall. Physicists now argue we are quite like the ant, we see only a limited idea of the different dimensions to the world. (If any of you are science minded and want to read up about some physicists’ theory to the many different dimensions we cannot see but that are there in the world, then read The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene.)
The tragedy of the translation of the Torah is that the world sees Torah as a one-dimension story book. “And he said.” “And she said.” “And they went.” That is the way they view Torah, instead of realizing each word and letter has a soul and a lesson. Let me give you another example. Supposing I walk into a room and pick on a pretty girl and I say, from now on, you cannot speak or act out. You must just sit here and smile and be pretty. After a few years of not being able to speak or act, that girl would be known as “the pretty girl”, but nobody would know who she really is, what she is thinking, what her personality is like, what she loves, what makes her tick. They would see her merely as a flat, “pretty girl”. That would be tragic, because the real person would be lost. (Which, by the way, is much of what society has done with folks.) That is what the translation of Torah into Greek did, it made the words of Torah into “pretty words” for the non-Jews, where they could never see the personality and life of Torah.
TES TEVES: The ninth of Teves is the Yahrtzeit [anniversary of the death] of Ezra and Nechemia who had led the Jews back from the Babylonian Exile and who had rebuilt Yerushalayim and the 2nd Bais Hamikdash [Temple]. They had been leaders the way leaders should be: uncompromising in truth (they made those who had intermarried divorce), but pragmatic about enabling folks to stick to truth (setting up cosmetic shops in all areas so Jewish women could keep their men’s attention). They did not preach tolerance to sinners (speaking out against doing wrong), but were welcoming and understanding to those who wanted to repent (telling them not to fast, but to celebrate the reality of G-d allowing U-turns). ‘Tis indeed a tragedy to have a dearth of leaders like that. So, today, we can say, as G-d did to Moshe, ‘alas for those we’ve lost and aren’t here.’ We sorely miss wise leadership like Ezra and Nechamia. And, lest you say, that’s an excuse for our generation to do the wrong thing, then take a reality check. We only get leaders as we deserve, which means if we think our leaders are flawed, then we must be seriously flawed to have them as our generation’s leaders.
ASARA B’TEVES. The 10th of Teves is the day that Nevuchadnetzer set up the siege around Yerushalayim. The beginning of the end to the Temple and Divine revelation. This bitter exile has stretched so long, the hatred between us is as fiery and unjust as ever, and for that, I only can say with a Krechtz, “Ad Ana Bechiya..” until when will we have to cry? Here is the song, as sung with tons of meaning and feeling by Ari Goldwag: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1tDPo4qQpVQ&feature=related