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6 Teves 5763 - December 11, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
7-9 Teves, Three Days Of Darkness -- The Torah's Translation Into Greek: The Chasam Sofer On The Septuagint

From Droshos Chasam Sofer, Drush for the Seventh of Teves 5573 (1811-2)

In this extract from one of his annual Teves discourses, which included hespedim for prominent tzadikim who had passed away during the course of the past year, the Chasam Sofer pinpoints the rapport with gentile ideas that is facilitated by the Torah's translation into their language, as one of the major causes of misunderstanding Torah, abandonment of mitzvos and loss of faith, Rachmono litzlan.

. . . I would also like to explain what is mentioned in Shulchan Oruch (siman 580) -- that when the Torah was translated into Greek for King Ptolemy, there were three days of darkness in the world, the eight, ninth and tenth of Teves. What was the cause of this darkness?

The history books tell us that the Jews were highly respected for this [achievement] and that they won the favor and respect of the king and his ministers, who praised the Torah's beauty and wisdom. From then on, they sent sacrifices and gifts to the Beis Hamikdosh.

The matter can be explained with the parable of a king who possessed a wonderful piece of royal clothing. While the garment itself was tailored of scarlet cloth, with refinements, the fabric and its color were scarcely visible through the precious stones and pearls that studded it. Besides the jewels' [intrinsic] worth and importance, each one embodied some allusion to the king's rule, to the wars he had fought, to his honor, or to the glory of his ancestors. Whenever he donned this garment in the company of his ministers and servants who dwelt in his palace, he was esteemed and exalted in their eyes because they understood its full significance. At the same time, the king's stature and power also grew and his mighty rule extended across the world.

One day, the king's subjects expressed a strong desire to see their ruler in person. The king travelled through his entire kingdom, passing through each of his lands. As he was making his way wearing his royal garment, he heard all the people saying, "How beautiful and pleasant this precious garment is. The likes of this scarlet hue have never been seen before. What a pity it is and what a great waste, that it is covered with those worthless stones. They conceal the garment's true beauty, which everyone longs to see."

When the king heard what they were saying [and realized] that they were unanimous in their opinion, he was influenced by them. He gave orders for the precious stones and pearls to be removed so that the surface of the garment itself could be seen, with its scarlet embroidery and fine details. His subjects then praised and lauded him even more, extolling him and his glorious standing.

One of the king's highly distinguished ministers was there, wearing an expression of extreme displeasure. The king asked, "Why are you upset? You must bear me malice if it pains you so deeply to see my honor and great glory."

The minister replied, "It upsets me to see the people ruling you and to see how you have been swayed by what they say. The more they acclaim you for the scarlet garment, the more you will spurn the precious stones, which are the glory of your father's house. In the end you will neglect them. The dust will gather on them and they will no longer shine and glitter. Your own honor and that of your family will be forgotten and you will spend all your time on having large numbers of scarlet garments made throughout your country. In the end, even the country folk will dress like you and there will be no discernible difference between rich and poor.

"If it pleases Your Majesty, in view of the fact that you do wish to indulge the people's wishes, give instructions for the stones to be attached to the garment in such a way that they can be removed at any time you so wish and then immediately returned. When you go to view your lands, reveal a little of the garment at a time, sometimes on this side, sometimes on that, so that the people will also enjoy whatever they can but you never lose sight of who you are and the home that you come from. Then you will rule over them and not vice versa."

The king followed this advice and was successful.

The meaning of this parable is as follows: Hakodosh Boruch Hu, Himself, made His nation, Yisroel, honorable rulers of the world. He bedecked them in garments of light, namely our holy Torah. Its cloth is woven from the fundamentals of intellect, understanding and comprehension of the realm of philosophy [i.e. Theology], for all its commandments and laws are arranged in such a way that all who see them recognize that it is the work of a master Craftsman. This corresponds to the scarlet garment with its fine details.

But the garment is covered with glorious [adornments that are] more precious than pearls and more valuable than anything else in existence. Each of their edges and corners alludes to supernal mysteries, upon which [the existence of] all the worlds [both upper and lower] depends, through which [mysteries] these worlds were created and formed, as is known. Every discerning individual realizes that [these adornments] bear the Divine imprint. However, this awareness is not common to everyone -- only to those who dwell in the holy King's palace.

Nowadays, the nations and rulers of countries want to see the glory and beauty of the Torah-garment. They do not understand the exalted level of the precious stones [which correspond to] the Torah's secrets and [to] the allusions of the [letters'] crowns, the pointing and the letters [themselves]. They demand that all the precious stones be removed and that the Torah be translated into a foreign language so that the scarlet garment itself can be seen. With that done, they recognize that Torah's wisdom of exceeds that of all other religions and "Pharaoh's princes extol her" [a play on Bereishis 12:15]. As a result, great honor is accorded to bnei Yisroel, who are treated as masters of all the other nations when the latter witness their Torah's wisdom and their abundance of intellect as the medrash says on the posuk (Eichah 1:2), "Great among nations."

However, in our many sins, by becoming masters [and attaining prominence] over the nations [in this way], the exact opposite happens -- they become our rulers. [This happens] by our listening to them and being swayed by what they say, removing the precious stones, the Torah's secrets and traditions of Chazal, so that all that remains is the scarlet garment, the realm of philosophy. Meanwhile the Oral Torah, which is represented by the precious stones, is set aside and its appearance grows dull.

The truly wise are thus saddened by the increase of honor that is accorded at such a time [when the Written Torah is made accessible to the nations]. Their world grows dark with the realization that bnei Yisroel will ultimately be enticed [by involvement in this pursuit] and will waste their time on external disciplines. Eventually, the nations will join us in it and will start discoursing in blasphemy, saying, "Why is the milk of an unclean animal forbidden? Because it imparts illness and coarseness" and so on, along the lines of natural science, lauding Moshe Rabbenu as a great savant but maintaining that it is foolish [in that case] to have forbidden [the] milk [of a clean animal] that was milked by a gentile without a Jew watching. They will treat all the mitzvos in this way.

Were they truly wise, they would realize that all these precepts contain other highly exalted reasons and that over each of them, [both] beneficial and harmful angels are appointed. If they realized that, they would understand that every ordinance and precept of Chazal's has a Heavenly root and source and they would stop this kind of talk.

Since though, it is indeed necessary to know how to respond to the gentiles, every generation ought to appoint tzaddikim, men of deeds who are full of wisdom, whose eyes have witnessed every precious trait, who can act as intermediaries between ourselves and the gentile rulers, as mentioned before in the parable.

They can remove the precious stones temporarily and replace them, revealing one measure while concealing two. They can speak to the gentile sages and rulers on our behalf, explaining the meaning of any of the mitzvos to them when they are asked. They will remain firm in their righteousness and will live in [untainted] faith. They are the truly the rulers of the world, rather than being ruled by the world and they are the ones who maintain the fences that protect Yisroel.

The tzaddik whom we are eulogizing at present, the rav and gaon, moreinu HaRav Dovid zt'l Zinsheimer, author of Yad Dovid, was in every sense such a man. He was respected and was very close to the ruling circles in Paris. He was asked about several matters and he provided his questioners with answers. He was great and was very highly respected by the Emporer and ministers, and they paid him great respect when he died, as is known.

Yet he was also great among the Jews. He was occupied with Torah his entire life, reviewing Shas several times, and was also fluent in the works of the Rishonim and the Acharonim, as is apparent from his sefer. I knew him in my youth and recently as well, through [our] exchange of letters and I saw his righteousness and wholeness of heart. Besides his becoming a ruler through his wisdom in matters of etiquette and affairs of state, he remained [his own] ruler in his strength [of spirit]; they did not rule over him, or sway him to follow them chas vesholom. After revealing one measure [that was necessary for responding to them], he went and concealed two measures. His spirit remained pure and untainted -- "and his fragrance has not changed" (Yirmyohu 48:11), which is translated by the Targum, "has not faded."

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