As we move further into the month of Teves and find ourselves engulfed by the dark cold winter, it seems difficult to hold onto the imprint (reshima) of the glow of the inspiring lights of Chanukah. Nonetheless, we must not allow ourselves to succumb to the illusion that the world has fallen prey to the physical and spiritual forces of darkness. After all, Teves is a month in the holy Jewish calendar even as are the months of Nissan and Tishre. Teves and in fact all of the winter months are also imbued with sanctity and filled with treasures for us to discover. But how can we find anything without light? In a seemingly paradoxical manner, the answer lies hidden within that very darkness.
Historically, these days were blemished by a spiritual darkness caused by events that weakened respect for the Torah in the eyes and hearts of the nations. The Greeks forced our Sages to translate the Torah into their language. This translation was only of the written part of the Torah (she’bichtav) and was in accordance with the deliberate alterations purposefully incorporated by the seventy Sages who simultaneously translated it. It could not and was not intended to convey the depth and breath of Torah which is elucidated by the oral part of the Torah (sh-b’al peh).
Why should this be an occasion for spiritual blemish? We know that we are not permitted to reveal the secrets of Torah to pagans and in fact G-d (Hashem) created a miracle (nes) allowing the Sages who were kept apart as they made their translations to simultaneously provide the same alterations of the words of Torah so as to preserve and protect the Torah from misinterpretation. Yes, on the one hand, the translation of the Sages accomplished its purpose and the Torah was protected, however, on the other hand, the Torah in translation lost the aspect of reverence and awe that attached to it when it was read and interpreted in the holy tongue by G-d fearing Jews and respectful non-Jews who had made a commitment to come within the congregation (k’lal) of Yisrael.
In the eyes of the non-Jews the Torah in translation lost its Divine majesty and became ordinary. The Torah became available to the masses and perhaps even more disastrously to the bible critics who labored long and hard to eradicate our Torah’s Divine sanctity.
Non-Jews were not the only people who were affected. Tragically, some Jews were affected as well. The ideology that motivated this translation has continued to affect the spiritually vulnerable within the Jewish Nation throughout the generations and to this day. Sadly, we can observe the many unlearned Jews who know the Torah only at its most superficial level, if at all, and who cannot fathom its depths and its import.
In demanding a translation of the Torah, the Greeks intended for it to weaken our holy tradition. Through forcing us to display the words of the Torah without its commentaries and rules of derivation, they attempted to transform it into a one dimensional mindset as hinted to through the letters (osios) within the name of Yavan: yud-vov-nun. All three of these letters are externally made up of a unidirectional line implying that their beauty and essence only exists on the surface. The truth is that as descendants of Yaphet, one of the sons of Noach, they were ideally meant to enhance, not detract from the Torah, by dwelling within the tents of Shem. The name Yaphet comes from the root of yofe – meaning beauty. We can see that Yavan inherited this trait because the letters of Yavan when reversed spell out the word nun-vov-yud – noi–which means attractive. Had they fulfilled their role properly they would have used their G-d given talents to enhance the Torah by dwelling within our tents. This has not as of yet happened. Instead they attempted to capture our Torah bringing it into their tents of Hellenism.
However, fortunately, even the plans of the evil minded are also under the control and only instrumentalities of the Creator ( Hashem Yisbarach). They are sometimes sent our way, if we caused through our inactions or wrong actions to be tested, (us) in order to give us the opportunity to change and grow. The Greek empire (Yavan): yud-vov-nun attempted to lower the yud through the vov down to the depths of the nun, whereas our role is to raise up and reveal the beauty within those hidden lights of holiness found in the Torah as seen through the letters spelling noi: nun-vov-yud.
Indeed, the miracle (nes) imbedded in the uniformity of the Torah’s simultaneous translations is a word that has three meanings: It means miracle; it also means a test (nision) and finally it means banner. The nes of this translation becomes a test for us – a test of our own beliefs and of our own ability to help ourselves and our less learned brothers by revealing the great spiritual treasures lying hidden beneath the surface of our holy Torah. Because the challenge is so great and the need for illumination is so palpable – when we make this effort all important and use our strengths to this end then when we are victorious we will have the privilege of being able to raise our Torah to new and even greater levels of appreciation in this world.
Perhaps the greatest lesson we can learn from this long exile (galus) is that we cannot be content with the levels we have currently reached in Torah. Even many of us who learn our holy Torah written and oral with its holy commentaries every day cannot yet say to ourselves, “Ah but we have plumbed the depths of her potential.” We should take these days that are both physically and spiritually dark and bring illumination into them. We should take our spiritual scuba gear and dive deep into the sea of Torah. By going far beneath the surface – meaning by learning each subject with great profundity and sincerity we will then merit just like the deep sea diver to uncover valuable treasures from the depths of our efforts. This will help to restore the honor of Torah in the eyes of the world. May we together merit to achieve this admirable goal of transforming this darkness into light as we usher in the advent of our long awaited final redemption (geula).
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