Seasons - Then and Now

For the week ending 23 December 2017 / 5 Tevet 5778

Eighth, Ninth and Tenth of Tevet

by Rabbi Chaviv Danesh
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Chazal tell us that on the eighth, ninth and tenth of Tevet there were tragedies that came upon Klal Yisrael. Let us analyze each one. On the eighth of Tevet under King Ptolemy’s rule, the Torah was translated into Greek (See Masechet Sofrim 1:7-8; Megillah 9a). In light of the fact that many years before this event G-d Himself commanded for the Torah to be translated into seventy languages for the other nations of the world (see Sotah 36a), one may ask: “Why is this event so tragic?”

The commentaries explain that the answer to this question lies in the fact that the translation during King Ptolemy’s time was very different from the translation that G-d commanded. First of all, Ptolemy had evil intentions. His main purpose was to show that the Torah was written by man. The Gemara says that he chose 72 elders and placed them in 72 different rooms, and told them to translate “Moshe’s Torah” — instead of “G-d’s Torah” (Megillah 9a). Also, by placing the 72 elders in different rooms he wanted them to each translate differently so that he could claim that the Torah is subject to different explanations, thereby giving him the excuse to interpret the Torah as he pleases. On the other hand, the translations into seventy languages that G-d commanded were meant to bring the other nations toward the Torah.

Also, as the Gemara says, the translation during Ptolemy’s rule was not done accurately. This is because the elders had to purposely make certain changes to be sure that Ptolemy wouldn’t use the Torah to support his own crooked ideology (see Megillah 9a-9b for examples). Though the elders had a good reason for making these changes, and miraculously they all made the same changes, these changes nevertheless detracted from the Torah’s authenticity.

Furthermore, others point out that the superior knowledge of the Torah at the time that it was translated into seventy languages, in addition to the extra help from G-d, Who told them to translate it to begin with, resulted in a translation that was accurate. During the days of Ptolemy, however, when their knowledge was mixed with doubts and uncertainties, the translation was not a success (See Ya’arot D’vash).

Finally, we can suggest that the translation of the Torah into other languages was meant to bring the other nations closer to Torah but not to be used by the Jewish People, who had already received the Torah at Har Sinai. Klal Yisrael was always supposed to learn the Torah in Lashon HaKodesh, as the Torah contains layers of depth that can only be uncovered through learning it in the original language in which it was given. Even one pasuk in the Torah can often include many different explanations. These explanations are obtained through methods of derivation, which were given along with the Torah at Har Sinai, that draw on similarity in words used in different pesukim, derivations based on extra letters or omitted letters, dots on top of letters or words and even the shapes of the letters. Though it may have been beneficial for the other nations to have access to the Torah in their own language, it was tragic that Klal Yisrael used this translation (See Peirush Mishnayot of Rambam on beginning of the second perek of Megillah). This is because it meant that they would lose all the things that are learned out from the intricacies of Lashon HaKodesh. Not only did this detract from the level of Torah learning but it also eventually led many to other Greek philosophical works, which turned them away from the Torah (See Derashot Chatam Sofer).

It says in Megillat Ta’anit that the Rabbis didn’t write what happened on the ninth of Tevet. Some say that on this day Ezra HaSofer — and according to others also Nechemia — passed away (Kol Bo, B’hag, Magen Avraham and Taz). This was very significant, since following the Jewish People’s expulsion from Eretz Yisrael during the time of Nevuchadnetzar, Ezra and Nechemia led the Jewish People during their return from Bavel. Their deaths marked the end of the powerful leadership that brought the Jewish People back to Torah. Others note that this was the day that the leader of Christianity was born. According to this reason, the Rabbis did not explicitly record the tragedy from fear of Christian retaliation.

On the tenth of Tevet Nevuchadnetzar laid siege on Yerushlayim. Two-and-a-half years later, on the ninth of Tammuz, the walls were breached. Finally, on the ninth of Av, the first Beit Hamikdash was destroyed (see Melachim II 25, Rosh Hashanah 18b and Tosefot there).

Day of Teshuva

The purpose of fasting on Asarah B’Tevet, in addition to other fast days, is not only to mourn the past, but to awaken us to do teshuva. The Rambam says: We fast on days of calamities because it arouses our hearts and opens paths to repentance for us. It serves as a reminder of our wicked ways and that of our ancestors, which resemble our present ways, and which thereby brought these calamities upon them and upon us; so that through remembering these things we will return and [fix our ways] as it says: They will confess their sins and their father’s sins (Rambam Hilchot Ta’anit 5:1).

This is why the commentaries point out that fasting is only a preparation for teshuva, and therefore those who spend the day fasting while involving themselves with idle activities have grabbed onto the secondary point of fasting and missed the main and essential part (See Mishna Berura 549:1 in the name of the Chayei Adam). We learn this from the story of Yonah, who told the people of Ninveh to do teshuva. Regarding them, the pasuk says: “And G-d saw their deeds; that they repented from their evil way”. It does not say G-d saw their fasting and sackcloth; rather G-d saw their deeds. Chazal learn from here that the main purpose of fasting is to bring one to teshuva (Ta’anit 16a).

The Chatam Sofer (Torat Moshe, drasha l'zayin Adar) says that historically, on Asarah B'Tevet the Heavenly court was adjudicating the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash. It was on this day that the final verdict of its destruction was reached. Thus it was then that the siege surrounding Yerushalayim began. However, this wasn't a one-time event. Every year on the tenth of Tevet the Heavenly court reassembles and reassesses whether the Beit Hamikdash will be destroyed, as we are taught that every generation in which the Beit Hamikdash is not rebuilt is as if it was in that generation that it was destroyed (Yerushalmi, Yoma 1:1). May we merit utilizing this day for teshuva — and thereby merit passing the judgment and seeing the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash speedily in our days.

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