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Thursday
Aug082019

The Case for the Calf

By Rabbi Nissim Lagziel

A Joke to Begin With…

A police investigator brings a terrorist in for questioning. He asks him some questions, but the man answers nothing and gives no reaction. The investigator then threatens him that if he doesn’t start talking, he’ll be in for some serious trouble, yet the terrorist still won’t budge… Finally, left with no alternative, the investigator went over to him and gave him a couple of hard slaps in the face. The terrorist immediately began to talk: “Why didn’t you tell me that you spoke my language?”…

***

This week, we start reading Sefer Devarim, the fifth and last book of the Torah. The People of Israel were now about to enter Eretz Yisrael, and Moshe Rabbeinu began his “closing statements”, during which he reproved the Jewish People for all the quarreling and complaining they did during the forty years of their wandering in the desert.

At the start of this week’s parsha, the Torah tells us briefly about a very momentous event. The whole story takes up just one passuk: “On that side of the Jordan, in the land of Moav, Moshe commenced [and] explained this Law, saying.” (Devarim 1:5).

On the words “Explained this law,” Rashi comments that Moshe Rabbeinu (at G-d’s command) began an exciting project: translating the Torah, and “explaining” it in seventy languages.” This project cut across the generations, as we see at the end of Sefer Devarim. Moshe commanded the Jewish People that on the day they enter Eretz Yisrael, they must write the Torah in seventy languages upon stones they will extract from the Jordan River!

What’s even more interesting in this story, is the fact that it repeats itself about fifteen hundred years later, producing entirely different results…

“There were once five elders who wrote the Torah in Greek for [the Hellenist-Egyptian] King Talmai. That day was as difficult for the Jewish People as the day the Golden Calf was made (!) [as] the Torah could not be properly translated.” (Masechet Sofrim 1:7)

What’s happening here? Moshe Rabbeinu can translate the Torah, the Jewish People must translate the Torah, but these five unfortunate elders created a “new Golden Calf”?! What’s so bad about translating the Torah, and if it’s so bad, why did Moshe do it?

Faithful to his well-known interpretative approach to Torah, the Rebbe Melech HaMoshiach finds a silver lining even in those stories of the Torah that appear to be the most negative. Let’s look at the Talmud’s exact words: “That day was as difficult for the Jewish People as the day the Golden Calf was made.” Chazal aren’t comparing the translation of the Torah to the making of the Golden Calf or the sin of the Golden Calf, rather to the day the Golden Calf was made.

What exactly happened on the day the Golden Calf was made?

When we go back and adequately contemplate the matter, we discover something very interesting and quite amazing. The making of the Golden Calf and the subsequent sin of worshipping it took place on two different days. On the day the calf was made, Aharon HaKohen turned to the Jewish People and said (Shemos 32:5), “[There will be] a festival to G-d tomorrow(!)”. Thus, it was only on the following day that the Jews rose and did the worst thing possible – the offering of sacrifices to a molten image. However, on the day the calf was made, nothing actually happened; the Jewish People didn’t sin, Aharon HaKohen didn’t call for idol worship, and everything was sort of “under control…”

If so, what exactly is the comparison between translating the Torah for King Talmai and the day the Golden Calf was made?

The day of the making of the Golden Calf was the day when the possibility for the grievous sin of rebelling against Hashem was created. Similarly, the translating of the Torah for King Talmai, an event that was not negative in the outset, presented a terrible opportunity for making erroneous and flawed interpretations of Torah concepts in the future.

Now, what is the difference between this translation and the one made by Moshe Rabbeinu? Didn’t Moshe’s translation also contain the same potential for flawed interpretation by its gentile readers?

The difference is quite simple: When the elders of the Jewish People sat down to translate the Torah into Greek, they did so at the request of King Talmai, not G-d’s. Therefore, this created the possibility of these grave errors.

However, the translation made by Moshe Rabbeinu was by Hashem’s command, and therefore, there was no concern about future errors. On the contrary, all the Torah scrolls translated into the languages of the seventy nations of the world (including Greek) received the quality of holiness derived from the original Torah, written in Lashon HaKodesh.

***

The words of the tzaddikim, particularly those mentioned in the Torah, live forever. Thus, we must conclude that Aharon HaKohen’s statement, “A festival to G-d tomorrow,” will be fulfilled. In the writings of the Arizal (whose Yom Hilula we marked this week pon the 5th of Av), we find that this is precisely what will be in the Future to Come!

The making of the Golden Calf took place on the 16th of Tammuz, and thus, the words “A festival to G-d tomorrow” refer to the 17th of Tammuz. “There are [cases when] the term ‘tomorrow’ refers to a later period of time” Chazal say, and in this case, the “tomorrow” Aharon spoke of will be in the time of Moshiach, when the Redemption will come, and the 17th of Tammuz will be transformed to a festival.

The Golden Calf, with all its gravity, can be seen in a positive light as well:

It was an expression of the desire of the Jewish People to sanctify and uplift the physical world and make it holy. They all donated their prized gold to be used for worship of G-d. The Jewish people intended the calf to be a replacement of Moshe (who tarried according to their mistaken calculation) not of Hashem! The Erev Rav were responsible for turning it into a deity.

In any case, the construction of the Golden Calf itself was an act with a very positive potential that had gone wrong the day after. This good potential will be realized in the ultimate “tomorrow” of the Redemption when all physicality will be elevated and transformed to holiness.

***

Similarly, we find in connection with the translation of the Torah made for King Talmai. While this was a very problematic event that enabled Jews to make mistakes, it brought and continues to bring about the instillment of Divine holiness into all the world’s languages. This translation led to the Torah being introduced to the rest of humanity, ultimately bringing them to the time when “I will convert the peoples to a pure language so that all of them call in the name of G-d.”

The Rebbe Rayatz began the work of translating the inner realm of Torah, Chassidus, into foreign languages. The Rebbe Melech HaMoshiach expanded and accelerated this project, which is ongoing to this very day.

The whole idea of Chassidic teachings is the revelation of G-dliness in the world. All those who learn Chassidus can immediately see how it reveals that everything in this physical world is G-dliness, and every action a Jew does leads to and causes this revelation. Therefore, more than anything else, the translation of p’nimiyus haTorah into foreign languages demonstrates the revelation of G-dliness in the lowest of all worlds.

When the Divine Torah descends lower and lower into the physical world, translated into languages other than Lashon HaKodesh, this is a powerful revelation of G-dliness that leads to and brings the Redemption we have been waiting for many generations to experience.

So, let’s “translate” the (inner teachings of) Torah into terms we can properly internalize within our very essence! This means “translating” what we learn into practical and concrete resolutions so that our deeds, speech, and thoughts are imbued through-and-through with the spirit and light of Chassidus.

That’s the party planned for tomorrow, and tomorrow can happen today.

To conclude with a story:

Reb Yisrael Aryeh Leib Schneersohn, the Rebbe’s younger brother, lived in Tel Aviv for several years.

He and his good friend back from Cheder in Yekatrinoslav, the famously eloquent and brilliant mashpia Reb Nachum Goldschmid, would hold the following “challenge” each week.

Each week they would meet at a restaurant for dinner. After eating, the pair – both men with brilliant minds – would begin discussing ideas from Chassidus.

Where was the challenge?

The challenge was to be able to discuss the idea without once using Chassidic-Kabbalistic terminology. They would talk the topic through in real “Chabad” fashion – translating Divine ideas into humanly comprehensible terms.

The moment either one invoked such a term, it was “game over.” ■

Good Shabbos!

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 24, first sicha, Parshas Devarim.

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