Holy Translations (Devarim)
Translation is the paradigm, the exemplar of all writing. It is translation that demonstrates most vividly the yearning for transformation that underlies every act involving speech, that supremely human gift. -Harry Mathews
There is a popular Midrash which explains that besides writing the Torah in its original Hebrew, Moses went on to explain the Torah in translation into the 70 prime languages of the world, corresponding to the 70 formative nations of the world. The Chidushei HaRim on Deuteronomy 1:1 provides an exposition as to why such a monumental effort was needed.
He explains that by translating the Torah for everyone, every person from every nation through their language and the very root of their identity could connect to the Torah. Furthermore, engaging in the Torah is considered to have a measure of healing, and this too is accessible to the entire world, in whatever language they speak.
There is also a protective element to the multiplicity of languages. Each of the 70 primordial nations and their root languages possesses some negative characteristics, some national trait which needs to be redeemed. By providing the nations of the world the ability to connect to the Torah, it allows them to call upon forces that will enable them to correct those hereditary faults. In parallel, the Torah likewise protects Israel from those selfsame shortcomings.
However, the translations are not merely a benefit vis-à-vis the nations of the world, but also for all Jews in exile. The widespread diaspora has given rise to countless Jews who don’t speak or understand Hebrew, but rather the language of where they live. By having the Torah available in translation, it provides access to all Jews, no matter how far they are, how foreign Hebrew may seem to them or what languages they understand.
May we take advantage of the multiplicity of Torah translations that are so freely and easily accessible to all of us.
To Herzog College’s annual Bible study days.