KI SAVO (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8) — “It’s Aramaic to Me!”

The Torah is divided into 54 weekly Portions.  Over the course of the year, from Simchas Torah to Simchas Torah, if we are in the synagogue every Saturday, we hear the entire Torah read.  (Actually, only 53 are read on Saturdays, since the last one is read on Simchas Torah, which never comes out on a Saturday [except in Israel].  Since in a non-leap year, the Jewish calendar has 50 or 51 Saturdays, and on Saturdays that come out on holidays, we have a special holiday reading, several of the 53 weekly Torah Portions get doubled up in order to squeeze it all into 40-something Saturdays.) 

Hearing the entire Torah in Shul is not sufficient: 

“Although one hears the entire Torah every Shabbos with the congregation, he is required to personally read every week from that week’s Portion, twice from the text, and once from Targum. (‘Translation’)” – Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, 285:1) 

The “Targum” mentioned here refers to the Aramaic translation of the Torah that appears to most  printed volumes of the the Torah.  This translation, which, according to tradition, was given on Mount Sinai along with the rest of the oral explanations of the Torah, is attributed to the Unkelos, the Roman convert, who put the Targum into writing.  (See the story of Unkelos, the Roman convert in “Sheepskin or Cheapskin?”.) 

Every week, people read each verse of the upcoming Torah reading twice, followed by the Aramaic translation.  (Some have the custom of reading Rashi’s commentary instead of the Targum.  The Shulchan Aruch suggests doing both.) 

How about English?  Would it be acceptable for us Americans, whose Aramaic skills may be a little rusty, to read it twice in Hebrew, and once in English?  Apparently not.  You’re supposed to do it in the original Aramaic.

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Rabbi Moshe Sofer suggests that the source for this practice is this week’s Torah Portion. 

Shortly before his death, Moses told the nation to prepare to enter the Land of Israel.  He wanted to make sure that the Nation of Israel appreciated the sanctity of the Land they were about to enter.  He didn’t want them to repeat the mistakes of the Canaanites who were expelled from the Land due to their immoral behavior.   (See Leviticus, 18:24-29) 

On the day that you cross the Jordan into the Land that G-d is giving you, set up great stones, and coat them with plaster.  Inscribe on the stones all the words of this Torah, when you cross over, so that you may enter the Land that G-d gives you, a Land that flows with milk and honey…” (Deuteronomy, 27:2-3) 

These twelve gigantic stones were inscribed miraculously with the text of the entire Torah, translated into the primary languages of the world.  (See “Gateway to the Holy Land”.)  Rabbi Sofer explains that the entire text of the Torah was written twice in the original Hebrew, and once into the languages of the seventy primary nations of the world.  

Why was it written twice in Hebrew and once in translation?  The reason, writes Rabbi Sofer, is to teach us that you cannot compare the translation to the original.  The text of the Torah is filled with multiple levels of nuanced messages and interpretations that our Sages have expounded upon over the ages.  The simple meaning, the translation, was given to Moses on Mount Sinai. 

Of those seventy simple translations, Targum Unkelus, the Aramaic translation, is all that remains.  The others are lost.  Rabbi Sofer writes, “Anyone who writes simple explanations of the Torah based upon his own intellect is lying.  Rather, it must be that which Moses our Teacher, of blessed memory, said, and was inscribed upon the stones.  Apparently, it is based upon this that our Sages said that one is obligated to complete, together with the congregation, twice from the text, and once from the Targum.” 

Torah philosophy is not a free-for-all.  Many sects and break-away religions have been founded based upon how their founders chose to translate the text.  For example, all it took was a fraudulent translation, and out-of-context interpretation of the Hebrew word for “young woman” (Isaiah, 7:14), to create the myth of the Messiah being born to a virgin

Charlatans and uneducated or under-educated people have come up with some of the craziest interpretations of Jewish philosophy.  I find it sadly pathetic when misguided Jews speak of “Jewish values” like a woman’s “right” to choose.  (See “Jewish Women Killing Womb Babies?”

It is fun to be creative.  Political candidates on both sides of the aisle present quotations of their adversaries, offering the most unflattering interpretations, often having little or no relevance to the truth.  An artist can paint a picture and embellish it with whatever flourishes he thinks will make the picture prettier.  

But Torah philosophy is based upon “Original Intent.” 

It is interesting to note that although it is somewhat acceptable to pray in one’s own language, it is preferable to pray in Hebrew and learn the meanings of the words.  Some texts, such as the “Shema”, which is recited twice a day, and the Book of Esther, which is read on Purim, must be read in Hebrew because we don’t know the exact translations of some of the words. 

The reason that some people read Rashi’s commentary instead of (or in addition to) the Aramaic translation is that Rashi gives the explanation of the text, based upon the traditions as passed down in the Talmud.  If you don’t understand Aramaic, it’s as good, or better. 

Anyone can read the “Old Testament.”  (Millions of people throughout the world do.)  It is only through the interpretations of the Talmud and traditional commentaries that it becomes TORAH. 

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz 

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From the Archives

“A Basketful of Thanks” (2009) 

… The farmer would go out to his field.  He would examine his olive orchards and his vineyards.  As soon as he saw the first bud that became a ripe fruit, he tied a string around it for future identification.  (“This Bud’s for You!”)  At harvest time, he would take that olive, or that cluster of grapes, or that wheat stalk and bring it to Jerusalem in a basket… 

After all the love and protection that G-d has bestowed upon His children, how dare we thank Him with a measly single fruit?  “Thanks for saving my life and making me a millionaire.  Here, have a raisin!”… 

Read more

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 “It’s Aramaic to Me!” (2008) 

… Hearing the entire Torah in Shul is not sufficient: 

“Although one hears the entire Torah every Shabbos with the congregation, he is required to personally read every week from that week’s Portion, twice from the text, and once from Targum. (‘Translation’)” – Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, 285:1) … 

Every week, people read each verse of the upcoming Torah reading twice, followed by the Aramaic translation …

How about English?  Would it be acceptable for us Americans, whose Aramaic skills may be a little rusty, to read it twice in Hebrew, and once in English?…  

Read more

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 “Gateway to the Holy Land” (2005) 

… I was the only orthodox Jew on the street.  Very few live on the surrounding streets.  It is neither time- nor cost-effective for the charitable institutions to send their representatives to this neighborhood. 

…I opened the door and beheld a young Chassidic Yeshivah student.  “Ah freilichin Purim!”  he cried.  “Happy Purim!”  I invited him into my home, where the two of us sang and danced for a minute or so.  I gave him a donation and thanked him for bringing a Mitzvah to my home. 

“But how did you know to come here?” I asked. 

“Simple,” he responded. . . 

Read more

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 “How Could G-d Let this Happen to Me?” (2003) 

I turned on my car radio this morning (Thursday) and heard innocent voices of youth reciting a list of names. 2,792 names, read in alphabetical order, often preceded by, “and my father, _____”, or “and my mother and my hero, ____ “, or my dear uncle, _____.” 

So sad.  It seems like a million years ago, and it seems like only yesterday.  The day the world changed forever.  The day that many people said to America, “Welcome to Israel.”  Now everybody knows what a fragile and volatile cocoon of a world we live in … 

Read more

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 “Blessings and Curses on the West Bank” (2002) 

… Joseph had complained to his father about some of their actions. The brothers convened a Bais Din, a rabbinical court. In this court, they determined that Joseph, by gossiping to their father, had violated one of the curses in the Torah, and as such, deserved to be punished… 

 Read more.

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 “Let There Be Light” (2001) 

…This is a theory I like to call “religious atheism.” It conveniently allows one to believe in G-d without being angry with Him.  While some find comfort in this belief, it has no connection with Torah Judaism… 

Read more

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 “Watch Out For WHAT Car?” (2000) 

… “An Aramean tried to destroy my father. (This is a reference to Laban of Aram who tried to destroy Jacob.) …  the reference to Laban is surprising …We know him to be a swindler. We see throughout his connection with Jacob that he did everything he could to take unfair advantage of him. Laban promised his daughter Rachel to Jacob as a wife, only to trick him into marrying her older sister Leah instead. He negotiated one salary with Jacob and paid him a lower one. But nowhere do we find any indication that Laban actually wanted to KILL Jacob… 

Read more.    

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This is the weekly message at http://torahtalk.org. Copyright © 2000-2012 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on September 19, 2008 at 10:12 am  Leave a Comment  

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