Shekalim 17


The Mishnah (15b) at the beginning of the Perek mentions that there were "thirteen prostrations" in the Beis ha'Mikdash. Whenever the Kohanim would pass by one of thirteen specific places in the Beis ha'Mikdash, they would bow down. The Mishnah (16b) goes on to describe where these prostrations took place and says that they were done at the thirteen gates in the wall of the Mikdash (four in the north, four on the south, three in the east, and two in the west). The Gemara says that the Mishnah is going according to the opinion of Aba Yosi ben Yochanan, who maintains that there were thirteen gates in the wall of the Mikdash. The Rabanan, though, maintain that there were only seven gates. According to the Rabanan, where were the thirteen prostrations done? The Gemara answers that they were done at the thirteen places in the Soreg (the ten-Tefach-high fence surrounding the Mikdash within the walls of Har ha'Bayis) where the Greeks made breaches in the Soreg, which the Chashmona'im repaired. The prostrations at those places were instituted as a sign of gratitude to Hashem for the victory over the Greeks (Bartenura, Midos 2:3).

The thirteen breaches the Greeks made in the Soreg, and the thirteen repairs that the Chashona'im made, reflect the essence of the real battle between the Greeks and the Jews at that time.

The Midrash (Bereishis Rabah 2:4) states that the word "darkness" in the verse, "The world was chaos and void, with darkness over the face of the deep" (Bereishis 1:2), is an allusion "to the exile imposed by the Greeks, who darkened the eyes of Israel with their decrees." Why is the Greek persecution of the Jews specifically represented by the word "darkness?"

Our Sages tell us that on the day that the Egyptian ruler, Ptolemy, commissioned his translation of the Torah (the Septuagint), "A three-day long period of darkness descended upon the world" (TUR OC 580). The translating of the Torah, then, is the "darkness" of the Greek exile. What, though, was the great tragedy of translating the Torah into another language, and why should it cause the world to become dark?

The Midrash relates that Ptolemy gathered together seventy-two elders and placed them in seventy-two separate rooms, not informing any of them the purpose of their summons. He approached each of them and said, "Write down [into Greek] the Torah of your teacher Moshe for me." Hashem arranged that the same thoughts occurred to all of them and they made the same thirteen modifications in their translations. (Sofrim 1:7-8; Megilah 9a)

When the Torah was translated, it lost of the nuances of meaning -- the double-entendres and the various implicit insinuations in the words of the Torah, and Gematrias, acrostics and other word-based analyses are impossible to carry over from Lashon ha'Kodesh to another language. The entire body of the Oral Torah which lies beneath the surface of the written text was thus severed -- and deleted -- from the translation. That was the tragedy.

The Oral Torah is compared in the Midrash (Tanchuma, Noach #3) to a light that illuminates the darkness. The Midrash says: "The Oral Torah is difficult to learn and its mastery involves great hardship. It is therefore compared to darkness in the verse, 'The people who walked in darkness saw a great light' (Yeshayahu 9:1). The 'great light' is a reference to the great light that is seen by the Talmudic sages (they understand matters with great clarity), for Hashem enlightens their eyes in matters of ritual law and laws of purity. In the future it is said of them, 'Those who love Him will shine as bright as the sun when it rises with its full intensity' (Shoftim 5:31).' ...Reward for the study of the Oral Torah is to be received in the World to Come, as it says, "The people who walk in darkness saw a great light.' 'Great light' is a reference to the primeval light which was hidden away by Hashem during Creation as a reward for those who toil over the Oral Torah day and night." Those who "shed a great light" on the Oral Torah are rewarded with the pleasure of the "great light" of Creation.

It is now clear why translating the Torah into Greek caused a darkness to descend upon the world. The darkness was caused by the obstruction of the "great light" of the Oral Torah that resulted from the translation of the Torah into a foreign language. The Chashmona'im, who defeated the Greeks and the culture they espoused, returned to some degree the glory of the Torah to its place, and the Chanukah candles that we light in commemoration of that miracle represent the "great light" of the Oral Torah.

Now we can better understand the significance of the thirteen breaches the Greeks made in the Soreg, and the thirteen repairs that the Chashmona'im made.

The foundation of the Oral Torah is the thirteen Midos she'ha'Torah Nidreshes ba'Hen -- the thirteen exegetical principles which are enumerated in the introduction to Toras Kohanim. Through these principles, the Oral Law is derived from the written text of the Torah. (This is why the Midrash HaZohar on Bereishis teaches that the number thirteen serves as a metaphor for the Oral Torah.)

The Elders made *thirteen* modifications in the text of the Torah when they translated it into Greek. This number represents the fact that inherent in the translation is the loss of the Oral Torah, which is derived through the *thirteen* exegetical principles. The *thirteen* breaches made by the Greeks and repaired by the Chashmona'im represent the entire focus of the Chashmonai war against the Greeks. The Greeks sought to eliminate the thirteen principles through their literal translation of the Torah into Greek, with its resultant loss of the Oral component of the Torah. The Chashmona'im succeeded in restoring the tools of Torah interpretation. In order to commemorate and give thanks for this victory of authentic Torah ideology over the shallow, incomplete misrepresentation of Torah, *thirteen* bowings were instituted at the sites of the repaired breaches.

It is interesting to note that according to Rashi (Devarim 33:11), there were *thirteen* Chashmona'im who commanded the Jewish army that overthrew the Greeks. These thirteen men enabled the Jewish people to preserve the Oral Torah and its thirteen principles! (Based on the explanation of Rav David Cohen in "Bircat Yaavetz," p. 147)