("Let's table the discussion" is a new Adath Israel Shul initiative where a story or thought is presented in order to stimulate exciting and constructive discussion around our Shabbos table or among friends and children.)
Did you ever hear the one about the blindfolded men who played a game of “what is it”?
The group of 4 were led, blindfolded, to a makeshift elephant habitat and allowed to touch the elephant in order to guess what it was that they were touching.
The first one grabbed its long trunk. “Clearly it is a long hose. It must be a fire engine, ” he declared.
Another grasped the elephant’s tail. “Nope, I’m sure I am holding a long dusting brush” another noted.
“But this is an immoveable marble column holding onto the supports of our current shelter ” noted the third as he rubbed his hands up and down the elephant’s leg.
“No” declared the last of the bunch while knocking against the elephant’s large toenails. “Feel these materials, that strength is only possible in a tank.”
When we only get a glimpse of an experience – utilizing one sense to experience it – we are likely to misperceive it or at least to undervalue its benefit. The more we use our senses to relate to an object in our environment, the more likely we are to value its existence and the more likely that we will fully actualize its potential.
The Chasam Sofer (Derashot I:119b) notes that this is the great tragedy of the translation of the Torah in the miracle of the septuigent commemorated on the 8th of Tevet. While it was indeed miraculous that 70 Rabbis who were locked away in 70 rooms provided 70 identical translations of the Torah, the mere fact that the Torah was now translated was a reason for mourning. According to the Chasam Sofer, once we cease to see the Torah in its glory – in the original, we lose some of the beauty in the interpretation of Chazal and have room for alternative explanations for the word of Hashem. As a result Torah loses its golden status and opens itself up to misinterpretation and possibly, heresy.
To which we arrive in our current world and the desire to promote Torah in the greatest numbers. Many have argued that Torah is most accessible in the learner’s native tongue. Indeed, since the onset of such powerful printing houses as Artscroll and Feldheim, Torah has never been as accessible in as wide an audience as it is today.
On the other hand, does the existence of translation, tend to limit our creative abilities and our chance at finding the sweet truth of the multi-layered ways of understanding Torah?
How can we strike a balance between the need to know Judaism and the need to study Torah in its original? When do we need to let go of our translational crutches and reach for authentic Torah in it original? When and how do we encourage our children to see things in the original as well?
Let’s “table” the discussion – by discussing it with our children, spouses, families and guests and open an exciting discussion into our homes and community.