Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Kotzker, Ostrovtzer and Binyamin

In this week's parsha, parshas vayigash, Yehuda tries desperately to get Binyamin back from the viceroy of Egypt, Yosef, and tells how his father Yaakov will die of grief if he sees that Binyamin is not with the brothers upon their return to Eretz Cana'an. "Yaakov's soul is bound up with his soul," he tells Yosef. With all of his pleading on behalf of his father the mefarshim (commentators) ask: Binyamin had ten children at home. Why didn't Yehuda talk about them, and use their grief to play on Yosef's emotions?

The Pardes Yosef, Rav Yosef Patsanovsky, writes that a poor Jew once came to Rav Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, and complained that his children neglected him. Rav Menachem Mendel cited how Yehuda portrayed Yaakov's grief rather then the grief of Binyamin's ten sons, and explained, "it is an ancient fact of life that parents have more compassion for their children than children have for their parents."

And the Ostrovtzer Rebbe explains: Our traits are inherited from the earliest generations. Since Adam had children but no human mother or father, he developed compassion for his children, but not for any parents. Therefore, to this day, we love our offspring more than we love our parents.

And one more vort from from the Ostrovtzer Rebbe on another matter. He explains that when the Jews were forced to translate the Torah into Greek - what later became known as the Septuagint - they were faced with a dilemma. The opening of the Torah, "bereishis barah Elokim, in the beginning G-d created..." is interpreted by Chazal (our Sages) as "for the sake of reishis," the word "reishis" referring to Israel, so that the opening words read, "for the sake of Israel G-d created the heavens and the earth.." But what if this word, "bereishis," were looked upon as some type of entity. Then it would that "bereishis" created G-d, chas v'shalom, who in turn created the world. And so to avoid this possibility they inverted the opening words so that it would read, "Elokim barah bereishis," so that it would be clear that G-d is the one doing the creating. So in actuality, the translators surrendered the honor of Israel thereby preserving the honor of G-d.

This seems to bring up a question. When translating these opening words into Greek isn't it obvious that the Hebrew word "bereishis" would be omitted altogether, and a Greek rendering of the word would be put down? Take your pick for "bereishis:" In the beginning, for the sake of Israel, etc. How would the actual word "bereishis" have come into play at all? Perhaps someone has some ideas on this.

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