Over 2000 years ago, in this very month, Egyptian-Greek Emperor King Ptolemy gathered 72 torah sages and locked each of them into a different room. Their task? To translate the Torah into Greek. Our sages tell us that on the day that this was finished, a terrible darkness came into the world, and to this day it is one of the reasons we fast on the tenth of Tevet.
For a generation who hold sacred the revered Stone Chumashim and who have collectively bought millions of translated torah texts, this may seem hard to understand. Yet the key lies in the intention. In their translation of the Torah, the Greeks were attempting to turn it into a subject like any other. Intricate perhaps, and comprehensive, but nothing more than the sum of its parts. They wanted to be able to display it on their bookshelves alongside all their other studies, works and theses. A good book – a great book in fact, and one that will sharpen the mind - as the Japanese have found recently, but a book, nonetheless.
Yet the Torah is not merely a book. In the same way that our G-d is limitless and infinite, so too is His Torah. It is G-d’s infinite and uncontainable wisdom, and its fathomless depths hold the secrets and blueprints of the universe. Which book could predict the number of stars in the sky well over a thousand years before the invention of the telescope, besides for one written by the Creator Himself?
As singer Abie Rotenberg states it so simply yet so beautifully:
‘It’s not just a story, a tale that’s been told. A fable, a myth or a legend of old. It’s not someone’s fantasy, theory or whim. It’s what I believe – Ani m’amin.’
Indeed, everything is contained within the Torah. The famous Rabbi Akiva could expound and derive multitudes of laws from just the crowns drawn on the letters of the Sefer Torah. Not a letter, a vowel or a line in the Torah is written without a depth of meaning.
And in truth, without it we would not exist.
Torat Elokim Chaim – G-d’s Torah is life itself. It is the heartbeat of the world and the cosmic force that keeps the world spinning. And without it, we would be like fish stranded outside the water.
Coming back to the month of Tevet, we find a paradox. On the one hand, most of us can hear the word tov - good. Yet on the other hand, there is something dark about this month too. More than one evil happening befell the Jews in this month, not least the besieging of the holy city of Jerusalem which led to the eventual destruction of the first Temple. Yet despite the darkness, there is hope. The word Torah comes from the word orah, which means to teach, to illuminate and to instruct. Whilst Tevet can be a month of darkness, when we turn to the Torah as our guide, we can use its light to turn the month around.
While other books and religions evolve, update and gradually fade away, the Torah remains steadfast and current, here to light up our way in what sometimes feels a very dark and un-signposted world. The Capricorn, the zodiac sign of the month of Tevet, is the goat; a watchful protector that steadfastly moves up the mountain. It is in this month that we must hold fast to our rock and source of all life, that we must follow its every word and instruction, reaching ever higher. As it is that which is keeping us alive and which is lighting our way through the world. For over 5000 years, spanning more than 100 generations, our people have held onto their tradition and have passed the candle onto their children. Tonight, as we stand by the Chanuka lights, let’s not let the light go out.