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1) THEY AXED AN OX
QUESTIONS: The Gemara says that when Ptolemy secluded seventy-two Chachamim
in private rooms and ordered them to translate the Torah into Greek, they
miraculously wrote the exact translation, making several changes in order not
to offend Ptolemy or give him reason to misinterpret unclear verses in the
Torah. One of the changes that they made was in the verse relating Yakov's
reprimand to his sons Shimon and Levi. While the Torah relates that Yakov
said, "In their wrath, they killed a man (Hargu Ish), and they willfully
uprooted an ox (Akru Shor)" (Bereishis 49:6), they translated the verse to
say, "In their wrath, they killed an *ox* (Hargu Shor), and they willfully
uprooted a *trough* (Akru Avos)."
Rashi on the Torah explains that the words, "In their wrath they killed a
man," refers to the people of the city of Shechem, whom Shimon and Levi
killed for defiling Dinah, the daughter of Yakov. "They willfully uprooted an
ox" refers to Yosef, whom they uprooted from his place and caused him to
descend to Mitzrayim.
Why did the Chachamim make these changes for Ptolemy? Rashi here explains
that they feared that if they translated the words literally ("they killed a
man"), Ptolemy would accuse their fathers of being killers, because the Torah
quotes Yakov as saying that they killed a man. That is why they wrote instead
that "they killed an ox." Rashi adds that the reason they wrote "Hargu Shor"
was because the people of Shechem, because of their idolatrous and immoral
behavior, were considered to be like animals in the eyes of Yakov, and he was
indifferent about killing animals.
There are a number of difficulties with Rashi's explanation.
(a) First, if the Chachamim feared that Ptolemy would accuse Shimon and Levi
of being killers because they "killed a man," then what was gained by
changing it to "they killed an ox?" The Torah still clearly tells the story
of how Shimon and Levi killed out the entire city Shechem when they rescued
their sister, Dinah, from the house of Shechem and Chamor (see Bereishis
34:25-31). Why would it help to change the word here to "ox," when the Torah
still says that they killed people? If we suggest that Ptolemy would not be
upset that they killed the people of Shechem because he understood that the
people of Shechem had committed an injustice and Shimon and Levi acted in
self-defense, then why did they have to change "Hargu Ish" to "Hargu Shor?"
(b) Second, why does Rashi write that the people of Shechem were considered
in Yakov's eyes like animals? Why does Rashi have to add this? He already
explained why the Chachamim changed the words "Hargu Ish" to "Hargu Shor" --
in order to avoid upsetting Ptolemy. Hence, they had a reason to change it.
Why does Rashi add this logic that Yakov viewed the people as animals? Since
Yakov himself did *not* say "Shor," how can Rashi know that Yakov viewed them
like animals? It was the Chachamim who said "Shor," not Yakov!
(c) Third, if the Chachamim, by writing "Hargu Shor," are implying that Yakov
viewed the people of Shechem as animals, then certainly this should upset
Ptolemy! Ptolemy will assume that the Jews look at all Nochrim like Ba'alei
Chayim, and he will surely be enraged! What gain was there in writing that
Shimon and Levi "killed an ox" in place of "killed a man?"
(d) Fourth, Rashi concludes that Yakov was not upset about killing animals.
According to the Girsa of the Bach and the Girsa of Rashi in the Ein Yakov,
Rashi is saying that he was not upset *except* about the animals; he was
*only* upset about the animals. In either case, this statement is difficult
to understand. To what animals is Rashi referring? The Torah states clearly
(Bereishis 34:28) that they took all the livestock of Shechem as plunder from
war and did not kill them! How, then, could the Chachamim translate the verse
so that it implies that Yakov was upset that they killed the animals, or,
according to the other Girsa in Rashi, was not upset that they killed the
animals? They did not kill the animals!
(a) Even though Ptolemy could read in the Torah that Shimon and Levi had
killed the people of Shechem, he was not upset about that, because, as we
mentioned, he understood that it was done in time of war and in self-defense.
The only problem was that in this verse, when Yakov reprimands them, he says
"Hargu Ish (man)," in the singular form. If Yakov was referring to the entire
city of Shechem, why would he write "man?" Rashi on the Torah addresses this
question and gives two answers, but Ptolemy, who would not accept the
Derashos of Chazal, would say that it must mean that Shimon and Levi killed a
*single* innocent person on *another* occasion and that is what Yakov Avinu
was upset about. That is why the Chachamim had to change "Ish" to "Shor," so
that Ptolemy would not say that there is another incident not mentioned
explicitly in the Torah wherein Shimon and Levi killed someone, for which
Yakov was now reprimanding them. (YEFEH MAR'EH --see PNEI YEHOSHUA)
(b) The reason why Rashi adds that the people of Shechem were like animals in
the eyes of Yakov is as follows. Rashi is bothered by a question -- just
because the Chachamim wanted to save Shimon and Levi's respect in the eyes of
Ptolemy, this was no reason to write Sheker. Rashi is bothered, therefore,
how they could write that Shimon and Levi killed an ox, when we never find
that they killed an ox! If the ox that they killed refers to the animals of
the city of Shechem, the statement is not true, because they did not kill
those animals but they took them with them as plunder. How, then, could the
Chachamim write that Shimon and Levi killed an ox when we do not find that
they ever killed an ox? (TOSFOS (DH v'El Zatutei) also points out that the
Chachamim were careful not want to write an untruth.)
For this reason, Rashi explains that when the Chachamim wrote "Shor," they
were referring to the *people* of Shechem* and not to the oxen, and that all
of the people of Shechem were like oxen in the eyes of Yakov because they
were immersed in idolatry and immorality. That is why the Chachamim felt
justified in writing "Hargu Shor." (MAHARSHA)
(c) Regarding the third questions, why would Ptolemy not get upset if he
reads that Yakov referred to Nochrim as oxen, the answer is that Ptolemy
certainly did not know, nor suspect, that their logic for writing "Shor" was
because the people of Shechem were like oxen in the eyes of Yakov. Instead,
he understood the verse altogether differently, as we mentioned above, since
the verse mentions a single "Shor," it could not be referring to the entire
city that Shimon and Levi killed. Ptolemy, from his perspective, would
interpret the verse as saying that it once happened that Shimon and Levi
became upset with each other and fought over an ox, and they ended up killing
it. As such, he understood it to be referring to a different incident
altogether, and not that the Torah was referring to Nochrim as oxen. (YEFEH
(d) Now the fourth question, what does Rashi mean that "he was indifferent
about the animals," is also answered. When Rashi says that "he was
indifferent about the animals," he is referring to Ptolemy, and not to Yakov
-- although he would be upset if the verse said that Shimon and Levi killed a
person, he would not get upset if it said that they killed an animal. (M.