Shabbat Vayakhel - 5760
The Art of Translation, Rabbi Samson Rephoel Hirsch and Washington Heights
This week's Parshah begins with "Vayakhel Moshe et Kol Adat Bnei Yisrael " (Shemot 35:1), which I would translate if I could. What is my problem? The verse means something like "And Moshe gathered the People of Israel, " but the Torah is written in Hebrew, "Leshon HaKodesh," the Holy Language, and to translate it means to be in command of its great subtleties and nuances.
Specifically, the problem with this verse is that the word "Vayakhel" refers to the creation of a "kahal," one kind of group, and "Adat" refers to the creation of an "edah," another kind of group. But they are not exactly the same, and therefore the English word to use in each case is not obvious.
A quick trip through the Bible with a Concordance (a type of reference work which shows where different words are located in the Bible), shows that the words are spiritually "neutral;" that is, that each can indicate groups gathered for good or for evil.
With regard to "Kahal," we see that in one chapter in "Tehilim"/Psalms, Chapter 26, we find the word being used in a negative and a positive sense. First, we find in verse 5, David says, "I hate the gathering ('kehal') of evil-doers," and in verse 12, in a positive sense, "My legs have stood straight; in congregations (''makehalim') will I bless the L-rd."
And likewise for "Edah." We find the evil conspirators of Korach ("Bamidbar"/Numbers 16:16) referred to as "your 'edah' ." Yet we also find in Shemot 12:6, the word used in a positive sense in connection with the offering of the Pesach Sacrifice.
What have translators done with this verse?
One popular translated edition of the Five Books appears to avoid the question by rendering the verse as "Moses assembled the entire assembly of the Children of Israel, ;" not much help there, if we are trying to discriminate between two types of "assembly."
An excellent English translation was made in 1611 for the Christian King, James I, who wanted "the Bible to be in the hands of the common man." The introduction to the Hebrew Publishing Corporation version of the Bible (copyright 1916) says that for the English translation, they have relied upon the King James Version. There, this verse is translated as "And Moses gathered all the congregation of the children of Israel together." "Edah" is being translated here as "congregation" and "kahal" is that group which is created by the "gathering" process.
Based on this "scientific" sample of one verse, another more recent Jewish translation seems to have used a Hebraized version of the King James. They translate as "And Moshe gathered all the congregation of Yisra'el together."
Another translation is the Jewish Publication Society's version, copyright 1917, "The Holy Scriptures, According to the Masoretic Text, a New Translation" (there may be a newer translation; I just haven't refreshed my supply in eighty three years). In this edition, which I find uniformly excellent (in 1958 it was in its forty first impression, having sold seven hundred eighty one thousand copies), the verse is rendered, "And Moses assembled all the congregation of the Children of Israel," and it is consistent in other verses with this differentiation between "assembly" and "congregation."
Rabbi Samson Rephoel Hirsch, whose intuition for the subtleties of language underlie much of his commentary, translates our verse as "And Moses made the whole community of the Children of Israel assemble, " rendering "edah" now as "community" and "kahal" as the object of the "assembly" process. His translation also reflects RASHI's comment on the first verse that the word "Vayakhel" is in the "Hiphil," "causative" form, by emphasizing that aspect in "made assemble;" that is, commanded to assemble.
In the work called "Aspaklarya," an encyclopaedic compendium of Jewish sources compiled by Rabbi Moshe Adler, we find references to Rav Hirsch's further distinctions between "kahal" and "edah."
In connection with Shemot 10:6, Hirsch compares the members of an "edah" to the individual vertebra of the spine, united by the common purpose of supporting the body. But the individual vertebra cannot do the job by themselves. They need the combining power of the spine as a whole, analogous to the "kahal," to accomplish the common purpose of supporting the body's weight.
In connection with Shemot 12:6, he uses the image of the tree whose collection of branches are comparable to the "edah," whose common purpose is to bring life to the whole tree; but again, each individual branch is powerless to accomplish the purpose by itself. It takes the living tree to realize the common purpose.
In the context of the Jewish People, it is necessary to have the "edah," the congregation of individual Jews united by a common purpose, but only the "kahal," the People as a whole can accomplish the national purpose.
Rav Hirsch (1808-1888) was the "father of modern German Orthodox Judaism;" vitalizing Torah in Frankfurt-am-Main, Frankfurt on the River Main (like Croton-on-Hudson). He was an implacable opponent of Reform Judaism, and his attitude and superior knowledge even in areas outside the strict purview of Torah and Halachah led the advocates of Reform to mitigate their opposition to Orthodox Judaism.
He was the formulator of the principle of "Torah-im-Derech-Eretz," the "combination of a life based on Torah with an active involvement with the world." He didn't think that this approach was original, but that this is what the Torah always "had in mind" for the Jewish person. He felt that the Jew should contribute to the general culture, but that his or her main contribution should be the demonstration that the Torah has much to say, and indeed must say, to the general culture for that culture to accomplish its purpose.
His main contribution, indeed, was to create a "kahal," or a "Kehilla" in Frankfurt which aided its Jewish citizens in living lives based on "Torah-im-Derech-Eretz." This Kehilla and what was left of its "edah" had to be "translated" a generation later to the environment of America after the Holocaust; specifically, to the neighborhood of Washington Heights in New York City. There it was led by his grandson, Rav Dr. Joseph Breuer.
This "Kehilla" is known as "K'hal Adas Yeshurun," embodying in its name the two words, and the two concepts that we have focused on in this essay: "K'hal" and "Adas."
The expression "Have mercy on the K'hal Adas Yeshurun" appears as a central element in the Neilah Prayer that is our final prayer to the Almighty on that Holy Day. Again, as we might have expected, translations are not uniform. One renders the phrase "Please have mercy upon the congregation of the assembly of Yeshurun." An older translation has it as "Have mercy upon the whole community of Yeshurun."
But what is the meaning of the term "Yeshurun?" In a recent biography of Rav Breuer, "Rav Breuer - His Life and Legacy," by Dr. David Kranzler and Rabbi Dovid Landesman, the authors state that in the opinion of that great Rav, the definition of the term "Yeshurun," is the common purpose of the Jewish People, "the community of Israel fulfilling its Divine mission."
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel
Rabbi Frankel is an Educational Coordinator at the OU