As the Chabad Rabbi at ASU, my family and I are delighted to host hundreds of Jewish students weekly at our welcoming and vibrant Levenbaum Chabad House at ASU.
We love seeing the Jewish students — the ASJew’s — feel at home at Chabad and we understand why they love coming.
But there is one time of the week that I’m amazed to see students joining. I am in awe of those who come to Shabbat morning Services.
Why? You might ask.
Is it because the sermons are long and boring? Well, I try to make them short and interesting for the college students attending.
Is it because the Kiddush is not good? On the contrary, the Kiddush is quite good and our delicious, gourmet Shabbat meals are well known in the campus community.
So why am I in awe?
Because the majority of the services are held in Hebrew, the original language of the Siddur (prayerbook).
And most of our students do not read or understand Hebrew.
Yes, we have beautiful Hebrew-English Siddurim, and we announce page numbers throughout the service. Yet, I am sure it’s not so easy to sit through the entire prayer without understanding Hebrew.
This is why I am in awe of them. Despite that challenge, they come, they show up and participate as much as they can.
Often, I find that some Jews who don’t read Hebrew feel like second-class citizens. They (wrongly) feel as if not being able to pray and study Torah in its original language, means that they are somehow less of a Jew.
For those who might feel this way, here is a beautiful fact.
Exactly 3,295 years ago, on Rosh Chodesh, the first day of the month of Shevat, Moses stood in front of the Jewish people in the desert and translated the Torah to… 70 languages! Those 70 languages included all of the languages spoken at that point in history.
If I were to guess, I’d say that not many of those present at the desert were multilingual.
In other words, the entire Jewish people was just standing there, listening to Moses speaking in a language they didn’t understand, and then doing it again in another language, and again … for a total of 70 times!
What was the purpose of this?
The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that Moses wanted to imbue the translations with holiness.
If he taught the Torah exclusively in Hebrew, the translations might have been considered a foreign element, something that is not holy.
By being the first to offer a translation, Moses was sending a clear message: even if you don’t read Hebrew, the Torah you learn is holy. It is the same Torah, whichever language you can understand.
No doubt, learning Hebrew has its benefits. Being able to read the Torah in the language given by G-d is of great value. Still, one should never feel demoralized by their lack of Hebrew knowledge.
This coming Monday is Rosh Chodesh Shevat (this year on January 23). It was on that day, 3,295 years ago, that Moses translated the Torah.
This day will forever be remembered in history as the day when the message was loud and clear: regardless of your language, the Torah is yours, forever.
Now let’s go and explore our amazing G-dly gift of the Torah! Regardless of the language you study the Torah, the Torah is your heritage and birthright and your gift from G-d. JN
Rabbi Shmuel Tiechtel is the director of Rohr Chabad at ASU.