This Torah portion is always read on the Shabbat preceding Tishah B’Av, the fast marking the destruction of the First and Second Temples.

Hoping for Transformation

Chassidim would often tell the following story: The followers of the Rebbe, Rabbi Yisroel of Ruzhin, would make every effort to avoid sadness. On Tishah B’Av, due to the somber nature of the day, they would engage in various pranks and antics to prevent depression and mourning. With this intent, some of the chassidim hurried to the synagogue and positioned a lasso and a hoist at the entrance.

That year, Rabbi Yisroel arrived at the synagogue earlier than expected. His followers, anxiously waiting for a victim to appear, did not look to see who was approaching the synagogue. As the Rebbe entered, they quickly began pulling on the rope. The lasso tightened around and he was hoisted upward. The chassidim began to laugh but suddenly realized that the victim was none other than their master. Overcome with fear, they let loose the rope, lowering the Rebbe to the floor.

Rabbi Yisroel proceeded to the holy ark and proclaimed: “G‑d, it appears that Your children do not know how to observe Your holiday. Take it away from them.”

Our Sages relate that in the future the fasts commemorating the destruction of the Temple will be transformed and days of celebration. That’s the Tishah B’Av we want to remember. Until then, we pray that G‑d takes back His holiday.

Translating for Who?

This week’s Torah reading relates how Moses “Began to expound the Torah with thorough explanation.” Our Sages explain that this is a reference to the fact that Moses translated the Torah into 70 languages.

Of what value was this translation? In that era, all the Jews understood the Hebrew in which the Torah was written. What purpose was achieved by translating the text?

Among the explanations given is that Moses was elevating the secular tongues. Our Sages say: “Everything which G‑d created in His world, He created solely for His glory.” No entity, be it a language, a precious metal, or an invention has a separate, independent identity. It was created by G‑d from absolute nothingness for a purpose: to reveal His glory.

Because we live in a material world, this purpose is not apparent. On the contrary, it is possible to take an entity’s — and indeed, all entities’ — existence for granted. It’s natural to think: “I am because I am. I don’t need a reason for being. My existence and that of the world around me is fact.”

Judaism looks at things differently. The ultimate truth of all existence is non-being. The world exists only because G‑d brings it into existence. And He did not bring it into existence casually. Instead, everything that He made was made with the purpose of proclaiming His truth.

Part of a Global Mission

To get back to the other languages that we began with: Why do languages exist? To be used to speak G‑d’s truth. Indeed, there is an advantage to expressing G‑d’s truth in English. Hebrew is, after all, the Holy Tongue, a language that is inherently and obviously holy. To use it for the sake of holiness, is natural and expected.

English, by contrast, is not a holy tongue. On the contrary, it existed for many years before anyone thought of using it to teach G‑d’s Torah, and so, using it to teach Torah involves the transformation of the worldly to holiness. It is a new development,, a contribution that man has made beyond the natural pattern of creation.

Since using secular languages for a Torah purpose is a new development, there is a certain amount of difficulty involved. Therefore, to make it easier, Moses started the process. Taking the first step is always the hardest. By being the first one to translate the Torah into a secular tongue, he made it easier for later generations to continue this process.

In that sense, our actions, indeed— our composing and reading of this very page— is a continuation of the motif that Moses initiated. We are taking a worldly language, something that is not inherently holy, and using it to communicate G‑d’s truth.

Achievable by Us All

The above applies not only with regard to other languages but to the entire sphere of our involvement in material activities. Why do we spend our lives eating, drinking, and earning money? To show how these activities and material entities exist for G‑d’s sake alone. In doing so, we change the nature of the world and enable the purpose for which G‑d brought it into being to resonate within it.

As that happens, the ripples of change become larger. As more and more elements begin to express their true purpose, G‑d’s intent in creation becomes more apparent. This is what people mean when they say that the world is getting ready for M oshiach. The intent is that M oshiach will reveal how the world is G‑d’s dwelling. As more and more people are using different elements of existence to express G‑dly truth, Mashiach is coming closer to reality.

In that sense, the process of preparing the world for Moshiach does not involve radical or cataclysmic development. It means living life as we know we should, using every entity for the purpose for which G‑d created it. When we do our part in nudging the world closer to its intended purpose, G‑d will do His part in revealing His true intent for creation by bringing the Redemption.