By Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher, Dean of Students, Diaspora Yeshiva
This verse is one of the most mistranslated verses in the Torah. Can the Torah command something which is not humanly possible? Unlike other religions, that have fancy slogans not meant for the real world, Judaism is based on realty.
Thus, Rav Soloveitchik explains that this is not what the Hebrew verse actually says. It is all about knowing where to place the comas. For example, I had a grandfather who lived with us. One day at dinner l came to his door with my knife and fork in my hand and said LET'S EAT GRANDPA. He was shocked and panic stricken. Then I said, "Let’s eat, Grandpa." and he said, "Now you are talking son, what's for dinner?"
Rav Soloveitchik translates the verse as "You shall love your friend, and therefore I G-d will be with you and love you." V‘AHAVTA L’RE1ACHA, KAMOCHA ANI HASHEM.
The Baal Shem Tov similarly explains that Hashem acts like our shadow. Just as a shadow mimics a person's every move, so too Hashem deals with every person according to his actions and behavior.
This is what King David alludes to in Psalms 121 "G-d is your Shadow." Let us work on our behavior to become G-d's Shadow!
The Torah does not have punctuation marks. It was given to Moshe as a string of 304,805 letters. Moshe put the spaces in, however if new spaces are made between letters, we have all new words and all new information. If different vowels were used under the letters (which also do not appear in the Torah), we have all new words and all new information. There are 600,000 ways that information is encoded in the Torah; I just mentioned two of them.
I have mentioned that there are about twenty thousand differences between the so-called King James Version of the Bible and our Tenach. Most are due to translation problems. When we take Hebrew text and translate it to Greek, and then to Latin, before we get derive the English version, we have many incompatibilities in the translation. That doesn’t include the many, many intentional changes for the purpose of adding prophecies that the church wanted, and of course, we are talking prophecies that never existed.
Unfortunately, we have a similar situation when we take the Hebrew and try to put it into modern English (or any other language). All the deep messages that Hashem is conveying to us are lost. Even many prophecies are either lost or completely misunderstood. It is a very good reason to study the Torah and the rest of Tenach in Hebrew, especially with the commentary of our great sages shedding light on the truth. This is the most difficult text in the world, yet it is the least studied, and the text on which the uneducated people of the world give their false opinions.
I have gotten Emails from readers who ask: doesn’t the Torah say this or that about the situation? I have to answer: if we go a lot deeper into the text we see a completely different message.
Study is much more than learning the text, it is understanding the truth that Hashem is conveying.
Just for kicks, let me give you some additional examples in English that change due to punctuation.
What is up the road? A head? Versus: What is up the road ahead?
What do you have on? Your mind? Versus: what do you have on your mind?My favorite is one is a gender punctuation experience:
"Woman without her man is nothing."What a difference a comma can make!!!!
Men punctuate it: "Woman, without her man, is nothing."
Women punctuate it: "Woman, without her, man is nothing."