"Moshe explained at length the teachings…." (Deut. 1:5)
Rashi: In the seventy original languages.

The Jews preserved their knowledge and use of Hebrew throughout their Egyptian exile. Although the non-Jewish mixed multitude certainly did not speak Hebrew when they joined the Jews at the Exodus, forty years in the company of the Israelites probably sufficed for them to become fluent enough to understand it. And even if there were some who still found Hebrew difficult, this still does not explain the need for Moses to expound the Torah in all seventy original languages of humanity! We must therefore conclude that this oral translation of the Torah – as well as the later inscription of the Torah’s translation in those same seventy languages – had a more profound spiritual purpose.

...this oral translation of the Torah...had a more profound spiritual purpose.

Inasmuch as the Written Torah is the explicit word of G‑d, logic would dictate that only studying the Torah in the original is considered bona fide study, through which we fulfill the commandment to study the Torah. After all, the subtle nuances of meaning and implication inherent in the text – not to mention its allusive and mystical subtexts – can only be noticed and appreciated in the original. Similarly, since the Oral Torah was originally communicated by Moses in Hebrew, it would seem that only studying it, too, in Hebrew should count as bona fide Torah study. Therefore, by having Moses explain and inscribe the Torah in all seventy languages, G‑d set the precedent for all further Torah study in secular languages.

Although, for the reasons mentioned, it is preferable to study the Torah in the original, there is nevertheless an advantage in studying it in secular languages, namely, that using these languages to study the Torah elevates and sanctifies them, at least while they are being used for this purpose. Furthermore, expressing the Torah’s concepts in secular idioms allows the sanctity and message of the Torah to permeate even those layers of existence that are a priori antithetical or antagonistic to Divine consciousness.

Studying the Torah in the vernacular can also be seen as a reversal and rectification of the fall suffered by reality in the generation of the Dispersion at the Tower of Babel. Prior to this fall, all humanity spoke Hebrew, which, being the language of creation, is uniquely suited to expressing the underlying Divine unity that permeates the universe. In contrast, the other, derivative languages convey this subliminal tenor to a much lesser degree. By using them to study the Torah, something of the original linguistic-religious unity of humanity is restored.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, vol. 36, pp. 38-44; vol. 3, pp. 862-864
© 2001 Chabad of California/www.LAchumash.org