King Ptolemy of Egypt had heard that the Jews possessed the Torah, the five books of Moshe, which contained much wisdom and excellent laws. He desired to have this Torah translated into Greek so that he, too, might learn its contents.
He decided to prepare a wonderful gift for the Jews. He ordered his artisans to fashion: a table of gold, two gold vases, two silver ones and two golden cups. He had exquisite figures carved upon them and had them studded with 5,000 gems of various sizes. The king personally supervised the construction and when it was finished he was very pleased.
The king placed these presents in a chest and he wrote a sealed letter to Elazar Kohen Gadol, which he entrusted to the hands of his loyal servant, Aristeas. The servant arrived in Yerushalayim and delivered to Elazar the presents and the letter, which read as follows: “Ptolemy, King of Egypt, sends to Elazar Kohen Gadol peace! “As I have heard that you Jews possess an excellent law, I therefore beg of you to send me 72 of your wise men who understand the Torah in order that they may translate it for me into the Greek language. In gratitude for your friendly consideration, please accept the gifts that I am sending you with my servant Aristeas.”
The Priest Accepts
When the Kohen Gadol received the letter and presents from Aristeas, he was elated and rejoiced exceedingly. He said to the king’s servant, “I beg of you, please remain here for several days while I choose the 72 wise men who will return with you to Egypt.”
Aristeas remained in Yerushalayim viewing the sights including the avodah in the Beis Hamikdash. He was so impressed that he wrote a long letter to the king describing the scenes. He described the long gowns that the kohanim wore, which covered their bodies down to the ankles. He described the mizbayach upon which the kohanim ascended to offer korbanos, the pure marble that covered the floors and the sparkling spring waters that washed the floors continuously.
Part of the letter read as follows: “The sincerity and zeal of the priests is indescribable. Not a word was spoken as they did their work, realizing that it was holy work. I was privileged to see Elazar Kohen Gadol. His robe was magnificent; its hem was ringed with golden bells that chimed beautiful melodies as he walked. On his chest was the plaque of law, studded with 12 scintillating diamonds encased in solid gold. I was overawed by its majesty and beauty. From there I viewed the city, its walls and fortifications. In every street I found gardens and vineyards and thousands of sheep and cattle roaming the fields. Israel is truly a prosperous nation and a blessed people, dwelling in the protection of their G-d. Lucky are the people who possess such a G-d.”
The Sages Are Chosen
Elazar Kohen Gadol chose 72 of the sages of Yerushalayim and he presented them to the king’s servant and said to him: “Treat the men with respect and grant them whatever they may request of you. After they are through with their translation, let the king not detain them even one day.”
Elazar continued, “If I did not consider the blessings that the translation of the holy Torah can bring to all humanity, I would not permit these Sages to depart from here. My soul is entwined with theirs and only with the greatest of reluctance do we part from each other.”
Greeted By The King
Aristeas and the sages arrived in Alexandria, Egypt. The king and a large multitude of people turned out to greet them. A parade was held in their honor and when they arrived in the king’s palace the king greeted them and gave them his blessing.
“Have you brought the Torah scroll with you?” the king asked.
“Here it is,” they answered.
They took out the sefer Torah that was encased in a golden mantel and was inscribed in golden letters. As they unrolled the parchment, the king noted the beautiful penmanship and the fine texture of the parchment as each part was sewn to each other. He was impressed and awed as he regarded it. He blessed the 72 sages and also the Kohen Gadol and he bowed before them seven times. He clasped the hands of each sage and said: “Today is the happiest day of my life. I will not forget it.”
The king then ordered a magnificent feast to be held in honor of the sages. He invited all the ministers, officials and leaders of the country to participate in the festivities. Because they were strangers the Jewish sages sat apart, for that was the custom in Egypt.
Before the banquet began, one of the sages arose and offered the following prayer: