King Ptolemy II of Egypt had heard that the Jews possessed the Torah, and that it contained much wisdom and excellent laws. He desired to have this Torah translated into Greek so that he, too, might learn its contents.
Deciding 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 carved exquisite figures upon them and he studded them 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 wrote a sealed letter to the Kohen Gadol, which he entrusted to the hands of his loyal servant, Aristeas. The servant arrived in Jerusalem and delivered the presents and the letter, which read as follows:
“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.”
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 Jerusalem viewing the sights. He was honored by being permitted to view the kohanim doing the avodah in the Beis HaMikdash. In fact, he was so impressed that he wrote a long letter to the king describing what he saw. He described the long gowns that kohanim wore, which covered their bodies down to the ankles. He wrote about the mizbayach upon which the kohanim ascended to offer the sacrifices, 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 kohanim is indescribable. Not a word was spoken as they did their work, which they realized was holy work. I was privileged to see the 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.”
(To be continued)