QUESTIONS: The Gemara relates that Ptolemy secluded 72 Chachamim in separate rooms and ordered them to translate the Torah into Greek. Miraculously, they all wrote the exact same translation, and even the changes they made were identical. They altered the translation in several places in order not to offend Ptolemy or to give him grounds to misinterpret certain verses in the Torah. One of the changes they made was in the verse which records Yakov Avinu's reproof to his sons, Shimon and Levi. In the original version, Yakov says, "In their wrath, they killed a man (Hargu Ish), and they willfully uprooted an ox (Akru Shor)" (Bereishis 49:6). The Chachamim, however, translated the verse to say, "In their wrath, they killed an ox (Hargu Shor), and they willfully uprooted a trough (Akru Avos)."
Rashi (to Bereishis 49:6) explains that the words, "In their wrath they killed a man," refers to the residents of the city of Shechem, whom Shimon and Levi killed for defiling Dinah, the daughter of Yakov. "They willfully uprooted an ox" refers to Yosef, whom they uprooted from his place and caused to descend to Mitzrayim.
Why did the Chachamim find it necessary to make these changes in the verse? Rashi here explains that they feared that if they translated the words literally ("they killed a man"), Ptolemy would accuse their forebears of being murderers, and thus the Chachamim wrote instead that "they killed an ox." Rashi adds that the reason why they wrote "Hargu Shor" was because the people of Shechem were immersed in idolatrous and immoral behavior and thus were considered to be like animals in the eyes of Yakov.
There are a number of difficulties with Rashi's explanation.
(a) If the Chachamim feared that Ptolemy would accuse Shimon and Levi of being murderers because "they killed a man," then what did they gain by altering the translation to "they killed an ox"? The Torah clearly relates the story of how Shimon and Levi decimated the entire city of Shechem when they rescued Dinah from the house of Shechem and Chamor (see Bereishis 34:25-31). Why should changing the word "man" to "ox" in Yakov's rebuke prevent Ptolemy from misjudging Shimon and Levi, if the Torah earlier explicitly records the killing which they perpetrated? If, however, Ptolemy would not have been disturbed by the narrative about the destruction of the people of Shechem because he understood that the people of Shechem had committed an injustice and Shimon and Levi had acted in self-defense, then why did the Chachamim change "Hargu Ish" to "Hargu Shor" in Yakov's rebuke?
(b) Why does Rashi need to add that the people of Shechem were considered like animals in Yakov's eyes? Rashi already explained that the reason why the Chachamim changed the words "Hargu Ish" to "Hargu Shor" was in order to avoid upsetting Ptolemy. Since they already had grounds to alter the translation, why does Rashi need the logic that Yakov considered the people of Shechem like animals? Moreover, since Yakov himself did not say "Shor," how does Rashi know that Yakov viewed them like animals? It was the Chachamim who wrote "Shor," not Yakov!
(c) If the Chachamim's translation, "Hargu Shor," implies that Yakov Avinu viewed the people of Shechem like animals, why did this translation itself not upset Ptolemy? Ptolemy -- upon reading that the sons of Yakov "killed an ox" after the Torah earlier relates that they killed the people of Shechem -- will assume that the Jews consider Nochrim to be no different from animals, and he surely will be enraged. What did the Chachamim gain by writing that Shimon and Levi "killed an ox" in place of "killed a man"?
(d) Rashi concludes that Yakov would not have been upset had his sons killed animals. According to the Girsa of the BACH and EIN YAKOV, Rashi says that he was not upset except about the animals. According to either version, Rashi's words are difficult to understand. To what animals does Rashi refer? The Torah states clearly (Bereishis 34:28) that they took all of the livestock of Shechem as plunder and did not kill any animals. How could the Chachamim translate the verse so that it implies that Yakov was upset that they killed animals (or, according to the other Girsa in Rashi, that Yakov was not upset that they killed animals)? The Torah itself says earlier that they did not kill the animals of Shechem.
(a) Even though Ptolemy may have read earlier in the Torah that Shimon and Levi killed the people of Shechem, that account did not upset him. He understood that it was done in a time of war and in self-defense. The Chachamim were concerned with how Ptolemy would react when he would read the words, "Hargu Ish" -- "they killed a man," in the singular form. Ptolemy would wonder why Yakov reprimanded them for killing all of the men of Shechem by saying that they killed "a man." (Rashi on the Torah addresses this question and gives two answers.) Ptolemy would assume that Yakov was reprimanding Shimon and Levi not for the destruction of Shechem but for the murder of a single, innocent person on another occasion. The Chachamim translated the word "Ish" as "Shor" so that Ptolemy would not say that in another incident -- which is not mentioned explicitly in the Torah -- Shimon and Levi killed an innocent person. (YEFEH MAR'EH; see PNEI YEHOSHUA.)
(b) Rashi was bothered by a question which motivated him to add that the people of Shechem were like animals in the eyes of Yakov. The Chachamim's concern for the reputation of Shimon and Levi in the eyes of Ptolemy was not sufficient grounds to write an untruth in their translation of the Torah. Why, then, did the Chachamim write that Shimon and Levi killed an ox when no record exists of such an event? The ox which they killed cannot refer to the animals of the city of Shechem, because they did not kill those animals but took them as plunder. (TOSFOS (DH v'El Zatutei) also points out that the Chachamim were careful not to write an untruth.)
For this reason, Rashi explains that when the Chachamim wrote "Shor," they indeed meant the people of Shechem and not the oxen, because all of the people of Shechem were like animals in the eyes of Yakov. The Chachamim, therefore, were justified in writing "Hargu Shor" and that translation does not constitute an untruth. (MAHARSHA)
(c) Why, though, were the Chachamim not concerned with Ptolemy's reaction when he would read that Yakov referred to Nochrim as oxen? The answer is that Ptolemy certainly would not know or suspect that their logic in writing "Shor" was because the people of Shechem were like oxen in the eyes of Yakov. They knew that Ptolemy would not understand the verse as an allegorical reference to the residents of Shechem, because the verse mentions a single "Shor" and thus could not be referring to the entire populace of a city that Shimon and Levi killed. Ptolemy would interpret the verse as a reference to an incident in which Shimon and Levi became upset with each other and fought over the ownership of a single ox and ended up killing it. (YEFEH MAR'EH)
(d) The fourth question is also answered. When Rashi says that "he was indifferent about the animals," he refers not to Yakov but to Ptolemy. Although Ptolemy would have become upset had the verse said that Shimon and Levi killed a person, he would not become upset if it said that they killed an animal. (M. KORNFELD)