Rashi on amud beis (“v’es achas”) discusses a hermeneutical principle which is occasionally used in Shas.  A word from a different language, often Greek and often the numeral one, is read into the text. For example, the Hebrew word “Hen”, is reinterpreted in the verse to mean “one”.  Some good examples of this are Shabbos (31b) Moed Kattan (28a) and Sanhedrin (76b).

Although I do not have a well-developed theory, I do not think it is an accident that the derashos are most often with Greek words and the letter one. In general, we find the Gemara accorded great respect to the wisdom of the Greeks (see Bereishis (9:27) and Gemara Megillah 9b), and we saw in Psychology of the Daf 91 the importance of the roles of nations’ language and scripts. 

There is a fascinating derash that used the Hebrew “Hen” and Greek “One” combination with many commentaries and discussion:

As Rabbi Yoḥanan said in the name of Rabbi Elazar: The Holy One, Blessed be He, has in His world only fear of Heaven alone, as it is stated: “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you, but to fear the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 10:12). And it is written: “And unto man He said: Behold [hen], the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding” (Job 28:28), as in the Greek language they call one hen.

The import of the derash is to say that the only true and important matter in the world and what God expects is fear of God more than anything else

There is a responsum of the Maharit (Rav Yosef Di Trani, I:100) where he used this derash as part of a polemic he was having with another unnamed Rav.  Apparently, there was Rav who took some teachings about the value of Torah study too literally. His claim was based on a Zohar (I think, II:134b): “One who studies Torah will not be judged at all in the World to come.” This Rav also quoted a Midrash (which I cannot find) that gave a parable of a man who was a gifted musician.  Though he was a bandit, the king put up with him because his melodies were beautiful. One day his hand got cut off and he could not play anymore.  Then, he finally got his punishments that were held in abeyance all these years. So too, so long as the person is studying Torah, he is protected from any punishment.

The Maharit rejects this assertion as nonsense. How could reward and punishment be made into a joke?  He quotes several Gemaras where great sages were worried about being punished for the smallest lapse, and indeed suffered terribly for what appears to be minor misdeeds. He also quotes this derasha that fear of heaven is the most important matter, that is moral conduct, and not studying Torah.

He says the correct understanding is that the Torah protects from the evil inclination, and at least while studying Torah, the person is protected from sin.  

I could not find the source for the mirashic parable that was quoted, but if it is authentic, we can also see how the Maharit’s interpretation fits the parable well.  The king may not lose his temper at the musician so long as he is playing, but he is not exempt from punishment in the long run. As soon as he loses his ability to play, all his debts come crashing down upon him.  But also, dare I say, since he was a bandit, did he lose his hand during his exploits?  I say this, because then the parable has another meaning.  The bandit lost his hand and his protective ability to play music because he pushed his luck. Perhaps Torah does protect a person, but if he abuses it, he may lose his ability or true insight into Torah, and then he will also lose the protection.


Translations Courtesy of Sefaria, (except when, sometimes, I disagree with the translation cool.)