Lecture 60: The History of the Resting of the Shekhina ֠Building The Altar on Mount Eival and Writing the Torah on the Stones

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy

 

Mikdash

 

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This week's shiur is being sponsored by Mr. and Mrs. Harold N. Rosen.

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Lecture 60: The History of the resting of the Shekhina –

Building THe Altar on Mount Eival

and writing the Torah on the stones

 

Rav Yitzchak Levi

 

INTRODUCTION

 

            In the previous lecture, we examined the timing of the events that took place on Mount Eival and we attempted to answer the question of why those events transpired specifically there. In this lecture, we will try to understand the building of the altar on Mount Eival and the writing of the Torah on the stones.

 

THE BUILDING OF THE ALTAR AND THE OFFERING OF BURNT-OFFERINGS AND PEACE-OFFERINGS UPON IT

 

1.    Israel's entry into the Land is accompanied with the building of an altar.

 

            As we saw in the previous lecture, the book of Yehoshua describes the fulfillment of the command that Moshe gave to the people of Israel:

 

Then Yehoshua built an altar to the Lord God of Israel in Mount Eival, as Moshe the servant of the Lord commanded the children of Israel as it is written in the book of the Torah of Moshe, an altar of whole stones, over which no man lifted up any iron instrument. And they offered on it burnt-offerings to the Lord and sacrificed peace- offerings. And he wrote there upon the stones a copy of the Torah of Moshe, which he wrote in the presence of the children of Israel. And all Israel, and their elders, and officers, and their judges, stood on this side the ark and on that side before the priests the Levites, who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord, both stranger, and native born; half of them over against Mount Gerizim, and half of them over against Mount Eival; as Moshe the servant of the Lord had commanded that they should first bless the people of Israel. And afterwards he read all the words of the Torah, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the book of the Torah. There was not a word of all that Moshe commanded which Yehoshua did not read before the congregation of Israel with the women, and the little ones, and the strangers that went among them. (Yehoshua 8:30-35)

 

            The plain sense of the text, according to which the first thing that was done was the building of the altar, is given important spiritual significance by the Midrash Ha-Gadol (end of Parashat Yitro):

 

Great is the [sacrificial] service, for Scripture opened with it: "An altar of earth you shall make to Me, and you shall sacrifice on it" (Shemot 20:21). And so, too, you find that in the Tent of Meeting, Scripture opened first with the service, as it is stated: "And the Lord called to Moshe and spoke to him out of the Tent of Meeting, saying… If any man of you bring an offering to the Lord." And so, too, you find when they entered the Land, they opened first with the service, as it is stated: "Then Yehoshua built an altar" (Yehoshua 8:30). So, too, in the future, they will open first with the service, as it is stated: "I will go into Your house with burnt-offerings" (Tehillim 66:13). And so, too, you find when they returned from exile that they opened first with the service, as it is stated: "And they set the altar upon its bases" (Ezra 3:3).[1]

 

            The midrash notes here a principle that repeats itself throughout Scripture[2] - "They open with the [sacrificial] service:" They begin with the building of an altar, and only then do they continue with the building of the sanctuary. The spiritual significance of this principle is that the Shekhina rests upon Israel as a result of man's striving and turning to God.

 

            Similarly, it may be argued that Israel's entry into the Land was marked by the building of an altar, giving expression to Israel's turning to God.

 

2.    The significance of an altar made of stones:

 

In the aforementioned verses, Scripture emphasizes that the altar was built of whole stones – as Moshe, the servant of God, had commanded, as is written in the book of the Torah of Moshe. Why in this context of an altar made of stones is it emphasized that Yehoshua did as written in the book of the Torah of Moshe? What was so special about this that Scripture found it necessary to attribute it to Moshe?

 

It may be suggested that the answer lies in the fact that this is the first mitzva that the people of Israel fulfill at the command of Moshe following his death. This is the first mitzva that Yehoshua fulfills without Moshe.

 

Another distinctive feature of this mitzva is the fact that this is the first time that the people of Israel are explicitly commanded to build an altar of stones. Below, we will expand upon the matter of building an altar of stones.

 

THE ALTAR AT THE FOOT OF MOUNT SINAI

 

            In this context, we should consider the status of the altar built at the foot of Mount Sinai. In Parashat Mishpatim, it says:

 

And Moshe came and told the people all the words of the Lord, and all the judgments. And all the people answered with one voice and said, "All the words which the Lord has said will we do." And Moshe wrote all the words of the Lord, and rose up early in the morning, and built an altar under the hill, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. (Shemot 24:3-4)

 

            The Ibn Ezra, in his long commentary (Shemot 20:20), understands that this is the earthen altar which was spoken of immediately following the giving of the Ten Commandments.

 

            On the other hand, the words, "And he built (va-yiven) an altar under the hill" (Shemot 24:4) in the context of the altar built at the foot of Mount Sinai suggest that the altar was built of stones; regarding an earthen altar, the appropriate wording would have been, "And he made (va-ya'as)."[3]

 

"And if ('im') you will make Me an altar of stone" (Shemot 20:22):

 

            Rashi (ad loc.) cites the words of the Mekhilta:

 

R. Yishmael says: Every time the word "im" is used in the Torah, it refers to some action the doing of which is optional, except in three instances. Here: "And im you will make Me an altar of stone," you see that this "im" is used in the sense of "ka'asher," "when," the meaning being: "And when you make an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stone," for it is obligatory upon you to build an altar of stone, as it is stated: "of whole stones you shall build [it]" (Devarim 27:6).

 

            The Chizkuni, on the other hand, explains:

 

And even if you will want to make Me an altar, you must build it with whole stones. For this reason, "you shall not build it of hewn stone." (s.v. ve-im)

 

BUILDING WITH STONES THAT ARE NOT HEWN

 

            Regarding the building of the altar on Mount Eival, the Torah commands:

 

And there shall you build an altar to the Lord your God, an altar of stones. You shall not lift up any iron tool upon them. (Devarim 23:5)

 

            A similar limitation regarding the building of the altar appears in the book of Shemot:

 

An altar of earth you shall make to Me, and you shall sacrifice on it your burnt-offerings, and your peace- offerings, your sheep, and your oxen. In all places where I cause My name to be pronounced, I will come to you and I will bless you. And if you will make me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stone. For if you lift up your tool upon it, you have defiled it. (Shemot 20:20-22)

 

            What is the rationale underlying this prohibition? The Torah itself states that the reason is that if you lift up your tool upon it you have defiled it. But what does this mean? There are many different answers to this question.

 

            Rashi explains, based on the Mekhilta:

 

Thus, you may learn that if you lift up your iron tool above it you profane it. The reason of this is because the altar is created to lengthen man's days and iron has been created to shorten man days; it is not right that an object which shortens man's life should be lifted up above that which lengthens it. And a further reason is: because the altar makes peace between Israel and their Father in heaven, and therefore there should not come upon it anything that cuts and destroys. Now the following statement follows logically, a fortiori: If in the case of stones which cannot see nor hear nor speak, because they promote peace Scripture ordains: "You shall not lift up against them any iron tool" – in the case of one who makes peace between a man and his wife, between family and family, between a man and his fellow, how much more certain is it that punishment will not come upon him!

 

            The Ibn Ezra, in his long commentary, brings a different explanation:

 

According to logical reasoning, perhaps it is like piggul; since it was offered on the altar, it is not fitting that the rest be piggul, for he defiles the holy that he had sanctified if he leaves of it so that it becomes piggul. So, too, here, if they cut stones to build an altar, perhaps that which is cut off from those stones will become defiled through idolatry. And this is not respectful. And we see that the priest had to atone for the altar.

 

            In other words, according to the Ibn Ezra, the reason for the prohibition is to prevent a situation of profaning the altar. If a tool is lifted over the altar, pieces of stone will perforce fall from it; if they become lost and are thrown into the garbage, this will lead to a profanation of the holy.

 

            The Rashbam brings another reason:

 

Because when they build it with stones hewn with iron tools, the stone-dressers customarily engrave images and figures upon them. As it is written in Yeshayahu: "The ironsmith makes an axe, and works in the coals, and fashions it with hammers… he marks it out with a pencil, he fits it with chisels, and he marks it out with the compass…: (Yeshayahu 44:12-13). (s.v. ve-lo tivneh otan gazit)

 

            According to his explanation, an allowance granted to the stone-dressers to work with iron implements is liable to turn the stones into works of art, and the concern will arise that these works will so enchant those who come to the Temple that they may forget that they came there in order to serve God.

 

            In a similar but nevertheless different fashion, the Rambam explains that the foundation of the prohibition is to distance the people from idolatry, as this was the practice of idol-worshippers. He writes as follows:

 

As for the reason against hewing the stones of the altar… the reason for this is manifest, for the idolaters used to build altars with hewn stones. Accordingly, assimilation to them was prohibited, and in order to avoid this assimilation to them it was commanded that the altar be of earth. It says: "An altar of earth you shall make unto Me." If, however, it was indispensable to make it with stones, the latter must have their natural form and not be hewn. (Moreh Nevukhim III, 45)

 

            The Keli Yakar says that hewing stones involves pride and arrogance, and a person entering the sanctuary must conduct himself with humility.

 

            The Abravanel in his commentary points to the connection between the words "cherev" (sword, iron tool) and "churban" (destruction). From this the Abravanel concludes that one who dresses the stones of the altar with an iron tool destroys their simplicity and beauty.

 

            The Ramban disagrees with the Ibn Ezra, raising the objection that it is permissible to dress the stones of the altar with tools fashioned from other materials, such as silver or emery. Therefore, the Ramban explains that the only reason for the prohibition is the connection between iron and a sword, which is a tool of war and destruction:

 

I say that the reason for the commandment is that iron is fashioned into a sword ("cherev"), which destroys ("machriv") the world, and is therefore called by that name. Surely Esav, whom God hated, inherited the sword, as it was said to him, "And by your sword shall you live" (Bereishit 27:40), and the sword is his power in heaven and on earth, for the sword will enjoy success in Mars and in the astrological signs of blood.

 

THE TRANSITION FROM AN EARTHEN TO AN ALTAR OF STONES

 

            The Rambam in his Moreh Nevukhim (ibid.) understands that le-khatchila the altar must be made of earth; only when this is impossible is it permissible to build it from stones that were not hewn. Accordingly, it is possible that the Rambam does not understand the word "im" in the verse, "And im you will make Me an altar of stone," in the sense of "when," as did Rashi, but rather as "if:" If you will not make an altar of earth, as le-khatchila you should, you can make Me an altar of stone.

 

            When did the transition from altar of earth to altar of stone take place? The altar in the wilderness was clearly made of earth. Rashi in Shemot writes:

 

For the altar of earth is identical with the altar of copper, because they used to fill the hollow space within it with earth at every place where they encamped in the wilderness. (Shemot 27:5)

 

            According to this, it is possible to argue that the transition from altar of earth to altar of stone paralleled the transition from wilderness to Eretz Yisrael. In this context, we can explain the gemara (Zevachim 61b) which cites the words of R. Huna in the name of Rav: "The altar in Shilo was made of stone."

 

            R. Moshe Odes[4] suggests that we should see the transition from altar of earth to altar of stone as a phenomenon reflecting the transition of the people of Israel in the wilderness from six hundred thousand individuals who were effaced by the Divine light into twelve tribes with distinct characteristics who worshipped God in harmony.

 

            A second possible way to understand the transition from earthen altar to stone altar follows from the simple fact that an earthen altar is temporary. At each new encampment, different earth was used to fill it; by they time they left the place, the earth would become scattered. A stone altar, on the other hand, alludes to a more permanent situation, which matches the spiritual meaning of settling in the land.

 

There is another point that complements the previous explanation. The symbolic meaning of an earthen altar is to elevate the earth toward heaven and to give expression to the fact that the earth belongs to heaven. The earth and heaven are themselves manifestations of Divine creation. When the earth is raised to heaven, man raises nature to God.

 

Regarding stones, the actions required of man are much greater; gathering the stones, arranging them, and building them into an altar all necessitate human action.

 

In this sense as well, the transition from earthen altar to stone altar in Eretz Yisrael gives expression to the transition from miracle to nature, from a reality of unmediated connection between Israel and God through the miraculous governance of Moshe, the cloud, and the well, to entry into the Land, to Yehoshua, to human governance, which builds the connection between Israel and God from down below.

 

THE BURNT-OFFERINGS AND THE PEACE-OFFERINGS

 

            What do these offerings symbolize? It is possible that the burnt-offerings and the peace-offerings come to express absolute submission and gratitude to God, and the eating of the peace-offerings comes to express man's partnership and his consent and readiness to enter into a covenant.[5] In this, too, there is a similarity to the covenant at Sinai, wherein burnt-offerings and peace-offerings were also brought and meat was also eaten (Shemot 24).

 

WRITING THE TORAH ON STONES

 

            In Yehoshua 8:32, it says: "And he wrote there upon the stones a copy of the Torah of Moshe, which he wrote in the presence of the children of Israel." This would appear to be the fulfillment of the Torah's command:

 

And it shall be on the day when you shall pass over the Jordan to the land which the Lord your God gives you, that you shall set you up great stones and cover them with plaster. And you shall write upon them all the words of this Torah, when you are passed over, that you may go in to the Land which the Lord your God gives you, a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord God of your fathers has promised you. And it shall be when you have gone over the Jordan, that you shall set up these stones which I command you this day on Mount Eival, and you shall cover them with plaster. And there shall you build an altar to the Lord your God, an altar of stones; you shall not lift up any iron tool upon them. And you shall offer peace-offerings, and shall eat there and rejoice before the Lord your God. And you shall write upon the stones all the words of this Torah very plainly. (Devarim 27)

 

            This description is wordy and detailed, whereas the description in Yehoshua is short and concise. The relationship between the writing of the Torah on the stones and the building of the altar, and the entire ceremony itself, raise several questions:

 

·        What came first? Was the Torah first written on the stones and then the altar was built, or vice versa?

 

·        What is the relationship between the stones and the plaster?

 

·        Is there a connection between the large stones mentioned here and the stones of the altar?

 

·        What is the Torah that was written on the stones?

 

·        What is the spiritual meaning of writing the Torah on stones at the time of the people of Israel's entry into their land?

 

1.     The order of the events

 

The verses in Yehoshua imply that the building of the altar and offering of the sacrifices preceded the writing of the Torah on the stones, but according to the gemara, these actions were executed in a different manner:

 

And afterwards they brought the stones, and built the altar, and covered it with plaster, and wrote on them all the words of the Torah in seventy languages, as it is stated, "very plainly." And they offered burnt-offerings and peace-offerings, and ate and drank and rejoiced. (Sota 36a)

 

            According to the gemara, the writing of the Torah on the stones preceded the bringing of the sacrifices.[6]

 

            Chazal may have had a tradition about the matter based on a comparison to the covenant made at Chorev, where the words of the covenant preceded their being committed to writing and the offering of the sacrifices related to the covenant (Shemot 24:3-5).

 

2.     Was the Torah written on the stones themselves or on the plaster?

 

In the verses in Devarim, we find two commandments regarding the plastering of the large stones. It may be understood that there are two parallel commands, in both of which the plastering precedes the writing. On the other hand, if we connect the end of the first command to the beginning of the second command and view that as the order of events, it turns out that the writing precedes the plastering.

 

It seems that based on these two understandings, the Tannaim disagreed regarding the following question: Were the words of the Torah written on the stones themselves or on the plaster?

 

Our Rabbis taught: How did Israel write the Torah? R. Yehuda says: They wrote it on the stones, as it is stated: "And you shall write upon the stones all the words of this Torah," and afterwards they plastered them with plaster. R. Shimon said to him: According to your words, how did the nations of that time learn Torah? (Sota 35b)

 

            R. Yehuda maintains that the wording of verse 8, "and you shall write upon the stones," proves that the command was to write on the stones themselves. Therefore, even though the command about the plaster appears earlier in verse 4, and this is similarly the order of the commands in verses 2 and 3, we must say that the order of the commands does not parallel the order of the actual execution.

 

            R. Shimon raises an objection against R. Yehuda from the fact that the people of Israel were commanded to write the Torah on the stones "very plainly" in seventy languages in order that the Torah be available to the nations of the world. How is it possible, he asks, to study the Torah if the plaster covers the writing?[7]

 

            R. Shimon argues, therefore, that "they wrote it on the plaster;" in other words, they first plastered the stones and then they wrote the Torah on the plaster. According to R. Shimon, writing on plaster is clearer and the writing remains for a longer period of time.

 

3.     What is the relationship between the stones upon which the Torah was written and the building of the altar?

 

It is clear from the mishna in Sota 32a that the stones of the altar were the stones upon which the Torah was written. This is also the implication of Yehoshua 8:30-32, "And he wrote there upon the stones," which appears to refer to the stones of the altar mentioned earlier; there is no mention of any other stones.[8]

 

In the Yerushalmi, however, the Tannaim disagree about this point:

 

It was taught: [The words of the Torah] were written on the stones in the place where they lodged; these are the words of R. Yehuda. R. Yose says: They were written on the stones of the altar. (Yerushalmi Sota 7:5)

 

            We may suggest that this disagreement relates to the relationship between the Torah and man's service of God at the altar. In general, and this was also true in the Temple, the place of the Torah stands apart from the place of Divine service.  The Torah was located in the Holy of Holies – the tablets of the law, the broken tablets, and the Torah scroll – whereas the sacrificial service was conducted on the altar outside in the Temple courtyard.

 

            The Torah expresses the word of God written for the world, whereas the altar expresses man's service, his efforts to raise the world heavenward.[9]

 

            This seems to be the position of R. Yehuda, who maintains that the words of the Torah were written on the stones in the place where the people of Israel lodged. The stones on which the Torah was written and the stones of the altar were two separate sets of stones.

 

            The novel position is that of R. Yose, who understands, based on the plain meaning of the biblical text, that the words of the Torah were written on the stones of the altar. According to this understanding, the Torah was written on the stones that made it possible to offer sacrifices on an altar. In other words, there is here a union between the word of God written on the stones and man's turning to God.

 

4.     The connection between the stones at the crossing of the Jordan and at Gilgal and the stones at Mount Eival

 

The gemara says:

 

It turns out that there were three sets of stones: one that Moshe set up in the plains of Moav… and one that Yehoshua set up in the Jordan… and one that he set up in Gilgal. (Yerushalmi Sota 7:5)

 

            Rashi explains: "In Gilgal, after they built from them the altar on Mount Eival, they packed them and brought them to Gilgal, and set them up there."

 

            He explains similarly in his commentary to Devarim:

 

There were three sets of stones: Twelve in the Jordan, and corresponding to them in Gilgal, and corresponding to them on Mount Eival. (Devarim 27:2)

 

            Accordingly, it may be suggested that twelve stones were set up on Mount Eival, corresponding to the number of tribes and the number of curses. On the other hand, in its account of the miracles that were performed for Israel on that day, the gemara states:

 

After that, they brought the stones, built the altar, and plastered it with plaster, and inscribed thereon all the words of the Torah in seventy languages, as it is said, "very plainly." Then they sacrificed burnt-offerings and peace-offerings, ate and drank and rejoiced, pronounced the blessings and the curses, packed up the stones, and came and lodged in Gilgal, as it is said, "Carry them over with you and lay them down in the lodging place" (Yehoshua 4:3). It is possible [to suppose that they were to deposit them] in any lodging place; therefore there it says, "Where you shall lodge this night," and then it is written, "And those twelve stones, which they took [out of Jordan, did Joshua set up in Gilgal]." (Sota 36a)

 

            In addition to the miraculous nature of the events described in this baraita, that in one day they went back and forth from Gilgal to Mount Eival (60 mils in each direction), in addition to the time spent in crossing the Jordan, reciting the blessings and curses, building the altar, writing the Torah, offering the sacrifices, and in eating, drinking and rejoicing, at the end of which Yehoshua read from the Torah (Yehoshua 8:34-35) – "And afterwards he read all the words of the Torah, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the book of the Torah" – it becomes clear that the stones upon which the Torah was written were returned to Gilgal, where the plaster was removed from them.

 

The Tashbetz (Responsa Tashbetz, I, no. 53) explains that the commandment to cover the stones with plaster was temporary, intended only for the time that the stones stood on Mount Eival. When, however, they were brought back to Gilgal, it was preferable "that they be without plaster, so that it be evident that they are river stones, for their purpose was to serve as a memorial for the miracle of drying up the Jordan."

 

5.     What was written on the stones?

 

The Torah explicitly commands that on the stones there should be written "all the words of this Torah" (Devarim 27:3), whereas in the book of Yehoshua the people of Israel are commanded to write "a copy of the Torah of Moshe" (Yehoshua 8:32). In the wake of this, the commentators disagree about what was actually written on the stones.

 

The Ramban writes:

 

"And you shall write upon them all the words of this Torah." R. Avraham said in the name of the Ga'on that they wrote upon them a list of the commandments, like that found in the Halakhot Gedolot… We find in Sefer Tagin that the entire Torah was written on them from "In the beginning" to "the eyes of all of Israel" with its crowns, and it is from there that the crowns were copied. It is possible that the stones were very large, or else it was a miracle. (commentary to Devarim 27:3)

 

            In contrast, the Abravanel (Devarim 27, s.v. gam atzaveka) and Metzudat David (Yehoshua 8:32) argue that the book of Devarim was written on the stones.

 

            The Ralbag on Yehoshua 8 narrows down the writing even further, writing that they only wrote the blessings and curses found in the book of Devarim on the stones.[10]

 

            The Radak (Devarim 27) in the name of R. Sa'adya Gaon, writes that on the stones were written the 613 mitzvot (as does the Ibn Ezra, cited by the Ramban above).

 

            R. Yosef Ibn Caspi[11] argues that the Ten Commandments were written on the stones, as they embrace the entire Torah, and this is the meaning of "all." In other words, like R. Sa'adya Gaon, R. Yosef Ibn Caspi maintains that the text that was written was short and consisted of the Ten Commandments, which constitute a concise and all-embracing summary of the entire Torah. This view is particularly interesting because it establishes an important parallel to the written tablets of the law.

 

            Mention should, of course, be made of the view of Chazal:

 

And afterwards they brought the stones, and built the altar, and covered it with plaster, and wrote on them all the words of the Torah in seventy languages, as it is stated, "very plainly." And they took the stones and came and lodged in their place. (Sota 7:1)

 

            This mishna is brought in the Sifrei to Devarim (Parashat Re'ei) in the name of R. Yishmael. Two other views are brought there as well:

 

R. Shimon ben Yochai says: They only wrote on it the Torah of Moshe, as it is said: "And he wrote there upon the stones a copy of the Torah of Moshe" (Yehoshua 8:32). R. Yosa ben Yosi says in the name of R. Elazar ben Shimon: They only wrote on it what the nations of the world want [to read], e.g., "When you come near to a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace to it; And it shall be, if it make you an answer of peace" (Devarim 20:10).

 

            What is interesting about the views of R. Yishmael and R. Elazar ben Shimon is that the Torah written on the stones was in a certain sense meant also for the nations of the world. On the face of it, the plain sense of the text suggests that this assembly was directed exclusively at the people of Israel; it brought the people of Israel into a covenant at the time of their entry into Eretz Yisrael at Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival, which symbolize their place of entry into the Land.

 

            It is possible that it was precisely at the northern gate of Eretz Yisrael, in the very place where the people of Israel were commanded at the time of their entry into the land to express their recognition of their obligation to the Torah, that it was fitting that the nations of the world should also become aware of the value and essence of the Torah. The purpose of writing the Torah for the nations of the world was to inform them of the value of the Torah, from the perspective of its general value, from the perspective of its essence for the people of Israel, and also from the perspective of what the nations of the world want to hear (following the view of R. Elazar ben Shimon).

 

            The Oznayim La-Torah says that the reason that the Torah was written in seventy languages for the nations of the world was so that their scribes should copy the Torah. In this way, all the nations of the world would know that the Land in its entirety belong to God; He created it and He gave it to those whom he saw fit to receive it, and now He wishes to take this Land from its inhabitants and transfer it to Israel, as He had promised their forefathers in days of old.

 

6.     The meaning of writing the Torah on stones

 

The Ramban writes:

 

"That you may go in to the land." R. Avraham said that God will help you if you begin to keep His commandments, for this is the first mitzva after coming to the Land. In my opinion, however, "that you may go in the land" alludes to all the words of the Torah. It says that you should write on the stones all the words of this Torah when you pass over the Jordan, for which you go in to the land. For it is for the sake of the Torah that you go in there. And similarly, "That your manservant and your maidservant may rest as well as you. And remember that you were a servant" (Devarim 5:14-15): Your servant and your maidservant shall rest as you, so that you shall remember that you were a servant. Or else it means: Write on them all the words of this Torah, so that it be a memorial for you, so that you may go into the land and conquer it and drive out all those nations, when you remember the Torah and keep all its commandments. (commentary to Devarim 27:3)

 

            Among the things that we discussed in the previous lecture regarding the essence of Shekhem, we argued that in certain senses, Shekhem is the northern gate of Eretz Yisrael. In anticipation of the entry, north of the gate, the Torah was written as the Land's identity card, symbolizing for those entering the land that the objective of the land is observance of the Torah.

 

            The Abravanel (ad loc.) adds:

 

He fulfilled with this the mitzva, "And you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house and on your gates" (Devarim 6:9). And therefore He commanded that when they cross over the Jordan, they should write the Torah on stones, for it is like the doorpost of a gate through which they enter. Thus, you see that the mitzva involving the stones is part of the covenant, like the curses which He commanded to pronounce on Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival… And the curses were said there because this was all part of the covenant. The intent of the verses is as follows: If the people of Israel conduct themselves in the manner of soldiers who come to conquer areas that are not theirs, without a doubt when they cross the Jordan and enter the land that they wish to conquer, they will set up great stones… and write things upon them as a sign and memorial… that they came to the land with great power and a strong hand in such-and-such year in such-and-such month, as did the Romans, who when they arrived in a land that was not theirs set up signs… for their name and glory… and Moshe our master commanded Israel, that the same thing which is the manner of soldiers… they should do for the sake of the mitzva and for the glory of heaven, and not out of pride, because salvation comes from God, and they will not conquer the land with their swords.

 

            Meir bar-Ilan, in his aforementioned article, argues that the objective of the writing on the stones was the same as that of the pronouncement of the curses. According to him, only the curses were written on the stones, and therefore the objective of the writing was to push away the sinners from the ceremony of the covenant and from the altar on Mount Eival. In this sense, these stones served as a barrier between the holy and the profane.

 

***

 

            In this lecture, we dealt with the building of the altar on Mount Eival and with the writing of the Torah on the stones. In the next lecture, we will deal with the ceremony involving the blessings and curses on Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival.

 

(Translated by David Strauss)



[1] The citation is from Torah Sheleima, Yitro 521, in the name of Mekhilta De-Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (ed. R. Hoffman).

[2] To the examples cited here, we may add that that the building of the First Temple began with the building of an altar in the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusi on Mount Moriya.

[3] R. Yisrael Ariel dealt with this issue in his book, Penei Ha-Levana; Kivunim be-Sefer Yehoshua (Jerusalem, 5763), pp. 97-101.

[4] In his article, "Ha-Tzedadim Ha-Enoshiyim Ve-Ha-Elokiyim Be-Mizbe'ach Ha-Nechoshet," in his book, Bi-Levavi Mishkan Evneh, (Jerusalem, 5761), pp. 428-429.

[5] R. Y. Ariel in his aforementioned article (see note 3) likens this eating to Yaakov's eating to establish his covenant with Lavan, which was also memorialized with a heap of stones (Bereishit 31:34).

[6] According to the mishna, they took the stones with them from Mount Eival to where they were encamped at Gilgal, and there they erected the memorial to the miracle of the parting of the Jordan, as is described in Yehoshua 4:1, 19-24.

[7] The gemara answers at this stage that God granted the nations of the world greater understanding, and they sent scribes, peeled off the plaster, and copied the Torah from what was written on the stones. It was because of this that their fate was sealed, for they should have learned, but failed to do so.

[8] See, too, R. D. Tz. Hoffman in his commentary to Devarim 27.

[9] We dealt at length with this issue and with the relationship between these two components in various lectures over the last two years.

[10] Meir bar Ilan, in his article, "Ha-Torah Ha-Ketuva al Ha-Avanim Be-Har Eival," in Mechkarei Yehuda Ve-Shomron, pp. 29-41, proposes that only the "arurs" mentioned in the adjacent Torah section were written on the stones, because they were regarded as the foundation of morality – twelve "arurs" corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel. In his article, he also argues that there were twelve stones (something that is not explicitly stated in the Torah), corresponding to the twelve pillars erected by Moshe at the foot of Mount Sinai (Shemot 24:4) and corresponding in a certain sense to the twelve stones that Eliyahu took on Mount Carmel to build the altar.

[11] R. Yosef Ibn Kaspi, Mishneh Kesef (Cracow, 5666), p. 302.