Lecture 61: The History of the Resting of the Shekhina ֠The Blessing and the Curse on Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy

Mikdash

 

 

Lecture 61: The History of the resting of the Shekhina –

THe Blessing and the curse on Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival[1]

 

Rav Yitzchak Levi

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

            After commanding Israel to set up the stones, write the Torah upon them, and to build an altar and offer sacrifices upon them, Moshe commands the people to prepare themselves for the blessings and curses on Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival. As it is stated in the Torah:

 

These shall stand upon Mount Gerizim to bless the people when you cross over the Jordan: Shimon, and Levi, and Yehudah, and Yissakhar, and Yosef, and Binyamin. And these shall stand on Mount Eival to curse: Reuven, Gad, and Asher, and Zevulun, Dan, and Naftali. And the Levites shall speak and say to all the men of Israel with a loud voice. (Devarim 27:12-14)

 

            These verses are followed by a list of twelve curses. The execution of this command is described in the book of Yehoshua:

 

And all Israel, and their elders, and officers, and their judges stood on this side of 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 that Yehoshua did not read before all the congregation of Israel with the women, and the little ones, and the strangers that were among them. (Yehoshua 8:33-35)

 

            Chazal describe this event in tractate Sota:

 

Six tribes ascended the summit of Mount Gerizim and six tribes ascended the summit of Mount Eival. The Priests and the Levites with the ark were stationed below in the center, the Priests surrounding the ark, the Levites surrounding the priests, and all Israel on this side and that side; as it is said, "And all Israel, and their elders and their officers, and their judges stood on this side of the ark and on that side, etc." They turned their faces towards Mount Gerizim and opened with the blessing: Blessed be the man that makes not a graven or molten image," and both parties responded "Amen." [So they continued] until they completed the blessings and curses.[2] (Sota 32a)

 

            When we examine the details of the event, we see various differences between the command in the Torah, the execution in the book of Yehoshua, and the account in the mishna. In this lecture, we will relate to several different aspects of this event.

 

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE DIVISION OF THE TRIBES BETWEEN MOUNT GERIZIM AND MOUNT EIVAL

 

1.     Receiving the blessings – the children of the main wives of Yaakov, Leah and Rachel; receiving the curses – the children of the maidservants.

 

The Ibn Ezra says:

 

Receiving the blessings – the children of the main wives - and receiving the curses – the children of the maidservants. Since two are missing, and the children of Leah are many, the oldest and the youngest were taken. (Devarim 27:12-13)

 

            Explaining the division of the tribes based on their mothers encounters a difficulty in that Reuven and Zevulun, sons of Leah, are numbered among the tribes who receive the curses.

 

The commentators go in two directions to resolve this difficulty. Some explain this to these tribes' discredit:

 

·        Reuven was included with the cursed tribes owing to the incident involving Bilha or because of his desire to remain with Gad on the east bank of the Jordan (Tzeror Ha-Mor).

 

·        Zevulun is included with the cursed tribes because he is like a servant to Yissakhar (Siftei Kohen).

 

Others argue that this actually points to these tribes' virtue:

 

·        Reuven is included because he did not sin and engage in relations with his father's wife (Rabbenu Bachya).

 

·        Zevulun is included because of his heightened occupation with Torah, he could protect the others with his Torah.

 

2.     Receiving the blessings – the tribes situated close to the Mikdash; receiving the curses – the tribes situated further away from the Mikdash (R. Eliyahu Kitov in Sefer Ha-Parshiyot).

 

3.     R. Sandorfi[3] proposes that the division of the tribes should be seen against the background of the sin of the sale of Yosef; the tribes that were involved in his sale are now punished for that sin. As we shall see below, some understand that after the people of Israel accepted the oath at Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival, they became mutually responsible for each other. Thus, R. Sandorfi explains that the tribes now had to unite themselves and repair the source of the division between them, namely, the sale of Yosef. Therefore, on Mount Gerizim stand Shimon and Levi, who hated Yosef and wished to kill him, and Yehuda, who suggested that he be sold, together with Yosef and Binyamin. And on Mount Eival stood the children of the maidservants, who loved Yosef, Reuven, who wanted to rescue him, and Zevulun, who was the youngest of Leah's children and therefore less guilty of the sin of the sale of Yosef than the rest of his brothers. This explanation also accounts for the fact that Yosef is counted here as a single tribe, rather than as the two tribes of Efrayim and Menashe and that part of the tribe of Levi stands together with Yosef.[4]

 

THE OBJECTIVE OF THE EVENT

 

1.     Renewed acceptance of the Torah

 

Rashi states:

 

[Cursed be] he that confirms not [all the words of this law to do] – here he included [the infringement of the commands of] the entire Torah [under a curse] and they took it upon themselves, [pledging themselves] by an execration and an oath. (Devarim 27:26)

 

            According to Rashi, at this occasion, the people of Israel once again accepted the Torah. Rashi repeats this understanding in his commentary to the gemara in Berakhot, which states that in Birkat Ha-mazon, the reference to circumcision should precede the reference to the Torah, "because this was given with three covenants and this was given with thirteen covenants:"

 

The Torah was given to Israel in three places – at Sinai, at the Tent of Meeting, and at Mount Gerizim and Arvot Moav. And in each one a covenant was made. As it is taught in tractate Sota (37a): "A curse in general and a curse in particular." And similarly at the Tent of Meeting, as it is stated (Devarim 28:69): "These are the words of the covenant which the Lord commanded Moshe to make with the children of Israel in the land of Moav, besides the covenant which He made with them in Chorev." And it is written (ibid. 29:8): "Keep therefore the words of this covenant." (Rashi, Berakhot 48b, s.v. Torah nitena bi-shelosh beritot)

 

            Rashi's grandson, the Rashbam, has a similar understanding:

 

"And you shall write upon the stones all the words of the Torah" – for when they took an oath now on Mount Gerizim and on Mount Eival, the Torah was written before them and they swore that they would observe it. (Devarim 27:8)

 

2.     Mutual responsibility

 

The gemara in Sanhedrin states:

 

R. Yochanan said in the name of R. Elazar ben R. Shimon: Because [God] did not punish for hidden transgressions until Israel had crossed the Jordan. (Sanhedrin 43b)

 

            Rashi explains:

 

Until Israel had crossed the Jordan and they heard and accepted upon themselves the blessings and the curses on Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival, and they became mutually responsible for each other, as it is stated in tractate Sota (37b). They immediately became liable for each other's sins, even if the one did not know about the transgressions of the other. And in the days of Akhan, they had already crossed the Jordan. (ad loc.)

 

            It follows from the words of Rashi that on that occasion, not only did the people of Israel accept upon themselves to observe the Torah, they also accepted responsibility for the hidden transgressions of others.

 

THE PARALLEL BETWEEN THE COVENANT AT MOUNT EIVAL AND THE COVENANT AT MOUNT SINAI

 

            The Abravanel points to the clear connection between the covenant at Mount Sinai (Shemot 24) and the covenant at Mount Eival.[5]

 

·        Both events take place after commandments were given to Israel by way of Moshe. At Mount Sinai, following the mitzvot in Parashiyot Yitro and Mishpatim, we read:

 

And Moshe came and told the people all the words of the Lord, and all the judgments… (Shemot 24:3)

 

The command regarding the blessings and curses similarly follows the oration concerning the mitzvot in Parashiyot Re'eh, Shoftim, and Ki-Tetze.

 

·        Both are connected to the building of an altar. At Mount Sinai:

 

And he built an altar under the hill and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. (Shemot 24:4)

 

At Mount Eival:

 

And there you shall build an altar to the Lord your God, an altar of stones. (Devarim 27:5)

 

·        In both cases, burnt-offerings and peace-offerings are offered on the altar. At Sinai:

 

And he sent the young men of the children of Israel, who offered burnt-offerings and sacrificed peace-offerings of oxen to the Lord. (Shemot 24:5)

 

At Mount Eival:

 

And you shall offer burnt-offerings upon it to the Lord your God. And you shall offer peace-offerings, and shall eat there, and rejoice before the Lord your God. (Devarim 27:6-7)

 

·        In both cases, there is eating. At Sinai:

 

And they ate and drank. (Shemot 24:11)

 

At Mount Eival:

 

And you shall eat there and rejoice before the Lord your God. (Devarim 27:7)

 

·        In both cases, stones play an important role. At Mount Sinai:

 

… And twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. (Shemot 24:4)

 

At Mount Eival:

 

That you set up these stones which I command you this day in Mount Eival. (Devarim 27:4)

 

            There is another way in which these two covenants parallel each other – the writing of the Torah on the stones at Mount Eival is similar to the writing of the Ten Commandments on the tablets of stone at Mount Sinai. There is, of course, a significant difference between them: At Sinai, the tablets of stone are portable, their place is in the ark, and they move along with the people of Israel from place to place. At Mount Eival, the stones are fixed in place and are not to be moved.

 

            This difference is explained by the fact that the tablets of the covenant were given in the wilderness during a period of wandering, whereas the stones at Mount Eival symbolize the permanence of having entered Eretz Yisrael, thus putting an end to Israel's wandering.

 

            Another difference is that in the case of the tablets of the covenant, the words were permanently engraved by the finger of God, whereas in the case of the stones at Mount Eival, the words were written by the hand of man upon a layer of plaster. In this sense, it is only the Divine writing upon the tablets that is eternal, whereas the writing on the stones at Mount Eival is human and temporary.

 

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE COVENANT AT ARVOT MOAV AND THE COVENANT AT MOUNT GERIZIM AND MOUNT EIVAL

 

            Following the account in Devarim 27 of the ceremony at Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival and the list of blessings and curses, we come to chapter 28, which is a full chapter of additional blessings and curses. According to the Ibn Ezra, this chapter was said by the Levites after reciting the curses in the book of Yehoshua. This explanation is difficult, for at the end of the chapter 28 it says: "These are the words of the covenant which the Lord commanded Moshe to make with the children of Israel in the land of Moav" (Devarim 28:69). In other words, the covenant was not made by Yehoshua at Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival, but rather by Moshe in the land of Moav.

 

            It may be possible to see the two covenants as two parts of a single covenant, the first part of which was made by Moshe in Arvot Moav and the second part by Yehoshua at Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival.

 

            Accordingly, chapter 28 – "the words of the covenant" – was read twice: In Arvot Moav by Moshe (Devarim 28:69) and at Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival by the Levites. According to this proposal, the crossing of the Jordan took place between the two parts of the covenant. In this sense, Yehoshua completes in Eretz Yisrael the covenant that was made by Moshe at Arvot Moav, for the entire covenant at Arvot Moav was a preparation for inheriting Eretz Yisrael.

 

            Yonatan Feintuch[6] analyzes Devarim 27 and points to the significance of the structure of the chapter. The chapter is built as follows:

 

·        Verses 1-8 describe the writing of the Torah on the stones and the building of the altar on Mount Eival.

 

·        Verses 9-10 describe how Moshe and the priests proclaim that the people of Israel are the people of God and are commanded to obey Him.

 

·        Verses 11-26 describe the command regarding the blessings and curses to be pronounced at Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival and list the twelve curses.

 

Verses 9-10 do not appear closely connected to the flow of the entire chapter. Their location in the chapter and the fact that they are not so closely connected to it indicate that these verses constitute an introduction to the oration concerning the blessings and curses and to the covenant that Moshe makes at Arvot Moav in Devarim 28.

 

The people of Israel, after forty years of wandering in the wilderness, and especially the younger generation that did not experience the making of the covenant before the entry into Eretz Yisrael, now face a new period. This reality necessitates a renewal of the covenant in Eretz Yisrael.

 

On the other hand, it is important that it is Moshe - who made the covenant at Sinai, received the Torah, and was the first leader of the people of Israel - who renews the covenant made at Sinai as a direct continuation of the revelation there.

 

Thus, the covenant has two parts: the first part at Arvot Moav, which includes the content of the covenant – the blessings and the curses – by way of Moshe, and the second part to be executed in Eretz Yisrael by way of Yehoshua in an experiential ceremony. In this way, this covenant will shape the people's new lives in Eretz Yisrael.

 

The Abravanel in his commentary to Devarim relates to the significance of the covenant:

 

God acquired Israel, for He took them out… from Egypt from the house of bondage… as it is stated: "For to Me the children of Israel are servants; they are My servants whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt" (Vayikra 25:55). And since He acquired their bodies, like non-Jewish slaves, and He also acquired their souls, for He gave them spiritual perfection when He gave them His Torah – He therefore made the first covenant with them when He took them out of Egypt. That covenant was with the blood that was sprinkled upon them (Shemot 24:8) to show that their bodies and souls – "for it is the blood that makes an atonement for the soul" (Vayikra 17:11) – all of them were subjugated to Him… And since God wanted now to perform for them another act of kindness, namely, giving them the Holy Land, it became necessary for them to enter into a new covenant. For the first one was to subjugate their bodies and subdue their faith, whereas the second one was about inheriting the land. The substance and intent of this covenant was that it was not by their swords that they would inherit the land, and they would not inherit it from their fathers, but rather God gave it to them, not as a gift but rather as a loan - as it is written: "The land shall not be sold for ever, for the land is mine" (Vayikra 25:23) – and they would be obligated to serve there the Lord of the land, and not to serve another god other than Him, for this would be a great rebellion against Him. This explains the need for a covenant and its objective… And in exchange for the chosen land that they took from Him, they obligated themselves to live there and give bikkurim, teruma, and ma'asrot and to observe the rest of the mitzvot that depend upon the land. They are perforce as sojourners with our God, and they and their descendants forever are obligated to live in this land and to repay the debt that they agreed upon from the outset with the Lord of the land, namely, the mitzvot that they accepted upon themselves when they entered into His service. (Devarim 29:9-14)

 

            According to the Abravanel, the new covenant entered into when Israel entered the land was meant to deeply inculcate the idea that they were receiving the land as a gift from God, and not by way of their own strength. The land was given to them as a loan, and it fell upon the people of Israel to obligate themselves to serve God as sojourners in the land, who are obligated to live in the land and recognize their Creator through the fulfillment of the mitzvot that they accepted upon themselves when they entered the land.

 

            In this lecture, we related in brief to the ceremony involving the blessings and the curses that were pronounced upon Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival, thus completing the building of the altar and the writing of the Torah. The writing of the Torah, on the one hand, and the blessings and curses, on the other, complement each other. In this way, expression was given to the parallel of what took place at Mount Sinai, where God revealed Himself before the eyes of all of Israel and the tablets of the law were written.

 

            In this context, it is interesting to note the difference between the command as it appears in the Torah and the fulfillment of that command as it is found in the book of Yehoshua. In the command in the book of Devarim (27:12-13), those standing upon Mount Gerizim to bless are the tribes, those standing upon Mount Eival to curse are the other tribes, and the role of the Levites is: "And the Levites shall speak, and say to the men of Israel with a loud voice."

 

            However, in the execution in the book of Yehoshua¸ it says:

 

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 that Yehoshua did not read before all the congregation of Israel with the women, and he little ones, and the strangers that went among them. (Yehoshua 8:34-35)

 

            Here, it is Yehoshua who reads all the words of the Torah, the blessing and the curse, as commanded by Moshe; it was not the Levites who did the reading. This difference seems to demonstrate Yehoshua's acceptance of his responsibility as a leader upon Israel's entry into the land. Furthermore, this seems to be similar to what takes place at the "hakhel" ceremony, when the Torah is read by the king, who is appointed over the material needs of the nation, rather than by the Priests, the servants of God.

 

            Another point: Scripture mentions that the reading was done in the presence of the entire people, including "the women, the little ones, and the strangers that were among them." On the assumption that Yehoshua's rule was regarded as kingship,[7] it turns out that the king reads the Torah before the entire congregation of Israel. This, too, is reminiscent of the "hakhel" ceremony, regarding which the Torah commands that the entire people – men, women, children, and strangers – be assembled and that the Torah be read before them (Devarim 31:10-13).

 

            In light of this parallel, it may be possible to learn from the "hakhel" ceremony about the goal of the ceremony involving the blessings and the curses. The goal of "hakhel" as stated in the Torah is to teach Torah and the fear of God, and this might also have been the goal here.

 

            This unique event, which brought together the written law recorded on the stones[8] and the oral reading of the law before the entire congregation of Israel, bestowed special significance upon the fashioning of a renewed covenant between God and Israel regarding the Torah and the Land.

 

            It is possible, and so proposes R. Yoel Elitzur, that this special event took place specifically between the two mountains, Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival. In addition to the various explanations cited above, this event can be seen as a reenactment of "berit bein ha-betarim." Standing between these two mountains can be seen as entering between the pieces of the land, at the gate to the country, for the purpose of accepting the obligation and commitment to observe the Torah in the Land of Israel.

 

            In this lecture, we have completed our analysis of the ceremony of the blessings and curses on Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival. In the next lecture, we will focus on the great assembly in Shekhem described in Yehoshua 24.

 

(Translated by David Strauss)



[1] We have not expanded here upon the location of Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival. The gemara in Sota 33b cites two views on the matter. According to R. Yehuda, the two mountains are located next to Shekhem – as they are commonly identified today, north and south of Shekhem – whereas according to R. Elazar, they are located near the Jordan River. The Yerushalmi (Sota 7:3) brings the view of R. Elazar that on that day the people of Israel made two mounds of earth near the Jordan river and called them Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival.

Following the discovery of the altar on the northeastern slope of Mount Eival by Adam Zartal, some have proposed that the original Mount Gerizim was what we call today Mount Kabir, opposite the altar, and not the mountain called today Mount Gerizim. This issue requires extensive discussion that goes beyond the constraints of this forum.

[2] The mishna continues with an account of the bringing of the stones, the building of the altar, and the writing of the Torah on the stones in seventy languages.

[3] This issue was treated at length by R. Eitan Sandorfi in his comprehensive article, "Ha-Berakha Ve-Ha-Kelala Be-Har Gerizim U-Be-Har Eival," Nitzanei Eretz 17. We will cite some of the sources cited in his article.

[4] We could expand upon various other issues relating to the blessings and curses, such as why were these specific curses were chosen, what the relationship between the blessings and the curses is, and others. We have chosen here to focus on the objective of the event and on the relationship between this covenant and the covenants made at Sinai and at Arvot Mo'av.

[5] What follows was well formulated by R. Elchanan Samet in his Iyunim Be-parashat Ha-Shavu'a, 2nd series, Parashat Ki-Tetze (Jerusalem 5765), p. 439.

[6] In his article "Berit Moav U-Berit Har Gerizim Ve-Har Eival; Iyyun Bi-Devarim 27," Megadim 34 (Tishrei 5762), pp. 67-84).

[7] This is, for example, the view of the Rambam in Hilkhot Melakhim 1:3: "A king may only be appointed by a court of seventy elders and by a prophet, like Yehoshua who was appointed by Moshe Rabbenu and his court…."

[8] Even if, according to some opinions, it was only the mitzvot that were written there in concise fashion, that is the essence of the Torah.