Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Ki Tavo
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

Hana Bat Haim

A Monument Transformed


Rabbi Yossef Carmel

16 Elul 5766
There is a fair amount of confusion regarding the various sets of stones upon which words of the Torah were written at or around the time Bnei Yisrael crossed the Jordan to enter Eretz Yisrael. How many sets of stones were written? What exactly was written on each one? Where was each placed? We will not get into all the details. Instead we will concentrate on the Abarbanel’s simple question and novel answer. Let us start with an abridged look at the p’sukim (Devarim 27: 3-8) that he analyzes, translated as they are usually understood.

"It shall be on the day that you cross the Jordan to the Land ... and you shall erect (vahakemota) large stones and coat them with plaster. You shall write upon them all the words of this Torah as you cross in order that you should enter the Land... It shall be when you cross the Jordan, you shall erect (takimu) these stones that I am commanding you today on Mt. Eival ... Build an altar there ... Sacrifice shelamim and eat there and be happy before Hashem ... Write on the stones all the words of the Torah, elucidated well." Abarbanel was troubled by a simple question. Why does the Torah repeat the same thing, to take stones and write on them after crossing the Jordan, in such close proximity?

Abarbanel answers with a fascinating claim. The first time the Torah did not command to take action. Rather, it predicted that Bnei Yisrael would act as other nations do. Namely, after reaching a momentous occasion, entering the Promised Land with the prospect of finally settling it, they would make a monument to capture the moment for posterity. "The words of Torah as you cross" refer to those events that the Torah describes that are related to the preparations to cross into the Land.

Hashem allowed Bnei Yisrael to continue with their plans but instructed them to make the monument appropriate for the Nation of the Torah. It should incorporate all the mitzvot of the Torah and put all in the perspective, not only of a historical attainment, but of an act of perpetuation of the covenant with Hashem, the ultimate purpose of their entering the Land. Mt. Eival was chosen as the site to erect the stones and sacrifice to Hashem for one of two reasons. One is that on that mountain Bnei Yisrael would be warned of the negative consequences of not living up to their side of the agreement. The other is that it would give a positive look on the happenings on Mt. Eival and not have it known only for the curses for Bnei Yisrael if they do not comply.

This commandment, according to Abarbanel, provides an eye-opening approach to the mindset of the nation entering the Land. They were to experience conquest, setting up political and judicial systems, and more, as Sefer Devarim foretold. They would want to act in the ways of the nations and show their pride in their achievements. This tendency need not be denied, as long as it was modified to take into full account their status as a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

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