We find in this week’s Parsha that the Jews are commanded to build a special Mizbeach as they cross the Jordan River. There are a number of opinions exactly what took place, but I would like to concentrate on a specific approach.
In these Pesukim we find the following ideas: That when they cross the Jordan the Jews are to take large stones and plaster them. They are then to write on them “all the words of the Torah”, in order that we should enter Eretz Yisroel. You should then build them on Mount Eival, and plaster them. And you should write the on the stones all the words of the Torah, clearly explained. (See the footnotes for the exact Pesukim, what I paraphrased here is what I will be trying to clarify.)
Rashi tells us that there are three types of stones here. One is built as a monument in the river; one is a Mizbeach on Mount Eival; and the third is built in Gilgal. But which one or ones had the Torah written on it? How do you write the entire Torah on twelve stones? What is meant by “clearly explained”? What is the purpose of the plaster? And finally what is the purpose of this entire endeavor?
There are many approaches and there are different opinions in Chazal, so we will choose one approach and use that.
The Geonim understand that writing the whole Torah, meant writing a list of the six hundred and thirteen Mitzvoth. “Clearly explained” means that the writing was clear. The Ramban explains differently that actually the entire Torah was written, and either they were very large stones, or it was a miracle. Rashi and the Ramban learn that “clearly explained” means that the Torah was translated into all seventy languages.
The Gur Aryeh explains that Rashi is not referring to three sets of stones, but three items built from the stones, and there were only two sets of stones. The first set was taken from in the Jordan, built under the feet of the Kohanim holding the Aron, and remained there. The second set was taken from the Jordan, brought to Har Eival, built as a Mizbeach, plastered, and had the Torah written on it. This second set was then dismantled, and rebuilt again in Gilgal a third time.
What is the purpose of translating the Torah into seventy languages on these stones? The Gemarra in Sotah brings an argument among two Tana’im:
Our Rabbis taught: How did the Jews inscribe the Torah? — R. Yehudah says: They inscribed it upon the stones, as it is stated: ‘You shall write upon the stones all the words of this law etc.’ After that they plastered them over with plaster. R. Shimon said to him, According to your explanation, how did the nations of that period learn the Torah?! He replied to him, The Holy One, blessed be He, endowed them with exceptional intelligence; and they sent their scribes who peeled off the plaster and carried away [a copy of the inscription]. On that account was the verdict sealed against them [to descend] to the pit of destruction, because it was their duty to learn [Torah] but they failed to do so. R. Shimon says: They inscribed it upon the plaster and wrote below, That they teach you not to do after all [their abominations].Hence you learn that if they turn in penitence they would be accepted.
So it seems that everyone agrees the writing was for the non- Jews. But why as we enter Eretz Yisroel do we need to do this?
In the Sefer Likutei Yehudah which is a compendium of the ideas presented by the Chidushei HaRim and his descendants, he discusses this issue . The Imrei Emes says that if we examine the Pesukim here, we find that the Jews are commanded that after they build the Mizbeach at Mount Eival, they are to bring Shelamim and be happy before HaShem. The idea that the Torah needs to be written in the seventy languages, he explains refers to when the Jews are not in Eretz Yisroel speaking Lashon HaKodesh, but are in Galus having to speak foreign languages. And the fact that the Mizbeach is on Mount Eival, is referring to the function of that mountain, which is the place that the curses are said. So given those factors, why do you bring Shelamim, which are Karbonos of happiness? He explains by bringing the Pasuk in Tehilim, Ashrei – established and solid – is the person who HaShem punishes, and from His Torah he learns.
This commandment is the introduction to the Tochacha, which is going to describe the potential exile and punishment of the Jewish People. We are being taught that it is our responsibility to view this in the way of HaShem’s staff guiding us and directing us, and to not reject the discipline that we are meant to learn from. And we are even expected to be thankful and bring Karbonos of thanks, that HaShem is teaching us and not ignoring us.
This is a beautiful explanation that answers some questions, but seems to ignore that the writing of the Torah in seventy languages is defined by the Gemarra as for the nations, and not for us? Also, in the third Pasuk it says: That you should write the Torah in order that you should come to the land which HaShem your God promised you. That seems to imply the writing is for the Jews, not like the Gemarra, but also not for a time of exile either?
I would like to add another aspect to what the Imrei Emes said to answer these questions, but it needs an introduction.
Astonishingly enough the main focus of Klal Yisroel’s existence is to reveal the greatness of HaShem not just to ourselves, but to the entire world. Just a few examples that this is our focus:
והיה ה’ למלך על כל הארץ
שמע ישראל ה’ שהוא אלוקינו יהיה ה’ אחד לכל האומות
ובכן תן פחדך ה’ אלוקינו על כל מעשיך
The ultimate goal of Klal Yisroel was that all the nations should recognize HaShem. If so then Galus, going into exile, seems to be a much better method? We can travel throughout the entire world and teach about HaShem. That is why Shlomo, when he builds and dedicates the Bais HaMikdosh, davens that all the nations should hear of HaShem’s greatness and come to the Bais HaMikdosh and serve Hashem . And through that method we can fulfill our goal.
Only because we sinned and the Bais HaMikdosh was destroyed, does the Plan B come into effect that through the Galus we are to spread the word of HaShem. This is how the ARIZ”l explains a Gemarra in Pesachim that the Jews only go into exile to attract converts.
Now we can explain the purpose of the writing of the Torah in seventy languages. There were two potential pathways here. The second is what the Imrei Emes explains, that we should appreciate the Galus and utilize that as a way that the Torah will spread to all seventy languages and change the world.
But there is another pathway where the seventy languages are for the non-Jews who come to Eretz Yisroel and learn the Torah there. That is what is meant that by writing the Torah on the stones in seventy languages we will deserve Eretz Yisroel. That is the pathway that should really happen. But it is much more difficult. In order for that to happen, the non-Jews need to make a tremendous effort. That is what is meant that they need to peel the plaster off in order to get to the Torah.
So in this section we are being told two potential pathways. One, is that the stones are like a Mishkan as the Ba’al HaTurim says . In this context they are the guarantee of our entry and continued existence in Eretz Yisroel, as we influence the world through the Torah in all of its translations, as they come to see the word of HaShem.
Or it is the introduction to the Galus, where we need to know the Torah in all seventy languages, since we will be wandering through that wilderness . And we need to appreciate that that is also the way to fulfill our function and accomplish what HaShem wants.
This event is actually the Bris- covenant of the Torah – between HaShem and Klal Yisroel, as we enter Eretz Yisroel. And as the Netziv says, this is where we are chosen to be the light onto the nations, and as one Girsa of the Rambam writes , through the nation’s realization that the Torah comes from HaShem through the Jews, they will recognize HaShem. But we can add one more idea.
Rav Hutner ZT”L writes that the exclusivity of the Bris of Matan Torah with Klal Yisroel, requires a rejection of the Torah on the part of the non-Jews. That is why we learn that HaShem first attempted to give the Torah to Yishmoel and Eisav, and only then we get the Torah. That rejection is part of the Torah.
So too here, which is the Bris of the Torah of Eretz Yisroel, there is a possibility of the Torah being given also to the non-Jews, but since they leave the plaster covering the Torah, they reject it as the Gemarra says in Sotah, and the Torah is an exclusive Bris between the Jewish people and HaShem.