Jewish Soul Journey

SET UP GREAT STONES – A MEMORIAL TO THE FUTURE

“It shall be that when you cross over the Jordan, you shall erect these stones, of which I command you today, on Mount Ebal, and you should coat them with plaster. There you shall build an alter for Hashem, your G-d, an alter of stones; you shall not raise iron upon them. Of whole stones shall you build the alter of Hashem, your G-d, and you shall bring upon it elevation-offerings to Hashem, your G-d. You shall inscribe on the stones all the words of this Torah, well clarified” (Devarim 27: 4 – 8)

The rushing waters of the Yarden reach the place where the Kohanim accompanying the Aron Hakodesh are crossing and suddenly the mighty river flows upward as if blocked by a huge wall of glass.  There it becomes a raging torrent trapped behind a transparent barrier arching higher and ever higher until it reaches a peak where it remains suspended in a towering wall of potential destruction miraculously held in place – by Hashem.

Twelve men, one from each tribe, are instructed to raise up twelve great stones from the bed of the Yarden from the place where the feet of the Kohanim stood firm as Hashem commanded.  The stones were plastered with sid and transported to Mount Ebal where the Torah was written on them in seventy languages and then they were again covered with sid.  At Mount Ebal, they were used as an alter and then these stones were brought to Gilgal. ([1])  There they served as a permanent memorial whose purpose was to inform the children of Israel ([2])forever  that these stones were taken from the Jordan as the river stood at attention before the passage of the holy ark with its precious cargo.

 

The danger to Klal Yisrael in the crossing was palpable.  It was not a question of their lack of faith in Hashem’s power.   They had all witnessed that directly.   It was more a question of their worthiness – were they deserving of being saved?

The challenges in emuna we face today are not so different.  There are hugely destructive forces which form a “towering wall” of moral decadence that threatens to inundate everyone in its seemingly unfettered path.  Even those who have managed to safely navigate through the most dangerous passes, still are concerned about their loved ones praying that they survive this generations spiritual holocaust.

The Torah delineating the many details of the crossing of the Yarden is not to be seen as only a set of epic historic events but also as a paradigm about how to pass through our own Yardanian challenges, as we see hinted to in the word Yarden shares the same root letters as the word for descent – yerida. The Cazal tell us that a yerida is needed to bring about a true elevation – alia.

In order to better understand these questions we will add two more statements from our Sages, which are: that the test of being a wealthy person (asher) is greater than the test, as hard as it is, of a poor person and their statements that before every elevation (alia) there comes first a decent (yarida).  Therefore perhaps this is one of the reasons that the Torah instructed us to take the “great stones” out from the depths because homiletically that could be said to represent the “great stones” – ie. – feelings of success, and if not careful pride”, that naturally comes up with us after arising from a struggle. Therefore we were commanded to write the whole Torah in seventy languages and plaster the stones over (sid) plaster.  Why write the Torah in seventy languages and then plaster it with sid? Since the seventy languages represents the wisdom and culture of the nations with each having its unique variance from our pathway towards holiness, the Torah clearly expresses to us that no matter in which society during galus we find ourselves the Torah is always accessible to us. As for why to plaster the great stones over with sid, the Malbim (Devarim 27:2) explains that there is two kinds of sid. The ordinary form is spelled with a samach, whereas the more enduring form of sid, which was used here to cover the great stones begins with the letter sinn.

Perhaps, therefore we can add since there are no coincidences in the holy Torah and sid spelt with a sinn is the same letters as the holy Name Shakai- the attribute of the Creator’s power and strength, we can learn from here that if we ever begin feel excess pride we should envelope those “large stones” of self importance with the knowledge that everything that exist comes from Hashem’s (Shakai) awesome power and thereby realize that only effort is ours, but success is totally determined by the will of G-d.

If a person has properly dedicated their success and accomplishments to their Source and has offered to us them for Torah, mitzos and misim tovim then one is fitting to serve as a “mizbaach” to offer praise and thanks to Hashem for everything.

We can now ask why these stones were particularly brought over to Har Ebal, the site from which the curses were proclaimed and not Mount Gerizim where the blessings were pronounced. Why? Perhaps we can suggest that the positioning of these stones acknowledged “achievements” at Har Ebal these “great stones” will act as a barrier that will protect us from ever incurring the negative influences of the curses

According to the Rashbam, when we swore on the Torah at Har Grizim where the curses were pronounced and at Har Eivel where the blessings were pronounced, this Torah, which was written on the stones, was before us and we swore that we would uphold it.

Therefore we could add that perhaps one of the reasons the Torah was written in seventy languages is to teach us that in future generations, no matter where or how difficult is the exile this Torah, expressed in every language will serve to protect us if we uphold it.

The Chiddushei Harim says that in every nation there is a specific attribute that opposes Torah. Moshe Rabbeinu prepared Klal Yisrael for galus where they would be dispersed among the seventy nations and they would be learning and keeping Torah there, so that they could overcome the strength of the particular tum’ah that was opposing Torah in that nation.  Hence the Torah was translated into seventy tongues so that Klal Yisrael could keep the Torah in any galus that would come.

           The Ksav Sofer explains that this was done to frustrate the comments of the apikorsim who would claim that Torah could only be studied and kept in a sheltered environment such as the Midbar or in Eretz Yisrael where Jews maintained their autonomy and no one bothered them.  To refute this, the Torah was translated for them into seventy languages even before they entered Eretz Yisrael to inform them that they would be obligated to keep Torah and mitzvos no matter where they lived because Torah is eternal.  It supersedes place and time and belongs to all places and all times.

After we left Mount Ebal, where the curses for transgression were pronounced, the stones were permanently placed in Gilgal.   Perhaps this is to hint that those who don’t properly keep the Torah will need to come back and try again in another gilgul.

May we soon merit the building of the final Beis Hamikdash, where we will once again bring our korbanos on the holy alter of Hashem.

 

[1] There are a number of different shetas with regard to the number of different stones and which were moved to where. Gemora Sotah 35-b through 36-a.

[2] See Rav S.R. Hirsch, comm. on the Torah – Devarim 27:2. See also Sefer Yehoshuah 4: 6-20.

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