Midrash is about Stones - Rolling Stones, - not 'The Rolling
Stones' -- but some ancient stones that pre-date the rock band.
I'm speaking of the ones that are mentioned more than once in this
has Moshe make an unusual demand of the people:
It shall be on the day that you cross the Jordan to the Land that
Hashem, your G-d, gives you, you shall set up great stones and you
shall cover them with plaster.
3 You shall write on them all the words of this Torah, when you
cross over, so that you may enter the Land that Hashem, your G-d,
gives you, a Land flowing with milk and honey, as Hashem, the G-d
of your forefathers, spoke about you.
4 It shall be that when you cross the Jordan, you shall erect these
stones, of which I command you today, on Mount Ebal, and you shall
coat them with plaster.
5 There you shall build an altar for Hashem, your G-d, an altar
of stones; you shall not raise iron upon them. 6 Of whole stones
shall you build the altar of Hashem, your G-d, and you shall bring
upon it elevation-offerings to Hashem, your G-d.
7 You shall slaughter peace offerings and eat there, and you shall
be glad before Hashem, your G-d.
8 On the stones, you shall write the words of the Torah well clarified."
Clarified: In seventy languages." (Rashi - See Talmud
Tractate Sotah 36a)
going on here?
to carve the Torah onto stones is written twice, first in
verse 27:2-3, and then repeated in verse 27:4-8.
to the Talmud - Tractate Sotah (34a), there were three
sets of stones, not just one or two, each set consisting of twelve
his death, Moshe wrote the Torah on one group of stones and
erected them in Arvot Moav (the Plains of Moav).
2. Yehoshua (Joshua) ordered a second group of stones placed in the Jordan River.
final group of stones were taken from the Jordan River, carried
to Har Eival (Mt. Ebal) and used to build a Mizbayach
(altar) there. Subsequently, the stones were carried to Gilgal and
permanently implanted there. More details below.
of these stones were known until the time of the Talmud,
but archeologists have never found them.
each group. (One stone corresponding to each Shevet [tribe]).
big were the stones?
Tractace Sotah (34a) gives the volume of each stone as forty
Se'ah (one Amah* by one Amah by three Amot
- the measurement of a minimum size Mikvah). This means each
stone weighed several hundred pounds.
big is an amah? Anywhere between one and a half and two feet
(that's somewhere between 48 and 57.6 centimetres for those of you
was the purpose of the stones?
set of stones, (which also contained the words of the Torah
in all languages), erected by Moshe in Arvot Moav (on the
eastern side of the Jordan River), served as a monument reestablishing
the covenant with Hashem that the Bnei Yisroel had
nullified when they worshipped the Eigel Hazahav (Golden
set, Yehoshua placed in the Jordan River itself as they crossed.
According to Rabbeinu Bachaye, the function of these stones,
was for the Kohanim to stand on, to avoid having to stand
in the mud. The Kohanim stood their ground holding the Aron
(Ark) while the people crossed, until the water returned to its
third set of stones were taken from the Jordan River, erected on
Har Eival in the form of a Mizbayach, and covered
with lime (plaster). On the Mizbayach they wrote the entire
Torah (in Lashon Hakodesh (Hebrew) as well as in the
seventy universal languages, after which, they sacrificed Korbanot
on the Mizbayach. They then took it apart and carried the
stones to Gilgal, where they spent their first night in Eretz
Yisroel, and where they re-erected them.
your children will ask their fathers in the future: 'What is the
meaning of these stones?' You will inform your children: 'Israel
crossed this Jordan on dry land.' For HaShem your G-d dried up the
waters of Jordan from before you, until you crossed, as Hashem your
G-d did to the Red Sea, which He dried up before us, until we crossed.
So that all the peoples of the earth may know the hand of Hashem,
that it is mighty; so that you will fear Hashem your G-d all the
Joshua 4: 21-24.)
was to arouse the curiosity of the descendents of those who entered
Eretz Yisroel, whereupon they would relate to them how their
ancestors crossed the Jordan River (which is where the stones were
La'Torah, in addition to the above reason, cites two other reasons
for the Mitzvah of the stones (all the reasons seem to pertain
to the third set).
reasons are mentioned in the Torah; one of them, which describes
it as a means or as a prelude to capturing Eretz Yisroel.
And the other one is written by way of a hint, by virtue of the
fact that the Torah was to be translated in all the languages,
whose purpose it was to grant the gentile nations access to the
Torah. It was to drive home the lesson that Hashem
created the world and that it therefore belongs to Him. This in
turn, will help to reinforce the lesson that it was Hashem
who gave the Jewish people Eretz Yisroel and that it is rightfully
theirs (as the first Rashi in the Torah teaches us).
for Eretz Yisroel?
writes that the writing of the Torah upon stones at the time
of entry into Eretz Yisroel is similar to the writing of
a Mezuza for the doorposts of one's home. Just as the Mezuza
contains the text of acceptance of the Heavenly yoke, so too the
Bnei Yisroel were required to have the complete Torah
written upon stones at the "gateway" to Eretz Yisroel. Thus
when they will be victorious in their battles and vanquish the inhabitants
of the land, they will remember that the success is not theirs,
but rather, the hand of Hashem. "Hashem ish milchamah"
- "Hashem is Master of war." (Shmot, Exodus
to transcribing the Torah into Hebrew, the Jews were commanded
to translate it into all languages of the civilized world.
are several reasons for this.
the gentile nations needed an opportunity to learn it. Had they
read the inscription and observed the Seven Noahide Laws, they would
have been able to stay in Eretz Yisroel. They refused to
learn from it.
these stones were to show everyone that the Jews had come to Eretz
Yisroel not as foreign conquerors but as commanded by Hashem.
They also signified that one is about to enter the land of the Torah.
Just as a Jewish home has a Mezuza, so these stones were
to remind the traveler that the purpose of living in Eretz Yisroel
is to keep the Torah. (If only everyone would realize this).
came first - the plaster or the writing?
(Talmud Tractate Sotah 35b) debated the purpose of
plastering the stones with lime.
Shimon maintained that the stones were covered with plaster in order
to provide Moshe and Yehoshua a surface to write on. (Devarim,
Yehuda, however, points out that a few passages later (Ibid 27:8)
the Torah explicitly commanded to write upon the stones.
He therefore concludes that the Torah was engraved into the
stones and they were later covered with lime in order to protect
to your approach," Rabbi Shimon challenged Rabbi Yehuda, "if it
was covered with lime, how was it possible for the nations of the
world at that time to learn the Torah?"
explains the question:
The Torah was written on the stones in 70 languages to make
it available for anyone who wished to study it. This was done so
that no nation should have an excuse that they had no opportunity
to learn the Torah. If it was covered in lime, how could
the nations study the Torah?
"Hashem endowed those nations with a special intelligence, and they
sent their scribes to scrape off the plaster, decipher and copy
the Torah and bring back to them its contents. Their failure
to take advantage of this opportunity to learn and live by that
Torah, sealed the decree against them, for they should have
learned, but didn't."
question that arises in regard to Rabbi Yehuda's response to Rabbi
Shimon's challenge is: Why was it necessary to conceal the words
of the Torah with plaster and then only be revealed through
the efforts of the scribes?
On a simple level, it
may be suggested that this was done in accordance with the ruling
that it is disrespectful to leave a Torah scroll or any book
of Torah learning open when not in use.
profound explanation may be that this was intended as a lesson that
one can only truly acquire Torah knowledge if he is ready
to invest serious effort in studying and understanding the words
of the Torah. There are people who may have a curiosity about
Torah but want its contents handed to them on a silver platter,
like the person who came before the Sages Hillel and Shammai requesting
that they convert him to Judaism on the condition that they teach
him the entire Torah while he stands on one leg (Talmud Tractate
Shabbat 31a). To dispel any notion that Torah can
be acquired without hard work, our ancestors were commanded to cover
the multilingual recording of the Torah with lime so that
the nations who really wished to learn would first have to sweat
a little along with their study.
on stone and not on any other material?
sage, Rabbi Akiva, was an illiterate shepherd up to the age of forty.
He once came across a stone and was fascinated by the water that
dripped constantly, boring a hole in the stone. From this he concluded
that if water can penetrate a hard stone, surely Torah can
penetrate his heart of flesh and blood. (Avot D'Rab Natan
Moshe and Yehoshua to write the Torah on hard stone, Hashem
implied that even if a person possesses the poorest faculties (a
head as hard as a rock), if he learns Torah diligently it
will definitely have an indelible effect on him and will improve
him physically and spiritually.
was actually inscribed on the stones?
was actually inscribed is the subject of discussion amongst various
suggests that only a synopsis, or selected passages of Devarim,
Ezra, recognizing the difficulty in copying the entire Torah
onto these stones, adopts the approach of Rav Saadia Gaon
and suggests that only the 613 mitzvot were written.
on the other hand, accepts the verses at face value, and quotes
an ancient text which states that the entire Torah was in
fact written on these stones from beginning to end, including all
the Tagin (three small
upward strokes resembling crowns) and calligraphy. This was the
"official" transcription of the Torah, and afterwards, the
stones were available for consultation and reference on how to write
a Sefer Torah.
the entire Torah be written on these stones? The difficulty
presented in writing such a massive document on the stones is dismissed
by the Ramban, who says, that the stones were either massive
in size or that the inscription was a miraculous process which allowed
for the inclusion of the entire Torah on a relatively small
area (and in 70 languages).
seems strange that the Ramban has doubts about the size of
these stones, seeing as the Talmud, Tractate Sotah
(34a) specifically gives the volume of the stones).
about miracles, here's another one: Har Gerizim and Har
Eival were a distance of sixty Mil* (more than forty miles
- one and a half days walking distance). Yet they traveled there,
set up the stones, wrote the entire Torah on them in all
seventy-one languages and went through the entire ceremony described
in this Parsha and returned, all before nightfall.
*How big is
a Mil? A Mil is 2000 Amot. How big is an Amah?
See note above.
is it that just for writing the Torah on large stones and
bringing them across the Jordan, the Bnei Yisroel will merit
entry into Eretz Yisroel?
the Torah on stones and carrying these stones across the
Jordan River would indelibly impress upon the minds of the Jewish
people that only by virtue of the Torah do they merit to
live in Eretz Yisroel. Recognition of this fact was the essential
point, and this was the absolute prerequisite of their entry into
their land. - Alshich
similarly suggests that the entire basis of entering and holding
Eretz Yisroel is the Torah. Only by keeping the mitzvot
of the Torah does Bnei Yisroel merit entering the
land. Thus, it is entirely appropriate that Bnei Yisroel immediately
erect these monuments upon crossing into the land.
Samson Raphael Hirsch notes that the stones taken for the monument
were removed from the bed of the Jordan River at the time that it
split in order to allow Bnei Yisroel to enter the land. Rav
Hirsch points out that the waters parted for the Aron carrying
the Luchot (Tablets), and not for the people. It is only
the total and unwavering dedication to the Torah through
which we merit possession of Eretz Yisroel.
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Page last updated - 08/27/2017