Parshat Ki Tavo

Parshat Ki Tavo brings us quite a nasty view of what might happen if we do not go on the right path, but just before that there is quite a fascinating passage which I noticed recently which does not get much attention.  Ch27 opens with “Moshe, with the elders of Israel, commanded the people – Keep the commandments which I command you today.  And on the day when you cross over the Jordan to the land which Hashem is giving you, you shall set up for yourselves large stones, and whitewash (or plaster)them with lime. You shall write on them all the words of this law.” Moshe continues that the stones are to be taken to Mount Eval and then set up as a monument with the Torah engraved into them.

When Joshua and the children of Israel crossed the Jordan, Joshua in fact instructed Bnei Yisrael to set up a monument where they crossed and it was still there at the times of the Talmud.

This commandment to engrave on the stones and then whitewash them is also referred to in the Talmud Sotah 35b R Yehuda says they wrote the Torah and then painted over it and R Shimon says that they painted the stones first and then wrote the Torah so it is not very clear what exactly was done.

The Malbim explains that the stones used were painted and then left to dry and before completely dry the Torah was engraved on them and then there were covered with whitewash and painted over again. In the second coating the Torah was written in seventy languages so all the nations of the world would be able to read it and if they tried to claim it was not the original words of Hashem, Bnei Yisrael could peel off the top layer and show it was engraved underneath. The Malbim explains that the top layer for the people of the world was written artistically so that all could read it clearly. The hidden layer was written in simple text where the style has changed over the years and so when uncovered it would be clear to all that this was the ancient text  in the script of the times of Joshua and the Torah text itself has never changed.

What the Malbim is possibly trying to express to us is that we have this wonderful text called the Torah and the world calls the Bible and it has many lessons for mankind which they can study, but for our nation it is more than that, it is our way of life and part of us. This is why this command is placed here between the first section of the Parsha where Hashem requires us to give thanks for the harvest and his goodness and followed by the nasty things that will happen if we do not go down the right path. Anyway I am still quite puzzled by what Moshe commanded to  be done and the significance so I welcome anyone who has found any other explanations of Moshe’s intentions.

The concept of something written in stone is interesting and archeologists have found various  stone carvings which throw a light on ancient times, what a shame this one did not survive the test of time. I can remember at school moving from writing in pencil which you could rub out to writing in pen, being taught by the teacher that writing in pen, which is not easily erased, teaches you to think before you put it down on paper. Well that has all changed with introduction of computers where you able to go back and change and modify at your leisure. However my world is one of telecommunications and the technology behind the networks and the Internet and in the world of communications you have to be careful. Once you have sent that email or whatsapp, it is in a sense written in stone as the recipient can store it, print it etc. How many times have you accidently clicked the send button and sent something too soon or to the wrong person. This worldwide instant capability can cause embarrassment and confusion. I am surprised that mail and communications programs do not have a delay option which gives us an opportunity to have a few seconds or minute’s grace to think again before we send.

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