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The Torah Written On Stone

Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8 )

by Rabbi Zvi Belovski

Moshe and the elders of Yisrael commanded the people, saying, "Keep all of the mitzvah which I am commanding you today. And it shall be on the day on which you pass over the Jordan to the land which the Lord your God gives to you, you shall erect for yourselves great stones and coat them with plaster. And you shall write on them all the words of this Torah when you have passed over, in order that you shall go into the land which the Lord your God gives to you, a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your forefathers, said to you. And it shall be when you have passed over this Jordan that you shall erect these stones which I am commanding you today on Mount Eival, and you shall coat them with plaster...And you shall write on the stones all the words of this Torah very clearly." (Devarim 27:1-4,8)

Let us consider this most unusual mitzvah, the writing of a Torah not in the normal manner, but instead on stones. It is noteworthy that the normal material on which the text of the Torah is written is parchment, the skin of a kosher beast, which comes from the animal kingdom, whereas on this occasion it was to be written on stone, an inanimate substance. This fundamental difference holds the key to understanding the purpose of this one-time mitzvah, which was performed as klal Yisrael entered the land.

My holy father noted that the whole function of writing a sefer Torah (1) is to fix the ideas contained therein firmly in the heart of the writer. This is expressed by the following verse:

"...write them upon the tablet of your heart." (Mishlei 3:3)

Indeed, the parchment which is used for a sefer Torah is intended to reflect this great aim. The hide of the animal must first be treated before the writing may commence. If the untreated skin is used, the whole exercise is futile, as the writing is invalid. This symbolizes the fact that one needs preparation before Torah can be successfully received. Just as the skin needs refining before the writing will be valid, so too, one needs to take steps to remove any traces of personal defilement before beginning one's Torah development.

The problem with this is that it is Torah study itself which enables the person to overcome any intrinsic character defects:

Come and see! No man is ever purified except with the words of Torah. (Zohar HaKadosh 3:80b)

How, then, can this vicious circle be broken? It seems that to achieve purification one needs Torah, but to learn Torah requires prior purification!

* * *


Actually, we may resolve this difficulty by suggesting that there are two distinct facets to the Jewish heart. The deepest and most fundamental aspect is the seat of the Divine soul; this is completely undefilable and impervious to alien forces. The second, more external manifestation of the Jewish heart is much more impressionable; it is able to receive influence from outside. This means that while it can receive good influences, it is also defilable by bad influences. It is this secondary aspect which one is enjoined to purify. This will enable it to accept and retain Torah knowledge and ideals.

The way this works should be clear. The inner aspect of the heart is always capable of instigating a program of Torah study and mitzvah observance. By stimulating this inner, Godly element, one will enable its influence to spread to the coarser, outer manifestation, which will have a cleansing and purifying effect. Once this stage has been reached, even the secondary aspect of the heart will be ready to receive the Torah. Without this prior purification, nothing positive will result. It is the first stage to which the Zohar refers, in which the inner core of the Jew grasps the Torah and allows it to spread to the rest of the personality. The second step is similar to the writing of a sefer Torah, in which the skin is prepared before the writing commences. The hide hints at the outer part of the personality, which must first be prepared before it can successfully receive the Torah.

This is hinted at by the very requirement to write a sefer Torah on parchment, the product of an animal. The animal world is subject to change. The passage of time affects the animal, and the processes of nature ensure that after a certain period the animal's cells are replenished. This symbolizes the outer part of the heart, which is also subject to change, for through the influence of the inner, undefilable part, it can be improved and sanctified. However, the inner, intrinsically holy part of the personality is unchanging and unchangeable. As such, it is represented by stone, which is the least changing entity in the creation.

When klal Yisrael were about to enter Eretz Yisrael, they were making a new start in a new land. They needed a tangible reminder of the correct way in which to begin their service of God. Thus God required them to erect stones and write the text of the Torah upon them. This indicates that the first element of Divine service comes from the innermost, unchanging part of the personality. They were to try to arouse the holy attachment to Torah which lay deep within them and allow it to pervade and purify the rest of their personalities.


1. Note that there is a mitzvah to write a Torah scroll, which is incumbent upon each individual (Devarim 31:19), and an additional obligation on the Jewish king to write a second scroll (ibid. 17:18).

Excerpted from Shem MiShmuel by the Sochatchover Rebbe, rendered into English by Rabbi Zvi Belovski, published by Targum Press. Click here to order.


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