For the week ending 13 September 2014 / 18 Elul 5774

Parshat Ki Tavo

by Rabbi Pinchas Kasnett
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In Devarim, chapter 27, Moshe tells the people to set up large stones immediately after having crossed the Jordan River into the Land of Israel. When other nations, such as the Romans, conquered foreign territory they established physical signs of their presence such as monuments, and re-named streets and cities to glorify their power and domination. The Jewish People, on the other hand, are instructed to erect a monument to the glory and honor of G-d who gave them the Land. Moshe tells them not to make a simple list of the mitzvot on the stones, but rather to inscribe a recounting of how G-d took them out of Egypt and how G-d sustained them in the wilderness and defeated their enemies in order to bring them into the Land of Israel. The people would have naturally erected such a monument; Moshe is simply instructing them to emphasize the true meaning of their conquest.

Moshe then instructs the people to bring the stones to Mount Eval. They were to use them to build an altar for sacrificial offerings. The altar was then to be dismantled and given a new inscription. Some commentators say that the entire Torah was to be inscribed, while others say only the Book of Devarim was inscribed. In any case, by setting up the stones immediately upon crossing the Jordan River, using them for an altar, and finally setting them up as a permanent monument, these stones are a physical testimony to the entire purpose of the conquest of the Land of Israel. In his grammatical analysis of these few verses, Abarbanel emphasizes a concept that occurs many times in the Torah’s narratives. Moshe took the natural inclinations of the people to commemorate their conquest and steered them into focusing on their relationship with G-d and the importance of the Land of Israel.

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