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Moses appointed twelve emissaries to scout out the Holy Land and return with a report. The representative for the tribe of Ephraim was Moses’ primary disciple, Joshua. Until this time, the lad’s name was Oshua. But Moses added a letter to his name and called him Joshua.
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Home » Ki Tavo

Ki Tavo: Serving in A Selfish World

Submitted by on September 3, 2006 – 8:03 pmNo Comment | 3,055 views

Father and Son

After a long and agonizing separation, Jacob and Joseph were finally reunited at the ancient gates of Egypt. What did the loving father do at that moment? Did he embrace his son and release his pent-up tears? No, he recited the Shema, proclaiming his faith in G-d.

Caught in the grip of passionate emotion, Jacob, loyal servant of G-d, would not abandon G-d. He channeled the outpouring of his heart and the flow of his tears to his master above. Reunited, their hearts bound as one, father and son turned to G-d and welcomed him into their embrace. (1)

Monuments of Glory

Dedicating an otherwise mundane desire to a higher cause is an ancient Jewish tradition . Camped at the eastern bank of the Jordan River and poised to enter the land of Israel Moses thus addressed the Jewish nation.

“It shall come to pass, on the the day that you cross the Jordan to the land that G-d your lord will give you, you shall set up great stones, plaster them in lime, and inscribe on them all the words of the Torah.” (2)

Moses predicted that when the people would enter the land and record stunning military triumphs against its inhabitants they would would be inclined to erect lasting monuments to their military prowess as was the custom in ancient days.

At such times, Moses exhorted them, it is proper to glorify G-d rather than ourselves. He instructed them to record words of Torah on those monuments rather than tales of military might. Thus, they would channel their natural inclination for self-glory to the worship of G-d. (3)

The Covenant

Joshua did not permit the Jews to reach the west bank of the Jordan before embarking on the monumental task of inscribing the Torah upon tablets of stone. They paused mid-crossing and completed the entire inscription, as the Jordan’s waters were miraculously held at bay. (4)servnig in a selfish world - innerstream

Why was Joshua in such a rush? Furthermore, why did G-d prolong the miracle of water separation when the project could have been accomplished with ease on the west bank?

Joshua sought to impart a message immediately upon entry to the land. Jews would not inherit this land on the strength of their military might. The only reason G-d rejected the former inhabitants in favor of the Jews was the former inhabitants’ lack of ethical behavior. They defiled the spirit of the land by violating the Torah’s behavioral code.

The land of Israel is a sacred place and does not tolerate immoral behavior. It spews out inhabitants that defy the Torah’s code of conduct. (5) It was imperative that Jews realized this as they entered the land even before they their first military engagement.

This was a covenant between G-d and ourselves If Jews observed the Torah they would enjoy the land. If they grew lax in their observance, the Jewish state would be destroyed. This is precisely what happened when Babylon and later Rome destroyed the temple and exiled the people. Joshua sought to delay, if not postpone, that eventuality. (6)

The Text

The nature of the text inscribed on the tablets is a matter of sagacious dispute. The Talmud taught that the entire biblical text was inscribed upon the tablets. (7) Reb Saadya Gaon taught that only the six-hundred-and-thirteen commandments were inscribed. (8)The Talmud held that it was inscribed in all seventy languages of the day, but at least one Midrashic source indicates that it was inscribed only in Hebrew. (9)

Why were the tablets translated into seventy languages? Israel’s neighboring tribes argued that they were unfairly denied opportunity to embrace the Torah and with it, the right to live in the Holy Land. In response, the tablets publicly displayed the Torah’s teachings in all languages for the benefit of anyone who chose to read them. (10) (11) (12)

A Coat of Lime

The Talmud records a further debate on the method by which the tablets were plastered. Rabbi Shimon held that the letters were inscribed over the plaster. Rabbi Yehudah held that the letters were inscribed into the stone and a coat of lime was plastered over them.

If the intention was to display the Torah’s teachings to all mankind why were the letters,according to Rabbi Yehudah, concealed by a coat of lime?

Because the Torah cannot be mastered out of idle curiosity. Torah study must be fueled by an intense desire for closeness with G-d. Forcing readers to chip away at the coat of lime before reading the text deterred the idle curious, but fortified the sincere seekers. (13)

Archaeological Evidence

Why is there no archaeological evidence of these tablets? For that matter, why are there so few hieroglyphics or other forms of monument from the ancient Jews of that era?

The tablets were not designed to serve as permanent monuments. Our heritage is perpetuated by the power of our tradition, not by marble or granite monuments. Rather than erect monuments to our history, we prefer to live by our history.

We possess a tradition so powerful that it alone suffices to perpetuate the memory of those ancient days that molded our nation’s character. Indeed, lifeless monuments are anathema to our people; our prophets and kings rarely, if ever, resorted to them.

The tablets may have been lost to history, but their message has lived on. The message, far more than the granite, was the legacy Joshua hoped to leave us. And in that he admirably succeeded. (14)


  1. Genesis 46: 29. See Rashi’s commentary (R. Shlomo Yitzchaki, Troyes France, 1040-1105). Maharal (R. Yehudah Loew, Prague, 1525, 1609) in Gur Aryeh explains that Jacob recited the Shema to express the intense love and gratitude he felt for G-d , when he realized that Joseph, a son he took for dead, was in fact the viceroy of Egypt.
  2. Deuteronomy 27: 2-3. For a different view, see Ramban’s commentary (Nachmanides, R. Moshe Ben Nachman, Spain 1194-1270) to this verse.
  3. See Abarbanel, ibid (Don Yitzchak Abarbanel- Spain-1437-1508) .
  4. Joshua, 4. Elaborated in Bab. Talmud, Sotah, 36a.
  5. Leviticus 18: 24-28, Dueteronomy 8: 11-20.
  6. Orach Chayim R. Chaim Ibn Atar, Morocco, 1696-1743) on Deuteronomy 27: 2 goes even further. Citing Deuteronomy 9: 4-6, he argues that Jews inherited Israel due to no merit of their own, but because of the wickedness of the land’s former inhabitants. The purpose of the monuments was to remind the Jews that if they kept the Torah and maintained a higher standard of behavior than did the former inhabitants, they would inherit the land on their own merits. See also footnote #12.
  7. Bab. Talmud, Sotah, 35b.
  8. R. Sadya Gaon (Babylon, 882-942), quoted by Ibn Izra (R. Abraham ben Meir ibn Ezra, Spain, 1092 –1167.), who shares his opinion, in his commentary to Deuteronomy 27: 1.
  9. Tosefta, Sotah, 8: 5. Ramban in his commentary to Deuteronomy 27: 3, cites an ancient source and claims that the Hebrew letters were adorned with the same crowns that appear in today’s Torah scroll. He goes so far as to claim that the crowns in the script of the Torah scroll originated with these tablets.
  10. Rashi and Tosafot, Sotah, 35b. The Talmud points out that the neighboring tribes sent scribes to transcribe the text from the tablets, but the tribes refused to accept these teaching and were therefore punished. Tosafot points out that these claims could have been amply refuted by pointing out that before it was offered to the Jews, the Torah was offered to all the nations, but they refused it. Yet, Tosafot concludes that ignoring an extant text is more neglectful than rejecting a verbal offer for the Torah.
  11. The Talmud (Sotah, 34a) testifies that the stones were a measure of forty sah (a rabbinical measurement), the equivalent of roughly eighteen inches wide and four and a half feet high. Ramban (Deuteronomy 27: 3) states that fitting the entire text on twelve tablets of that size was nothing short of miraculous.
  12. Kedushas Levi (R’ Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev, 1740-1810) in his commentary to Deuteronomy 27: 8, argued that the tablets were inscribed in all seventy language so that the nations would understand, not so much how they might earn the right to the land, but why G-d gave the land to the Jews.
  13. Torah Mose (R. Moshe Alshich, Tzefat, 1508-1600) in his commentary to Deuteronomy 27: 1-4. Maharal in Chidushei Agadot to Sotah, 35b explained that the covering of the letters indicated that the Torah belongs primary to the Jewish nation. Other nations are welcome to read the Torah, but it does not belong to them, Hence the barrier.
  14. R. Samson Raphael Hirsch ( Frankfurt -1808-1888) in his commentary to Deuteronomy 27: 1-4. He posits this as a possible reason for Rabbi Shimon’s position that the text was inscribed on a layer of lime. Joshua did not intend to leave the tablets as a permanent monument and chose to inscribe the letters upon lime because lime does not withstand the elements as well as stone.

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