In our Parasha, we read of Moshe Rabbeinu’s command to Bnei Yisrael to erect monuments upon their entrance into Eretz Yisrael (27: 1-8). These monuments, to be constructed out of white washed stone, were to be erected on Har Eival. Moshe further commands that the Torah be inscribed on these stones. And, in fact, we read in Sefer Yehoshua that this command was fulfilled immediately upon Bnei Yisrael’s arrival into Eretz Yisrael. (See Yehoshua, Perek daled and chet. The gemara in Sota (35) explains that the stones described in both these perakim are identical, and that after they were originally set up on Har Eival, they were then moved to Gilgal).
What was actually inscribed is the subject of discussion amongst various commentaries. The Ibn Ezra, recognizing the difficulty in copying the entire Torah onto these stones, adopts the approach of Rav Saadia Gaon and suggests that only the mitzvot of the Torah were inscribed. Moshe’s insistence that the words be written “be’air heitev”, roughly translated as clearly understood, (pasuk chet) is explained by the Ibn Ezra as being clearly written, so that anyone consulting the stones would have no difficulty reading all the mitzvot listed there. The Ramban, on the other hand, accepts the pasuk at face value, and says that the entire Torah was in fact written on the stones. The Ramban goes as far as to suggest that this was the “official” transcription of the Torah, which was available for consultation on how to write a sefer torah. The difficulty presented in writing such a massive document on the stones is dismissed by the Ramban with the suggestion that either the stones were very large or that the inscription was a miraculous process which allowed for the inclusion of the entire Torah on a relatively small area. This second conclusion seems inescapable in light of the Ramban’s adoption of Chazal’s explanation of the words “be’air heitev”, namely that the inscription of the Torah be done in seventy languages, rendering it accessible to all the nations of the world.
This suggestion that the Torah be translated into seventy languages raises some interesting questions. Why is it necessary to make the Torah available to all? Furthermore, it is clear that through this commandment Moshe Rabbeinu is creating a relationship between the Jewish people and the other nations of the world. What exactly is the nature of this relationship?
Before answering this question, let us return to the Ramban. In commenting on the phrase “l’maan asher tavo el ha’aretz”, which the Torah uses immediately after the command to inscribe the stones (pasuk daled), the Ramban seeks to answer the following question. Normally the word “l’maan” is translated as meaning “so that”. But how are we to understand the word l’maan” in the context of our pasuk? The Ramban suggests that the pasuk is teaching us that the entire basis of entering and holding Eretz Yisrael is the Torah. Only by keeping the mitzvot of the Torah does Bnei Yisrael merit entering the land. Thus, it is entirely appropriate that Bnei Yisrael immediately erect these monuments upon crossing into the land. Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch develops this concept further. In noting 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 Yisrael to enter the land, Rav Hirsch points out that the waters parted for the Aron carrying the Luchot HaBrit, and not for the people. The relationship is thereby emphasized. There is no inherent quality to Bnei Yisrael that allows them to enter and conquer Eretz Yisrael. Rather, it is the total and unwavering dedication to the Torah through which we merit possession of Eretz Yisrael.
This idea that fulfillment of the Torah is what sets Bnei Yisrael apart can be found later in our Parasha. When describing the blessings that will be bestowed upon Bnei Yisrael for keeping the mitzvot, the Psukim (28: 9-10) suggest a fascinating connection between mitzva observance, our relationship with G-d, and our relationship with other nations. “G-d shall establish thee as a holy people unto Himself as he hath sworn unto thee, if you keep the commandments of G-d and walk in his way (“v’halachta b’drachav”). And all the peoples of the earth shall see that thou art called by the name of G-d, and they shall be afraid of you (v’yiru mimcha).”
Rav Hirsch explains that we merit the blessing of being an Am Kadosh when G-d sees that we “strive for (our) personal and national aims in the way G-d directs, (and therefore) G-d wishes to establish (us) for Himself, i.e. for his purposes for mankind”. In other words, by keeping the mitzvot, we set an example for the rest of the world, so that they see what it means to be a nation that emulates and submits to G-d.
In fact, the Chinuch points to this pasuk as being the source of the mitzva to emulate G-d (Sefer HaChinuch, mitzva #611). The key words here are “v’halachta b’drachav”, which the Chinuch interprets to mean that we should strive to emulate the various characteristics which are attributed to G-d.
The second pasuk, however, is difficult. Why should the fact that we are a holy nation be a source of fear for the other nations? Should not such lofty behavior be a source of inspiration instead of fear, motivation instead of consternation?
The Vilna Gaon (sefer Divrei Eliyahu) explains this paradox by reinterpreting the pasuk. The GR”A suggests that the verb “vayiru” is in fact referring to fear of G-d, while the word mimcha is merely attributive; your behavior cause the nations of the world to fear G-d. In other words, when people understand and appreciate our behavior, and understand that this behavior is a function of our being an Am Kadosh, they will naturally come to fear G-d. In other words, what we might consider a classic Kiddush HaShem.
Rav Hirsch, on the other hand, interprets the pasuk according to the simple reading. We will create fear amongst the nations, since our behavior will create a spiritual reality that will expose the standard measures of greatness and glory as “petty and insignificant”. No wonder then, when faced with the bankruptcy of long held values, that the nations of the world will react with dread and apprehension.
Now we can return to our original question. Our mission as a people is to create a national reality that will influence the world around us. This new reality, however, can only be created through an unwavering commitment to Torah and Mitzvot, the same commitment which enabled Am Yisrael to enter into Eretz Yisrael and which was immortalized on the stones of Har Eival. And such a commitment is only within the reach of a people that dedicate itself to the ideal of v’halachta b’drachav, to emulate G-d in all ways. A tall order, perhaps, but one to which each of us must be fully committed.