Wednesday, March 12, 2008

What's written on the stones

In Deuteronomy 27, Moses commanded the people to keep all the commandments and when they get to the promise land to write them clearly on large white-washed stones from which an alter is made and burnt sacrifices are performed.

The account of the event was scribed in the book of Joshua (8:30-35). Half of Israel stand in front of Ebal, where the alter is made and towards where curses are announced while the other half stand in front of its twin mountain, Gerizim where the blessings are directed.

It's important to note that the Bible makes it clear these people included the elders, officers and judges. These are the people of political and social responsibility. Others of spiritual responsibility, the priests and the Levites with specific mention of those who bore the Ark of the Covenant, stood in the middle valley between them.

Here they gave a blessing and a curse. The curse was towards the mountain Ebal and the blessing towards the mountain Gerizim. Today Ebal stands bald and lifeless while Gerizim is green and lush[1].

There is so much more detail here, and the word picture is elaborate on many levels. But I'll only address a few of these points and hope that it interests you enough to do more research.

First, the law was written on heavy white-washed stones. The stones are heavy and burdensome, but they can still be carried with you. They can be broken. They are solid and immalleable. These are all properties of the Law. Another thing - the people weren't allowed to use hammers or chisels. These are laws that are unshapable by man.

As a sacrifice is made on top of these stones the blood drips down over all of them, covering the Law. An alter wasn't built on the mountain that received the blessing, but specifically the mountain that received the curse. Righteousness requires no sacrificial penalty because it doesn't get cursed, and thereby doesn't require atonement.

Jesus sacrificed His life to cover the Law and all the nooks and crannies - the grey areas - between them. The Law is pure and clean, like the white-wash on the stones, but we aren't perfect enough to keep them all the time. With sin comes the curse. God made the sacrifice available for this atonement. Many years after this event, His own blood covers that curse.

Second, there is a clear dividing line between blessings and curses; right and wrong are indisputable. One mountain demonstrates the richness of life while the other exists in barrenness. The mountains aren't connected. They even have different physical demeanor to separate them.

These blessings and curses are real. Our actions have consequences - actions that are categorized as righteous or sinful. Obedience to God produces blessings while disobedience brings a curse.

Rabbi Riskin identifies the very existence of our choice of actions to be a blessing as well.
Undoubtedly built in within the very structure of free will is the possibility of one's taking the wrong path and bringing about the curse of destruction. However, without free-will, the human being would be no different from a rat in a maze, a mere puppet or pawn; with free will - despite its concomitant dangers - the human being is a partner to the Divine. [2]

Third, the spiritual leaders are in the valley dividing the two mountains. For anyone to say "what feels right to me is accounted to righteousness and what feels right to you is also accounted to righteousness" is missing the whole meaning of righteousness. It isn't what feels right or wrong, it is subject to a universal law. Relativism and basing truth on feelings only confuse the issue. God gives us His word (such as that represented in the Ark) and He provides spiritual leaders (such as the Levites) to identify that dividing line for us.

Lastly, the people celebrated during this event! It was an occasion of joy and feasting. When God identifies our purpose in life and gives us boundaries it isn't an issue of what we aren't allowed to do but an essence of being a part of His people. Boundaries protect and guide and work as a benchmark - this is true no matter what aspect you're talking about. From database design to surgery to school playgrounds. Everything needs some type of boundary to excel and become beneficial for everyone.

[1] A Tale of Two Mountains By Yosef Y. Jacobson,
[2] Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Re'eh (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17) By Shlomo Riskin,

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