God’s & Moses’ Concern for All Mankind

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

“Moses and the elders of Israel charged the people, saying, ‘Observe all the Instruction that I enjoin upon you this day. As soon as you have crossed the Jordan into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall set up large stones. Coat them with plaster and inscribe upon them all the words of this Torah. When you cross over to enter the land that the Lord your God is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, promised you—upon crossing the Jordan, you shall set up these stones, about which I charge you this day, on Mount Eyval, and coat them with plaster. There, too, you shall build an altar to the Lord your God, an altar of stones. Do not wield an iron tool over them; you must build the altar of the Lord your God of unhewn stones. You shall offer on it burnt offerings to the Lord your God, and you shall sacrifice there offerings of well-being and eat them, rejoicing before the Lord your God. And on those stones you shall inscribe every word of this Torah most distinctly” (Deut. 27:1-8).

Rashi comments that “inscribe every word of this Torah most distinctly” refers to writing the Torah in 70 languages. Clearly, Torah is intended for all peoples. 

In his commentary on this Talmudic portion (Sotah 35b), Meharsha first identifies three fundamentals of Judaism: 1) the existence of the Creator, 2) the divine origin of Torah, and 3) reward and punishment. It is quite interesting. He proceeds to explain how Moses' command to inscribe the Torah on these 12 stones conveys Torah's divine origin, as Moses received the Torah from God. In Joshua's time, the miracle of the Jordan River ceasing to flow in front of the Ark (when they planted a second set of 12 Stones in the Jordan [Joshua 4:9]) demonstrates God as the creator Who can suspend natural law (he stopped the Jordan’s current) since He created it. And the blessings and curses that were vocalized upon Mount Gerizzim and Mount Eyval a that moment embody the concept of Reward and Punishment. It is apparent that upon entrance to Israel—the fulfillment of the ancient patriarchal treaty—Moses saw it vital that Judaism's fundamentals be reiterated. This alone is a vital lesson, that the Jew reflects a 1) Creator, 2) Who guides man through Torah and 3) rewards and punishes. 

But the Talmud also discusses another consideration regarding these 12 stones. Moses told the Jews to inscribe Torah on the stones and then to plaster the stones. This plaster was pressed into the stones and took the form of the inscribed Torah text. Once dry, it was peeled and distributed amongst the gentile nations to study God's words. 

The talmud says God gave the gentiles of that era additional knowledge so they can copy the text from the stones and study the Torah:

Rabbi Yehuda said, “The Holy One, Blessed be He, granted them (the gentiles) an extra degree of understanding, and they sent their scribes [noteirin], and they peeled off the plaster and copied it down. And on account of this matter their decree was sealed to be sent to the pit of destruction, as once the Torah was in their possession they should have studied it, and they did not study” (Sotah 35b).

Apparently these plaster molds of Torah text were inked and printed on parchment to produce copies. Moses’ stones predated the Gutenberg press by 2700 years. The Talmud says that due to the Torah knowledge that was thereby distributed to the gentile nations, this sealed their fate, for they had God's prohibitions in their hands, despite which, they disobeyed Him. But God’s and Moses’ objective was to offer a chance of salvation to the other neighboring nations—not those who were part of the Seven Nations who were too corrupt to save. God and Moses sought to benefit all peoples that they should learn God's will for man. They offered man copies of Torah through this printing device. 

“Most distinctly” (be’air haytave) means that God and Moses gave the gentiles the opportunity to repent as the Torah engraved into the stones was written in their languages. In specific, Deuteronomy 20:18 says, “In order that you should not learn to do like all the abominations which they perform for their gods, and you will thereby sin to your God.” When the neighboring nations would lift relief molds from these stones and bring them back to their peoples, and they would arrive at this verse, they would understand that God condemns their ways and that they should repent. As they did not repent, they sealed their fate and earned God’s punishment.