Shalom Orzach
Shalom Orzach

Foundational Stories and Foundation Stones

Ki Tavo opens with what Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z’l beautifully describes as the Jews becoming a Nation of Storytellers. We depict and ultimately relay our narrative in the first person, the ‘they’ become the ‘I’. At the climax of the story of the Jewish people that the bearer of the first fruits shares, a staggering moment occurs, through three words 26:10

וְעַתָּ֗ה הִנֵּ֤ה הֵבֵ֙אתִי֙

And now, behold here Am I ( a direct link to all that preceded this moment) HineiniHere I am…bringing ( the first fruits). One might suggest that the charge  is less about bringing one’s first fruit, and more about the capacity of every citizen to proudly own and tell their story. Imagine re- designing this occasion in our calendar! Perhaps over Rosh Hashana, which after all is also known as Yom Hazikaron, the Day of Remembering or more actively recalling. 

This incredible oral tradition is then transfigured into a written construct or perhaps more precisely construction. In the following Chapter, 27, Moshe instructs the people that when they enter the Land of Israel they are to set up large stones and inscribe on them “all the words of this Torah”- Be’er Heiteiv – (Ironically difficult to translate)  – Very clearly. Rashi quoting from Talmud Sotah offers a staggering explanation; 

באר היטב. בְּשִׁבְעִים לָשׁוֹן 

Explaining them well — i.e. in seventy languages (Sotah 32a)

Rabbi Baruch Halevi Epstein, in his celebrated commentary, the Torah Temimah, asks for more clarity- The be’er heiteiv is not sufficiently clear! Is it conceivable that the Torah was translated on massive stones seventy times? Perhaps, he suggests, only the Ten Commandments. Even then, quite an operation! And why seventy languages, how many languages could the Jews speak and or need at that point in their history? Clearly this was not only about us, rather the seventy languages were in order to include and make the Torah accessible to all of the Nations of the world. The Torah Temimah offers an additional explanation, seventy lashon, is not “language” rather commentary, evoking the Shivim Panim Latorah. – Each verse of the Torah has seventy faces, facets, interpretations. The term is exquisite, it speaks of faces, giving the Torah an almost human countenance, another striking example of accessibility and ownership. The panim evokes what is on the inside, bifnim, yet visible through the panim, the face. When looking at the faces of the Torah we are invited to recognize something that is familiar, we are invited in, to discover and reveal our very essence. – Face Value! An additional image the term conjures is the facets, the diamond like sparks that shine from the Torah, alluring, and inviting.

The stories and the stones become gateways where every panim matters, where their story becomes personal and anticipated, where stones not only create buildings but persistent and inspiring experiences. How might these profound ideas shape and enrich our spaces, wherever they may be, as we gather to re-member, commune and  pray in harmony, giving expression and space to shivim panim?

Shabbat shalom and Shana Tova

About the Author
Shalom is a senior educator and consultant for The iCenter and serves as faculty for the Foundation for Jewish Camp . Prior, he served as the AVI CHAI Project Director and Director of Education in the Shlichut and Israel Fellows unit for the Jewish Agency. He has served as a consultant for the Jim Joseph Foundation and the Jewish Peoplehood Committee, and teaches a course in experiential education at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Shalom was also a scholar on the prestigious Jerusalem Fellows Program, after which he served as the Executive Director of Jewish Renewal for United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA). Shalom is an acclaimed public speaker on contemporary Israel who brings extensive knowledge, humor and passion. He feels privileged to live in Jerusalem and loves sharing stories about life in the Land of so much Promise.
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