Ki Tavo

“And you shall write upon the stones all the words of this Torah ba’er heiteiv (very clearly)” Deuteronomy 27:8


Organisational consultant Simon Sinek notes that successful organisations have a clear statement of purpose, their “why”.

Moses instructs that on the day the Children of Israel cross into the Promised Land, they should erect giant stones, covered in plaster and inscribed with words of Torah, written ba’er heiteiv.  

The stones served a dual role. In erecting them immediately, they served as a defining constitution of Jewish purpose in the Land.  Our presence in Israel is justified by virtue of Divine principle, not conquest. Moreover, our relationship with the Law is supposed to be one of ba’er heiteiv.  

The expression implies clarity; but what clarity… is unclear.  

Rashi explains the words should be in language which would be understood or in the different languages that peoples of the world would understand. Ibn Ezra suggests the writing itself should be clear and legible. Others emphasise the plaster as beautification or adornment; a way of highlighting and preserving the letters. The Gemara records an argument between Rabbi Yehuda, who explains that the words were written on the stones and then plastered over, and Rabbi Shimon, who says the words were above the plaster (Sotah 35b).

Our commentators address accessibility and authenticity. That the letters should be clear implies reverence for the text and consideration for the student. Rashi conceptualises transparency; a Torah we can understand and which the nations of the world can inspect and comprehend as our constitution. 

 If the letters are above the whitewash, as per Rabbi Shimon, it is an indication that the Torah needs to be contextualised, so that we see it as a thing of outstanding beauty.  For Rabbi Yehuda, who wrote down the Oral Law, afraid that its teachings would be lost, preserving the authentic record of Moses’ teaching was imperative.

The stones recorded the Jewish “why”.  We learn from ba’er heiteiv that the Torah should be meaningful and engaging with it pleasurable.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive