Peace: in our hearts, not on stones

By Rabbi Howard Wolk
Parashat Ki Tavo

On this, the next to last Shabbat of the year, the Torah portion of Ki Tavo describes the moving ceremony to be enacted on Mount Gerizim and Mount Eval once the people enter the Land of Israel.

Six tribes are to stand on each mountain. The Gemara in Sotah (36) asks: Why is the division of the tribes different here than on the breastplate of the High Priest?

Also, when the tribes marched in the desert, Joseph is not mentioned; the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh are mentioned. Yet, for the mountaintop ceremony, Joseph does appear and Ephraim and Manasseh do not.

The Jerusalem Talmud, Uksin, 3:12 states: “Amar Rav Shimon ben Halafta, lo matsah Hakadosh Baruch Hu kli machazik beracha l’Yisrael elah hashalom, sh’neh’emar, Hashem oz l’amo yitayn, Hashem yevaraych et amo ba’shalom.”

“Hashem found no vessel with which to hold a blessing for Israel except peace, as it says: Hashem will give strength to his nation, Hashem will bless Israel with peace.”

The blessings were to come via Mount Gerizim on which were found Shimon, Levi and…Joseph.

There was no peace between the tribes until now. 

It was Shimon and Levi who conspired to kill Joseph their brother. Yet, the Torah also says that all the brothers hated Joseph.

So, peace must be established not only between Shimon and Levi and Joseph, but also between Shimon and Levi and Benjamin.

At the sale of Joseph, Reuven wanted to save Joseph, not establish peace between the brothers. Reuven urged the brothers not to kill Joseph with their own hands. Rather, as the rabbinic commentator, Rashbam, explains, he wished to let the pit kill him.

Only Judah tried to establish peace between the brothers by offering a compromise idea to sell him.

Therefore, during the ceremony, the tribe of Judah is on Mount Gerizim for attempting to bring peace.

Yissachar, too, is on the same mountain. Yissachar represents Torah scholars, who are supposed to bring peace to the world.

Judah and Yissachar are therefore the two messengers of peace. They accompany Shimon and Levi, Joseph and Benjamin up the mountain.

The lineup is therefore: Shimon, Levi, Judah, Yissachar (those two in the middle), Joseph and Benjamin.

Since the Torah wanted to establish peace where it was absent before, Joseph is mentioned and not Ephraim and Manasseh — because the rift was with Joseph and not with his sons.

The Torah also says “ha-ahvanim ha-eleh — these stones” were to be on Mount Eval. Why? So as not to insult Mount Eval.

Mount Gerizim has Yissachar — who represents Torah.

Mount Eval has the stones on which the words of Torah are to be written.

Shalom is established on Gerizim, not Eval — because Torah on stones does not bring peace. The values of Torah within people establish peace.

When Torah is in the hearts of the Children of Israel and not etched on stones or monuments — then Shalom results.

Certainly, as we head toward 5782, each one of us must take the necessary steps and actions to heal any and all rifts. Whether these rifts be within our own families, our community or within ourselves, we must be resolute in promoting unity.

Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Howard Wolk is community chaplain with Jewish Family Service. rabbi emeritus of Congregation Shaare Tefilla and a member of the Rabbinic Association of Greater Dallas.

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