I. Introduction: How the Torah Is Divided
A Hebrew letter Paih or a Samech in the Chumash indicates the Torah's paragraphs. These letters are codes for either open (patuach) or closed (satum) paragraphs. In a Torah scroll the former follow a space and begin on a new line, while the latter continue on the same line as the previous paragraph, after a brief space.
The Living Torah by Aryeh Kaplan is the only published version of the Torah to number and name the text according to the paragraphs of the the Torah, the way it was broken up in its original form. The chapters and verses of today were added later. Yeshivat Aish HaTorah encourages its students to pay close attention to and even memorize the names of the Torah's individual paragraphs as titled in a list, which they provide for their talmidim.
Let's focus together on one paragraph which Rabbi Kaplan calls "The Written Stones."
II. Main Body
A. Devarim 27:1-8, The Written Stones
Moshe and the 70 Zekeinim tell the people to construct twelve large stones and to cover them with lime. According to Sotah 32a the lime coating was to prepare them to be written on or to laminate that which was written upon them. Chizkuni says that these stones were made into an altar and the lime was used to attach them to each other. Ibn Ezra maintains that the lime was used to keep the pillars standing.
The people were told that after they crossed the Jordan River and entered Israel they were to write "all the words of this Torah on them." Some commentators say it was a review of the Torah, or parts of Devarim (Abarbanel). Ibn Ezra says it refers to certain commandments that were listed.
After they entered the land these pillars were to be set up on Har Eival - according to Chizkuni, as a consolation for those tribes who were associated with this mountain. Abarbanel says that the point of putting these pillars on Har Eival was to remind us that the curse comes for violating the Torah.
There was a stone alter that would also be built on this mountain - possibly made of the stones with the writing on them. The altar had to be of whole stones, untouched by iron, and was used for various offerings, some of which were to be eaten there in joy.
The paragraph ends with the instruction to write "all the words of this Torah in a clear script", which the Gemorah in Sotah (32b) interprets to mean that the Torah was translated into seventy languages.
B. What's It All About?
Rav Hirsch writes that the point of this section is to remind us that -"It is only the Torah that you have to thank for the Land, you receive the land for the Torah, for its preservation and observation of its dictates." He also notes that these pesukim switch between plural and singular. [In the first line we're told "Shamor" (singular)- keep the Torah. Then we are told that it was commanded "etchem" (plural) - to you. The second line also contains both plural and singular. The third is all singular. The fourth is mostly singular, with one exception. The rest of the paragraph is phrased in singular.] This oscillation between plural and singular emphasizes that the observance of Torah which the land of Israel exists to facilitate is not something that relates exclusively to either the individual members of the nation or just to the nation as a unit. Rather, the land is for "the nation as a single unit made into such by the plurality of its members, so that the whole nation, in the united working together of all its individuals, were responsible for it."
III. Conclusion: Take Home Point
It is is Ellul and we are all concerned about what will be for ourselves, and for the Jewish People, for the Jewish Land. This portion of the Torah serves to remind us that Teshuva and the land of Israel are more closely linked than it is sometimes comfortable to admit. May we merit being part of the unit comprised of various individuals that these pesukim allude to. May we do Teshuva Sheleima and experience Geula Sheleima as soon as possible. G-d knows we need it.
Rabbi Neil Fleischmann