What’s written on the stones

In Deuteronomy 27, Moses commanded the people to keep all the commandments and when they get to the promise land to write them clearly on large white-washed stones from which an alter is made and burnt sacrifices are performed.

The account of the event was scribed in the book of Joshua (8:30-35). Half of Israel stand in front of Ebal, where the alter is made and towards where curses are announced while the other half stand in front of its twin mountain, Gerizim where the blessings are directed.

It’s important to note that the Bible makes it clear these people included the elders, officers and judges. These are the people of political and social responsibility. Others of spiritual responsibility, the priests and the Levites with specific mention of those who bore the Ark of the Covenant, stood in the middle valley between them.

Here they gave a blessing and a curse. The curse was towards the mountain Ebal and the blessing towards the mountain Gerizim. Today Ebal stands bald and lifeless while Gerizim is green and lush[1].

There is so much more detail here, and the word picture is elaborate on many levels. But I’ll only address a few of these points and hope that it interests you enough to do more research.

First, the law was written on heavy white-washed stones. The stones are heavy and burdensome, but they can still be carried with you. They can be broken. They are solid and immalleable. These are all properties of the Law. Another thing – the people weren’t allowed to use hammers or chisels. These are laws that are unshapable by man.

As a sacrifice is made on top of these stones the blood drips down over all of them, covering the Law. An alter wasn’t built on the mountain that received the blessing, but specifically the mountain that received the curse. Righteousness requires no sacrificial penalty because it doesn’t get cursed, and thereby doesn’t require atonement.

Jesus sacrificed His life to cover the Law and all the nooks and crannies – the grey areas – between them. The Law is pure and clean, like the white-wash on the stones, but we aren’t perfect enough to keep them all the time. With sin comes the curse. God made the sacrifice available for this atonement. Many years after this event, His own blood covers that curse.

Second, there is a clear dividing line between blessings and curses; right and wrong are indisputable. One mountain demonstrates the richness of life while the other exists in barrenness. The mountains aren’t connected. They even have different physical demeanor to separate them.

These blessings and curses are real. Our actions have consequences – actions that are categorized as righteous or sinful. Obedience to God produces blessings while disobedience brings a curse.

Rabbi Riskin identifies the very existence of our choice of actions to be a blessing as well.

Undoubtedly built in within the very structure of free will is the possibility of one’s taking the wrong path and bringing about the curse of destruction. However, without free-will, the human being would be no different from a rat in a maze, a mere puppet or pawn; with free will – despite its concomitant dangers – the human being is a partner to the Divine. [2]

Third, the spiritual leaders are in the valley dividing the two mountains. For anyone to say “what feels right to me is accounted to righteousness and what feels right to you is also accounted to righteousness” is missing the whole meaning of righteousness. It isn’t what feels right or wrong, it is subject to a universal law. Relativism and basing truth on feelings only confuse the issue. God gives us His word (such as that represented in the Ark) and He provides spiritual leaders (such as the Levites) to identify that dividing line for us.

Lastly, the people celebrated during this event! It was an occasion of joy and feasting. When God identifies our purpose in life and gives us boundaries it isn’t an issue of what we aren’t allowed to do but an essence of being a part of His people. Boundaries protect and guide and work as a benchmark – this is true no matter what aspect you’re talking about. From database design to surgery to school playgrounds. Everything needs some type of boundary to excel and become beneficial for everyone.

[1] A Tale of Two Mountains By Yosef Y. Jacobson, http://www.algemeiner.com/generic.asp?print=true&id;=2292
[2] Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Re’eh (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17) By Shlomo Riskin, http://www.ohrtorahstone.org.il/parsha/5764/reeh64.htm

Twenty touches

Each night my children and I spend anywhere between fifteen minutes and two hours together. Most of that time is spent reading before bedtime, but that time is also used to reconnect.

Many years ago, my wife and I attended a Gary Smalley seminar where he briefly mentioned the importance of touch. It’s something we all need to live. So I thought to myself that if I don’t supply my children with enough positive words and touches each day then there may come a time in their teen years that they look for that need elsewhere and end up experimenting with touch in ways that isn’t allowed outside of marriage.

So I asked my kids, “Do you get enough loving touches throughout the day: pats on the head, pats on the back, hugs, kisses… stuff like that?” They all answered “no”. So I wondered – how much do they need? Then came the question. “How many times do you feel you would need to know you are loved?” The eldest child only thought briefly before saying her answer: “Twenty times!”.

That’s quite a bit of touching to take place over the two to three hours I have available for them during the week days. With the size of my family, if everyone got 20 touches a day that would add up to 100 touches a day – not including our dog.

If that were spread throughout a three-hour-twenty-minute period it comes out to touching someone every 2 minutes.

I only remember getting a meaningful touch about once every other week growing up, which was still more than most of the kids I knew. I’ll bet our society has even pulled back to the point that children are only given a meaningful touch once a month, and that’s reserved for when the child initiates the hug.

One last thought – giving my children that access to my personal space makes me a tangible figure for them. I become more real and more accessible in ways beyond the physical. Hopefully they’ll learn that and come to their real accessible Dad during the more trying years ahead.