In this week’s Torah reading, Ki Tavo, the Jews are told that when they would enter the Land of Israel they would have to set up giant stones and plaster them with lime and inscribe upon them the words of the Torah.
In its reading of the verses, the Talmud adds two points. One, the Torah was written on the stones in 70 languages so all the nations of the world would have the opportunity to read it. Two, Rabbi Yehudah taught that first the letters were inscribed into the stones and then the lime was plastered over them. Anyone who wanted to read it would have to scrape off the plaster in order to see the words.
What is the significance of this? Why not just inscribe the words so they’d immediately be visible to all?
The commentaries offer an explanation that parallels a well-known phenomenon in today’s times: People value things more highly when they’re more expensive, when they have to invest more money or effort into them.
Robert Cialdini is his book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” records a true story about a Native American jewelry store. The owner saw that her turquoise jewelry was not selling, so she displayed the jewelry in another, more prominent location. The change in location did not help and the jewelry continued to be ignored. Then, before leaving for a business trip, she left a note next to the display, instructing her employee to lower the price on the jewelry “X ½.” The employee misread the note and doubled the price. When the owner returned, all the jewelry had been sold.
The Torah’s teachings were made available to all, but if people would put no effort into acquiring them, they’d never value these teachings enough to make them a part of their lives. So a condition was added. You can read the Torah, but you have to put in some effort. First you have to peel off the lime from on top.
Today, the Torah’s timeless teachings are available to us all as well. But if we want to actually be impacted by these teachings, we must realize that it’s going to take real effort to instill Torah values into our lives. When we’re ready to put in that effort, we’ll be able to begin transforming ourselves by inculcating the word of the Almighty into our lives. pjc
Rabbi Levi Langer is the dean of the Kollel Jewish Learning Center. This column is a service of the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.