Torah scroll (illustration)
Torah scroll (illustration)Flash 90

The last Parasha of the concluding Chumash - Sefer Devarim - opens with the blessing of Moshe Rabbeinu, a blessing which alludes to Matan Torah.

We read:(33:1-2) ‘And this is the blessing that Moshe, the man of G-d, bestowed upon the Children of Israel before his death. He said: Hashem came from Sinai - having shone forth to them from Seir, having appeared from Mount Paran, and then approached with some of the holy myriads - from His right hand He presented the fiery Torah to them.’

Rashi comments:’And shone forth from Seir’: He first offered the children of Esav ( who dwelled in Seir) that they accept the Torah, but they did not want ( to accept it).

‘From Mount Paran’: He went there and offered the children of Ishmael ( who dwelled there ) to accept the Torah, but they also did not want ( to accept it ).’

The Maharal adds:’Though the Torah only relates that the Torah was offered to the children of Esav, and to the children of Ishmael - the Gemara states that it was also offered to ‘every nation and tongue’.

‘From where does the Gemara derive this ? Because, were it not so, what point would there be to offering it to the children of Esav and the children of Ishmael? True, those two nations could not say that, had they been offered the Torah, they would have accepted it - but all the other nations COULD make this claim.

‘Therefore, clearly Hashem must have offered the Torah ‘to every nation and to every tongue’ - as the Gemara concludes.

‘We must therefore read this passage as follows: After having offered the Torah to every other nation and tongue - and they having refused to accept it - Hashem offered it to the children of Esav and the children of Ishmael, because it was more likely that they would accept it, as they were the seed of Avraham Avinu, who performed all of the Torah, and whose mission was to enjoin others to do so.

‘It was for this reason that the Torah only records that Hashem offered the Torah to these two peoples - as we would deduce, that if they did not accept it, no other people, who had no link to Avraham Avinu, would accept it.’

Rav Zalman Sorotzkin proffers a different reason, as to why the Torah only mentions that it was offered to the children of Esav and to the children of Ishmael:’The fathers of those two nations - Esav and Ishmael - had whom to teach them Torah and Mitzvot in their homes: Ishmael from his father, Avraham, and Esav from both his father, Yitzchak, and his grandfather, Avraham.

‘Hashem first approached Esav, even though Ishmael lived in an earlier period, because Ishmael only lived a short number of years with Avraham, before he was ‘expelled’ at the insistence of Sara Imenu.

‘Esav, on the other hand, lived for many years in his father’s house; further, he also learned with his holy grandfather, Avraham, and was therefore mentioned first.

‘None of the other nations had this zechut, and therefore the criticism of them is at a lower level, as they had ‘no genealogy’ of Torah education, which might have caused them to be predisposed to accept the Torah.’

The hasidic master, the Toldot Yitzchak, offers a different insight into our subject:’Hashem did not directly ‘offer’ the Torah to these two peoples; rather, He gave them ‘an opening’ to accept the Torah - meaning: After all the nations witnessed the miracles that Hashem performed, the ten plagues and the splitting of the Sea, it was ראוי: fitting, and to be expected, that all the nations would come to ‘shelter in the shade of the Shechina, and to accept the Torah.

‘Yet, despite this ‘opening’, no nation, including those of Esav and of Ishmael, were willing to accept the Torah, when it was offered to them.

‘Hashem ‘shone forth to them from Seir’: He gave glory to Bnei Israel, because their brother, Esav, refused to accept the Torah, yet they, Israel, did accept it.

‘Similarly, Hashem ‘appeared from Mount Paran’: He appeared as a sign of zechut to Bnei Israel, that they, unlike their relative - Ishmael - accepted the Torah, which he refused.

‘It was for this reason that the Torah does not mention the other nations; as they had no link to Avraham, there was no ‘praise’ to Bnei Israel that they were also offered the Torah, and refused to accept it - and the reason for Moshe mentioning Esav and Ishmael, in his blessing, was as praise to his beloved people.’

The Midrashim relate, that when Hashem offered the Torah to the children of Esav and to the children of Ishmael, they each asked:’What is written in it?’. To the children of Esav, Hashem answered:’Thou shalt not kill’, and to the children of Ishmael: ‘Thou shalt not steal’.

‘Each refused to accept it, stating that this was their very ‘art’, and way of life - and the ‘blessing’ their fathers had received.

‘Thereupon, Hashem offered the Torah to Bnei Israel, who accepted it without asking: ‘What is written in it?’, in their seminal acceptance:’All that Hashem says, we will do and we will heed’.

We are blessed with a wondrous original insight from Rav Eliyahu miVilna, the Vilna Gaon:’After Hashem had answered the questions of the children of Esav and the children of Ishmael, in the manner we have brought, since these two peoples did not want to accept the Torah, it was accepted by Bnei Israel. AND each of these two nations gave them gifts- they gave them נעשה ונשמע: ‘to do’ and ‘to heed’

‘Esav gave them the attribute of נעשה: to do, which is derived from his name Esav- alluding to ‘doing’; AND Ishmael gave them the attribute of נשמע: to hear, which is drawn from his name Ishmael.’

The Gaon does not favor us with the source for his wondrous chiddush, but בס׳ד I did find a relevant source, in the Zohar Hakadosh, relevant to our subject:’Hashem is a wise doctor, and knew that if He gave the Torah to Bnei Israel before offering it to the other nations, they would pursue Bnei Israel to the death.

‘So, what He did, was to first offer it to the ministers of the other people, knowing that they would refuse to accept it, and that they would then give presents to Moshe Rabbeinu, to persuade him to accept the Torah; and Moshe accepted their gifts, and Bnei Israel accepted the Torah.’

Here we are compelled to ask: Why were the nations so concerned that Bnei Israel should accept the Torah - and even gave them presents, to persuade them to do so?

The answer can be found in two sayings of our Sages: The first is brought by Rashi, in Hashem’s answer to Moshe Rabbeinu’s question:( Shemot 3:11):’And as to your question ‘what merit do Bnei Israel have, that they should be redeemed from Egypt’, it is a great thing for Me, because they are destined to receive the Torah on this mountain at the end of three months from their exodus.’

If you ask: What merit is there, in this, to Bnei Israel, as, read literally, it would appear that the reason was because of the need, as it were, of Hashem - and not any merit of Bnei Israel!

The answer is in one key word: ‘accept’ - as we have learned, the great merit of Bnei Israel was that they alone, of all nations and tongues, were prepared to accept the Torah.

But how does this explain the need that the children of Esav and the children of Ishmael to give presents - hewn from their very names - to Bnei Israel to accept the Torah?

The answer to this lies in a second teaching of our Sages:(Avoda Zara 3.) ‘Why does the Torah say:’And it was evening and it was morning, THE sixth day’? To teach that Hashem made a condition with Creation, saying: If Israel accepts the Torah on the sixth of Sivan, well and good; if not, I will return it to ‘nothingness’’’.

Explains the Ramban:’Had not Israel accepted the Torah, the world would have returned to nothingness, BY ITSELF, as the purpose for which the world was created would not have been fulfilled’.

Could I add, that the condition for the existence of the world was the acceptance of Torah - not necessarily by Israel, but, as we have learned - and as was of course known to Hashem, before Whom all is known - since no other nation was likely to accept the Torah, the Gemara casts the responsibility of the acceptance upon Israel - not as part of the condition, but as a foretelling of the outcome.

We can now answer the question: Why Esav and Ishmael were so desperate that Israel accept the Torah, and gave them such singular presents to persuade them - they had evidenced that no other nation, they included, was prepared to accept the Torah.

‘Thus, their very continued existence depended on Israel accepting the Torah, as otherwise the world ‘of itself’ would return to nothingness.

A parting thought: Why, when the children of Esav and the children of Ishmael, on being offered the Torah, and, on asking: ‘What is written in it?’, they were told Mitzvot which were against their very nature and tradition?

Why were they not told, instead, the Mitzvah of Shabbat OR of honoring one’s father and mother - Esav excelling in the latter, and Ishmael also observing it?

May we suggest that, had they been told these Mitzvot which they already observed, there would be no ‘acceptance of the yoke of Mitzvot’, by so doing.

In its essence, the acceptance of Torah and Mitzvot is to accept השתעבדות: ‘total servitude’

This is beautifully encapsulated by Rav David Cohen, the Rosh Yeshiva of Chevron:’It is the nature of man to wish to be free of any constraints or restrictions; acceptance of the Torah - in diametric contradiction - means the acceptance of total subjugation to the demands of Hashem, and His Mitzvot: to unquestionally subjugate ourselves to all that we are commanded, even though it is against our wishes and ‘convenience’’.

May we all merit to fulfill ‘the great thing to Hashem’, of קבלת התורה: the acceptance of Torah, anew, on the coming Shavuot.

לרפואת נועם עליזה בת זהבה רבקה ונחום אלימלך רפאל בן זהבה רבקה, בתוך שאר חולי עמנו.