The Blessed Holy One Invited the Other Nations to Receive the Torah
“YHWH, when You came forth from Seir… (Judges 5:4)—what did He seek in Seir, and what did He seek in Mount Paran?—Rabbi Yoḥanan says: This teaches us that the blessed Holy One, offered the Torah to every nation and every tongue, but none accepted it, until He came to Israel who received it. [The nations] will contend: ‘Did we accept it and fail to observe it? But surely: ‘Then why did you not accept it?’—the nations will then say, ‘Master of the Universe, did You suspend the mountain over us like a cask as You have done to Israel and did we still decline to accept it?’ For Rabbi Dimi son of Ḥama said: And they stood under the mountain (Exodus 19:17)—this teaches us that the blessed Holy One suspended the mountain over Israel like a cask, saying to them: ‘If you accept the Torah, it will be well with you, but if not, there will you find your grave.’ Thereupon the blessed Holy One will say to them: ‘Let us then consider the happenings of old,’ as is said, Let them announce to us former things (Isaiah 43:9), ‘There are seven commandments which you did accept did you observe them?’ [How do we know that they did not observe them?]—for Rabbi Yosef learned: He stood, and shook the earth: He beheld, וַיַּתֵּר (va-yater), and caused to tremble, the nations (Habakkuk 3:6) [cf. BT Baba Qamma 38a]: what did He see? He saw that the nations did not observe even the seven commandments which the sons of Noah had taken upon themselves, and seeing that they did not observe them, He stood up and released them [וַיַּתֵּר (va-yater) also means, ‘he releases,’ cf. מוּתָר (mutar), permitted]. Then they benefited by it; according to this it pays to be a sinner!
The release from those commandments only means that even if they observed them they would not be rewarded. But why should they not? Is it not taught: Rabbi Meir would say: How do we know that even a heathen who engages in Torah study is like the high priest? From the verse And you shall keep My statutes and My laws which a person shall do and live through them (Leviticus 18:5). It does not say If a Priest, Levite, or Israelite do, and live through them, but a person; here, then, you can learn that even a heathen who studies Torah is equal to a High Priest!—what is meant, then, is that they are rewarded not as greatly as one who does a thing which he is bidden to do, but as one who does a thing unbidden. For, Rabbi Ḥanina said: He who is commanded and does, stands higher then he who is not commanded and does.
The nations will then say, ‘Master of the Universe, has Israel, who accepted the Torah, observed it? The blessed Holy One will reply, ‘I can give evidence that they observed the Torah.’ ‘O Master of the Universe,’ they will argue, ‘can a father give evidence in favour of his son? For it is written, Israel is my son, even my firstborn (Exodus 4:22). Then will the blessed Holy One say: ‘Heaven and Earth can bear witness that Israel has fulfilled the entire Torah.’ But they will [object], saying: ‘Master of the Universe, Heaven and Earth are partial witnesses, for it is said, If not for My covenant with day and with night. I should not have appointed the ordinances of Heaven and Earth’ (Jeremiah 33:25). [And Rabbi Shim’on son of Laqish further said:] What is conveyed by the phrase, And there was evening and there was morning the sixth day? (Genesis 1:31). It teaches us that God made a condition with the works of creation, saying: ‘If Israel accept My Law it will be well, but if not, I shall reduce you to welter;’ which accords with the comment of Rabbi Ḥizqiyah on the verse, You did cause judgment to be heard from heaven; the earth feared, and was still (Psalms 76:8). If the earth trembled, how could it be still, and if it was still, how could it tremble? But at first it trembled, and subsequently it became still. Then the blessed Holy One will say, ‘Some of yourselves shall testify that Israel observed the entire Torah. Let Nimrod come and testify that Abraham did not [consent to] worship idols; let Laban come and testify that Jacob could not be suspected of theft [cf. Genesis 31:37]; let Potiphar’s wife testify that Joseph was above suspicion of immorality; let Nebuchadnezzar come and testify that Ḥanania, Mishael and Azariyah did not bow down to an image; let Darius come and testify that Daniel never neglected the [statutory] prayers [his windows were open in his upper chamber towards Jerusalem, and he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before God, see Daniel 6:11 is the earliest record of the practice]; let Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Na’amathite, and Eliphaz the Temanite [and Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite (cf. Job 32:2; BT Bava Batra 15b)] testify that Israel has observed the whole Torah; as it is said, Let all the nations be gathered together, and let the people be assembled: who among them can declare this, and show us former things? let them bring forth their witnesses, that they may be justified: or let them hear, and say, It is truth (Isaiah 43:90).
The nations will then plead. ‘Offer us the Torah anew and we shall obey it.’ But the blessed Holy One will say to them, ‘You foolish ones among peoples, he who took trouble [to prepare] on the eve of the Sabbath can eat on the Sabbath, but he who has not troubled on the eve of the Sabbath, what shall he eat on the Sabbath? Nevertheless, I have an easy command which is called Sukkah (Leviticus 23:42); go and carry it out’ [to test their self-exertion for the sake of a religious observance]. [But how can you say so: does not Rabbi Yoshua son of Levi say: What is, The commandments which I command you this day to do them (Deuteronomy 7:11)? It is that this day only [the present] is the time to do them,’ they cannot be done tomorrow [in times to come]: this day is the time in which to do them, but not in which to be rewarded for them. [Why then should they be offered this observance in the days of the Messiah?]—because the blessed Holy One does not deal imperiously with His creatures. And why does He term it an easy command?—because it does not affect one’s purse. Straightaway will every one of them betake himself and go and make a booth on the top of his roof; but the blessed Holy One will cause the sun to blaze forth over them as at the cycle of Tammuz [summer solstice] and every one of them will trample down his booth and go away, as it is said, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us (Psalms 2:3). [But you have just said] ‘The blessed Holy One does not deal imperiously with his creatures?—true! but with the Israelites, too, it occasionally happens that the cycle of Tammuz [i.e., summer solstice] extends till the Festival [Sukkoth] and they are vexed [by the heat, the test is therefore not exceptional or harsh]. But does not Rabba say: He who is vexed thereby is freed from dwelling in the Sukkah? (BT Sukkah 26a)—granted, they would [in such circumstances] be freed, but would Israelites contemptuously trample it down? Thereupon the blessed Holy One will laugh at them, as it is said, He that sits in the heavens shall laugh [YHWH shall have them in derision] (Psalms 2:4). Said Rabbi Yitsḥaq: ‘Only on that day is there laughter for the blessed Holy One!’ Some connected that comment of Rabbi Yitsḥaq with the following teaching: Rabbi Yose says, ‘In time to come worshippers of stars will come and offer themselves as proselytes.’ But will such be accepted? Has it not been taught that in the days of the Messiah proselytes will not be received [see BT Yevamot 24a]; likewise were none received in the days of David or of Solomon?—well, they will be self-made proselytes [lit., ‘dragged-in proselytes’ a class of converts who judaize en masse under the impulsion of fear], and will place tefillin on their foreheads and on their arms, fringes in their garments, and a mezuzah on their doorposts, but when the battle of Gog and Magog will come about [see Ezekiel 39:12] they will be asked, ‘For what purpose have you come?’ and they will reply: ‘Against God and His Messiah’ as it is said, Why do the nations rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? (Psalms 2:1). Then each of the proselytes will throw aside his religious token and get away, as it is said, Let us break their bands asunder (ibid.), and the blessed Holy One will sit and laugh, as it is said: He that sits in the heavens shall laugh (Psalms 2:4).
[It was on this that] Rabbi Yitsḥaq remarked that there is no laughter for the blessed Holy One except on that day. But is there not, indeed? Yet Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav: ‘The day consists of twelve hours; during the first three hours the blessed Holy One is occupying Himself with the Torah, during the second three He sits in judgment on the whole world, and when He sees that the world is so guilty as to deserve destruction, He transfers Himself from the seat of Justice to the seat of Mercy; during the third quarter, He is feeding the whole world, from the horned buffalo to the brood of vermin [cf. BT Shabbat 107b)]; during the fourth quarter He is sporting with the Leviathan, as it is said, There go the ships: there is that leviathan, which You have made to play therein’? (Psalms 104:26). Said Rabbi Naḥman son of Yitsḥaq: Yes, He sports with His creatures, but does not laugh at His creatures except on that day” (BT Avodah Zarah 2b-3b, cf. Zohar 3:20a, 192a).