Chosen to Become for Him a Treasured People: Why was the Torah Given to Israel?
Hear this word that YHWH has spoken concerning you, O Israelites, concerning the entire clan that I brought up from Egypt, saying: Only with you was I intimate of all the clans of the earth. Therefore will I make a reckoning with you for all your crimes (Amos 3:1–2).
“A Tanna taught in the name of Rabbi Me’ir: Why was the Torah given to Israel? Because they are עֹזִין (ozin), impudent [like עִזִּין (izzin), she-goats]. The academy of Rabbi Yishma’el taught: [YHWH from Sinai came and from Seir He dawned upon them, He shone from Mount Paran and appeared from Ribeboth-Kodesh,] from His right hand was a fiery law for them (Deuteronomy 33:2); the blessed Holy One said: These are worthy to be given a law of fire [cf. Exodus 32:9: And YHWH said to Moses, ‘I see this people and, look, it is a stiff-necked people’]. Some say: The laws of these are like fire, for had not Torah been given to Israel no people or tongue could withstand them. And this is what Rabbi Shim’on son of Laqish said: There are three impudent ones: Israel among the peoples, the dog among animals, [and] the cock among birds. Some say: Also the goat among small cattle. And some say: Also the caper-bush among trees [because of its rapid growing, for as soon as it is plucked it grows again, see BT Shabbat 30b]” (BT Beitsah 25b).
“Not because you are more numerous than all the peoples did YHWH desire you and choose you [for you are the fewest of all peoples] (Deuteronomy 7:7). The blessed Holy One said to Israel, I love you because even when I bestow greatness upon you, you humble yourselves before Me. I bestowed greatness upon Abraham, yet he said to Me, I am but dust and ashes (Genesis 18:27); Upon Moses and Aaron, yet they said: And what are we? [i.e., we are nothing!] (Exodus 16:8); upon David, yet he said: But I am a worm and no man (Psalm 22:7). But with the nations it is not so. I bestowed greatness upon Nimrod, and he said: Come, let us build us a city [and a tower with its top in the heavens, that we may make us a name…] (Genesis 11:4); upon Pharaoh, and he said: Who is YHWH, [that I should heed His voice? …] (Exodus 5:2). Upon Sennacherib, and he said: Who is there of all the gods of the lands [that saved their land from my hand…] (2 Kings 18:35); upon Nebuchadnezzar, and he said: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; [I will be like the most High] (Isaiah 14:14); upon Hiram king of Tyre, and he said: I sit in the seat of God, in the midst of the seas (Ezekiel 28:2)” (BT Ḥullin 89a).
“כִּי יַעֲקֹב בָּחַר לוֹ יָהּ יִשְׂרָאֵל לִסְגֻלָּתוֹ (Ki Ya’aqov baḥar lo Yah, Yisra’el lisgullato), For Jacob, chose for himself Yah, Israel as his own treasure (Psalms 135:4).
Come and see: Ki Ya’aqov baḥar lo Yah, For Jacob, chose for himself Yah. So far, we don’t know who chose whom: if the blessed Holy One chose Jacob, or Jacob chose the blessed Holy One! However, from what a verse reveals, we know that the blessed Holy selected Jacob for His share, as is written: for YHWH’s share is His people, Jacob His allotted inheritance (Deuteronomy 32:9). Come and see: Similarly, Jacob selected his allotted portion as his share, ascending above all rungs” (Zohar 1:161b, cf. Sifrei Devarim 312).
“Rabbi Ḥiyya opened, ‘For Yah has chosen Jacob for Himself, Israel as His own treasure (Psalms 135:4). How beloved are Israel to the blessed Holy One, who desires them and wants to cleave to them and be joined with them! He made them a unique nation in the world, as is written Who is like Your people Israel, a nation unique on earth? (2 Samuel 7:23). And they desired Him and linked themselves with Him as is written: For Jacob has chosen Yah for himself. And it is written: For YHWH’s share is His people (Deuteronomy 32:9)—He entrusted other nations to princely rulers appointed over them, while for His own share He took Israel“ (Zohar 2:126a–b).
“Rabbi Yoḥanan said, ‘Why are the people of the princes protected, while the people of the blessed Holy One are not?’ Rabbi Yitsḥaq replied, ‘The poor man is not like the wealthy man. The poor man must guard what is his; the wealthy man does not guard what is his! All the more so since Israel hail from a King who loves truth and justice, and the first judgment He renders is on the members of His household, for He wishes them to be protected from sin more than anyone else, as is written: You alone have I known of all the families of the earth—that is why I call you to account for all your iniquities (Amos 3:2) [cf. BT Avodah Zarah 4a ad loc.]” (Zohar 2:17b [MhN]).
“The blessed Holy One invited the other nations to receive the Torah. Now, was it not revealed before Him that they did not want it? However, so that they would have no excuse: if only He had given them the Torah, they would have kept it” (Zohar 3:20a).
“Rabbi Ḥiyya opened, ‘YHWH, when You came forth from Seir, when You strode from the field of Edom, the earth trembled, the heavens poured… (Judges 5:4). Come and see: Happy are Israel in this world and in the world that is coming, for the blessed Holy One delights in them and they cleave to Him and are called holy, Nation of YHWH. He has even elevated them to a supernal rung called Holiness, as is written: Holiness is Israel to YHWH (Jeremiah 2:3), as we have established. For from the eighth day the people of Israel cleave to His Name and are His, inscribed with His Name below, as is written: Who is like your people Israel, a unique nation on earth? (1 Chronicles 17:21). All the other nations do not cleave to Him nor follow His laws, and the holy insignia is lacking from them, so they cleave to the unholy Other Side.
Come and see: When the blessed Holy One wished to give the Torah to Israel, He summoned the people of Esau and said to them, ‘Do you want to receive the Torah? At that moment, the Holy Land quaked and sought to enter the Hollow of the Great Abyss. She said before Him, ‘Joyous splendor, two thousand years before the world was created—will I be snatched away to the uncircumcised who are not inscribed with Your covenant?’
The blessed Holy One replied, ‘O throne, throne, may a thousand such nations perish, yet the covenant of holy Torah will not be presented to them!’ As is written: YHWH, when You came forth from Seir, when You strode from the field of Edom, the earth trembled—surely, for Torah, who is the holy covenant, is given only to one who bears the holy covenant. And whoever conveys Torah and the covenant of Righteous One and Assembly of Israel, for Torah is given to this place and to no other.’
Rabbi Abba said, ‘He betrays three supernal places—betraying Torah, betraying the Prophets, and betraying the Writings. He betrays Torah, as is written: This is the Torah that Moses set before the Children of Israel (Deuteronomy 4:44). He betrays the Prophets, as is written: All your sons are disciples of YHWH (Isaiah 54:13)—they are disciples of YHWH, not others. And it is written: Seal Torah among My disciples (ibid., 8:16)—among them, not among others. He betrays the Writings, as is written: He established a testimony in Jacob, and ordained a teaching in Israel, which He commanded to our fathers to make them known to their children (Psalms 78:5). And it is written: Surely the righteous will acclaim Your name (ibid., 140:14). Who are the righteous? Righteous One and Assembly of Israel. For whoever is not circumcised and has not entered their covenant must not acclaim His Holy Name, which is Torah [cf. Deuteronomy 30:6: And YHWH your God shall circumcise your heart].
Rabbi Ḥiyya said, ‘Once the blessed Holy One revealed Himself on Mount Sinai to give Torah to Israel, the earth turned calm and tranquil again, as is written: The earth feared, and was still (Psalms 76:9)” (Zohar 3:91a–b).
“Come and see: It is written O YHWH, when You came forth from Seir, when You strode from the field of Edom, the earth trembled, the very heavens dripped, the clouds, O they dripped water (Judges 5:4). When the blessed Holy One wished to give the Torah to Israel, He went and invited the children of Esau, and they did not accept it—as is said: YHWH from Sinai came and He shone from Seir upon them (Deuteronomy 33:2), and they refused to accept it. He went to the children of Ishmael, and they refused to accept it, as is written: He radiated from Mount Paran (ibid.). Since they refused, He returned to Israel; so we have learned.
Now a question should be raised—and we have already learned that it is no sin when a person scrutinizes the details of Torah and asks his questions to elucidate its words. This verse is unsettled, and one should ask: When the blessed Holy one came to Seir, to which of their prophets did He appear? If you say that He revealed Himself to all of their people, we never find this except for Israel alone and through Moses. And, as has already been said, the verse should read as follows: YHWH to Sinai came and He shone to Seir upon them; He radiated to Mount Paran. Why from Seir upon them, and why from Mount Paran? All must be known and examined. I have already asked and have not heard and do not know.
When Rabbi Shim’on came, [Rabbi Yose] approached and asked about the matter as before. He replied, ‘This question has already been discussed. YHWH from Sinai came—as is said: Look, I am coming to you in the utmost cloud (Exodus 19:9), and from Sinai He came and revealed Himself to them. And He shone from Seir upon them—from what the children of Seir said, refusing to accept it; from this He illumined Israel, lavishing them with light and great love. Similarly, He radiated and illuminated from Mount Paran—from what the children of Paran said, refusing to accept it. From this, Israel gained greater love and radiance fittingly.
As for your asking ‘Through whom did He reveal Himself to them?’—come and see: it is a sublime mystery, and through you the matter is revealed. Torah issued from the supernal mystery of the head of the concealed King. When it reached the left arm, the blessed Holy One saw bad blood accumulating in that arm. He said, ‘I must purge and cleanse this arm; if that bad blood does not diminish, it will damage all. Surely, every defect must be eliminated from here.’
What did He do? He summoned Samael, who then came before Him. He said to him, ‘Do you want My Torah?’ He asked, ‘What’s written in it?’ He replied, ‘You shall not murder (Exodus 20:13).’ The blessed Holy One skipped to the necessary place. He said, ‘Heaven forbid! This Torah is Yours, and Yours it will remain. I don’t want this Torah.’
He went on pleading before Him, saying, ‘Master of the Universe, if You give it to me, my whole dominion will vanish, for look, my dominion is over killing—and there will be no wars—and my dominion is over the planet Mars. If so, all this will be abolished from the world! Master of the Universe, take Your Torah, and let me have no share or portion in it! But, if it pleases You, here is the people descended from Jacob—for them it is fitting.’ And he thought he was uttering slander against them.
This is He shone from Seir upon them—from Seir, precisely, light radiated to Israel. Samael thought, ‘Surely, if Jacob’s children accept this, they will vanish from the world and never gain dominion! [Samael] responded to Him several times similarly. [The blessed Holy One] said to him, ‘You are the firstborn, and for you it is fitting.’ He replied, ‘Look, my birthright is his! It was sold to him, and I consented [see Genesis 25:29–34].’ He said to him, ‘Since you want no share in it, remove yourself from it entirely’ [even from the seven Noahide commandments, see BT Bava Qamma 38a, Avodah Zarah 2b–3a]. He replied, ‘Fine.’ He said to him, ‘Since it is so, give Me advice about what I should do, so that Jacob’s children will accept it, as you say.’ He replied, ‘Master of the Universe, they must be bribed. Take some light from the radiance of the powers of heaven and bestow it upon them, and thereby they will accept it—and here, mine will be first.’
He stripped off the radiance covering him and gave it to Him to give to Israel, as is written: He shone מִשֵּׂעִיר (mi-se’ir), from Seir, upon them—from Seir, precisely, namely Samael, as is written: הַשָּׂעִיר (Ha-sa’ir), The goat, shall bear upon it [all their iniquities] (Leviticus 16:22). Upon them—upon Israel. Once He eliminated this, removing the bad blood from the left arm, He turned to the right arm and saw that it was similar. He said, ‘This arm, too, must be cleansed of bad blood.’ He summoned Rahab, and said to him, ‘Do you want My Torah?’ [Rahab, the sea monster, is sometimes used as a poetic epithet for Egypt (see Psalms 87:4), and here the prince of Ishmael, cf. Zohar 2:170b; 3:246b (RM); ZḤ 30d]. He replied, ‘What’s written in it?’ He skipped ahead and said, ‘You shall not commit adultery (Exodus 20:13).’ He replied, ‘Woe, if the blessed Holy One transmits this legacy to me—an evil legacy, which will eliminate my whole dominion; for I have obtained a blessing of waters, a blessing of the fish of the sea, as is written: פְּרוּ וּרְבוּ (Peru urvu), Be fruitful and multiply [and fill the water in the seas] (Genesis 1:22), and similarly: He will be פֶּרֶא (pere), a wild ass, of a man (ibid. 16:12).’
He began to plead before Him, saying, ‘Master of the Universe, we issued as two sons from Abraham! Here are the children of Isaac; give it to them, for whom it is fitting.’ He replied, ‘I cannot, for you are the first born, and for you it is fitting.’ He began to plead, saying, ‘Master of the Universe, my birthright will be his; and this light that I have thereby inherited, take and give to them.’ And so He did, as is written: הוֹפִיעַ (Hofi’a), He radiated, from Mount Paran.
Why is it written concerning Samael, וְזָרַח (Ve-zaraḥ), and He shone, whereas concerning Rahab it is written differently: Hofi’a, He appeared? Well, with the light that Samael stripped from himself, He took the sword and the killing [cf. Genesis 27:40: By your sword shall you live]—to kill by judicial sentencing, to kill properly—as is written: your triumphant sword (Deuteronomy 33:29) [cf. ZḤ 14a (MhN)], although it was not yours. And with the blessing that Rahab stripped from himself, He took a little, like someone to whom a little of his blessing appears, to enable [Israel] to be fruitful and multiply. Thus, hofi’a, He appeared, from Mount Paran, and it is not written ve-zaraḥ, and He shone. Once He had obtained these gifts for Israel from those ruling princes, He came and summoned all the myriads of holy ones (Deuteronomy 33:2), appointed over the other nations. They replied to Him similarly, and from all of them He received and obtained gifts to bestow upon Israel.
This may be compared to a doctor who had one vial full of vivifying drug, which he kept for his son. He wanted to give his son that vivifying ointment. The doctor was wise, and he said, ‘There are bad servants in my house. If they know that I am giving this present to my son, it will be evil in their eyes, and they will seek to kill him.’ What did he do? He took a little bit of deadly poison and put it on the opening of the vial. Then he called his servants and said to them, You are faithful to me; would you like this drug?
They said, Let’s see what it is. They took a bit to taste, and before even smelling it, they felt that they were about to die. They said to themselves, If he gives this drug to his son, he will die, and we will inherit our master. They said to him, Our master, this drug is fitting only for your son. Here are the wages of our labor; we leave them for you—give them to him as a bribe so that he will take this drug.
Similarly, the blessed Holy One is a wise doctor. He knew that if He gave the Torah to Israel before informing [the heavenly princes], they would pursue Israel every day on account of it and kill them. But He did this, and they gave Him gifts and presents so that [Israel] would accept it. All of these Moses received to give to Israel, as is written: You ascended the heights, you seized captives, you took gifts for humans (Psalms 68:19). Consequently, Israel inherited the Torah without any challenge or any accusation at all. Blessed is He and blessed is His name forever and forever!” (Zohar 3:192a–193a).