Resolving a 3314 Year Old Rejection
by Simon Jacobson
May 16, 2002
G-d came from Sinai shone forth to them from Seir [the
territory of Esau] and made an appearance from Mount Paran
([Ishmael’s territory]. From the holy myriads, He brought
the fire of a religion to them from His right hand. Although
there is love for nations, all Your holy ones are in Your
hand. They follow Your footsteps and uphold your word – Opening
of Moses’ last words and blessings -- Deuteronomy 33:2-3
Picture this scenario:
The world’s nations and religions stand in judgment
before G-d. G-d is asking them to account for their activities
and for what they perpetrated against the Jewish people and
against the world. It is a momentous occasion. The destiny of
the world hangs in the balance.
Interesting scenario, huh? If it would only be
true, you say.
Well, this is exactly what transpired 3314 years
ago, and is being resolved today.
The Talmud (in the opening of the tractate Avodah
Zorah) relates in elaborate detail a fascinating account of
a dialogue between G-d and the nations.
I would strongly suggest that each of us read
this account during the upcoming holiday of Shavuot – as it
addresses the events at Sinai – and I assure you that you will
find it surprisingly and uncannily relevant to our times.
Here is a brief summary:
The Talmud tells us that our actions are witnesses
that testify on our behalf for posterity.
In this context, the Talmud describes a “trial”
that will happen in the “future to be” (referring to the Final
Redemption of the entire world, a time of peace and harmony,
a world where G-d will be at ‘home’ in our material world).
G-d will invite all those who served G-d with Torah to “come
and receive their reward.” The nations of the world arrive for
their reward. First come the two most prestigious and powerful
empires the Roman Empire followed by the Persian Empire. Each
describe their great achievements in commerce, travel, entertainment,
etc., explaining how their contributions allowed for Divine
service, and facilitated Jews to study Torah. G-d rejects their
arguments, stating that their achievements were for their own
sake, not for any higher purpose. “Are there among you those
that disseminated Torah?” G-d asks them. G-d concludes that
there are none, hence the nations are not deserving of any reward.
The same will transpire with every nation. Each
will argue that they should merit reward for their temporal
achievements which also benefited the spiritual – from which
Israel derived benefit – and their claims will be denied.
“Why are the Romans and Persians explicitly mentioned
by name as opposed to the other nations that are not mentioned
separately?” The Talmud answers: “For these regimes will endure
until the arrival of Moshiach.”
The Talmud then continues to relate how the nations
will attempt to defend themselves against G-d’s charge that
they did not involve themselves in Torah. Briefly, the Talmud
suggests three different arguments the nations will proffer.
First, that they were never offered the Torah.
This is refuted by the fact that the nations were indeed offered
the Torah – as it is stated “G-d came from Sinai shone forth
to them from Seir [territory of Esau, father of the Romans]
and made an appearance from Mount Paran [land of Ishmael, father
of the Persians]” – and they did not accept it.
The second claim would be that since the nations
never received the Torah, they were not responsible for it.
This too is an unacceptable defense, because in this very contention
lies their refutation. For G-d will ask them: “Why, in fact,
did you not accept the Torah in the first place.”
Finally, the nations’ defense will be that G-d
did not coerce them to receive the Torah as He did the Jews,
implying that had G-d coerced them, they too would have received
the Torah and followed its precepts. G-d replies: “The first
will inform us” – “Your level of commitment to the first set
of commitments – the seven universal Noachide Laws of civilization
– will inform us whether you indeed would have observed the
Torah had I coerced you to accept it.” “Since you did not fulfill
the seven Noachide precepts, it is evident that you would not
observe the Torah’s commandments.”
The nations continue to appeal by asking what
evidence is there that the Jewish people were meticulous in
their observance of Torah. After a series of back and forth
arguments, the evidence finally comes from the nations themselves
who bear witness to the Jews’ commitment. Nimrod bears witness
that Abraham was G-d fearing, Laban bears witness that Jacob
was ethical, etc.
Finally, the Talmud concludes that the nations
request that G-d give them another chance to accept G-d’s commandments.
And G-d gives them the chance. And adds, that it is only through
your effort and preparation today that you can merit reward
tomorrow. “If you do not prepare food before Shabbat, what will
you have to eat?”
The relevance of this narrative today is powerfully
evident. We are witnessing today the struggle of nations stemming
from Esau – the Roman/Christian/Western world, and Ishmael –
the Arab/Muslim world, and their confrontations are deeply related
to Israel and the Jews, children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
This struggle can truly be understood only by
retracing its roots. The story of Abraham and his children,
and then the story of Sinai seven generations later tells us
how these battles all began.
G-d offered the Torah to the great nations/religions
of the world. The children of Esau and the children of Ishmael
rejected it on grounds that they could not comply with some
of Torah’s laws. Instead, these people – who encompass all
nations – went on to build powerful empires that made important
contributions, but also wreaked great destruction on the world.
Their rejection at Sinai is the root of all our
conflicts today. Yet the solution lies in the very offer that
the nations rejected. Why would G-d offer the nations the Torah
surely knowing that they would reject it? The Zohar explains
that it was to redeem the Divine ‘sparks’ embedded among the
nations. Furthermore, the offer to the nations was actually
a way of implanting in them the quality that will ultimately
emerge at the end of days when the entire world will serve G-d
in unity, “I will turn to the peoples a pure tongue that all
shall call upon the name of G-d and serve Him with one consent”.
G-d’s dialogue with the nations in the “future
to be” comes to bring closure to this unresolved 3314 year old
rejection. All the material achievements of nations and regimes
must be permeated with a higher, Divine purpose. They must pave
the way to bring the Divine wisdom and will (Torah) into this
How fascinating it is that thousands of years
ago Moses, in his final parting words, opens his closing blessing
to the people with the vision for the entire world: G-d came
from Sinai shone forth to them from Seir and made an appearance
from Mount Paran. Moses, 3274 years ago, stated clearly
that the Torah would shine forth to all the nations of the world
– to the nations of Esau and Ishmael, that encompass all the
True, at the time the nations were not yet ready
to embrace the Torah’s values. Yet the seeds were planted, and
have worked their way and seeped into the fiber of existence
That was then. Now, 3314 years later the time
has come for these and all nations to face G-d once again, and
this time embrace G-d’s law – to reconnect to the commitment
of Abraham, “father of all the nations,” that was consummated
As we enter into the holiday of Shavuot, when
we celebrate and commemorate the giving of Torah at Sinai 3314
years ago, what more appropriate message is there for each of
us and for the world today. We are called upon to declare: Let
us make our peace with Sinai.
The nations of the world must and will embrace
their legacy -- to integrate G-d into their lives, teach G-d’s
laws to their children and infuse spirituality into all systems.
Jews must fulfill their calling of being a "light unto
nations," bringing Sinai and its teachings to all.
G-d knocked on the door once over three millennia
ago. G-d has been waiting ever since. Religions and faiths have
been born in the interim and have been going through their growing
pains. Some have brought untold devastation to the world. Each
has undergone its own ‘market corrections’ and reality checks.
Today, as the nations – especially Esau and Ishmael
– confront the world and each other, with Israel as usual in
the middle, G-d’s 3314 year knock resonates louder than ever.
Are we listening? Are we responding?
1. See also Zohar III 192b. Mechilta Yitro 20:2.
Sifri and Rashi Deuteronomy 33:2.
2. See the Tzemach Tzedek, Ohr HaTorah p. 1840, on the verse
3. Zefaniah 3:9. Maimonides. Mishne Torah, Laws of Kings end
of chapter 11.