Hashem came from Sinai having revealed Himself from Seir and having appeared on Mount Pharan (Devarim 33:2).
Rashi comments on the above passage with the Midrashic interpretation that before Hashem gave the Torah to the Children of Israel on Mount Sinai, He appeared to the descendants of Esav
(Esau) on Mount Se'ir in the Land of Edom and to the descendants of Ishmael in the Pharan Desert and offered them the Torah. Each nation had its own excuse for refusing the Torah. Esav asked, "How can I be expected to refrain from murder? Murder is my main preoccupation!" Yishmael (Ishmael) had the same claim about thievery; how can desert bandits commit themselves to refrain from stealing when thievery is their main preoccupation?
Despite the fact that the Torah only mentions the nations of Esav and Yishmael explicitly, our Sages teach that Hashem offered the Torah to all the nations of the world before He gave it to Israel on Mount Sinai. Each nation had its own separate excuse for refusing the Torah; one nation couldn't live without adultery, another nation couldn't exist without idolatry, and so forth.
A King has a much higher standard for his own children than he does for the children of commoners. In like respect, one might receive a false impression from the chastisement of the Jewish People in the previous Torah portion, Ha’azinu. "Jeshurun became fat and kicked (Devarim 32:15)" – Hashem chastises His holy people of Israel for eating a chocolate donut for the sake of bodily pleasure or for playing a game of checkers instead of learning Torah. In effect, the praise of the other nations doesn't reach the spiritual level of the chastisement of the Jews. For that reason, Hashem reminds the world, in our passage at hand, that only Israel accepted the Torah. Israel is therefore moral and spiritual light-worlds ahead of the other nations and is subsequently judged on a completely separate plane.
of Breslev explains that in the Diaspora that precedes the full redemption of our people, in other words – now
, the prestige of Torah and Israel is buried in darkness and will only be revealed in the future. Meanwhile, honor and prestige are in the hands of the nations of the world (see Likutei Moharan I:14.2
). In other words, people hold professional athletes and rock stars in high regard, but disdain Torah scholars. Yet, in reality, Hashem and His Torah are the source of all honor and prestige. One would expect that the pious Torah sages and scholars would be the most highly regarded people on earth. However, the opposite is true. How can this be? With Hashem's loving grace, the following parable will explain:
Mahmoud was a desert nomad, wandering the vast parched wilderness from oasis to oasis, in search of a wellspring and a patch of greenery for his family and his flocks. One day while walking in the desert, Mahmoud saw something glittering from the sands in the distance. He hastened to the place where shifting sands and desert winds had exposed a large jewel-studded, pure-silver box. Mahmoud pulled the heavy box out of the sand, put it on the back of his camel, and hurried home to his tent, pitched at an oasis nearby.
Fatima, Mahmoud's wife, came running out of the tent, curious to know what was in the glittering box on the back of her husband's camel. She helped him lower the box off the camel's back, and with excitement, opened it.
Inside, was an exquisite diamond, ruby, and sapphire-studded solid-gold scepter, an apparent heirloom from the desert kings of previous generations. Fatima gasped: "Mahmoud! Walahi! Hada shufra il shufra! That's gorgeous! – What is it?"
Mahmoud cleared his throat with a self-important cough. He was a mere goat herdsman, the son of a goat herdsman, but for his wife, he was the wisest man in the world. He gazed at the scepter, turning it from side to side and declared, "Fatima! You no longer have to stir the goat's milk by hand. This is a stirring rod, so you can make labaneh – sour cream – without bending down too much and breaking your back!"
Fatima was overjoyed with her husband's magnanimous gift. She then pointed to the jewel-studded, pure-silver box. "And what will we use this for?"
"That's a feed trough for the camels," replied Mahmoud in a worldly-wise tone. "We put their daily portion of grain in the box, and it doesn't get wasted on the desert floor."
Weeks went by, with Mahmoud and Fatima using the royal scepter to stir goat's milk and the royal jewel box to feed the camels. One day, a caravan of Arabian dignitaries passed through Mahmoud's encampment. Immediately, they identified the "stirring rod" and the "feed trough" as long-lost regal treasures. They knew that the goat-herding nomad had no idea of the riches in his possession. They succeeded in convincing Mahmoud that a tin ladle and a tin feed trough would be much more practical and durable tools, and bought the treasures from the naïve nomad for a pittance, ultimately returning them to the royal, rightful heirs.
* * *
Mahmoud and his wife are symbolic of the nations of the world, and the royal scepter and treasure box represent honor and prestige. The ridiculous uses of the royal treasures in our above parable are comparable to the silly things that people attribute importance to in the darkness of the Diaspora and today's material-oriented world. The caravan of dignitaries is an allusion to Moshiach. When Moshiach will arrive, the world will become aware of true honor and prestige, and will return them to their rightful owners, the sages of Torah and those who seek its knowledge - speedily and in our time, Amen.
(You are cordially welcome to visit Rabbi Lazer Brody's website and daily web journal "Lazer Beams" at www.lazerbrody.net