From Your Homeland
Most young Yeshiva children come home sometime around Shavuos with the story of how Hashem offered the Torah to all the nations of the world, but only the Jews accepted it.
The medrash, as told in the Yalqut Shim’oni, tells how first Hashem went to Edom and offered them the Torah. They asked, “What is written in it?” Hashem replied, “Do not murder”. Edom declines because “our very substance is murder because our father, Eisav, was a murderer”.
Next, Hashem approaches Ammon and Moav. When they asked, “What is written in it?” Hashem replies “You may not commit adultery”. They too reject the Torah, because, “our very substance is adultery because our father, Lot, was sexually immoral”.
The third example given in the Yalkut is the Ishmaelites. They too want to first know what is written in the Torah before accepting it. To them Hashem says, “Do not steal”. They answer, “our very substance is theft, because our father, Yishmael, was a thief”. In this way, each nation declined, until Hashem approached the Jews.
Hashem’s answer to each of the nations is strange. Why choose the one sin their forefather was known for? Especially since in each of these cases the sin is prohibited to all Benei Noach; they may not do any of these things even without getting the Torah.
By comparing this medrash to the opening pasuq in parashas Lekh-Lekha, we can get a better understanding of the point of the story.
“Hashem said to Avram, ‘Go for yourself from your homeland, from your birthplace and from your father’s house to the land which I will show you’.” (Bereishis 12:1) The first sentence recorded in the Torah of the Jewish mission on earth is a commandment for Avram to leave his home and his father.
Avram didn’t say, “I can’t worship G-d because my very substance his idolatry, because my father, Terach, manufactures idols”. Hashem orders Avram to leave the culture that made him, to leave his father’s sphere of influence, and he does.
Avram’s reply was “And Avram went, just as G-d told him”. (12:4) If Hashem said he could change, rise above Ur Casdim to become fit for both the land of Israel and the father of the people of Israel, then he goes.
Similarly we read this line on Shavuos, when Boaz describes how he heard of Ruth’s fateful decision to join the Jewish people, ” הֻגֵּ֨ד הֻגַּ֜ד לִ֗י כֹּ֤ל אֲשֶׁר־עָשִׂית֙ אֶת־חֲמוֹתֵ֔ךְ אַחֲרֵ֖י מ֣וֹת אִישֵׁ֑ךְ וַתַּֽעַזְבִ֞י אָבִ֣יךְ וְאִמֵּ֗ךְ וְאֶ֙רֶץ֙ מֽוֹלַדְתֵּ֔ךְ וַתֵּ֣לְכִ֔י אֶל־עַ֕ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹא־יָדַ֖עַתְּ תְּמ֥וֹל שִׁלְשֽׁוֹם — It was told to me all you did for your mother-in-law after the death of your husband, and how you left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and went to a nation that you didn’t know of yesterday nor the day before.” (Rus 2:11) The echoes of the call to Avraham, speaking of leaving her parents, her land, and her place of birth to a destination she took on trust, could only be intentional.
Is man a creature of fate or of destiny? Is his future foretold, etched in rock, unchangeable? Or can he rebuild himself into something greater than he was?
Clearly the Torah insists on the latter. The very key to accepting the Torah is to be committed to use its ideas and its mitzvos to improve and to grow.
This was the failing ascribed to the other nations in the medrash. They saw a given flaw in their national character as their substance, immutable. Hashem wasn’t asking them about a particular prohibition, but about their commitment to leave their “father’s house”. If they do not believe they can change, what purpose can getting the Torah serve them?