Rabbi Oury Cherki
Shavuot - The Role of the Other Nations Today
Shavuot is the holiday when the Torah was given. However, the truth is that not all of the Torah was given on that day. Actually, the Torah is being given continuously, from generation to generation. What we received on that glorious day was the Ten Commandments. As the name implies, this consists of ten mitzvot, or Divine commands.
These Ten Commandments are the foundation of all the commandments. As we know, the total number of mitzvot is 613.
If we count the number of letters in the Ten Commandments we will find that there are 620. We might have expected to find 613 letters, but there are 620 in all. Evidently, the number 613 is not enough, and we must add seven more mitzvot. What are these mitzvot? The answer should be obvious: The Seven Commandments of the Bnei Noach.
This concept can teach us a great lesson. The Torah cannot be given to Israel unless it also has at least one universal branch, which is symbolized by the last seven letters in the Ten Commandments. What do these last seven letters spell out? It is the Hebrew phrase, "Asher lerayacha" – that which belongs to your colleague. These seven letters tell us to create a world brotherhood consisting of all mankind.
Another remarkable insight in the Hebrew language is that 620 is also the numerical value of the word "keter," which means a crown. When, as it were, the Master of the Universe puts on a crown, He can rule over the world only if the Bnei Noach participate in hearing His word. Therefore 7 must be added to the first 613, giving a total of 620.
Note also that the events that are described make it clear that the Torah cannot be given to Israel until at least one representative of the other nations arrives at Mount Sinai. This is Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, who arrives on the scene in the name of all humanity, in order to take part in the tremendous events of the giving of the Torah.
It is not without good reason that we read the Book of Ruth on Shavuot, describing how a precious soul from among the distant nation of Moab joins the nation of Israel.
According to the oral traditions of the Midrash, the Holy One, Blessed be He, traversed the world, visiting all the other nations, to propose that they accept the Torah, but they all refused. In the end, only Israel accepted the proposal. The very fact that this Midrash was written by the Jews shows that they do not demand a primary role for themselves. Rather, the fact is that only Israel received the Torah, while the others refused to take it.
We might ask why the other nations in fact refused, in view of the fact that the mitzvot in the Ten Commandments are reasonable and straightforward: "Do not murder ... Do not commit adultery... Do not steal..." These are upright and good practices that should be followed by everybody in the world. Why, then, didn't the other nations accept the Torah?
The answer is that there indeed were some people among the other nations who wanted the Torah, but they were a minority within their own nation. These people were ready to accept the commands of the Torah as mitzvot and not only as general moral principles. But since they were such a small minority, they could not make themselves felt at the time, and their only recourse was for their souls to join the Jews as converts. This is what was said by one of the most prominent converts of the eighteenth century, the Polish Count Pototsky, who was in contact with the GRA (Rabbi Eliyahu, the "Gaon" of Vilna).
Today it is no longer absolutely necessary to become a Jew. We can thank G-d that today one can become a Ben Noach, and then each and every person can accept the Torah according to his or her own capacity, in a way that is most suitable for his or her soul. And this means that the holiday of Shavuot is no longer a unique holiday for Israel alone but has become a holiday for the whole world.
Have a happy holiday.