ויאמר יהוה מסיני בא וזרח משעיר למו הופיע מהר פארן ואתה מרבבת קדש מימינו אש דת למו
The Lord came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir to them; he shone forth from Mount Paran, and he came with holy tens of thousands; from his right hand went a fiery law for them.
The Sifri comments that before the Omnipresent revealed Himself to give the Torah to Israel, He first revealed Himself to all the nations asking if they would accept the Torah. The descendants of Esau asked God, “What is written in it?” God replied, “Thou shalt not kill.” They responded, “Our ancestor was a killer to the core of his being.” God then went to the descendants of Amon and Moab. They asked Him, “What is written in it?” God answered, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” They responded, “Our ancestor was an adulterer to his core.” God then went to the descendants of Ishmael to offer them the Torah. They asked Him, “What is written in it?” God answered, “Thou shalt not steal.” They responded, “Our ancestor was a thief to the core of his being.”
The Sifri is amazing, because these three prohibitions were among the Seven Noahide Laws, which all the nations had long since been commanded to observe. How is it that God would have mentioned these commandments to them? And what did they accomplish by refusing to accept commandments of the Torah that they were obligated to observe even if they did not accept the Torah?
Our master explains that the Torah that God gave us was permeated with kindness and truth, her laws being righteous altogether, and her ways the ways of pleasantness and peace, so that the Torah does not impose a harsh punishment on these three destructive crimes: stealing, adultery, and murder that annihilate peace and destroy the land. Instead, the Torah treats them with mercy and great compassion, because one who steals from his neighbor and is found with the stolen object obtains forgiveness for his sin by making a two-fold restitution to his neighbor. And although the murderer and the adulterer are liable to the death penalty, they can only be executed on the testimony of at least two witnesses who must be subjected to searching examination by the court. Nor can capital punishment be administered unless the offenders were properly warned before they perpetrated the offense. And their case must be judged in a court of twenty-three judges. So difficult was it to impose capital punishment that R. Akiva and R. Tarfon said that if they had been judges in the times when courts were still imposing capital punishment, no one would ever have been executed.
Righteous and enlightened laws like these are appropriate only for a wise and understanding people abundantly endowed with wisdom, talent and lofty characteristics. However, for a contemptible and degenerate people, like the ancient nations, who were all murderers and adulterers, robbers and plunderers, would have, under such lenient laws, lived in chaos and disorder, because they would not have feared the sword of the law. The earth would have been full of violence, theft, and adultery. In truth, under the Noahide Laws, the death penalty could be imposed by one judge on the testimony of one witness and with no warning provided the perpetrator; violation of any commandment was a capital offense, because only by prosecuting the people ferociously could they be restrained.
The leaders and ministers of all the nations through whom God wanted to give His Torah were, therefore, unwilling to accept it, because, even though the Torah encompassed the Seven Noahide Laws that they had already received, not everyone violating those laws receive swift punishment under the rules of justice prescribed by the Torah. How, then, would they be able to continue leading their peoples whose offenses weighed so heavily upon them? This is why the leaders of each nation answered that their ancestors were either murderers, thieves or immoral to the core of their being: If their people were unruly, violent and deceitful, and how could they be governed by laws as upright and enlightened as the laws of the Torah?
שמח זבולן בצאתך ויששכר באהליך עמים הר יקראו שם יזבחו זבחי צדק כי שפע ימים יינקו ושפני טמוני חול
Rejoice, Zebulun, in your going out; and, Issachar, in your tents. They shall call the people to the mountain; there they shall offer sacrifices of righteousness; for they shall suck of the abundance of the seas, and of treasures hidden in the sand. (שביבי אש)
Our master explained that Zebulun and Issachar entered into a covenant under which Zebulun would dwell on the sea-coast to conduct international trade and commerce while Issachar, supported by Zebulun, would dwell in tents to study Torah day and night. Although all the tribes of the Almighty would devote themselves to the hungry performing charity and kindness when they appeared before the Eternal bringing their sacrifices, tithes, and heave-offerings from their own bounty with which they nourished and provided for the priests and the poor, the nation did so only when all of Israel was gathered together in the sight of all. It was not such public gifts that the tribe of Zebulun gave, for they gave to the poor from their own food and supported them from their own table even when they were at home and their generosity was not publicly noted. The Eternal, therefore, did withheld nothing from Zebulun and gave them a reward commensurate with their generosity. So, if they lent a hand to the needy in secret and did not deny a covert gift from the impoverished, the Eternal rewarded them from secret storehouses – “שפע ימים” (the abundance of the seas) — which were concealed in his rich territory and were hidden from view and could not be taken without Zebulun’s permission. As the Sages said in the Talmud (Megilah 6a):
Zevulun said before the Holy One Blessed Be He: “Who will inform me about and pay compensation for the hilazon and the hidden treasures of the sand in my territory?” He replied: “Whoever takes from you without payment will not prosper in his business.”
That is why Zebulun did not have to stand guard over his property. This is the meaning of the verse: “שמח זבולן בצאתך” (rejoice, Zebulun, in your going out). Zebulun was able to travel long distances, happily and confidently, in his trading ships, without fearing that his belongings and property would be seized by strangers. If so, it was as if all his property were hidden, because he held the hand and provided for the welfare of Issachar in the privacy of his tents, which is the meaning of “ויששכר באהליך” (and Issachar in your tents).
The subsequent verse “עמים הר יקראו” (they shall call peoples unto the mountain) refers, as Rashi explains, to the tribes of Israel who will go up to the holy mountain in Jerusalem where they will offer “זבחי צדק” (sacrifices of righteousness) and give gifts to the poor. However, the passage “כי שפע ימים יינקו” (for they shall suck the abundance of the seas) refers, as Rashi explains, to Zebulun and Issachar, for these two came under the moral obligation of the covenant whereby Zebulun provided for the needs of Issachar and Issachar taught Zebulun Torah and skills. Therefore, both of them “suck from the abundance of the seas and the hidden treasures of the sand.” (שביבי אש)