When Jacob came before his father Isaac to receive the blessings he purchased from Esav and rightfully deserved, Isaac commences by saying “Elokim should give you from the dew of the heavens.” Rashi asks why Isaac used Elokim, the name of God that refers to “justice”. To what matter of justice does he refer? (Gen. 27:28) Rashi says this justice refers to the ways of God, that He should give Jacob goodness (he thought it was a “righteous” Esav before him) but only when he deserves it. In other words, Isaac was blessing Jacob that God should give him in accordance with his actions. Later, when blessing the real Esav, now knowing that Esav did not turn out as good as Isaac had wished, Isaac omitted the name “Elokim”. Meaning, God should grant Esav goodness “unconditionally”. The lesser son receives a greater blessing?
Rashi picks up on this distinction, and with his encyclopedic mind, he cites where King Solomon did the same, learning from our case of Isaac’s blessings. After building the Temple, King Solomon prays to God that He responds to each Jews’ Temple prayers “in accordance with his actions, for you know his heart, for You alone know the ways of all men”. (Kings I, 8:39) But when praying that God also responds to the prayers of the ‘gentiles’ at the Temple, King Solomon says that God should give each gentile “whatever he asks, in order that all nations will know Your name, to fear you like Israel and to know that Your name is called upon this house that I built”. (ibid 8:43)
On the surface, both cases seem to favor the individual who is further removed from worshipping God. For both Isaac and King Solomon ask God to grant unconditional goodness on Esav and the gentiles, respectively. How do we resolve this apparent favoritism towards one less deserving? And I only say a gentile is less deserving, since he typically is less knowledgeable of God and His will, since he has no Torah. Of course Abraham was a gentile who didn’t need a Torah to perfect himself. But we speak in general terms, not exceptional cases. So what must be our first step to discovering an answer? The first step is always the same: careful analysis of the verses. And Radak did so beautifully here.
King Solomon said God should “give the gentile whatever he asks, in order that all nations will know Your name, to fear you like Israel and to know that Your name is called upon this house that I built.” In other words, the gentile does not yet know God’s name, or rather, God’s ways. The king is teaches us a primary lesson, the lesson he learned from Isaac.
The lesson is that people are different, and to reach their objective of recognizing God, there are certain ideas that must precede others. Without a proper sequence of education, one may sacrifice all education. Maimonides too wrote in his opening words of his Guide, “for my object was that the truth should present itself in connected order”. I will explain.
Typically, a gentile has a distorted view of God, or no view at all. If he were to hear of the Temple, the house associated with Israel who worships the Creator, it is fundamental to his knowledge of God that he not be suddenly turned off by God’s measure-for-measure justice system. That’s too much justice for a first lesson. At such an early stage in his development, to attract the gentile in to continued learning, we must start with ‘his’ current sense of justice. Isaac and King Solomon did this. They both asked God to respond unconditionally whenever the gentile prays. This will open the gentile to accepting the Torah system. The gentile currently operates with a sense of justice where what he considers good, is identical with obtaining his wishes. If he does not receive what he prays for at the Temple, he might be eternally turned off to the Torah system. Therefore, our prophets asked God to be lenient with those who possess little knowledge. Once they attain an appreciation – even on their terms – for Torah, they will have hearts that are opened to hearing the finer points.
Similarly, when teaching an unaffiliated Jew for the first time, is it wise to enumerate all the specifics of how milk and meat can combine, with fatty substances, with or without a flame, 2 sets of dishes, etc? That would be foolish, and will certainly turn off that Jew. It matters none that the ideas are true, but he is not ready for them. First, teach him the ideas of a Creator, that He must be One. That He is not physical, and was never preceded by anything else. That He created, sustains and suspends all natural law. That He protects those who follow Him. Now you’ve got a foundation that attracts that Jew. The same applies to the gentile.
First, let the gentile experience the truth that God alone answers prayers, as He alone Created the universe and can direct physical responses to man. This foundation will allow future lessons to be heard. But if the gentile receives no response to his desires, since he is at a low level, he might abandon his approach to Torah.
Radak teaches that this is how we are to decipher the verse: “give the gentile whatever he asks”. That is the first step, and the first words on our verse. The verse continues, “In order that all nations will know Your name”. This means that this will open the gentiles’ hearts to accepting You God. “To fear You like Israel and to know that Your name is called upon this house that I built”. This is the ultimate goal, that the gentile should fear God just as the Jews. It is only once a person has the realization of God, that we can then teach finer points of reward and justice. But if we attempt to teach this in reverse order, what will happen? A gentile will approach the Temple and pray to God for his wishes. If God responds using measure-form-measure, meaning strict justice, the gentile will be dissuaded, since his current sense of reality associates goodness with physical success. Therefore, both Isaac and King Solomon wished for the good for all people, and that God should respond to certain individuals differently, “in order that all nations will know Your name, to fear you like Israel.”
Our greatest leaders saw all members of mankind as equal. They wished that God would respond to them in a way that will eventuate in them “fearing You like Israel”. That is, our leaders saw the gentiles as possessing the same potential as the Jew. This must be the case, as all mankind emanates from the same couple…we all possess the identical design, and potential.
If we live this way, imagine the reputation Torah will have, and how many others will be attracted to God’s will for all mankind.