A Light Unto The Nations
‘The Sound Thereof Traveled From One End…To The Other”
Our daf relates that when the Torah was given to Bnei Yisrael at Mt. Sinai, Hashem’s voice reverberated across the entire world, causing all the gentile kings to tremble in fear. They sought Balaam’s counsel. “What is this sound we hear?” they asked him. “Is this the advent of a new flood?”
Balaam responded that there was no need to worry as Hashem had already promised that He would never bring another flood upon the world. He explained that they heard a noise because Hashem was giving a marvelous gift, the Torah – which He has kept hidden in His storehouse for 974 generations – to His children. Upon hearing Balaam’s response, the gentile kings immediately said, “Hashem will bless His people with peace” (Tehillim 29:11).
Obliteration of Evil
Keren Orah (Zevachim 116a) interprets our Gemara homiletically. At the time of the giving of the Torah, the entire world was prepared to achieve its ultimate fulfillment. The nations of the world were therefore quite fearful as they understood that implicit in such fulfillment was the obliteration of all evil, which meant their annihilation. So Balaam explained to them that Hashem did not seek their destruction as Yechezkel 33:11 states, “I desire not the death of the wicked one, but that the wicked repents and live.”
Reaching Spiritual Heights
Hashem deemed the sinners living at the time of the flood beyond hope; hence, He was left no choice but to totally annihilate them. But when He gave the Torah to Bnei Yisrael, He anticipated that the Torah’s light would elevate them to such spiritual heights that they would inspire the nations of the world to recognize Hashem, causing them all to repent from their evil ways.
Thus, Balaam explained to the gentile rulers that the world will achieve its fulfillment through the presence of the Torah, which will inspire repentance, thus making destruction of sinners unnecessary.
Understanding Their Motives
With this interpretation, Keren Orah notes, we can shed new light on the following enigmatic verses, “Praise Hashem, all nations; praise Him, all the states! For His kindness has overwhelmed us, and the truth of Hashem is eternal, praise Hashem” (Tehillim 117:1-2). Why, pray tell, should the nations praise Hashem for the good fortune He has bestowed on Bnei Yisrael?
Keren Orah suggests that this chapter in Tehillim refers to our Gemara. The nations praise Hashem because His kindness to Bnei Yisrael – giving them the Torah – spared them from annihilation.