In this week’s Torah portion, humanity makes a covenant promising to observe Seven Mitzvot. However, surprisingly, this covenant is not kept.
The following appears in the Talmud:
“Rav Yosef said: ‘He stood and measured the earth, and He released the nations’ [Habakkuk 3:6]. What did He see? He saw that the Bnei Noach did not observe the Seven Mitzvot which they had accepted, so He released them. But this means that they profited! Will one who sins profit from the deed!! Mar the Son of Ravana said, this means that even if they observe the seven mitzvot they do not get a reward. Can this be? Did we not read in a Baraita that Rabbi Meir says, How do we know that even a Gentile who is involved in Torah has the status of the High Priest? It is written, ‘… which will be performed by a man, and he will live by them’ [Vayikra 18:5]. It is not written, ‘Priests, Levites, and Yisraelites,’ but rather ‘man.’ This teaches us that even a Gentile who studies Torah is the same as the High Priest! The answer is that such a Gentile does not receive the reward of one who has been commanded to perform a mitzva but rather the reward of a person who does a mitzva even though he was not commanded. As Rabbi Chanina said, ‘One who was commanded and performs a mitzva is greater than one who was not commanded and does the mitzva.'” [Bava Metzia 38a].
We can understand from this passage that in spite of many failures, humanity as a whole does observe the Seven Mitzvot that the Bnei Noach were commanded to fulfil in a way that is close to the ideal. However, they are missing the element of a Divine commandment. The desire to observe ethical behavior not as a mitzva but rather as a reasonable act, without having any effect on the connection between man and the Creator, is the essence of the behavior of “one who performs the act even though he has not been commanded to do so.” This is what Paul thought when he cancelled the obligation of the mitzvot. The obligation carried with it a punishment if the mitzvot were not observed, but he felt that the people should still act in an ethical way. The Maharal wrote a detailed response against this approach in Chapter 5 of his book “Tiferet Yisrael.”
What should a Gentile do if he wants to rejoin the status of being obligated to perform the mitzvot and to once again be privileged to clinging more closely to G-d through observation of the mitzvot? He must go through a process of personal acceptance of the mitzvot of G-d in front of a Beit Din (religious court) made up of three men (Rambam, Hilchot Melachim 8:10). This action moves a person from a status of a “Gentile” to that of a “Ben Noach.” In terms of halacha, there is a tremendous difference between the two. A regular Gentile is not allowed to observe more than the seven mitzvot, while a Ben Noach is allowed to perform all the other mitzvot (Rambam, ibid, 10:9-10, and see Biur Halacha, the end of note 340). In addition, at a time when the Jubilee is practiced, a Ben Noach can be considered a “Ger Toshav,” who participates fully in the life of the nation of Yisrael on their land.
In our generation we are witnessing a renewal of the desire among the nations to accept the commandments of G-d as people who perform the mitzvot because they were commanded to do so, with a commitment to be close to the nation of Yisrael. It is clear that the return of our nation to Zion which has taken place is the main trigger that brought about this movement.
Source: “NOTES FROM THE HAFTARAH” – a biweekly column in Shabbat B’Shabbato (Zomet Institute) See: http://www.zomet.org.il/eng – Noach 5776, issue 1594.