The gemara in Avodah Zara discusses the conversation between Hashem and the world, after Moshiach arrives. He invites everyone to come and get their reward for Torah. The various nations queue up and when He asks why they deserve reward, each of them explains what they did to support the learning of Torah. In the end, Hashem rejects all of their claims, explaining that they did not do it for Torah, they did it for themselves. For example:

אמר להם הקב"ה במאי עסקתם אומרים לפניו רבש"ע הרבה שווקים תקנינו הרבה מרחצאות עשינו הרבה כסף וזהב הרבינו וכולם לא עשינו אלא בשביל ישראל כדי שיתעסקו בתורה

The Gemara returns to its narration of the future judgment. First, the members of the Roman Empire enter. The Holy One, Blessed be He, says to them: With what did you occupy yourselves? They say before Him in response: Master of the Universe, we have established many marketplaces, we have built many bathhouses, and we have increased much silver and gold. And we did all of this only for the sake of the Jewish people, so that they would be free to engage in Torah study.

אמר להם הקב"ה שוטים שבעולם כל מה שעשיתם לצורך עצמכם עשיתם תקנתם שווקים להושיב בהן זונות מרחצאות לעדן בהן עצמכם כסף וזהב שלי הוא שנאמר (חגי ב, ח) לי הכסף ולי הזהב נאם ה' צבאות

The Holy One, Blessed be He, says to them: Fools of the world! Are you attempting to deceive Me? Everything that you did, you did for your own needs. You established marketplaces to place prostitutes in them; you built bathhouses for your own enjoyment; and as for the silver and gold that you claim to have increased, it is Mine, as it is stated: “Mine is the silver, and Mine the gold, said the Lord of hosts” (Haggai 2:8).

[Steinsaltz translation and commentary]

My question is, why do we need to learn this lesson in advance? It's a "prophecy" of sorts (if taken literally), but also it tells us about our situation now. Right now, the nations of the world are self serving, and for some reason, Chazal/Oral Tradition felt it necessary to tell us that. Why?

  • Doesn't that risk creating permanent disdain or animosity between us and the nations?
  • Do we gain anything by forming a cynical attitude towards the nations?
  • What about free will? How can we say for sure that the none of the nations will do teshuva before Moshiach comes?
  • If they can and will, then that doubles the need to know why this story is in gemara, with all the potential negative attitudes and consequences that it brings.
  • What are the positive attitudes and consequences that hearing this lesson will have on us?

These are the preliminary questions that come to my mind, and I'm sure there are others.

  • Not a direct answer, but I would recommend listening to the fantastic shiur from Rav Daniel Glatstein shlita on this topic. This gemara is often repeated by him.
    – Shmuel
    Jan 21 at 21:00


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