1) THE JUDGMENT OF THE NATIONS
QUESTION: The Gemara relates that in the future, when Hash-m will judge the nations of the world, He will grasp a Sefer Torah and say, "They who busied themselves in this (the Torah) shall come forward and receive reward."
Why will Hash-m hold a Sefer Torah for this judgment? Normally, a judgment is passed based simply on Hash-m's knowledge of the person's righteous or wrongful deeds. How will holding a Sefer Torah add to the judgment of the nations?
(a) The MAHARSHA explains that until the final Day of Judgment, even those nations that accept Hash-m as the only G-d still believe that He gave a different set of laws to follow. Idolaters, while they believe that Hash-m is above all of the idols, believe that He wants them to serve their idols. Others believe that Hash-m commanded them to follow other books written by self-professed prophets. Hash-m will grasp the Sefer Torah as a means of identification, saying that this is His word that He gave to the Jewish people, and it is the only authentic record of His will that He expects the world to follow.
In a similar vein, the RASHBA in CHIDUSHEI AGADOS (cited by "ha'Kosev" in the EIN YAKOV) explains that the nations of the world think that the greatest pursuit that man can follow in this world is the pursuit of knowledge and philosophy. Hash-m will hold the Sefer Torah in order to show that this, the Torah, is the pursuit that He desires the most.
(b) The members of the various nations of the world come to the final Day of Judgment thinking that they will earn their portion in the World to Come by fulfilling their seven Mitzvos of Bnei Noach. They think that this is all that is expected of them. However, the truth is that this is not their only purpose in the world. Rather, the purpose of the world is for the Jewish people to observe and study the Mitzvos of the Torah. The other nations of the world exist to help the Jewish people achieve that goal. (See, for example, the Gemara in Berachos 6b (and Insights there) which says that the entire world was created to serve the one who fears Hash-m.)
This explains why Yitzchak originally wanted to give the blessings of success in this world to Esav; he wanted Esav to have the means to provide the Jewish people with all of the material benefits they need to carry out their mission. Rivka saw that Esav would not use the material wealth for the proper purpose, and therefore she advised Yakov to take the blessing meant for Esav. This is why Hash-m will hold the Sefer Torah at the time of judgment. Hash-m will tell the nations that anyone who busied himself with supporting those who study the Torah, enabling them to accomplish their mission, will achieve a portion in Olam ha'Ba. This is why the nations present arguments to show that they indeed helped the Jewish people accomplish their mission. (Based on CHIDUSHEI GE'ONIM in the EIN YAKOV.)
2) JUDGING KINGS FIRST
QUESTION: The Gemara says that when Hash-m judges nations, the kings (referring to the more important nations) are judged before the others, for two reasons. The first reason is that because of their honor, they should not be required to wait to be judged. The second reason is that they should not be judged after Hash-m has reviewed the sins of all the others, because then Hash-m's wrath is kindled and the judgment will be more severe.
The Gemara implies that when Hash-m judges the nations, He judges one nation after the other, and He does not judge them all at the same moment. This is also evident from the Gemara in Rosh Hashanah (18a) that explains that when Hash-m judges the world on Rosh Hashanah, everyone passes before Hash-m to be judged one at a time.
How are these statements of the Gemara to be understood in light of the Gemara in Rosh Hashanah (18a) that says that the deeds of the entire world are scrutinized in a single act of scrutiny ("v'Chulan Niskarin b'Sekirah Achas")? (See MAHARSHA to Rosh Hashanah 18a, and MAHARAL in Chidushei Agados to Rosh Hashanah 8a. See also BEN YEHOYADA to Rosh Hashanah 16a.)
(a) The CHIDA (in PESACH EINAYIM to Rosh Hashanah 16a) answers in the name of RAV YOSEF KARO (the Beis Yosef) that although everyone else is judged at the same time, the king is an exception. The king is judged separately.
The Chida points out, however, that this answer is not consistent with the Gemara's explanation that it is not proper for the king to wait while the others are being judged. If the king could have been judged at the same time as the others, then he would not have to wait!
(b) The Chida answers further in the name of the Beis Yosef that Hash-m reviews everyone's actions at the same moment. However, he passes judgment for each person individually.
The Chida asks that this answer is not consistent with the other explanation that the Gemara gives for giving precedence in judgment to a king. The Gemara says that the king is judged first in order that he be judged before Hash-m's anger is aroused upon reviewing the deeds of all the other people. However, if Hash-m has already reviewed the deeds of all of the other people and is now judging each one individually, then His anger is already aroused, and it will not help to judge the king first!
The answer to this question depends on the reason why Hash-m does not pass judgment on the others at the moment that He reviews their deeds. The reason may be that Hash-m allows them to have time to defend themselves, as the Gemara here mentions. If, during that time, they repent or accept upon themselves His justice, then their punishment will be mitigated. Accordingly, Hash-m's anger is aroused only at the time that the sentence is passed, when He sees that the people have not repented or accepted His justice.
(c) Why is it necessary for Hash-m to review the actions of the entire world in a single moment? Perhaps the reason is, as the RAMBAM writes (in Hilchos Teshuvah 3:2), that justice is passed not only on individuals but also on entire nations, and also on the entire world as a single entity. If the sins of the world outweigh the Mitzvos of the world, then the world will be destroyed, as occurred in the times of Noach (as the verse states, "Ki Rabah Ra'as ha'Adam ba'Aretz," which can be translated as, "The evil of mankind has become the majority (outnumbering the good deeds of mankind)" (Bereishis 6:5)). In order to judge the world as a whole, Hash-m must review the actions of the entire world at the same moment, as a single entity.
According to this explanation, perhaps the Gemara is referring to two different judgments. The judgment in which people pass before Hash-m one at a time is the judgment of the individual. The judgment for which the king is not made to wait outside is his judgment as an individual. Similarly, when Hash-m judges nations, the nation that is most honorable is judged first, before the others. When the Gemara in Rosh Hashanah says that Hash-m reviews the actions of the entire world at one moment, it is referring to the judgment that Hash-m passes upon the entire world as a whole. (M. KORNFELD)
3) THE ARGUMENT OF THE NATIONS AT THE FINAL JUDGMENT
QUESTION: The Gemara relates that the Romans will come forth on the final Day of Judgment and claim that they deserve to be rewarded for building so many markets and bathhouses and amassing a large amount of gold and silver, all for the sake of providing the Jewish people with the ability to learn the Torah unhindered. Hash-m will reply to them, "Foolish ones! You did everything for your own benefit! You made markets to house prostitutes, bathhouses for personal indulgence, and the gold and silver that you amassed is Mine!" A similar dialogue will take place between Hash-m and the nation of Paras (Persia).
How, on the final Day of Judgment, will these nations have the audacity to blatantly lie before Hash-m and claim that all that they did was for the sake of the Jewish people? Will they not realize that the One Who knows all sees that their words are all lies?
(a) The TORAS CHAIM explains that the nations will not say that what they did was only for the sake of the Jewish people, but rather that the Jewish people were also beneficiaries of their deeds. The Romans will claim that their markets were constructed for all of the members of the nation to use, including the Jews, and therefore they deserve to be rewarded for building markets from which the Jews benefited. The bathhouses, and the gold and silver, were also used to benefit the entire nation, including the Jews.
Hash-m will respond to them that their intentions were not to build markets to benefit the nation by providing them with an easy source of food and income, but rather they built them in order to provide a gathering place for prostitutes, a purpose which in no way benefited those who observed the Torah. The bathhouses were constructed not in order to make it easier to clean oneself, but in order to provide a means of self-indulgence. This, too, is not something that benefited the Jews who observed the Torah.
The gold and silver, Hash-m will point out, was not amassed by their efforts. All of the efforts that one puts into amassing wealth are of no value if Hash-m does not grant him the wealth (as is evident from the fact that sometimes a minor act may result in tremendous profit, and great effort may result in tremendous loss).
Therefore, they do not deserve reward for supporting the study of Torah.
The BEN YEHOYADA adds that even if the Romans will not try to claim that they built markets to provide support for the kingdom but rather to provide a gathering place for prostitutes, they still will be able to claim that this benefited those who studied the Torah. The Gemara in Makos (24b) relates that when Rebbi Akiva heard the loud merry-making and revelry of a Roman party, he laughed and said, "If Hash-m provides such indulgence in this world to those who transgress His word, then all the more so will He provide reward to those who observe His word!" The Romans, on the final Day of Judgment, will claim that their over-indulgent practices provided an incentive for the Jews to study the Torah, based on Rebbi Akiva's logic. Hash-m's response will be that this was not their true intention, and therefore they will not be rewarded for it.
According to these explanations, the Romans will try to "fool" Hash-m, as it were, by claiming that their intentions were more well-meaning than they actually were, even though they do not say blatant lies.
(b) The BRISKER RAV (end of CHIDUSHEI HA'GRIZ AL HA'TORAH), in the name of his father, RAV CHAIM, cites the RAMBAM (in the introduction to Perush ha'Mishnayos) who asks that if Hash-m's greatest desire is for people to serve Him, then why are most of the people in the world involved in the pursuit of personal desires? How could Hash-m have created so many "unsuccessful" creations relative to the number of "successful" ones?
The Rambam explains that even those who do not busy themselves with understanding the ways of Hash-m are also accomplishing an important purpose in the world. Whether or not they realize it, they are in the world in order to provide for the others who are trying to follow the ways of Hash-m and who do not have time to involve themselves in all of the mundane activities necessary to live in the world. For example, if a very wealthy and lazy person commands his servants to build for him a beautiful palace and plant for him beautiful trees, it is possible that Hash-m willed this to happen just so that when one righteous person comes to that place many years later, he will be able to rest in the shade of the walls of that palace and protect himself from the heat of the sun. (See Insights to Berachos 6b.)
Although a person normally does not realize that this is the purpose of the great wealth of the wicked, Hash-m sees all of this from the start. On the final Day of Judgment this will become revealed to the nations of the world as well. This is why they will claim that all of the markets and bathhouses that they built were built for the Jews who study the Torah. They do not mean to say that this was their conscious intention. Rather, they mean that this was the reason that Hash-m enabled them to build them. Hash-m will reply to them that while this is true, nevertheless -- since their conscious intention was for personal gain -- they do not deserve to be rewarded for the benefit that the Jews received from them.
(The Brisker Rav there gives an example of this that occurred in his time. The Russian government commissioned the construction of the massive Trans-Siberian Railway, spanning from Moscow to Vladivostok, and which was completed in the early 1900's. The Brisker Rav states that, in hindsight, the Divine purpose of that massive undertaking became evident; it was to save the lives of a large group of Yeshiva students who managed to flee from Poland and Lithuania to Japan and escape the Nazi death sentence.)
4) MODERN WORLD POWERS
QUESTION: The Beraisa presents the arguments of the Roman and Persian nations at the time of their final judgment. The Beraisa does not mention the arguments of the other nations. The Gemara explains that the Beraisa mentions only the arguments of Rome and Persia because those two nations are the most esteemed, since their dominion will last until Mashi'ach comes.
Modern western civilization is, to a great degree, based upon the foundations of ancient Rome and the Holy Roman Empire, and thus the nation of Rome is considered to still retain power today. However, what dominion does Paras (Persia) still have today? The modern nation of Persia (now known as Iran) is a single nation like any other and is not a world power. Moreover, the Chachamim teach that the nation of Yavan (Greece) took control of the world from Persia. It seems clear that Persia will not remain in power until the arrival of Mashi'ach. (TOSFOS RID, Mahadura Kama)
ANSWER: The IBN EZRA in Daniel (7:14) discusses Daniel's dream of four powerful animals, an allusion to the four powerful nations that will rule the world. The Chachamim (in Vayikra Rabah 13:5) explain that the animals allude to the nations of Bavel (Babylon), Paras (Persia), Yavan (Greece), and Romi (Rome). The Ibn Ezra wonders why the Chachamim do not identify one of the powerful nations as the nation of Yishmael, since the descendants of Yishmael were a world power from about six hundred years after the Churban (they conquered Yerushalayim in the year 638 C.E.).
The RAMBAN (in Bamidbar 24:20, Chavel edition) answers that perhaps the dominion of Yishmael will end before Mashi'ach comes. Moreover, the Romans were the ones who exiled the Jews in the present Galus; the nation of Yishmael added no new element of exile, nor did they take over all of the countries into which the Jews were exiled.
Others, however, give a different answer to the question of the Ibn Ezra. The TOSFOS RID (Avodah Zarah 2b, Mahadura Tinyana) explains that that the kingdom of Yishmael is included in what the Chachamim describe as the kingdom of Persia. Regarding the question of how Persia still may be considered a world power if Yavan conquered it, the Tosfos Rid answers that Yavan conquered the portion of Persia which was subjugating the Jews in Eretz Yisrael at the time. However, the kingdom of Persia remained in control of all of the other North African and Middle Eastern countries. The nations of Rome and Persia will remain in control of their respective areas in which Jews live until the coming of Mashi'ach. (The MAHARAL has a similar approach.)
According to this approach, the two nations whose dominion will last until Mashi'ach are the two other descendants of Avraham and Yitzchak -- Yishmael and Esav. They are considered the leaders of all of the other nations (see Insights to Sukah 55:2, Sotah 13:1:c). This is why Hash-m offered the Torah specifically to those two nations before He gave it to the Jewish people (see RASHI to Devarim 33:2).
As the CHIDA writes (in NACHAL KEDUMIM), the Jewish people responded to Hash-m's offer with the words "Na'aseh v'Nishma" to counter those two nations. They said "Na'aseh" to counter Esav, and "Nishma" to counter Yishmael.