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Angels, Human Beings, and the Torah

Angels, Human Beings, and the Torah

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The Talmud (Shabbos 88b) relates that when Moses ascended Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, the angels challenged him saying, “What is this mortal doing amongst us?” Moses replied, “I have come to take the Torah to the Jewish people.” Whereupon the angels, addressing G‑d, petitioned, "leave the Torah with us and we will honor and cherish it.” G‑d turns to Moses and says “go ahead, answer them” and Moses responds, "My dear angels, just take a look at what the Torah commands – 'I am the Lord your G‑d who has taken you out of the land of Egypt,' 'Honor your parents.' Do you have a father and mother? Have you been enslaved in Egypt? Have you a selfish and evil inclination?” clearly demonstrating that the Torah was intended for souls vested in physical bodies confronted with the realities of our material world.  

The obvious question is, what were the angels thinking.? Were they not aware of these basic aspects of the Torah that Moses referenced? 

Allow me to share with you another enigmatic Midrash related to this holiday.

The Midrash states that on the morning of the giving of the Torah the Jewish people slept in! Unbelievable! Just imagine sleeping in and missing the plane to a vacation you’ve been planning for a year. Moses had to wake them up and gather them around Mt. Sinai. As an atonement for this, the Jewish people have remained awake, studying on the night of Shavuot, throughout the ages. But that’s not all, the Midrash continues to tell us that G‑d was pleased by their actions and did not allow the mosquitoes to bite them as not to disturb their peaceful slumber.

If the Jewish people's sleeping was sinful, necessitating atonement, why would G‑d go out of His way to ensure that their sleep not be disturbed?

The Zohar states, that when G‑d created the world he used the Torah as a blueprint, Istakal B’oraisu V’bara Alma. (G‑d peered into the Torah and created the world.) Another statement in the Midrash Alpayim Shana Kadma Torah l’Olam alludes to the Torah preceding the world by two thousand years.

What does this mean?

Chassidus explains that the Torah exists on many different levels. The Torah that we study in our own world is the lowest manifestation of a divine wisdom that has its roots in the essence of G‑d himself. The laws of the Torah and the historical narratives of the Torah are a reflection of spiritual divine truths that exist in the celestial spiritual worlds. The higher the world, the more abstract, refined and spiritual levels of Torah stand revealed.

 This is the meaning of King Solomon’s description of Torah as Moshol Hakadmoni, the ultimate parable. The Torah speaks in the language of our world but alludes to realities far above and beyond our material existence. (This is not to say that the stories of Torah are parables and the mitzvahs are not literal.)

We can now understand the above Midrashim. The angels were quite aware of the contents of Torah. Their argument was, why risk allowing the Torah to descend to its lowest expression—the material world—a world filled with temptation, selfishness, and evil. Leave the Torah in its spiritual state. We will appreciate its value and never fail it.

Moses’ response was, no! The whole purpose of Torah is that it descend down to the furthest reaches of G‑d’s universe-our physical world-where materialism and evil abound. It is in our mundane world that G‑d wishes to dwell. This is accomplished through the study of Torah and the fulfillment of Mitzvot in an environment where evil and temptation exist, necessitating sacrifice and conscious choices to do what is right. This imbues our actions with meaning and significance and enables us to refine and elevate our environment and imbue the physical with holiness.

This is also the explanation of why the Jewish people went to sleep in anticipation of the receiving of the Torah. They felt that in order to absorb the essence of G‑d’s Torah, they could not remain awake in full control of their faculties. For after all, how can a human mind, even the most brilliant, possibly comprehend the sublime subtleties of G‑d’s wisdom? So, they went to sleep, hoping that on this unconscious level their souls would be able to assimilate the true essence of the Torah. G‑d appreciated the gesture but sent Moses to wake them up. G‑d did not want to give the Torah to inanimate pieces of flesh. For that, He could have given it to the angels. G‑d wanted to give the Torah to fully conscious human beings living in a real world surrounded by the whole gamut of temptation and distraction. This, as we said before, gives us the opportunity to make conscious choices to act kindly and selflessly, to tame our basic instincts and infuse the world with holiness.

This concept gives us insight into one of the most important principals of our faith, the coming of the Messiah, which is an integral component of the fulfillment of Torah.

 Our Prophets tell us that in the Messianic era the world will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the water fills the sea. Which translated means that we will be able to discern G‑dliness, the true-life source of the world, in everything around us.

Throughout our long and painful history we have clung steadfastly to our Torah. We have brought light and refinement to the darkest of places. We have accumulated a vast reservoir of goodness and light. With every mitzvah performed in our physical environment we bring the world one step closer to pushing all the accumulated good over the edge into the Messianic era, when the fruits of thousands of years of our efforts will be realized and revealed. May we merit the coming of Moshiach Tzidkeinu speedily in our time.

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