Adapted from Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XVIII, p. 28ff.

With regard to the giving of the Torah, our Sages relate:1

When Moshe ascended to the heavens, the ministering angels asked the Holy One, blessed be He: “Master of the world, what is one born of a mother doing among us?”

He told them: “[He came] to receive the Torah.”

They protested: “There is a hidden treasure… and You desire to give it to flesh and blood. 'What is man that You shall remember him?’2 'G‑d, our Master,… who places Your glory in the heavens.’3

The Holy One, blessed be He, told Moshe: “Provide them with an answer.”

[Moshe] responded before Him: “The Torah which You are going to give me, what is written in it? 'I am G‑d, your L-rd, who took you out of the land of Egypt.’ ”4

[Moshe] told [the angels]: “Did you descend to Egypt? Were you enslaved to Pharaoh? Why should the Torah be yours?”

And he continued telling them: “What else is written in it? 'You shall have no other gods.’5 Do you live among idol-worshipping nations?”

[And so, Moshe challenged the angels with regard to all the other commandments:] “Do you work?… Are you involved in business?… Do you have a father or a mother?… Is there envy among you?… Do you have an evil inclination?….

[The angels] immediately acknowledged [the correctness of the choice of] the Holy One, blessed be He.

The Rabbis6 explain that the angels’ claim was based on the principle of bar meitzra. If a person sells his field, a person who owns a neighboring field has the right to buy the field from the purchaser at the price the purchaser paid.7 The angels were claiming that since the Torah was hidden in the heavens, and they are heavenly beings, it would have been appropriate for the Torah to have been given to them.8

Among the resolutions offered by the Rabbis in response to the angels’ claims are:

a) The privilege of bar meitzra is given to a neighbor only with regard to landed property, and not with regard to movable property.9 Since the Torah is not landed property, the angels do not deserve this privilege.

b) The privilege of bar meitzra is given to a neighbor only with regard to a sale, but not with regard to a present.10 Since the Torah was given to the Jews as a present,11 this privilege is not granted.

c) The privilege granted to a neighbor does not apply if the purchaser is a relative of the seller. Since the Jews are closely related to G‑d, “You are children of G‑d your L-rd,”12 the protests of the angels are of no consequence.

d) Moshe is described as “the man of G‑d.”13 The Midrash relates that “From his waist down, he was a man; from his waist up, he was G‑dly.” Thus Moshe was also a neighbor to the Torah, and he had as valid a claim to it as the angels did.

e) Our Sages comment:14 “Whoever rules with truth and faithfulness in a judgment becomes a partner with the Holy One, blessed be He, in the work of creation.” Moshe is cited as the epitome of a person delivering a true judgment.

When a person is a partner with a person who sells property, he has the right to purchase such property despite the protests of a neighbor.15 Since Moshe delivered true judgments and became a partner with G‑d, he had a right to the Torah despite the protests of the angels.16

These proposed resolutions, however, are not entirely acceptable. Firstly, the last two explanations involve Moshe individually, and not the Jewish people. And it is to the Jewish people as a whole that the Torah was given.17 But more fundamentally, none of these explanations appears to reflect the replies which Moshe gave to the angels. On the contrary, the last three proposed resolutions appear to run contrary to the thrust of Moshe’s replies. For the resolutions emphasize the spiritual qualities of Moshe and/or the Jewish people, while Moshe’s replies appear to underscore the fact that the Jews live in a material environment and must contend with negative influences.

There is also another difficulty with the first proposed resolution — that the privilege of bar meitzra is granted to a neighbor only with regard to landed property and the Torah is not landed property. The reason this privilege is granted only with regard to landed property and not with regard to movable property is that it is to the neighbor’s advantage to have two fields located next to each other instead of having to purchase another field in a further removed place. Such a difficulty would not arise with regard to movable property, for as its name implies, once it is purchased, it can be taken by the purchaser to his own place.

Thus this concept does not apply to the Torah, for the Torah cannot be obtained anywhere else but from G‑d. And once it has been given, it no longer shares the same connection to the place — the spiritual realms — from which it originates, for as our Sages emphasize,18 after the giving of the Torah, it is “no longer in the heavens.”

Similarly, the second of the proposed resolutions, that the privilege given to a neighbor applies only with regard to a sale and the Torah was given as a present, is also problematic. For we also find the concept of a sale identified with G‑d’s granting the Jews the Torah.19 Thus in allegorical terms, our Sages quote G‑d as saying:20 “I sold My Torah to you.”

There are other explanations offered with regard to the passage cited above. There are four approaches to the Torah: pshat, the simple meaning, remez, the allusions, derush, the allegories, and sod, the mystic dimension. The Alshich21 explains that the angels did not issue a claim with regard to the pshat of the Torah; they knew that belonged to the Jewish people. They laid claim to the sod, the Torah’s mystic dimension. They felt that since these teachings are purely spiritual, they belong in the heavens, and should not be given to mortals but rather to the angels themselves, for they are “neighbors.”

This claim, however, can also be refuted. The law22 is that when a person sells all of his properties, a person whose land borders on only one of the properties cannot claim the privileges of a neighbor, for the sale must be viewed as an integral whole. Similarly, with regard to the angels’ claim, the simple meaning of the Torah and its mystic dimension are both part of a single integral unit; they cannot be divided from each other.

This explanation, moreover, is also not reflected in Moshe’s replies to the angels. On the contrary, his statements: “Did you descend to Egypt? Were you enslaved to Pharaoh?… Do you work?… Are you involved in business?…” were factors which this explanation had seemingly taken for granted.

Another proposed resolution is based on the following law:23 If a person seeks to purchase a field because he is in a pressing financial situation and needs the field to earn his livelihood, while a neighbor seeks to purchase it merely for the sake of added income, the neighbor is not granted the privileges of a bar meitzra.

The Jews require the Torah for their very existence, as we say in our prayers,24 it is “our life and the length of our days.” And it is only through the Torah that we can overcome the evil inclination. Thus our Sages quoted G‑d as saying,25 “I created the evil inclination, and I created the Torah as a condiment for it.”

Thus the Jews can be compared to a purchaser who is in a difficult situation and requires the property in question to maintain his existence. The angels, by contrast, appear to resemble the neighbor who is seeking merely additional profit. In such a situation, the angels’ claim is not accepted.

This resolution does relate to the some of the replies Moshe gave the angels: “Is there envy among you?… Do you have an evil inclination?” Nevertheless, the extensive replies which he gave — “Did you descend to Egypt? Were you enslaved to Pharaoh?… Do you work?… Are you involved in business?…” — are not all relevant. Thus it appears that Moshe’s intent is not merely that the Torah enables us to overcome the yetzer hara, but instead points to a subject of more general scope.

The concept can be explained as follows: The Torah was given in order to bring to realization G‑d’s intent for the Creation: His desire for a dwelling in the lower worlds.26 This purpose serves as the basis for the refutation of the angels’ claim. For the law is27 that when a person buys a field for the purpose of building a home, and the neighbor desires to use it as a field, the neighbor is not granted this privilege.

Similarly, the Jews use the Torah to build G‑d’s dwelling in the lower worlds. Therefore, they — and not the angels — are entitled to it.

This intent is reflected in Moshe’s lengthy reply in which he reckons the various different challenging situations the Jews must confront, describing the environment — the lower realms — where G‑d desired His dwelling to be constructed.

One might, however, ask: Why must G‑d’s dwelling be fashioned in the lower worlds? Let the Torah be given to the angels — for they are its neighbors — and let them create a dwelling for G‑d in the upper worlds.

The resolution to this question depends on several fundamental concepts in Chassidic thought. The concept of a dwelling refers to a place for the revelation of G‑d’s essence. In our mortal sphere, it is in our own homes that we let down our inhibitions and let our real selves be known. Similarly, in the analogy, it is in our material world, G‑d’s dwelling, that His essence, who He really is, becomes manifest.

How does that essence become manifest? Because it is invested in the Torah and in the Jewish people. With regard to the Torah, our Sages explain28 that the word Anochi, the first word of the Ten Commandments serves as an acronym for the Aramaic words meaning “I wrote down and gave over My soul.” And with regard to the Jewish people, it is explained that every Jewish soul is “an actual part of G‑d.”29 The angels do not possess such spiritual power.

It is in our lowly material world that the essential G‑dliness possessed by the Torah and the Jewish people becomes manifest. Appreciating G‑dliness in this material world presents a twofold challenge — a challenge from without, for the material nature of the world appears to oppose G‑dliness,30 and a challenge from within, for every person possesses an evil inclination. These challenges can be overcome only by tapping the essential G‑dly power within our souls. And conversely, it is only by confronting these challenges — as opposed to appreciating the revelations of G‑dliness in the spiritual worlds — that the essential G‑dliness in our souls can be revealed.

For this reason, the Torah was given in this world — to enable the Jewish people to transform the darkness of our world into a dwelling for G‑d.31