Parashas Yisro – Moshe Ascends to Receive the Torah

The Gemara (Shabbos 88b-89b) records that when Moshe Rabbeinu went up to Shamayim to receive the Torah, the angels balked. They said: “This secret treasure that You hid away 974 generations before the world was created, You plan to give to flesh and blood?” Hashem told Moshe Rabbeinu to take hold of His Throne of Glory and give the angels an answer. Moshe asked: “Master of the Universe! The Torah that You are giving to me, what is written in it?” Hashem replied: “I am Hashem your God Who took you out of the Land of Egypt” (Shemos 20:2). Moshe said to the angels: “Did you go down to Egypt? Were you enslaved to Pharaoh? Why should the Torah be yours?” The discussion continues with the rest of the Ten Commandments: not to have other gods, not to take Hashem’s Name in vain, to keep Shabbos, to honor parents, and not to murder, commit adultery, or steal. Moshe notes that none of these commandments have any relevance to the angels. In the end, the angels concede and allow Moshe to take the Torah.
This Gemara presents an obvious question: Didn’t the angels themselves know that Moses could rebut them by citing the challenges of earthly life, such as the temptation to swear in vain and steal, and so on, which the angels do not face? What kind of argument were they trying to make?
The Maggid, in Ohel Yaakov, parashas Yisro, gives three answers.
1. The Maggid’s first answer is based on a business analogy. Consider a merchant who is approached by two potential buyers, one who wants to buy his entire stock except for a dozen or so items, and the other who wants to buy the entire stock with no exceptions. All other things being equal, the merchant obviously should sell to the second customer. But suppose the first customer is a thoroughly dependable person, while the second is not so dependable and cannot be counted on to pay. Then it is better for the merchant to sell to the first customer. Although he will have some merchandise left over, everything he sells will definitely be paid for in full. If, instead, the merchant sells to the second customer, he might not get paid at all.
Similarly, the angels knew that only part of the Torah was relevant to them, but they argued that they would observe this part reliably. But man could not be counted on to observe the Torah at all. However, when the angels saw how great Moshe was – how he was able to take hold of Hashem’s Throne of Glory, which they could not touch – they realized that he was just as dependable as they are. Thus, Moshe was the ideal “buyer” for the Torah: he was prepared to take the entire stock of mitzvos, and he could be counted on to observe them. [The same can be said for all our great tzaddikim throughout the generations.] Hence the angels conceded.
2. The Maggid’s second answer is based on the fact that the Torah has multiple forms: simple meaning (pshat), hints (remez), homiletical teachings (drash), and hidden wisdom (sod). Initially, the angels were aware only of the original spiritual core of the Torah, in the form of sod. That is why they were perplexed when Moshe came to receive the Torah. Moshe brought out that there is another facet of Torah, one that is relevant to man. This is the Torah that he had come to get. The Maggid notes that this is hinted at by the fact that Moshe asked Hashem: “The Torah that You are giving to me, what is written in it?” Moshe spoke specifically of the form of Torah that Hashem was giving to him. We see from all this the greatness of Torah: that it offers something for every being in Hashem’s universe, from the loftiest angels to the simplest mortal.
3. The angels resisted letting the Torah out of Shamayim in order to ensure that we would properly recognize the Torah’s worth and show the Torah due respect.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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