1997R. Joshua b. Levi also said: When Moses ascended on high, the ministering angels spoke before the Holy One, blessed be He: Sovereign of the Universe! What business has one born of woman among us?
Babylonian Talmud, Tractate of Shabbat 87b-88a
The Holy One answered: He has come to receive the Torah. The angels replied: "That secret treasure, which has been hidden by You for nine hundred and seventy-four generations before the world was created. You desire to give it to flesh and blood! What is man, that You are mindful of him, And the son of man, that You visit him? O Lord our God, How excellent is Your name in all the earth! (Psalms 8:5,6,10)
Who has set Your glory [the Torah] upon the Heavens! The Holy One said to Moses: Return them an answer.
Moses replied: Sovereign of the Universe. I fear lest they consume me with the [fiery] breath of their mouths.
The Holy One said: Hold on to My Throne of Glory, and return them an answer,
Moses then spoke before the Holy One and the angels Him Sovereign of the Universe! The Torah which You give me, what is written in it? I am the Lord You God, who brought you out of the Land of Egypt. Moses said to the angels: Did you go down to Egypt; were you enslaved to Pharaoh: why then should the Torah be yours?
Again, What is written in it? You shalt have none other gods: do you dwell among peoples that engage in idol worship? Again what is written in it? Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy: do you then perform work, that you need to rest? Again what is written in it? You shalt not take [tissa] [the name ... in vain]: is there any business [massa] dealings among you? Again what is written in it, Honor your father and your mother; have you fathers and mothers? Again what is written in it? You shall not murder. You shalt not commit adultery. You Shall not steal; is there jealousy among you; is the Evil Tempter among you?
Immediately they conceded to the Holy One, for it is said in Psalm 8]: O Lord, our Lord, How excellent is Your name in all the earth, (Psalm 8:10) but, Who has set Your glory upon the heavens [which was proclaimed by the angels above] is not written in the Psalm. Immediately each angel saw Moses as beloved...
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1. Why are the angels against giving humanity the Torah?
2. Why does God have Moses answer his angel/critics?
3. How does Moses convince them that the Torah is for humanity and not to remain in heaven?
4. Why are the angels so pleased with Moses' argument
5. Why does this story say the Torah was given to the Jewish people?
6. How does this story understand the selected verses from Psalm 8? Especially: How excellent
Your Name in all the earth?
7. What was God's reason for giving Torah to the Jewish people?
The Torah is an instrument for change and transformation. Angels never change. In this story, they are static beings incapable of being unpredictable subjects to the vagaries of history. Angels are messengers incapable of choosing. The Torah, according to this story, is for choosers, for those who, at every step, have the potential to fail, for moral failure is possible every time we speak, wherever we walk.
This story indicates that this vulnerability makes us precious, so precious as to receive that which God holds as most dear. It is our inability to be angelic and our propensity for moral mischief that makes the Torah necessary, and makes us so special in God's eyes. It is the ability to do the wrong thing which gives us the capacity to learn to do the right thing. We received the Torah as the instrument for growth, to grow in the way the Holy One would wish.
Prepared by Rabbi Avi Weinstein.