This week’s D’var Torah from Rabbi Zahavit

NEMS Rabbi ZahavitThere’s a famous midrash in which Moses ascends “on high” to collect the Torah and a bunch of outraged angels turn to God asking what is going on.

Master of the Universe, what is one born of a woman doing here among us? (Shabbat 88b)

The angels demand to know how such a precious, heavenly entity can be entrusted to feeble mortals.

God invites a terrified Moses to answer. Moses works through the 10 Commandments and relates each to human experiences:

Master of the Universe, the Torah that You are giving me, what is written in it? God said to him: “I am the Lord your God Who brought you out of Egypt from the house of bondage” (Exodus 20:2). Moses said to the angels: Did you descend to Egypt? Were you enslaved to Pharaoh? Why should the Torah be yours?

Again Moses asked: What else is written in it? God said to him: “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3). Moses said to the angels: Do you dwell among the nations who worship idols?

Again Moses asked: What else is written in it? The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to him: “Remember the Shabbat day to sanctify it” (Exodus 20:8). Moses asked the angels: Do you perform labour that you require rest from it?

Again Moses asked: What else is written in it? “Do not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” (Exodus 20:7). Do you conduct business with one another?

Again Moses asked: What else is written in it? The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to him: “Honour your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12). Moses asked the angels: Do you have a father or a mother?

Again Moses asked: What else is written in it? God said to him: “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal” (Exodus 20:13) Moses asked the angels: Is there jealousy among you, or do you have an evil inclination?

Immediately they agreed with the Holy One, Blessed be He, that He made the right decision to give the Torah to the people, and as it is stated: “God our Lord, how glorious is Your name in all the earth” (Psalms 8:10), while “that Your majesty is placed above the heavens” is not written because the angels agreed with God that it is appropriate to give the Torah to the people on earth.

It’s ok that humans aren’t angels. Humans don’t need to become angels. The Torah exists to help us be the best humans we can be. A telling detail about this story is that from the get-go it’s clear that God thinks that humans are capable of great things. God doesn’t explain to the angels why humans should be trusted with the Torah, God gets Moses to explain. And this tells you so much about Judaism (and also about my own specific rabbinic methodology.) People can always do better than they think they can. We are more able and more resilient than we know. Give us a nudge, and we can soar.

Shabbat shalom and see you at Sinai!

Zahavit

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