While one might think that receiving and bringing down the Torah was a simple and effortless matter on Moshe’s part, the Gemara seems to indicate otherwise. In fact, when Moshe was attempting to bring down the Torah from Heaven, the angels—at first—did not seem to be happy about this, and they put up a challenge.
The angels exclaimed to Hashem: “The coveted and treasured Torah that was stored by You as a treasure for 974 generations before the world was created—and yet You intend to give it to flesh and blood?!” Hashem told Moshe to give the angels an answer, but Moshe said to Hashem, “Master of the Universe, I fear to reply to them lest they burn me with the breath of their mouths!” Hashem said to him, “Take hold of my Throne of Glory and then give them an answer.” Moshe then began his argument: “Master of the Universe, the Torah that You are giving me—what is written in it?” God answered, “I am Hashem Your God, Who has taken you out of the land of Mitzrayim.” Moshe said to the angels, “Did you descend to Mitzrayim? Were you enslaved to Pharoah?” The exchange continued: “There shall not be unto you gods of others.”—Do you live among nations who worship idols?”; “Honor your father and mother”—”Do you have a father or mother?”; “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal”—”Is there envy among you? Is there an evil inclination among you?” The angels, indeed, conceded. (Gemara Shabbat 88b).
The question, however, is: Did the angels not know that much of the Torah is irrelevant to them and only relevant to man? So why were they giving Moshe a hard time? Why did it seem like they didn’t agree that man—to whom the Torah is relevant as opposed to angels—is fit to have the Torah!?
The Dubno Maggid gives a parable to explain: There was once a rav of a big city who was getting on in years, and after many years leading this city, he felt he no longer had the ability to serve as the rav of so many people. He decided to be a rav in a smaller town, which would be easier. The day came where the people of the smaller city arrived to assist their new rav with his move to their town, but when they arrived, they were met with intense pushback—the people of the bigger city began hitting them! When they complained to the rav, the people of the big city explained their actions to their rav: “We did it for the sake of your honor. We didn’t want the people of the small city to think that you were not fit to be a rav of a big city and that you are not a prestigious and important rav and that’s why you are leaving us. We therefore hit them, in order to show them how dear and precious you are in our eyes and we don’t want you to leave, but instead you are leaving because you are getting on in years and being a rav in this big city is simply too difficult for you. We did this so they don’t belittle your honor.”
This, in essence, is what the angels were displaying to Moshe. They were aware that the Torah wasn’t written for them. However, they also knew that man of flesh and blood won’t have the appropriate measure of honor for the Torah, and so, the angels wanted to show how precious the Torah was in their eyes, so people should know and not come to belittle the Torah. They, therefore, challenged and pushed back for the sake of the honor of the Torah. (Seen in “Darkei Mussar, p. 332).
We could see from here the significance of realizing and appreciating, and thus honoring, the Torah—and how crucial it is, to understand how important Torah truly is.
We can take it a step further by suggesting that the exchange between the angels and Moshe is teaching us something more. Moshe seemingly wasn’t able to receive the Torah until this message—of the value and honor of Torah—was first received from the angels. Only then was Moshe able to receive and bring down the Torah, to ultimately give it to Bnei Yisrael. Perhaps, this teaches us that to receive Torah, to grow in Torah and for Torah to truly become part of a person, one must adequately value and appreciate the Torah.
Binyamin is a graduate of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchok Elchanan, and of Wurzweiler School of Social Work.