The Gemora in Shabbos [88a] relates that when Moshe Rabbeinu went up to Heaven, the angels were very taken aback. They questioned Hashem, “Ma l’ylud isha beineinu – What is a human, son of a woman, doing amongst us?” Hashem answered them, He has come to take the Torah down to earth. This really threw the angels into a tizzy. Aghast, they commented to Hashem in consternation, “T’na h’osah baShomayim – Let your splendor (the Torah) remain in the Heavens.” Why would you want to place the Torah in the relatively spiritual wasteland of earth? Hashem told Moshe, “He’chezir lohem teshuva – Give them an answer.”
The late Belzer Rebbe, the great Rav Issachar Dov m’Belz, Zt”l, Zy”a, gives a fabulous explanation to this Gemora. The malochim, angels, asked in wonderment why Hashem would want to risk sending the Holy Torah to an environment of so much promiscuity, frivolity, and selfishness. Hashem hinted to Moshe Rabbeinu the key answer. Tell them about teshuva! (The word teshuva has a double meaning, to answer and repentance.) Explain to them, said Hashem, that the primary thrust of the Torah is to teach people how to change, how to better themselves. This is lost on the angels for they cannot sin since they have no free will, nor can they improve for they are unwavering in their mission like a nuclear clock which doesn’t miss a second. Therefore, the Torah had to be given to mortal man for it is he who needs this great Syllabus on how to improve and take the 613 steps towards shleimus, perfection.
With this concept, we can understand a famous Medrash taught to us by the miracle at the Red Sea. When the 9 million Egyptians were drowning and the 3 million Jews were passing miraculously through, the celestial angels asked Hashem in wonderment: We don’t understand why the Egyptians are drowning and the Jews are being saved. “Halalu ovdei avoda zara, v’halalu ovdei avoda zara – Both are idolatrous” (for we know that in Egypt, the Jews practiced Egyptian idolatry and sank to the 49th degree of tumah, defilment). The difficulty with this Medrash is that the Jews changed. They brought the korban Pesach, they circumcised themselves. What exactly was the angels’ surprise? The answer, I believe, is that the angels cannot understand the concept of change for the idea of switching tracks and improvement of self is foreign to them.
We have here an extremely fundamental life lesson. Since the entire Torah was given to teach change, to be a ben Torah or a bas Torah, we must be vigorous about always trying to improve and better ourselves. Here’s a telling drill to practice when you have some time for spiritual meditation. Imagine that a five-year younger you would be allowed to visit you in the present. What would that younger version think of you? Besides the dismay at the bulging waistline, the extra gray hairs, what else would he see? Would he be proud of your accomplishments being a more learned person, a more charitable person, a kinder person, a more tolerant person, or would it sadly be same ole, same ole. You could try this exercise another way. Look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself if you’re a better spouse, parent or child than you were last year.
Change is not something that is reserved for Elul. Every night before going to sleep, we are supposed to make a chashbon hanefesh, a personal accounting, to see what we did wrong or not well enough and try to do better. This is the reason why the Torah was given to us and not to the angels. May it be the will of Hashem that we have the strength to improve and the wisdom to improve and in that merit may Hashem bless us with long life, good health and everything wonderful.
Sheldon Zeitlin takes dictation of, and edits, Rabbi Weiss’s articles.
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