What Did the Angels Want?
By Avi Lazerson
While speaking about the time that Moses ascended Mount Sinai to receive the Torah from G-d, the Medrash records that the angels complained to G-d. They asked that the Torah be given to them. They said, "How could it be that You wish to give to man, a mortal composed of flesh and blood, the most desired of all presents?"
G-d then told Moses that he should answer the angels. Moses replied, "The Torah that G-d is giving, what is written in it? That G-d took the Jews out from Egypt." Facing the angels he said, "Were you enslaved in Egypt that this applies to you?"
Continuing Moses said, "What else is written in it? That you shall not have other gods! Do you angels live amongst men that this should apply to you? Do you do work, do you marry, and do you possess jealous hearts?" Immediately G-d accepted Moses' answer.
This Medrashic story is very interesting. It is especially interesting to investigate the claim of the angels. What were they thinking that they had such a strong compulsion that man should not receive the Torah? Why did they feel that in spite of all the earthbound laws in the Torah, that it would be better that the Torah be given to them?
It is obvious that the angels do not have a connection to earthbound and mundane activities such as those man has; that he must labor most of his life away working the earth. The angels are a spiritual being devoid of body, who have no need to eat or drink or reproduce. The word angel in Hebrew is "malach" which is related to the word work "malacha" or messengers "malach", which indeed they are. They are the workers and messengers of G-d. Their entire existence is only for the service of G-d.
Men, on the other hand, are physical beings, tied to this earth with earthly needs and desires. It is obvious that the Torah would be for man. What was in the mind of the angels that they requested that the Torah be given to them? Do they plow fields that the mitzvoth of the field apply to them? Do they engage in business that the mitzvoth of commerce apply to them? Do they become defiled that the mitzvoth of purity and sanctification apply? Obviously no! It applies only to man.
In reality the Torah, which we have, is not just a guidebook telling us how to live our lives in this world. It is much more than that. It is a divine guide that not just instructs us in the way of G-d in this world, but it opens our eyes to the upper worlds, and even gives us a peek at the true essence of the Creator. The Torah can be learned and utilized at various levels from deciding legal court cases to revealing the most exalted mystical secrets of the universe. Even more, it can reveal the true essence of G-d, something to which the angels themselves have no clue or understanding.
It was for the spiritual treasure that is hidden in the Torah that they resented it being given to coarse, earthbound man whose sights rarely get beyond the physical reality, whose eyes can only see the material and minds rarely ponder the spiritual. What a waste giving such a sacred treasure to man who is barely capable of praying with any concentration. Better that such a treasure be given to the angels who are spiritual beings, who can utilize it to understand the Creator better, who could use it to come closer to the Creator. That was their claim.
In reality the Torah permits man to understand G-d on a much deeper level than that of the angels. True, our physical perception of the spiritual may not have the depth of the angels, but our intellectual understanding of the essence of G-d as gleaned from the Torah can surpass even that of the angels.
Moses' answer was that, no, when we compare man to the angels we cannot compare them on the level of spiritual perception. We must compare them on the level of purpose.
Like a righteous king to whom the welfare of his nation is of his chief concern and to whom his servants are used for executing his will, so too is our case. A great king may have many servants, but the function of the servants is to insure the proper functioning of the kingdom. It is the welfare of the country and its inhabitants that is the chief concern for a righteous king, not the just the welfare and betterment of his servants.
If a king is righteous he wants the advancement of his nation, not just increasing the wealth of his workers. His workers exist to serve not just him, but his kingdom too. As the kingdom advances and becomes greater, then, (and only then,) will the servants also receive an increase.
The purpose of the creation was G-d's idea and concept. It gives Him great joy and happiness when man struggles with his everyday mundane life and still manages to bring G-d down into his earthbound life. True there are those few who are able to utilize the hidden secrets of the Torah to reach lofty spiritual levels, but in reality, the Torah is directed towards all men, both the simple worker of the world and the gifted Talmudic scholar.
Through the instructions in the Torah, man has the ability to unite with G-d in the loftiest and most sublime manner at the same time that he performs his mundane earthly related work. While he is working in a field, or working in an office or store, even living with other people, etc, the laws of the Torah must be consulted. This will put man in touch with G-d even on the lowest mundane level.
This is G-d's will, living in this world with the laws of the Torah giving us our life force. Nothing brings greater joy and happiness to G-d than when a person is able to overcome his evil impulses and stifle his wicked desires.
No, the Torah was not written for the angels. They might have derived benefit from it, but it was not intended for them. It is for us, mankind, who must study its deep message so that we may rise above the material grossness and crassness of the world and see within it, the sublime. But this can only be accomplished through dedicated study. But know that it is well worth it!
from the June 2005 Edition of the Jewish Magazine