For the week ending 23 May 2015 / 5 Sivan 5775

A Heavenly Gift

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
Become a Supporter Library Library

“You have ascended on high; you captured what had been held captive. You have taken gifts for Man; that even among rebels G-d may dwell”. (Tehillim 68:19)

“Ascended on high”:This verse was said regarding Moshe’s ascent on Mt. Sinai, which was considered an entry into the Heavens. “Captured what had been held captive”: This refers to the Torah which Moshe brought down from Heaven. “Taken gifts for Man”: The Torah is Gd’s gift to the Jewish People, who are called “Man”. “Gifts for Man”:Alternatively, the term “gifts” refers to the mitzvot, for in essence the Torah is a book of commands; hence the word Torah means “instruction”. Though we are duty bound to both do and guard the mitzvot, in so doing we gain immeasurable merit. Thus, by fulfilling the Torah we receive the greatest gift of all, the reward of the World-to-Come. In relation to the above, our Sages taught, “G-d wished to bestowgreat merit upon Israel; therefore He gave them Torah and mitzvot in abundance, as it is said: ‘G-d desired for the sake of its (Israel’s) righteousness, that the Torah be made abundant and glorious’.” “Among rebels G-d may dwell”: Man, who was given free-will, can sometimes rebel against G-d. Nevertheless, he was still given the Torah, the vehicle through which G-d dwells amongst Israel.

A Deeper Look

Upon analysis, the above verse presents us with some apparent difficulties: 1) Why is the Torah described as being “captive in Heaven”? 2) We also must understand the end of the verse which implies that G-d chooses to dwell amongst “rebels” rather than the angels. How can this be so?

We are taught a well-known episode relating to the giving of the Torah. When Moshe ascended to the Heavenly heights, the ministering angels said to G-d, “The coveted and treasured Torah that was stored by You… from before the world was created, You want to give it to flesh and blood?! What (worth) is man that you should remember him…You should rather bestow Your glory, (i.e. Torah) upon the Heavens.” G-d said to Moshe, “Give them an answer.” “The Torah that You are giving me, what is written in it?” You shall not have other gods; you shall not take the name of G-d in vein; you shall not murder; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal. Moshe concludes by asking if the angels have an “evil inclination” that incites them to transgress the word of G-d. Upon hearing Moshe’s words the angels immediately conceded to G-d, and even befriended Moshe.

What made the angels change their mind?

A parable: Two kings were once discussing who had greater control over his kingdom. The first invited his friend to visit the capital city and palace. This was a most impressive site; the city was beautiful and everyone walked about with a feeling of awe. In the palace nothing moved without the king’s approval. The second king suggested visiting one of the small towns on the outskirts of the kingdom instead of the capital city. The other, although puzzled, agreed. The king decided to pass through the city unannounced. No one knew who was traveling in the carriage. They observed how the citizens of the town behaved during the day, remaining out through the night. The next day the first king rose up from his seat and proclaimed, “By my life, any kingdom that is free of crime and corruption even where the king is never found is surely greater than mine!”

Moshe showed the angels that with all of their perfection, they lacked the one thing that would ultimately give the greatest honor and glory to G-d. In Heaven G-d’s presence is revealed in such an intense manner that there is no free will. Thus, the angel’s fulfillment of Torah would be forced rather than an expression of choice. In this sense the Torah would be “trapped” if it remained in Heaven.

On earth, G-d’s presence is concealed, giving man free choice; he can obey or rebel against G-d’s commands. To make things even more difficult, he has been given an evil inclination that dwells within him, making it very difficult to choose right over wrong. Thus, when man overcomes all of this and chooses to do the will of his Creator it is an expression of the inner essence of man’s will. This expression of choice gives G-d the greatest joy and honor possible. We are thus taught that G-d takes great “pride” in the Jewish People, receiving much delight from the righteous.

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