Shavuot

For the week ending 19 May 2018 / 5 Sivan 5778

Rising Above the Angels

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
Artscroll Library

The Torah is compared to water. Just as water causes all things to grow, Torah study likewise causes a person to grow. If one waters a field, that field will grow. If there are weeds under the surface of the ground together with planted seeds they will grow as well.

Based on this we are taught that it is not enough to learn the laws of the Torah to become righteous. One must also study the moral and ethical ideas included in the Torah, as well as the different techniques on how to properly develop good character traits. This is one of the reasons why there is a widespread custom to study Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, between Pesach and Shavuot.

The fifty-day counting alludes to this very concept. We begin counting and elevating ourselves, one level at a time, until we become proper vessels to receive the Torah. To emphasize this point, G-d commanded us to offer up the Omer, which is made up of barley — food that our Sages tell us is fit for animals — on the first day of counting. At the end of fifty days we would make an offering called Shnei HaLechem, the two breads, made from wheat, food fit for humans. The message is quite clear. People must work to refine their base animal characteristics and transform themselves into creatures that stand upright, with head above heart, looking upward towards Heaven.

The Heavenly angels have no evil inclination. They dwell in peace and are totally devoted to fulfilling the Divine will. Our devotion to the study and fulfillment of the Torah, as well as developing refined character traits, will transform us from human creatures to Heavenly beings. Then we will merit living as the angels do, void of the evil inclination, dwelling in peace, and fulfilling the will of Gd with total devotion. In the words of the Rambam: “The Torah was given to bring peace (i.e., completeness and perfection) to the world.”

In light of the above we can explain a difficult episode found in the Midrash. When Moshe ascended Mount Sinai, which was considered an entry into Heaven, he had to “battle” the angels for the Torah. How did he defeat the angels? Moshe’s supreme level of spirituality showed the Heavenly hosts the exalted levels that mankind can reach. Upon seeing this, the angels acquiesced, allowing Moshe to take the Torah from Heaven and bring it down to this world.

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