SALT - Tzom Gedalya - Wednesday - 3 Tishrei 5777 - October 5, 2016

  • Rav David Silverberg


            We read in Parashat Vayelekh that after Moshe completed his final discourse to Benei Yisrael, he wrote the Torah on a scroll and gave it to the Leviyim, ordering them to place it alongside the ark (31:24-26).  Da’at Zekeinim cites a Midrashic passage stating that Moshe actually wrote thirteen scrolls that day, twelve of which were given to the twelve tribes of Israel.  The scroll given to the Leviyim to place alongside the ark was the thirteenth. 

The Midrash then cites a remarkable tradition that the angel Gavriel came and grabbed this thirteenth scroll, and brought it to the heavens “in order to make Moshe’s righteousness known in the Heavenly assembly.”  Moreover, the Midrash adds, this Torah is read by the angels in the heavens on the days when the Torah is read by the Jews here on earth.

            This Midrashic account should perhaps be understood in light of the Gemara’s famous description in Masekhet Shabbat (88b) of Moshe’s confrontation with the angels when he ascended to the heavens to receive the Torah.  The Gemara tells that the angels protested the decision to allow Moshe to receive the Torah and bring it to Am Yisrael, asking, “What is this human being doing here among us?”  They contended that the holy Torah, which predated the world’s creation, belonged in the pristine, spiritual realm of the heavens, and not among flawed human beings down on earth.  Moshe, however, argued that to the contrary, the Torah’s laws are intended to guide and direct human beings, forbidding murder, theft and other crimes, and instructing people how to live meaningful lives in their imperfect, mundane world.  Moshe’s arguments triumphed, and he was permitted to bring the Torah down from the heavens to Benei Yisrael.  Gavriel’s “snatching” the Torah and bringing it back to the heavens might be seen as vindicating Moshe, expressing the angels’ full-fledged acquiescence.  Whereas they had originally opposed Moshe’s desire to bring the heavenly Torah down to earth, they now brought his earthly Torah to the heavens, and this is the Torah which they use.

            In truth, the significance of the Midrash’s account runs even deeper.  After mentioning that Gavriel brought Moshe’s scroll to the heavens “in order to make Moshe’s righteousness known in the Heavenly assembly,” the Midrash cites the verse in Parashat Vezot Haberakha, “He [Moshe] acted righteously for God, and [taught] His law to Israel” (33:21).  The implication of this verse is that Moshe’s “righteousness” was expressed through his teaching God’s law to Benei Yisrael.  Whereas the angels insisted on keeping the Torah with them, in the pristine environs of the heavens, Moshe willingly and lovingly shared the Torah with Benei Yisrael.  As the Midrash tells, Moshe gave a copy of the Torah to each of the twelve tribes, symbolizing his commitment to sharing the Torah with the entire nation, excluding no one.  And it was then that Gavriel came and brought Moshe’s Torah to the heavens.  Gavriel wanted to show the angels Moshe’s example of “righteousness,” that the Torah is meant to be shared, not reserved for the spiritual elite.  Torah is to given to the masses, to guide, direct and inspire them.  It is not intended only for the angels, or only for quasi angels like Moshe.  It is to be studied, embraced, and followed by all twelve tribes, not only by a select group of “angels.”

            This is the message which Gavriel sought to teach his fellow heavenly beings, and this is the message which the Midrash seeks to teach us.  The Torah is to be both studied and shared; its teachings are relevant to all twelve tribes of Israel, and must therefore be shared with them all.  Just as the Torah was not meant to remain with the angels in the heavens, it was likewise not to meant to remain exclusively with the likes of Moshe Rabbenu, and must instead be disseminated and taught throughout all of Am Yisrael.

(See Rav Natan Gestetner’s Le-horot NatanMoadim, vol. 3, pp. 172-3, where he explains the Midrash’s comments along generally similar lines.)