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(5736) The complaint of the Angels: "Set thy glory the Torah upon the Heavens etc" (Tal. Shab 88b) from the law of "First Right of Purchase" for a Neighbor (dina de-bar metzra)

Synopsis 1:

With regard to the giving of the Torah, our Sages relate:1

When Moshe ascended to the heavens, the ministering angels asked the Holy One, blessed be He: “Master of the world, what is one born of a mother doing among us?”

He told them: “He came to receive the Torah.”

They protested: “There is a hidden treasure… and You desire to give it to flesh and blood. 'What is man that You shall remember him?’2 'G‑d, our Master,… who places Your glory in the heavens.’3 ”

The Holy One, blessed be He, told Moshe: “Provide them with an answer.”

Moshe responded before Him: “The Torah which You are going to give me, what is written in it? 'I am G‑d, your L-rd, who took you out of the land of Egypt.’ ”4

Moshe told the angels: “Did you descend to Egypt? Were you enslaved to Pharaoh? Why should the Torah be yours?”

And he continued telling them: “What else is written in it? 'You shall have no other gods.’5 Do you live among idol-worshipping nations?”

And so, Moshe challenged the angels with regard to all the other commandments: “Do you work?… Are you involved in business?… Do you have a father or a mother?… Is there envy among you?… Do you have an evil inclination?….

The angels immediately acknowledged the correctness of the choice of the Holy One, blessed be He.

The Rabbis6 explain that the angels’ claim was based on the principle of bar meitzra. If a person sells his field, a person who owns a neighboring field has the right to buy the field from the purchaser at the price the purchaser paid.7 The angels were claiming that since the Torah was hidden in the heavens, and they are heavenly beings, it would have been appropriate for the Torah to have been given to them.8

Among the resolutions offered by the Rabbis in response to the angels’ claims are:

a) The privilege of bar meitzra is given to a neighbor only with regard to landed property, and not with regard to movable property.9 Since the Torah is not landed property, the angels do not deserve this privilege.

b) The privilege of bar meitzra is given to a neighbor only with regard to a sale, but not with regard to a present.10 Since the Torah was given to the Jews as a present,11 this privilege is not granted.

c) The privilege granted to a neighbor does not apply if the purchaser is a relative of the seller. Since the Jews are closely related to G‑d, “You are children of G‑d your L-rd,”12 the protests of the angels are of no consequence.

d) Moshe is described as “the man of G‑d.”13 The Midrash relates that “From his waist down, he was a man; from his waist up, he was G‑dly.” Thus Moshe was also a neighbor to the Torah, and he had as valid a claim to it as the angels did.

e) Our Sages comment:14 “Whoever rules with truth and faithfulness in a judgment becomes a partner with the Holy One, blessed be He, in the work of creation.” Moshe is cited as the epitome of a person delivering a true judgment.

When a person is a partner with a person who sells property, he has the right to purchase such property despite the protests of a neighbor.15 Since Moshe delivered true judgments and became a partner with G‑d, he had a right to the Torah despite the protests of the angels.16

These proposed resolutions, however, are not entirely acceptable. Firstly, the last two explanations involve Moshe individually, and not the Jewish people. And it is to the Jewish people as a whole that the Torah was given.17 But more fundamentally, none of these explanations appears to reflect the replies which Moshe gave to the angels. On the contrary, the last three proposed resolutions appear to run contrary to the thrust of Moshe’s replies. For the resolutions emphasize the spiritual qualities of Moshe and/or the Jewish people, while Moshe’s replies appear to underscore the fact that the Jews live in a material environment and must contend with negative influences.

There is also another difficulty with the first proposed resolution — that the privilege of bar meitzra is granted to a neighbor only with regard to landed property and the Torah is not landed property. The reason this privilege is granted only with regard to landed property and not with regard to movable property is that it is to the neighbor’s advantage to have two fields located next to each other instead of having to purchase another field in a further removed place. Such a difficulty would not arise with regard to movable property, for as its name implies, once it is purchased, it can be taken by the purchaser to his own place.

Thus this concept does not apply to the Torah, for the Torah cannot be obtained anywhere else but from G‑d. And once it has been given, it no longer shares the same connection to the place — the spiritual realms — from which it originates, for as our Sages emphasize,18 after the giving of the Torah, it is “no longer in the heavens.”

Similarly, the second of the proposed resolutions, that the privilege given to a neighbor applies only with regard to a sale and the Torah was given as a present, is also problematic. For we also find the concept of a sale identified with G‑d’s granting the Jews the Torah.19 Thus in allegorical terms, our Sages quote G‑d as saying:20 “I sold My Torah to you.”

There are other explanations offered with regard to the passage cited above. There are four approaches to the Torah: pshat, the simple meaning, remez, the allusions, derush, the allegories, and sod, the mystic dimension. The Alshich21 explains that the angels did not issue a claim with regard to the pshat of the Torah; they knew that belonged to the Jewish people. They laid claim to the sod, the Torah’s mystic dimension. They felt that since these teachings are purely spiritual, they belong in the heavens, and should not be given to mortals but rather to the angels themselves, for they are “neighbors.”

This claim, however, can also be refuted. The law22 is that when a person sells all of his properties, a person whose land borders on only one of the properties cannot claim the privileges of a neighbor, for the sale must be viewed as an integral whole. Similarly, with regard to the angels’ claim, the simple meaning of the Torah and its mystic dimension are both part of a single integral unit; they cannot be divided from each other.

This explanation, moreover, is also not reflected in Moshe’s replies to the angels. On the contrary, his statements: “Did you descend to Egypt? Were you enslaved to Pharaoh?… Do you work?… Are you involved in business?…” were factors which this explanation had seemingly taken for granted.

Another proposed resolution is based on the following law:23 If a person seeks to purchase a field because he is in a pressing financial situation and needs the field to earn his livelihood, while a neighbor seeks to purchase it merely for the sake of added income, the neighbor is not granted the privileges of a bar meitzra.

The Jews require the Torah for their very existence, as we say in our prayers,24 it is “our life and the length of our days.” And it is only through the Torah that we can overcome the evil inclination. Thus our Sages quoted G‑d as saying,25 “I created the evil inclination, and I created the Torah as a condiment for it.”

Thus the Jews can be compared to a purchaser who is in a difficult situation and requires the property in question to maintain his existence. The angels, by contrast, appear to resemble the neighbor who is seeking merely additional profit. In such a situation, the angels’ claim is not accepted.

This resolution does relate to the some of the replies Moshe gave the angels: “Is there envy among you?… Do you have an evil inclination?” Nevertheless, the extensive replies which he gave — “Did you descend to Egypt? Were you enslaved to Pharaoh?… Do you work?… Are you involved in business?…” — are not all relevant. Thus it appears that Moshe’s intent is not merely that the Torah enables us to overcome the yetzer hara, but instead points to a subject of more general scope.

The concept can be explained as follows: The Torah was given in order to bring to realization G‑d’s intent for the Creation: His desire for a dwelling in the lower worlds.26 This purpose serves as the basis for the refutation of the angels’ claim. For the law is27 that when a person buys a field for the purpose of building a home, and the neighbor desires to use it as a field, the neighbor is not granted this privilege.

Similarly, the Jews use the Torah to build G‑d’s dwelling in the lower worlds. Therefore, they — and not the angels — are entitled to it.

This intent is reflected in Moshe’s lengthy reply in which he reckons the various different challenging situations the Jews must confront, describing the environment — the lower realms — where G‑d desired His dwelling to be constructed.

One might, however, ask: Why must G‑d’s dwelling be fashioned in the lower worlds? Let the Torah be given to the angels — for they are its neighbors — and let them create a dwelling for G‑d in the upper worlds.

The resolution to this question depends on several fundamental concepts in Chassidic thought. The concept of a dwelling refers to a place for the revelation of G‑d’s essence. In our mortal sphere, it is in our own homes that we let down our inhibitions and let our real selves be known. Similarly, in the analogy, it is in our material world, G‑d’s dwelling, that His essence, who He really is, becomes manifest.

How does that essence become manifest? Because it is invested in the Torah and in the Jewish people. With regard to the Torah, our Sages explain28 that the word Anochi, the first word of the Ten Commandments serves as an acronym for the Aramaic words meaning “I wrote down and gave over My soul.” And with regard to the Jewish people, it is explained that every Jewish soul is “an actual part of G‑d.”29 The angels do not possess such spiritual power.

It is in our lowly material world that the essential G‑dliness possessed by the Torah and the Jewish people becomes manifest. Appreciating G‑dliness in this material world presents a twofold challenge — a challenge from without, for the material nature of the world appears to oppose G‑dliness,30 and a challenge from within, for every person possesses an evil inclination. These challenges can be overcome only by tapping the essential G‑dly power within our souls. And conversely, it is only by confronting these challenges — as opposed to appreciating the revelations of G‑dliness in the spiritual worlds — that the essential G‑dliness in our souls can be revealed.

For this reason, the Torah was given in this world — to enable the Jewish people to transform the darkness of our world into a dwelling for G‑d.31


1.    Shabbos 88b.
2.    Tehillim 8:5.
3.    Ibid.: 2.
4.    Shmos 20:2.
5.    Ibid.: 3.
6.    Shtei Yaddos beginning of Parshas Terumah; Pnei David, Parshas Yisro.
7.    Bava Metzia 108a; Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Shecheinim 12:5; Tur and Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 175:6).
8.    Even though the Torah states: “Speak to the children of Israel,” “Say to the children of Israel,” and the like, the angels still claimed it as their own. For even after a sale has been completed and a bill of sale mentioning the purchaser drawn up, a neighbor has the right to claim the field for himself.
9.    Maggid Mishneh, gloss to Hilchos Shecheinim 13:4, Tur and Shulchan Aruch, loc. cit.: 53.
10.    Rambam, loc. cit. 13:1, Tur and Shulchan Aruch, loc. cit.: 54.
11.    See Berachos 5a, Bereishis Rabbah 6:5, et al. Indeed, in our prayers we continually refer to G‑d as “the Giver of the Torah,” and speak of Shavuos as “the season of the giving of the Torah.”
12.    Devarim 14:1.
13.    Devarim 33:1; Tehillim 90:1.
14.    Shabbos 10a.
15.    Rambam, loc. cit. 12:5, Tur and Shulchan Aruch, loc. cit.: 49.
16.    This explanation follows the opinion that Yisro came to Moshe and observed him judging the Jewish people before the giving of the Torah (Zevachim 116a).
17.    It is possible to explain that not only Moshe, but the entire Jewish people are “neighbors” of the Torah, because the source of their souls is “from below G‑d’s throne of glory” (Zohar, Vol. III, p. 29b). Moreover, the entire people (not only Moshe) can be considered as G‑d’s partners. For it is said (Shabbos 119b): “Whoever recites the passage Vayichulu on the Shabbos eve, becomes a partner with the Holy One, blessed be He, in the work of creation,” and the Jews were commanded regarding the observance of the Shabbos before the giving of the Torah (Sanhedrin 56b). Nevertheless, as will be explained, it is the fundamental thrust of these proposed resolutions, not merely their particulars, which is problematic.
18.    Bava Metzia 59b.
19.    In addition, we find (see the sources mentioned in note 10), that if the giver takes responsibility for the present he gives, the neighbor is granted the privilege of purchasing the field.
20.    Shmos Rabbah 33:1; see also Berachos 5a which uses the analogy of a sale with regard to the giving of the Torah.
21.    Commentary to Tehillim, psalm 8; see also Chiddushei Aggados of the Maharsha to Shabbos 88b, which offers a similar explanation.
22.    Bava Metzia 108b; Rambam, loc. cit. , 12:6; Tur and Shulchan Aruch, loc. cit.: 36.
23.    Ramah, Choshen Mishpat 175:49.
24.    Siddur Tehillat HaShem, p. 107. See also the allegory of Rabbi Akiva (Berachos 61a) which compares the Jews to fish and the Torah to water.
25.    Kiddushin 30b.
26.    Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Naso, sec. 16; Tanya, ch. 36.
27.    Bava Metzia, loc. cit.; Rambam, loc. cit. , 14:1; Tur and Shulchan Aruch, loc. cit.: 26.
28.    Shabbos 105a; Likkutei Torah, Shlach, p. 48d.
29.    Tanya, ch. 2.
30.    To use terminology from Chassidus (Tanya, ch. 6): Our world is “filled with kelipos and the sitra achra which are directly opposed to G‑d.”
31.    This transformation is a new development, reflecting as radical a metamorphosis as the creation of the world. G‑d created the world yesh me’ayin, bringing existence into being from absolute nothingness. The Divine service of the Jewish people involves transforming yesh into ayin, making the material existence of this world into a medium for the revelation of G‑dliness.This process of transformation is also alluded to in Moshe’s question to the angels: “Do you have a mother and a father?” The power to create a new entity is within G‑d’s essence alone (Tanya, Iggeres HaKodesh, Epistle 20). This power He communicated to the Jewish people, and therefore it is within the potential of mankind to conceive children, thus bringing new life into the world.

Synopsis 2:

The Gemara says1 that when Moshe ascended Above to receive the Torah, the angels demanded to know why he was there. When G‑d told them that Moshe had come to acquire the Torah for the Jewish people, the angels protested: “This beautiful concealed thing Torah, You desire to give to one who is of flesh and blood?! ‘Give Your glory upon the heavens!’2 ”

G‑d commanded Moshe to respond to the angels’ protest. Thereupon Moshe rejoined: “The Torah states: ‘I am the L‑rd your G‑d who took you out of Egypt.’3 Did you angels descend to Egypt? ... It goes on to say, ‘Do not have any other gods.’4 Are you dwelling among nations that serve idols?”

Moshe then went on to include the rest of the Ten Commandments: “Do you labor ... Do you engage in commerce ... Do you have parents ... Does jealousy exist among you ... Do you have an evil inclination?”

The Gemara concludes that upon hearing Moshe’s explanation, the angels acknowledged that it was indeed proper for G‑d to give the Torah to man.

The Rabbis explain5 that the legal basis of the angels’ claim that “G‑d’s glory be given upon the heavens,” rested on the law of bar metzra, a neighbor’s right of preemption. According to Jewish law,6 when one sells a field, the owner of the neighboring field has first rights of acquisition. This is because it is beneficial to have one’s fields next to each other,7 and the Torah states:8 “You shall do that which is proper and good in G‑d’s eyes.”

This, too, was part of the angels’ complaint. Since until the time of Matan Torah the Torah was found and concealed in the heavens, the angels felt they had the preemptive rights of the bar metzra since the heavens were their abode.

Since the law of bar metzra was the legal basis for their protest, we must understand how Moshe’s response neutralized their complaint.

The ultimate purpose of Torah is that through it, G‑d’s objective in creation — “G‑d earnestly desired to have a dwelling in the nethermost level”9 — may be fulfilled:

Just as a person finds himself in his entirety within his dwelling, so did G‑d desire that His entire essence be found in the “nethermost level,” this physical world. This is accomplished through Torah, for with regard to Torah, G‑d says: “You are actually clutching Me”10 — His entire essence is found within Torah.

Accordingly, the angels’ claim of bar metzra is entirely negated. For the law goes on to state11 that if the bar metzra desires the land for farming while the alternate purchaser desires the property in order to build a house, then the field goes to the purchaser, inasmuch as a “dwelling is more deserving of the land usage, and the law of bar metzra does not apply.”

Here, too, since the purpose of Torah is to make a domicile and dwelling for G‑d’s Essence — something that can only be accomplished in this world and not in the angels’ worlds on high — the law of bar metzra does not apply.

This is why Moshe replied: “Do you labor ... Do you engage in commerce? etc.” Moshe, in effect, was saying that Torah is the province of the Jew, as the Jew is associated with transforming this physical world into a dwelling for G‑d.

The fact that Torah was not given to the celestial beings in no way implies that they are not in need of the Divine Essence being drawn down thereby. For even within the higher realms, without the revelation of G‑dliness brought about through Torah, only a glimmer of holiness radiates there.12 It is only through the spiritual service of the Jewishpeople in this world that G‑d’s Essence is drawn down within all worlds, higher as well as lower.13

This is similar to the use of a jack or lever to lift a building. If the implement is placed on an upper level of the building, only that part of the structure will be raised. Only when the jack or lever is placed under the building — in the “nethermost level” — will the entire building be elevated.14

This is why the Torah was given specifically in this world, the “lowest level, of which there is none lower.”15 By doing so, the entire “edifice” of creation is uplifted and elevated.

Moshe also stressed this when he responded: “Does jealousy exist among you ... Do you have an evil inclination?” He was informing the angels that G‑d desired to give the Torah to a world so low that jealously and the evil inclination exist within it. By giving Torah here, in this world, G‑d intended that His essence would permeate all levels, from the lowest to the highest.


1.    Shabbos 88b ff.
2.    Tehillim 8:2.
3.    Shmos 20:2.
4.    Ibid., v. 3.
5.    See Pnai David and Rosh David (from the Chida) on Parshas Yisro; Sefas Emes on Parshas Yisro.
6.    Bava Metzia 108a; Rambam, Hilchos Shecheinim 12:5; Tur and Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 175:6.
7.    Rashi, Bava Metzia, ibid.; Rambam, ibid.
8.    Devarim 6:18.
9.    Tanchuma, Naso 16; Tanya, ch. 36.
10.    See Vayikra Rabbah 30:13; Shmos Rabbah 33:6; Tanchuma, Terumah 3. See also Tanya, ch. 47.
11.    Bava Metzia, ibid.; Rambam, ibid.; Tur and Shulchan Aruch, ibid. 175:26.
12.    See Tanya, ch. 36; Basi LeGani 5711, ch. 4.
13.    See also Ner Chanukah 5643, end of ch. 1.
14.    See Torah Or, p. 4a.
15.    Tanya, ibid.





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