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Greater Than Angels

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"You are to be my holy people. So do not eat the meat of an animal torn by wild beasts; throw it to the dogs." - Exodus 22:31

The Torah portion for this week is Mishpatim, which means "laws," from Exodus 21:1-24:18, and the Haftorah is from Jeremiah 34:8-22.

Sandwiched between the Ten Commandments and the Israelites' acceptance of God's Word is a verse where God says, "You are to be my holy people . . ." Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, an 18th century rabbi, has a beautiful comment on this verse. He said, "You shall be holy, but as people . . . The Lord of the Universe has no lack of angels in heaven." When God gave us the Torah, he desired human holiness, not the holiness of angels.

What does this mean?

The Jewish sages teach that when Moses climbed Mount Sinai in order to bring God's Word to the people, the angels protested. The angels had no idea what was in the Bible, only that God had hidden it away for many generations. They knew that it was a great treasure and that obtaining it was a great mission.

And that's what angels do; they fulfill missions.

Angels have no ego. They have no ungodly desires. They do exactly what God created them to do - nothing more and nothing less. So when God gave a human being this great treasure, this special mission, the angels were in shock! How could God have chosen a flawed human being to carry out the greatest mission of all? They cried out the words of Psalm 8:4-5, "what is mankind that you are mindful of them . . . You have made them . . . lower than the angels." Yet in spite of the fact that humans were made lower than angels, the angels continued, You [God] "crowned them with glory and honor."

God told Moses that he must respond to the angels' complaints. So Moses said to God in front of all the angels, "What's in Your Torah?" God responded, "I am the Lord your God who took you out of Egypt." Moses then turned to the angels and said, "Were you in Egypt? Were you in that place of darkness? Of what relevance is the Torah to you?" Moses continued by reviewing God's commandments and how none of them apply to angels. Angels don't have to deal with temptation, jealousy, challenges, or conflicts. They live in a place of perpetual light.

People, on the other hand, deal with all kinds of darkness - both on the outside and also inside of ourselves. That is where our greatness lies. Angels may be beings of light, but only human beings can take darkness and turn it into light. Only people can overcome evil desires, extend kindness when tempted not to, and use the physical world for spiritual purposes.

Today, remember that you are greater than the angels. When tempted to do something wrong, choose to do what is right. When faced with darkness, choose light. Our greatness lies in our weaknesses . . . and our unwavering commitment to overcome them.

With prayers for shalom, peace,

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President

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