Parashat Ekeb- Defending Am Yisrael
In Parashat Ekeb, Moshe Rabbenu recalls how after he spent forty days in the heavens receiving the Torah, he came down and saw the people worshipping the golden calf. He then later returned to the heavens to plead that G-d forgive Am Yisrael for their sin.
The work Amudeha Shiba brings an obscure Midrashic passage that connects Moshe’s pleas to G-d after the sin of the golden with the story of Eliyahu Ha’nabi. As we read in the Book of Melachim I (chapter 19), Eliyahu was forced to flee from Izebel, the queen of Israel who sought to kill him, and he came to Sinai. There he was provided with some food, which, the verse states, sustained him for forty days and forty nights. G-d then appeared to Eliyahu, and he reported to G-d that Am Yisrael had abandoned His covenant and worshipped idols. The Midrash interprets these verses to mean that after Eliyahu ate, he was shown a vision of Moshe Rabbenu spending forty days and forty nights atop Mount Sinai pleading with G-d for forgiveness on behalf of the Jewish People. G-d sharply chastised Eliyahu for reporting negatively to G-d about Am Yisrael, instead of advocating on their behalf, as Moshe had done.
To explain this Midrash, the Amudeha Shiba cites a famous passage in a different Midrashic source which teaches that when G-d wanted to create Adam, various groups of angels protested. One such group was the group which represented "Emet" (truth), and who argued that human beings should not be created, because they are dishonest. To silence their protest, the Midrash relates, G-d took hold of "Emet" and "threw them to the ground." One commentator (the "Zera Berech") explains this to mean that he sent the angels of this group down to earth, where they would derive benefit from human beings and thus come to appreciate the greatness of people, instead of objecting to their having been created. One of these angels was Eliyahu Ha’nabi. He was originally an angel, part of the "Emet" group, and he was sent to earth for the purpose of being shown the positive qualities of human beings.
This group of angels also consisted of the three angels who visited Abraham Abinu, who served them a lavish meal. They, too, had argued against the creation of man, and so they were sent to earth where they would benefit from the hospitality of a human being, and thus appreciate them. The effects of these angels’ visit to Abraham were felt years later, when Moshe went to the heavens to receive the Torah. The Midrash relates that the angels initially protested, arguing that the Torah belongs in the sublime, pure domain of the heavens, and should not be entrusted to frail human beings. G-d responded by making Moshe Rabbenu appear like Abraham Abinu, and then reminding the angels of how they were once fed and cared for by a human being. They were sent to the world to see the greatness of human beings, and acknowledge the value of their being created and that they deserved G-d’s Torah. And because of this experience, they were compelled to stop protesting the decision to give Beneh Yisrael the Torah.
With this background, the Amudeha Shiba proceeds to suggest a novel reading of the Midrash’s interpretation of the story of Eliyahu. He explained that Eliyahu did not actually survive for forty days from the nourishment provided by the small morsel of food he was given. This description actually refers to Moshe Rabbenu. G-d showed Eliyahu a vision of Moshe’s forty-day stay in the heavens which was "sustained" by the eating of the three angels who visited Abraham. Moshe was able to receive the Torah because years earlier, G-d had sent three angels to Abraham’s tent, where they were fed, proving to them the greatness of the human being, and why the Jewish People deserved to receive the Torah. Eliyahu, too, was sent to this world to receive benefit from people and recognize their greatness – but he did not learn the lesson. Instead of defending and advocating for the Jewish Nation, he instead complained about them to the Almighty.
The role of a Jewish leader – and, in a sense, of each one of us – is to advocate for the people, not to complain about them. Of course, at the appropriate time and in the appropriate manner, a leader is required to point out to the people their mistakes so they will improve. But in speaking to G-d, the leader’s obligation is to pray on the people’s behalf, to emphasize only their virtues, their merits, their good deeds and their good qualities. There are enough "prosecuting" angels in the heavens who argue against the Jewish Nation before the Heavenly Tribunal. They don’t need our help. Our focus must instead be directed towards all that is beautiful about the Jewish People, and pleading to G-d to bless His beloved nation and shower them all with joy, success and prosperity.