Parashat Yitro- Partnering With Hashem
Parashat Yitro tells of Ma’amad Har Sinai – Hashem’s revelation to Beneh Yisrael at Mount Sinai, and Moshe’s ascent to the mountaintop after the revelation in order to receive the Torah.
The Gemara in Masechet Shabbat (88b) tells of Moshe’s confrontation with the angels when he was in the heavens receiving the Torah. The angels objected to G-d’s decision to give the sacred Torah, which had been in the heavens for millennia, to lowly mortals. Hashem instructed Moshe to respond to the angels’ argument, and Moshe retorted that the angels have no need for the Torah’s laws. For example, the command of Shabbat is relevant only to those who work during the week, and the angels do not work; the prohibition of theft is relevant only to those who experience jealousy and have an instinct to compete, which angels do not.
The Hid"a (Rav Haim Yosef David Azulai, 1724-1806), in his Peneh David, explains the rationale behind the angels’ contention based on a Halachic rule known as "Bar Masra." This rule establishes that if a person wishes to sell a piece of property, he must grant the right of first refusal to the person who owns the neighboring property. Since the owner of a neighboring property will benefit from the property more than others, it is only proper to grant him first rights to purchase it. Accordingly, the angels argued that if Hashem was "selling" the Torah, He was obliged to first offer it to them, as they reside in the heavens and could thus be regarded as the Torah’s "neighbors."
Many later writers have elaborated further on this approach, and offered various explanations for why the angels’ claim was not valid.
Rav Meir Shapiro of Lublin (Poland, 1887-1933) explained by noting an event that preceded Ma’amad Har Sinai, and which, in a sense, served as a prelude to the giving of Torah. During Beneh Yisrael’s encampment in Mara, they were taught several Misvot (Shemot 15:25). Specifically, Rashi writes, they were taught the obligation of honoring parents, the obligation to observe Shabbat, and the obligation to maintain a just legal system. Rav Shapiro noted that the common theme shared by these three Misvot is the idea of our partnership with Hashem. The Rabbis teach that whoever observes Shabbat properly is considered as though he has partnered with Hashem in the world’s creation, and they similar comment that a judge who rules truthfully is considered G-d’s partner. And when a person honors him parents, he gives honor to all three partners who took part in his creation – his mother, his father, and G-d. Thus, before Beneh Yisrael arrived at Sinai, they were made Hashem’s partners through these three Misvot.
This is precisely the flaw in the angels’ argument. One of the exceptions to the law of "Bar Masra" is that the seller’s partner takes precedence to a neighbor. If the seller’s partner wishes to purchase the property, then he receives first rights, even if the owner of the neighboring property is also interested. Hence, Beneh Yisrael were entitled to the Torah even if the angels wanted it. We are not only Hashem’s subjects – we are His "partners," in that we represent Him in the world and conduct our lives according to His will. Therefore, we deserve first rights to the Torah. Although the angels reside in the heavens, and we are mere mortals living here on earth, we were nevertheless granted the precious gift of the Torah, because we are Hashem’s partners, who enjoy a special relationship with Him, by virtue of which He showers us with His blessings, including, and most importantly, the sacred Torah.