“And he stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stopped.”
We enter into a dialogue in today’s Daf Yomi between Moses and Satan, who I never knew existed before in Hebrew tradition. I do not remember Satan appearing very often in the Old Testament that I studied in Hebrew School. This is also not the brimstone and fire Satan that I have imagined would appear one day in the dialogue with the Rabbis.
Satan is one of many angels that Moses converses with today, who provide a reminder that the Torah was given to a man, a remarkable man, but still a man, and a tribe of people who are flawed in every way that a human being can be. They are impatient, ungrateful, and display bad judgment when they confuse the glitter of a golden calf with the true gift of life and purpose that Moses was about to give them.
Moses’ dialogue with the angels includes one very special character – Satan – who challenges his worthiness to accept the Torah on behalf of his deeply flawed people. An innumerable number of angels celebrate Moses’ humanity and the gift he brought down from the mountain, but Satan, the Angel of Death, is skeptical.
We are told that when Moses descended the mountain, Satan inquired about the Torah. Satan is told that the Torah has been given to the earth. The earth opened up and spoke to Satan when he asked, “where is the Torah” and replied, “I do not know.” He then went to the sea and asked, “Where is the Torah” and the sea said, “It is not with me.” He speaks directly to destruction and death who point him in a certain direction as they reply, “we heard a rumor of it with our ears.”
Satan addresses God directly and asks about the location of the Torah and is told to go find Moses. Moses says that he is unworthy to receive such a gift. God reaches down from above and interrupts Satan’s pointless interrogation and declares that Moses is worthy of accepting Torah for being so humble: “since you belittled yourself, the Torah will be called by your name.” And Satan is sent away to go and find trouble somewhere else.
It seems appropriate that Satan appears in today’s Daf Yomi as a manifestation of both overt and covert malevolence. This Satan is covetous because he wants the Torah for himself, and mischievous in how he attempts to undermine Moses by suggesting that the Torah is not meant for a man, but rather an angel. He represents the hidden overt evil that we sadly witness again and again in the death of innocent people through unbridled police brutality and gun violence that occur like clockwork in our towns and cities, and covert evil that exists in hidden racism, and our “broken society” that does not offer decent healthcare, employment and a livable wage to many of our citizens people.
Satan may have been there on the shoulders of the young men on bicycles that I saw riding through my neighborhood Saturday night setting fire to the streets in Chelsea who seemed to have nothing to do with the demonstrations that occurred earlier. I want to say to Satan in all his manifestation: Not Today.