|Jews, Judeans, Israelites, and the children of Israel all seemed to have struggled with what I call “minority people syndrome”. Outside cultures and religions seem for so many of us so much more appealing than the home-grown variety. Many of us are easily convinced that our ideas and our behavior are somehow inferior to that of others, and that Jewish policy, whether political or religious is remiss or inferior to that practiced by the outside world. This phenomenon is not new. Anyone who pays close attention to Moshe’s messages in Sefer Devarim (Deuteronomy) is familiar with the fact that Moshe had to fight tooth and nail to keep his “minority” people on the straight and narrow. And the “sales pitches” offered by Moshe did not end with him. They extended throughout the ages. It is just not easy to be different.
Moshe, in his entreaties to his people, made a great effort to convince them that they were both capable and worthy of fulfilling God’s expectations as expressed in the Torah:
Surely this mitzvah which I enjoin upon you is not too baffling to you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, ‘Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?’… (Deuteronomy 30:11-12)
For the following midrash, the task was not convincing the people of their ability to observe, rather, that God’s message was one to be treasured:
And if you say that I gave the Torah to you for your detriment, [know that] I only gave Torah to you for your benefit since the ministering angels desired Torah and it was hidden from them, as it says: “She has been hidden from the eyes of all living,” (Job 28:21) – these are the animals (likely referring to heavenly beings in Ezekiel 1), “and from the birds of the sky it has been hidden,” (Job 28:21) – these are the angels. How do we know this? As it says: “One of the serafim (type of angel) flew to me” (Isaiah 6:6) God said to them (Israel): My children! From the ministering angels this thing is out of reach, but from you it is not. From where do we know this? For we read regarding this issue: “for this mitzvah which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach” (Deuteronomy 30:11). (Devarim Rabbah 8:2)
The rationale for this midrash seems clear. Its author wanted to convince his audience of the great treasure that they had in hand – a treasure so desirous that even the angels in heaven wanted it. We are at a similar juncture today. Editorial writers talk about the value of the Jewish Shabbat. Christian magazines write about the virtues of Friday night Shabbat meals, legislatures discuss Jewish views on medical issues, rabbis are consulted as wise counselors by government officials, but many Jews somehow unwilling to give their own tradition a chance, thinking that what others have must be better. Perhaps it’s time to take the advice of the angels: It ain’t so bad being a Jew!