Satan is your best friend (Shabbos 89)

When Moses ascended on High to receive the Torah, the ministering angels inquired, “Master of the Universe, what is mortal man doing here among us?”

Hashem replied, “He has come to receive the Torah.”

The angels responded, “The Torah is a hidden treasure and you seek to give it to flesh and blood? The rightful place of God’s majesty is in the heavens!”

God said to Moses, “Provide them with an answer as to why the Torah should be given to the people.”

Moses replied, “Master of the Universe, what is written in the Torah?”

God said to him: “I am the Lord your God Who brought you out of Egypt from the house of bondage.”

Moses asked the angels, “Did you descend to Egypt? Were you enslaved to Pharaoh? What else is written in the Torah? “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Do you dwell among the nations who worship idols that you require this special warning? What else is written in it? “Remember the Shabbat day to sanctify it.” Do you perform labour that you require rest from it?

What else is written in it? “Do not take the name of the Lord your God in vain,” meaning that it is prohibited to swear falsely. Do you conduct business with one another that may lead you to swear falsely? What else is written in it? “Honour your father and your mother.” Do you have a father or a mother?  What else is written in it? “You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal.”  Is there jealousy among you, or is there an evil inclination within you that would render these commandments relevant?

Finally, the angels acquiesced to the Holy One, blessed be He, that He made the right decision to give the Torah to the people, as it is stated: “God our Lord, how glorious is Your name in all the Earth.”

וְאָמַר רַבִּי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בֶּן לֵוִי: בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁעָלָה מֹשֶׁה לַמָּרוֹם אָמְרוּ מַלְאֲכֵי הַשָּׁרֵת לִפְנֵי הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא: רִבּוֹנוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם, מַה לִּילוּד אִשָּׁה בֵּינֵינוּ? אָמַר לָהֶן: לְקַבֵּל תּוֹרָה בָּא. אָמְרוּ לְפָנָיו: חֶמְודָּה גְּנוּזָה שֶׁגְּנוּזָה לָךְ תְּשַׁע מֵאוֹת וְשִׁבְעִים וְאַרְבָּעָה דּוֹרוֹת קוֹדֶם שֶׁנִּבְרָא הָעוֹלָם, אַתָּה מְבַקֵּשׁ לִיתְּנָהּ לְבָשָׂר וָדָם? ״מָה אֱנוֹשׁ כִּי תִזְכְּרֶנּוּ וּבֶן אָדָם כִּי תִפְקְדֶנּוּ״? ״ה׳ אֲדֹנֵינוּ מָה אַדִּיר שִׁמְךָ בְּכׇל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר תְּנָה הוֹדְךָ עַל הַשָּׁמָיִם״! אָמַר לוֹ הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא לְמֹשֶׁה: הַחְזֵיר לָהֶן תְּשׁוּבָה… מִיָּד כׇּל אֶחָד וְאֶחָד נַעֲשָׂה לוֹ אוֹהֵב וּמָסַר לוֹ דָּבָר, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״עָלִיתָ לַמָּרוֹם שָׁבִיתָ שֶּׁבִי לָקַחְתָּ מַתָּנוֹת בָּאָדָם״ — בִּשְׂכַר שֶׁקְּרָאוּךְ ״אָדָם״, לָקַחְתָּ מַתָּנוֹת. אַף מַלְאַךְ הַמָּוֶת מָסַר לוֹ דָּבָר, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״וַיִּתֵּן אֶת הַקְּטֹרֶת וַיְכַפֵּר עַל הָעָם״, וְאוֹמֵר: ״וַיַּעֲמֹד בֵּין הַמֵּתִים וּבֵין הַחַיִּים וְגוֹ׳״ — אִי לָאו דַּאֲמַר לֵיהּ מִי הֲוָה יָדַע

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi taught: When Moses ascended on High to receive the Torah, the ministering angels said before the Holy One, blessed be He: Master of the Universe, what is mortal man doing here among us? . . .

Immediately, each and every one of the angels became an admirer of Moses and presented gifts to him, as it is stated: “You ascended on high, you took a captive, you took gifts on account of man, and even among the rebellious also that the Lord God might dwell there.” The meaning of the verse is: In reward for the fact that they called you man, you are not an angel and the Torah is applicable to you, you took gifts from the angels.

Even the Angel of Death gave him something, as Moses told Aaron how to stop the plague, as it is stated, “And he placed the incense, and he atoned for the people.” And the verse says, “And he stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stopped.” If it were not that the Angel of Death taught him this remedy, would he have known it?

The Torah is very demanding.  It’s not easy to fulfil everything Heaven asks of us.  Sometimes we feel disappointed with our inability to practise the precepts of the Torah as we should.  How do we maintain our dedication and enthusiasm when the Torah is so detailed and religious observance is so difficult to perfect?

Answers the Gemara: The Torah wasn’t given to angels.  Of course angels would never transgress the prohibition of idolatry.  There are no idols in heaven.  Here on Earth, we are faced with physical trials and tribulations.  And no mortal man is perfect.  But that’s exactly why it was given to us.  So that we could struggle with the ability to fulfil God’s will and overcome our natural, mortal instincts.

By the end of Moshe’s courageous defense before the ministering angels, they showered him with gifts.  Even the Angel of Death gave him a present.  Who is the Angel of Death?  Satan.  The same angel who brings death and destruction is the angel that is charged with enticing us to sin, and then acts as the prosecutor before the heavenly court.

While Satan’s gift to Moshe is enumerated in the Talmud, Satan’s gift to each of us is even more profound and meaningful.  In contrast with Christianity’s understanding of Satan as a fallen angel, Judaism takes a far more positive view of Satan.  He is not bad.  He is merely doing his holy job, which is to tempt us to act contrary to God’s will.

The Zohar offers a parable of a prince who is brought up in the lap of luxury.  Living in the bubble of the palace, he is provided with the best that life has to offer, from good food and expensive toys to the finest tutors in the land.  One day it dawns on the king that his son will eventually succeed him and must embody the strength of character needed to deal with major crises. Given that he has never had any struggle in his life, there is no way of telling how he would act under pressure.

The king resolves to challenge his son with a test of character.  He hires a harlot and instructs her to endeavour to seduce his son.  The harlot now faces a psychological quandary.  On the one hand, she has been hired to fulfil a certain task – by no less than the king – and, to that end, she must do her very best to achieve success.  On the other hand, she understands that the king would be disappointed should she succeed.  After all, the test is designed to demonstrate the prince’s strength of character.

Similarly, explains the Zohar, God hired Satan and charged him with the task of seducing us to sin.  He does not really want Satan to succeed.  He hopes that he will fail.  He prays that His children will overcome temptation and demonstrate their fealty to their Father in Heaven.  Nevertheless, the only way that can happen is if we are placed into circumstances that offer the opportunity to act contrary to His will.  That’s Satan’s task.

In a certain sense, Satan’s gift is the greatest of all.  Every time Satan appears in our lives, he’s providing us with an opportunity for spiritual growth.  Without his tests, we would remain static in our spirituality.  Each morning in Shacharis, we declare that angels “stand in the heights of the universe.”  Our Sages explain the significance of the word ‘stand.’  Unlike human beings who have the capacity to grow spiritually, angels are static.  They stand in one place and never move.  They cannot grow.

That’s why the Torah wasn’t given to the angels.  There would have been no point of having them fulfil its dictates.  Without any challenges, they are like the king’s ministers.  We are His prince.  When our souls were in the heavenly palace, we faced no temptation to act contrary to God’s will.  Down here on Earth, however, Satan is given free rein to test our faith and commitment to our Father in Heaven, the Supreme King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.  The hope is that we successfully overcome most of the trials and tribulations and return to Heaven, after 120, much stronger and robust souls.

Satan is not the enemy.  He is your best friend.  Without him, your life would have little purpose.  Hashem has sent him into your life to make you a better, stronger individual.  Next time you are faced with a test of faith, turn to Satan, and say, ‘Thank you for offering me this challenge.  I am ready to rise to the occasion.’  May you always overcome his tests and earn eternal reward and life for all your valiant efforts!

About the Author
Rabbi of Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue, London, UK.
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