Many years ago when I was exploring the many monotheistic faith, perhaps subconsciously looking for a “home” where I felt more comfortable than the religion of my family, I attended an interesting evening school in a suburb of Detroit. If I'm not mistaken it was a very eclectic group of teachers and rabbis representing all the various interpretations of Judaism who offered lectures within the framework of this school. To say that this precocious theologically minded French Canadian Roman Catholic found the learning experience enlightening would be the understatement of the decade.
In truth, I probably learned more on the ride to and from this evening school twice a week from my home in Windsor Ontario than I did in the various classes or lectures I attended at the school. You see, earlier in the year I had approached the local reform rabbi to ask some questions and perhaps borrow some books that I couldn't find elsewhere. No disrespect to the rabbi but he didn't exactly have time to spend educating the local non-Jewish youth. That wasn't in his purview. Diplomatically refusing to help me, he offhandedly suggested that If I was serious about learning about Judaism, there just happened to be an evening school across the river in Detroit. Fast forward a couple of months later and I hitched a ride with the dear Rabbi who happened to teach there and his constant traveling companion on these trips, a Windsorite Holocaust Survivor who taught Hebrew.
If in the classes or lectures I was one of the dozens of participants, on the ride from Windsor to Detroit and back there was just the three of us. A reform rabbi and a Holocaust survivor who had lost his original family to the Nazis survived the war, made it to Israel where he started a new family, then emigrated to Canada for personal reasons after the Six-Day Way in 1967. During this hour-long drive, I had a captive audience or should I say a captive panel of experts whom I could question and occasionally use as a sounding board to see whether what I understood from the lectures reflected Judaism or were simply this non-jews misinterpretation from the outside.
Many months later after my second or perhaps third semester I gradually came to the realization that the precepts of the Jewish faith agreed with all those truths and principles which I had so painstakingly discovered independently over the previous years. It was at that point that I started toying with the idea of joining the Jewish people and commencing to become and an observant Jew.
I can't emphasize enough my shock when both of my traveling companions, who had gradually become friends, vehemently expressed their discouragement from pursuing such a direction. As a nominal Christian who was so used to all the competing streams of Christianity falling all over each other to save my soul, this consensus of discouragement, in essence, rejection, was the last thing that I expected.
It was then my friend the Holocaust survivor taught me my first Torah Midrash. Midrashim are allegorical stories or anecdotes intended to sometimes elucidate the hidden meaning of scripture as understood by the rabbis who shared them. More often, the connection to any particular verse was simply an excuse to share a moral or ethical lesson as part of a sermon to a community.
The Midrash my friend shared (which can be found in the Babylonian Talmud Tractate Shabbat 89a) describes a debate Moses had with the angels in heaven. They did not want the precious entity, Torah, to be debased by bringing it down to the mundane and profane world of men. Moses egged on by G-d Himself, had to defend his right to bring Torah to the People of Israel. Through a series of arguments where Moses asks the angels what is written in the Torah and they were by necessity obligated to admit that it said things like “don't steal”, “don’t adulterate”, “don't murder” and many more — actions which have absolutely no relevance to the spiritual world of angels. At that point, Moses sums up the argument with a punchline which has served me sometimes daily over the last 50 years: “ Torah was not given to Angels.”
Torah was given to people who unfortunately are capable of stealing adulterating and worse. It was given to people who needed to hear that there are absolute Rights and Wrongs that they are expected to follow if they want to leave good lives and have healthy societies.
Ever since then whenever you read in the newspaper about some ostensibly religious individual who committed a moral discretion or worse, a crime, I simply repeat to myself “Torah wasn't given to Angels.” This is not an excuse. This is not some sort of “Get out of Jail Free” card. No! This is a declaration of intention.
Each one of us who adopts a Torah observant life, who pays homage to the values and principles of Judaism, dedicate ourselves to strive to live by the moral and ethical insights and edicts of Judaism. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes, more often than we're willing to admit, we don't succeed. All that means is that we need to strive even more energetically from that point on.