צַו אֶת אַהֲרֹן וְאֶת בָּנָיו לֵאמֹר זֹאת תּוֹרַת הָעֹלָ…הוְעָרַךְ עָלֶיהָ הָעֹלָה Command Aaron and his sons, saying, “This is the law of the burnt offering…lay the burnt offering on [the altar]. Leviticus 6:2
The Midrash points out that God has chosen to request sacrifices from us, and not from the angels.
Now, it is not a given that God should prefer the acts of people over those of angels, for surely the acts of angels are more pure and clean than those of people, which are always open to ulterior motives. But the difference is preparation, through which one arrives at the true fullness of an act, and through which a person comes to cleave to God, and in this way human acts are superior to heavenly ones, for humans must always strive to overcome their worldly urges and are always growing and changing, while angels, who are totally holy and pure and have no physical self, and are therefore unchanging.
When an angel does a deed, he simply does it — purely, it is true, but with no effort given to preparation. The Holy One of Blessing says, “If I wanted the deed itself, I would command [the angels] to do it, for surely their deeds are purer and cleaner than yours; but since I commanded you to do it, know that I don’t desire the deed itself but rather the preparation of the deed, and in this you are far superior.”
Sources: Midrash Tanhuma 1
It’s no coincidence, I think, that the Kotzker brings this teaching at this time of year. As we throw ourselves into Pesach cleaning and maybe feel tempted to either skip some of it or do it begrudgingly, let’s keep in mind this lesson from the Kotzker. Hametz, they say, is pride, and matzah humility. Maybe what God really wants isn’t so much the hametz-free house at the end of the cleaning, but a bunch of Jews busy thinking about their inner hametz while they’re doing the cleaning. Chag kasher v’sameach.