For the week ending 25 June 2005 / 18 Sivan 5765

Revisiting Angels

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Al Allen in Atlanta

Dear Rabbi,

In response to your weekly question/answer regarding angels, I was wondering why G-d needs angels in the first place. Is their job solely to carry out G-d's orders? If so, why does G-d need assistance when He's capable of doing everything Himself? Also, how do angels become angels? Are they angels in perpetuity? Are the angels that we have now the same ones that have been there since the beginning of time? I have a hard time with the concept of angels. It seems very Christian to me ... but I bet you'll say that the Christians borrowed the concept from the Jews! Thank you in advance for your response.

Dear Al,

The Hebrew word for angel is "malach". The word "malach" is related to the word "melacha", which means "task". Hence, a malach is a force that acts as an agent or vehicle to accomplish G-ds will. Thus, the primary function of angels is to carry out G-ds orders.

If we were to understand that angels are independent creatures "separate" from G-d, we might wonder why G-d needs the assistance of an emissary. However, in Judaism, not only are angels not to be envisioned literally as scantily dressed winged beings, they are not even considered as independent spiritual beings per se. Rather, angels are an extension of G-d Himself, their being spiritual manifestations of His will, as He realizes that will.

Since G-ds providence over all existence is not static and distant but rather dynamic and intimate, His will in maintaining everything is constantly being modified. Therefore the forces through which He executes His will are constantly changing accordingly. Most angels then, are limited, finite forces realizing G-ds will each moment as He purveys a myriad of considerations. This is what is meant by angels being created, fulfilling one specific task, and being destroyed. Nevertheless, many angels have "universal" tasks such as Gavriel, the manifestation of G-ds corrective strength, or Raphael the extension of Gods health-giving powers. These angels will last for the duration of the world as we know it.

Are the angels that we have now the same ones that have been there since the beginning of time? Targum Yonatan, a translation of the Torah into Aramaic by Yonatan ben Uziel who was the greatest of Hillel's students, circa 165 CE, paraphrases "And G-d said to the ministering angels who had been created on the second day of the Creation of the World, Let us make man". According to the above explanation, this expresses the idea that before G-d created time and space, there was nothing else in existence to act upon that would require an expression of G-ds will. Once creation was fixed, G-d initiated the aforementioned dynamic through which His will is directed upon Existence.

Many people have a hard time with the concept of angels particularly with the popular Christian concept. I hope our description of the authentic Jewish concept, while admittedly somewhat deep, will help make things easier for you.

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