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Fundamentals of the Jewish Faith

Chapter Six: Divine Providence (Part 4)

While G-d Himself allows for and vetoes our interactions with Him, He nonetheless uses agents to carry through on things. And these agents are termed His “angels”. They don’t always do what has to be done, though. For as we’re taught in the Passover Haggadah, there are times when G-d Himself, rather than “an angel … or a seraph” must do what is to be done.

But so many of us have such skewed ideas about angels that we’d do well to delve into the subject before expanding on Ramchal’s ideas here.

The Hebrew term for angel, malach, is derived from the word for “send”, because angels are the supernatural beings that G-d sends forth to carry out His orders. But the term malach is used to depict not only angels but messengers as well. So for example Jacob is said to meet “angels of G-d” -- termed malachei Elokim -- in Genesis 32:1, while two verses later he’s said to have sent messengers, malachim, to Esau.

For the most part, angels aren’t named in the Torah (though see Daniel 8:16, 9:21, and 12:1). But the names of certain lofty and prevailing angels were revealed to us elsewhere. So we learn of Michael the angel of mercy; Gabriel the angel of justice; Raphael the angel of healing; Uriel the angel of illumination; and of others.

So while angels are indeed extraordinarily dominant in the playing out of things, and serve a high function, and thus we might be tempted to be in awe of them, they’re not at all G-d nor do they substitute for His will or intentions whatsoever. And so it has always been forbidden us to worship angels.

Thus while we’re taught that it’s angels who bring our prayers before G- d’s presence, we’re not at all to pray for their intervention, since G-d alone listens to our prayers. And in fact some great rabbis have disapproved of passages in which angels are evoked for that reason (like Shalom Aleichem, which we sing at the Shabbos table), but others defended those prayers on the grounds that we’re only asking the angels to be our couriers.

In any event Ramchal offers a number of other insights. He reveals elsewhere that an angel appears to each soul before birth to teach it Torah in preparation for life, but it then has us forget what we’d learned (for the most part) so that we could earn merit studying it (Derech Eitz Chaim). That would explain the real sense of “déjà vu” that many Torah scholars experience in their studies throughout the years. And angels also come into play in the background of everyday and certain other extraordinary events in our lives.

He also makes the point that each angel has a particular and unique task to fulfill. So when they carry through on G-d’s demands when it comes to our interactions with Him, they either strive to include what has to be done here into their purview, or they opt out altogether. In any event, they always work with things in accordance with the Divine merit system cited before (see Ch. 14), and play no role in our free choices.


Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has translated and commented upon "The Gates of Repentance", "The Path of the Just", and "The Duties of the Heart" (Jason Aronson Publishers). His works are available in bookstores and in various locations on the Web.


 

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