- Moshe Ben-Chaim
- Question: What is the true view of Judaism regarding
angels, in general and when mentioned in T'nach? Thank you.
- Mesora: Your
question touches on the issue of "evil forces". Another
reader recently wrote in after having read of a well known Rabbi
who endorsed this notion of assumed "evil forces".
I will address this topic at the very end of this article.
- Based on Maimonides, and verses in the Torah, there appear
to be multiple and non-mutually exclusive understandings for
- One understanding, Maimonides explains in his Guide for he
Perplexed, Book II, Chap. XLI, and writes as follows: "We
have already shown that the appearance or speech of an angel
mentioned in Scripture took place in a vision or dream."
Maimonides holds that when an angel "appears" or "talks"
it is part of some prophecy or dream - it is not occurring in
- Maimonides found it impossible that man should be awake while
experiencing an angel. Why? As Maimonides understood it, angels
who appear and speak, are partaking of two characteristics that
are impossible to exist on Earth. They are, 1)Intelligence (an
angel speaking), and 2) Will (an angel appearing). Maimonides
is teaching a crucial concept; there is no intelligence on Earth
- All Earthly creation aside from man, is limited to non-intelligent
life. When the passage states that an angel "spoke"
or "appeared", Maimonides is forced to interpret the
passage as having taken place in a vision. The metaphysical world
is the only plain where intelligence other than man exists.
- The first type of angel applies to cases when the angel "speaks"
or "appears". This type of angel is a metaphysical
being and therefore, can be perceived only in a vision, which
is a phenomena of the mind, a metaphysical element.
- There are however other instances of "angel", not
as part of a dream or vision. Maimonides states Torah account
of angels must take place in a vision or dream only when the
angel "appears", or "speaks". But if no speaking
or appearance takes place with the mention of "angel",
it would seem from Maimonides that we do not have to understand
the account as a vision, and we may take the account as literal.
For example, "angel" can also refer to a person, like
Pinchus, who Maimonides describes as being on a high level, and
could be called an angel. So here, angel refers to a normal human
being of high caliber.
- In Baruchi Nafshi, (Psalms 104:4), King David says "oseh
malachav ruchos, umsharsav aish lohate", "He (God)
makes his angels messengers, and His ministering angels flaming
fire". Rashi and Metsudas Dovid explain this to mean that
God makes the natural forces his messengers. Angel can also mean
a force of nature.
- One should note however that we do not see the Rabbis explaining
angels as is incorrectly understood today, portrayed in paintings
as "humans" with wings. Such images do not accurately
depict Scripture's accounts. The cherubs with wings above the
ark in the Holy of Holies are another concept to be treated separately.
- All I mean to suggest here, is that Maimonides did not accept
the idea that besides man, there exists on earth, other intelligences.
Any mention of an angel appearing or speaking indicates a being
with reason and will, and therefore, must occur only in a vision,
in man's mind, not on Earth.
- Maimonides' principle discounts any truth to the false notion
of "forces" which many people assume to have existence,
will, and the ability to affect man. This is false. Man's life
is in his own hands, "Hakol b'day shamayim, chutz mayiras
shamayim", "All is in God's hands, except the fear
of God." This means man's will is his own, unaffected by
anything but his will. Therefore, there cannot be anything in
creation which could deter man from choosing to follow God.