Rabbi Israel Chait
Written by a student
I must first thank Rabbi Chait. I regularly ask him questions, and again, the very next day he called me to share his answer to a question Rabbi Mann discussed.
Rabbi Mann questioned Jacob’s blessing of Joseph’s sons. The Torah says, “Jacob blessed Joseph and said, ‘God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac lived, God who led me from times past until today, the angel who saved me from all evil should bless the children…’ (Gen. 48:15,16).”
Rabbi Mann meant that Judaism is most firm on the reality of all realities: God alone created and runs the world. Jacob could not have been blessing Joseph’s sons, suggesting they relate to an angel (natural force) as opposed to relating to God directly. How then do we understand the mention of the angel?
Rabbi Chait explained, a word must be inserted as follows:
“God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac lived, God who led me from times past until today through the angel who saved me from all evil should bless the children…”
Meaning, God acts through angels. God uses angels — physical forces of nature — to achieve His will. Angels are not autonomous. Rabbi Chait said to attribute free will to an angel is idolatrous, as it supposes something other than God can willfully control the universe. While man has freewill, our powers are quite limited; no man would pray to another man to change his fate. But if we suggest an angel has freewill, and it can override natural law, we then suggest a being exists other than God which can alter my fate. That is idolatry.
Rabbi Chait agreed with my equation of animals to angels, in that both are restricted to a design and a limited behavior. Rabbi Chait said even when the angels bless God, this is not a freewill event, but their precise design dictates they must praise Him. Our error is equating human praise to angelic praise: ours is due to freewill, but angels “must” praise God. A school of fish swim uniformly, and in perfect unison it darts in a new direction when approached by a hunter. Each fish in a given species shares an identical design and behavior. Angels are the same; they have no freewill and must behave in accordance with God’s design of their natures.
Regarding the Akeida (Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac) which also changes from God to angel, Rabbi Chait said that Ibn Ezra states there is no difference between God and angel: God controls the angel, so it’s all God’s will.
In the end, God’s identity is the sole cause and governor of the universe, and man’s fate.