Escorting Angels


Moshe Ben-Chaim


Talmud Sabbath 119b states that as man travels home from shul Friday night, two angels escort him: one good and one evil. If upon his arrival home he finds the lights kindled, and the table and seat prepared, the good angel says, “May it be His will that it should be this way next Sabbath.” And the evil angel is forced to agree against its will. But if the man does not find all prepared, the evil angel says, “So shall it be next week”, and the good angel is compelled to agree against its will.

What are these angels? Why do they only “appear” on Friday evening as man arrives home from shul? What is the statement about “So it shall be next week” teaching? And why are the angels forced against their will to agree with certain sentiments? Where do we start?!


Looking for Clues

The clues are always those subjects, or verbs, that are exclusive to any given Medrash, or allegory. Therefore, we take note that this occurs Friday evening. This Medrash also concerns preparations for Sabbath. For the state of man’s home is truly a reflection upon his activities earlier that day. We also rarely find cases where angels are “compelled”.

It would appear that these angels must be understood as they are throughout Torah: man possesses a Yetzer Tove (intellect) and a Yetzer Ra (instincts). There is no reason to seek an alternative understanding here. So we first posit that were are dealing with an opposition between man’s intelligence, and his emotions. But do we not already know that these two forces exist, and oppose each other? This is where Friday evening comes in.

What conflict exists in man, specifically on Fridays? It is the unique conflict aroused by man’s disengagement from his business week, where he is abruptly obligated to suspend all work, and even suspend his manner of talking, as the prophet teaches us: we are to not engage in business discussions. This is frustrating for many men, and women. People are most concerned with earning their livelihoods. This is teamed with man’s desire for conquest, his ambition, and his ego, which is greatly satisfied through monetary success. Put them all together, and we have a man who must be quite frustrated upon Friday evenings.

This Talmud exposes this frustrating phenomenon, describing the two battling angels in this specific conflict.


Benefits of Longer Commitments

If man truly enjoys Sabbath, and he recognizes this 25-hour period as a blessing…a time to fully immerse himself in Torah, then his table, lights and seat will be prepared. But why does the evil angel agree “against its will”? Why aren’t his instincts equally compelled to agree (follow man’s intellect) when he performs any other mitzvah? The answer is because Sabbath is unique: it spans a 25-hour period. If man acts properly, and readies his home for Sabbath on Fridays, this means he has expressed a far greater attachment to Torah, as his commitment to Sabbath is not a 10-minute act of donning Tefillin, shaking a Lulav, or a 2-minute act of Menora lighting on Chanukah. No, the commitment to Sabbath is of such duration, that man usurps his instinctual tendencies to a far greater degree. The evil instincts agreeing “against their will”, means just that. He has overpowered the instincts through such an enduring commitment to Torah, as if the instincts “agree”. He has in fact broken away from his instinctual pull to a far greater degree through his Sabbath commitment, than through all other Mitzvahs.

Now, what does it mean that his good angel says, “So shall it be next Sabbath”? This means that such a person is so perfected, and this perfection concerns what man’s preferred day should be…that he anticipates another day, another Sabbath. “So shall it be next Sabbath”. He is not looking to rush through Sabbath and return to business life. He realizes business is a means, and the objective of his labor is to provide the necessary stage where he may indulge in his true purpose: Torah. Sabbath is his preferred day. We describe the Messianic Era as a “Complete day of Sabbath”. This means in those times, man will be far more involved in Torah.


Instinct Intensifies without Intellect

But the reverse does not work quite the same way, psychologically speaking. If man dreads Sabbath, and expresses this sentiment by not preparing his home, then upon his arrival, his instincts say, “So shall it be next week”. And his intellect is forced to agree. This means that the mere inactivity in his lack to prepare due to instinctual drives is sufficient to sink man further into his instincts, to the point that his intellect suffers, as if it agrees with the instincts. In this case, inactivity propels man further away from Torah.

This is because man can operate in only one of two capacities: intellect or emotion. And as long as man is not engaging his intellect, he is remaining in an emotional state, where this strengthens his evil impulses. The Rabbis teach, “If you abandon me for one day, I will abandon you for two days”. This is a metaphor quoting a personified Torah. Torah “speaks” and says that as long as man distances himself from study, he in fact is not merely losing that one day, but he has reinforced his instincts, that now, it will take double the effort – 2 days – to reengage Torah. He first must undo the stronger attachment to his instincts, and then redirect his energies back to Torah.

We also note that this conflict arises at the ‘outset’ of Sabbath, and not midday on Sabbath. For it is upon the Sabbath’s commencement that man is faced with the ‘transition’ between work and rest.


With a brief allegory, the Rabbis communicate insight into our human natures. In this case, we learn the benefits of Sabbath, the nature of our duel between emotion and intellect…and reiterate the primary goal of a life of Torah, where business life is praised, but viewed only as a means, and not an end.