Friday's Angels: Part II

Moshe Ben-Chaim

Two weeks ago we discussed the Talmudic section in Sabbath 119b which depicted a specific human conflict: each Friday, we can either prepare for the Sabbath, or we can reject that preparation due to the uncomfortable constraints Sabbath places on us for 25 hours. It all depends on our values. The instincts and the intellect were depicted as two "ministering angels": the former finds Sabbath rest from everyday 'freedom' very stifling; the latter rejoices in the break from work, where we can indulge in the world of wisdom.

The section that precedes this one states that if man recites the Friday evening prayers and also the verse, "And God completed the heavens and the Earth on seventh day...", then it is "as if" this man becomes a partner with God in creation. But how can that be? Creation is long over! However, the Talmud does not mean this man is a partner in the "act" of creation, but rather, in the "purpose" of creation. God created the world so an intelligent being – man – could perceive His wisdom, and draw close to Him. God's creation of he world, and man, were pure acts of kindness to man...God does not need the universe: it is for man. So with our testimony that "God completed the heavens and the Earth on seventh day...", we fulfill God's plan of creation, by recognizing and testifying that it is God who caused the universe to exist. It is as if we are partners with God, as we give purpose to the Creation of the Earth. God does not need us to give His creations purpose...for God said all was "good". Meaning, even if man sins to the point of destruction, as with Noah's generation, it was a good that God created the situation for man's potential perfection. 

The Talmud continues, discussing the two ministering angels that accompany man...the same two angels we discussed previously. It states that if a person recites the Friday evening prayer, including the verse "And God completed the heavens and the Earth on seventh day...", then these two angels place their hands on this man's head and recite, "And your sins will be removed, and you will be atoned for your sins". 

What is significant about this verse in particular? Why not recite "In the beginning, God created heaven and Earth", or some other verse? 

Why are sins erased due to this recital?

And how do we understand the joint action of "both" angels placing their hands on this man's head? I understand that the one angel – the instincts – are affected by this man's commitment to God. For it is the instincts that are changed when man admits of truths, and rejects his instincts. So the instincts "alone" should place their hands on man's head, metaphorically blessing this man, as all blessings are done with hands on the recipient's head. But why must the other angel – man's intelligence – act at all? It is already functioning in line with a desire for God! We should see no change in the intelligent part of man. Let's first understand the instincts.

When man attests to Creation, he thereby attests to "his own" creation. What effect does recognizing our "created" status have on us? It should make is quite humble, and reduce our egotism. Pirkei Avos 3:1 states, "If one ponders three matters, he will not sin: from where he came – a putrid drop; to where he ultimately goes – a place of dust, worms and maggots (the grave); and before Whom he must give an account of his life." Chapter 2:1 also says. "If one ponders three matters he will not sin: know what is above you; a seeing eye, a hearing ear, and that all is written in a book." 

In the first quote, man's ego is diminished when he realizes his very beginnings were inanimate drops of lowly semen. With this thought, man reduces his ego emotion that stems from his identity. However, man may still delude himself as to his "great worth" when he considers his successes. Therefore, he is also told "remember to where you go...the grave". This helps to restrain another facet of the ego: the accomplishment emotion. Finally, he must accept that he answers to God. 

Avos 2:1 accentuates this sentiment by elaborating on our accountability: all is seen and heard by God. But what is common to both statements, is that when man's ego is diminished, so is his sinning. This is what the testimony of God as Creator does, and why the instincts "place their hands on our head" and say we are forgiven. 

When we recite the verse, "God completed the heavens and the Earth on seventh day...", we agree that we too are created, and this humbles us. Just as Pirkei Avos teaches that ego is the cause of sin; so too when we attest to our very beings as 'created' entities, we diminish our egos, and have no strength to violate God who made us and asks our obedience. All sinning requires us to deny God, through the overestimation of the self – ego. This explains why the one "angel" (the instincts) "bless" us, or rather...give in to reality, saying we are forgiven. With this recital, we actually make a weekly changeover of our personalities, where we shake loose of our egos, and deserve no further punishment due to sins caused by it. We are quite literally, not the same person who sinned, so there is no need for God to punish us. Punishment is to correct us, but have corrected ourselves.

There is no angel actually blessing us, but the instincts are personified as if they "bless us," or act properly. When our instincts fall in line with God's will...this is a type of blessing. But why does the other angel – our intellects – need to bless us as well?

This means that although we have released the grip of the ego, we are still in need of one other step. For if the ego emotions are not followed by our redirection of our energies, our energies will soon flow right back into their old paths: we will once again seek to satisfy our egos. Therefore, once we attest to God as our Creator, we have only made one step: we broke the hold our egos have on us. But then we must redirect those energies towards wisdom and Torah, expressed by the other angel – the intellect – also blessing us with its hands. This means that we need to immediately redirect our energies released from egotistical areas, towards God. If we don't, then we will soon be back to stage one. 

This Talmudic portion thereby teaches us that each Friday when we recite "God completed the heavens and the Earth on seventh day...", we have a chance to take our energies released from our egos, and redirect them. If we do, then both, our instincts and our intellect will praise us, or rather, will aid us. I thank my friend Howard for this explanation.

One last question: we asked why not recite "In the beginning, God created heaven and Earth"? Why do we recite "God completed the heavens and the Earth on seventh day..."? The reason is that the former verse merely attests to God's creation of heaven and Earth...and nothing more. But to refer to God as the "exclusive" Creator, which we must do to be accurate...we recite the verse referring to the final moment when "all" of Creation was completed. In this manner, we don't only say that God created the heavens and Earth, but that ALL existences are due solely to God. Thereby, we add the essential component that God is the "exclusive" cause of all that exists.