Angels - Questions

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim


Reader: I have read your essay on "angels" as you suggested. How would you respond to the Ramban's challenge (at the beginning of his commentary on Vayeira)to Maimonides' conception of angels? The Ramban says that "it is forbidden to listen to them [the Rambam's interpretation], all the more to believe in them!" The Ramban says that "such words contradict scripture." When is one allowed to limit the teaching of the sages: "A verse does not departs from its plain meaning"? Thank you.


Mesora: As Ramban displayed, one must follow their own thinking, even if it opposes someone as great as Rambam.
Clearly, both Rambam and Ramban cannot be correct. So 'who' do we follow? The answer is neither! What I mean is that, we do not follow a 'person', but rather a 'position'. How do we select a position? By using our minds, this is all we have.

Yes, we do not veer from the plain understanding of the verses. However, when something cannot be understood in its plain sense, we must use our minds to make sense of it. Ibn Ezra explains this clearly when discussing the command of "circumcising the foreskin of your hearts". (See my article, "Ibn Ezra - Honest Inquiry".) Similarly, this is done with verses as "God was angry...". God of course has no emotions, so anger must be understood differently in application to God. Rambam follows this line of reasoning. He doesn't fathom earthly intelligences aside from man. Therefore, occurrences of angels 'talking' or
appearing' must not be understood literally.

This in no way contradicts cases where an angel of fire for example, moved to the rear of the Israeli camp when Pharaoh chased them into the sea. Here, no mention of 'talking' or 'appearing' is applied to this instance of angel, therefore it is understood literally; that an angel - a natural force - of fire was moved (by God) to a real, geographic location. "Angel" has various meanings in Scripture.

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