Dear Rabbi Fried,
We had a discussion in school comparing the beliefs of different religions, when the question of believing in angels came up. The Christian kids mostly said they believe in angels, but the Jewish kids weren’t sure if that’s a Jewish belief, so we were asked to find out what Judaism believes about angels.
Thanks for your help,
Marc and Jody
Dear Marc and Jody,
When we explore the Jewish view on any subject, the first place we turn to is the Torah. Angels are alluded to and mentioned explicitly in dozens, if not hundreds, of verses throughout the Torah and Scriptures.
The first mention of angels goes back to the creation of man, when God says, “Let us make man…” (Genesis 1:26). Who is “us”? The classical commentator Rashi explains that God presented the question of the creation of man to His heavenly court of angels. (This, Rashi explains, is to teach us humility, that one should always consult with one’s underlings before making a decision that will affect them.)
One of the next mentions of angels is more direct. When Hagar the maidservant of Abraham runs away from Sarah, “An angel of God found her by the spring of water in the desert…and he said, ‘Hagar, …where have you come from …’ And an angel of God said to her, ‘return to your mistress…’ And an angel of God said to her, ‘I will greatly increase your offspring and they will not be counted for abundance.’ And an angel of God said to her, ‘behold you will conceive and give birth to a son…,’ and she called the place the Well of the Living One, because there she spoke to God (through His angels).” (Genesis 16:7-12)
Rashi explains that the reason the verse repeats the phrase “an angel of God” introduced with each statement is because an angel is sent to this world for one mission only, speaking would be a mission. So each statement was made by a different angel, necessitating a separate introduction for each one. (The point made by Rashi that an angel only has one purpose demands explanation; perhaps we will do so in a future column.)
To cite another example, when Jacob returned to Israel after his extended sojourn in the home of Laban, the Torah relates, “Jacob went on his way and angels of God encountered him. Jacob said when he saw them, ‘This is a Godly camp!’” (Genesis 32:2-3)
At the end of Jacob’s life, when he blessed the two sons of Joseph, he said, “May the angel who redeems me from all evil bless the lads…” (Genesis 48:16)
To cite one last example written explicitly in the Torah, the story of the Gentile prophet Balaam who was invited by the Moabite King Balak to come to his country to curse the Jews: Despite God’s warnings Balaam accepted the invitation. “God’s wrath flared because he was going, and an angel of God stood on the road to impede him. …The donkey saw the angel of God standing on the road with his sword drawn in his hand, so the donkey turned away from the road and went into the field…” After another such incident, Balaam strikes the donkey, the donkey miraculously rebukes him, and finally God opens Balaam’s eyes to see the angel there, who further rebukes him. (Numbers 22:22-35)
There are, as we mentioned, numerous other examples throughout the Tanach, or the Torah, Prophets and Holy Scriptures of the Torah, where angels are mentioned. We clearly see it is a Jewish belief that angels exist.
The question remains, thought, what exactly are angels? What is their purpose? Why do they have only one mission? Why does God need angels; why can’t He just carry out His decrees or missions Himself?
Perhaps we will discuss some of these questions in next week’s column.
Dear Rabbi Fried,