Dear Rabbi Fried,
Thanks for the information showing that we believe in angels. You said you would explain more about them, like why does God need them and what’s their purpose?
Marc and Jody
Dear Marc & Jody,
Once we’ve established with the sources we showed in our previous correspondence that we believe in angels, it’s important to understand what their purpose is. Those who follow the weekly Torah portion saw this past week (Vayera), numerous important revelations and events carried out by angels. Three angels showed up at Abraham and Sarah’s home, to cure his bris, to deliver the good tidings that they are to have a son in a year, and to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gemorah. Numerous story lines throughout that portion of Vayera all include angels as the key players. Why does God carry out all these things through angels and not just do these things Himself?
There are a number of reasons for this; we shall try to explore a couple of them today.
The simplest explanation can be understood through the example of a powerful king. Imagine this mighty king sitting on his throne and he decides to enact a decree which will benefit his kingdom in many ways. Would it be appropriate for the king to get off his throne, make all the necessary arrangements to have the announcements printed, then get on his horse with the papers and travel throughout the kingdom to paste up his decree? Besides this being highly impractical, it’s all wrong! Everyone understands this behavior would destroy the honor of the king. For the king’s reign to retain its honor it is necessary for there to be a hierarchy of command. He needs to discuss it with his key advisors, they pass down the decree through the chain of command to get it signed into law, announced and executed.
Similarly, God’s reign is one that enables us to recognize His greatness and glory. It would be inappropriate for Him to carry out His decrees and all that He does by Himself; rather, He does so through His “heavenly court” and the decrees are carried out by His emissaries, the angels.
Another layer of understanding is that there are actually numerous categories of angels. Each category corresponds to a different sefirah, or spiritual world. The deeper sources in Judaism, the Kabbalistic masters, teach that there are 10 levels of spiritual worlds, each one manifesting a different trait of God, such as wisdom, understanding, kindness, judgement, etc. When God decides to carry out an act which emanates from one of His traits, or one of the sefiros, the emissary to fulfill that mission is an angel belonging to that particular world.
This is implicit in the word in Hebrew for angel, malach. The word “malach” also means messenger. That is because an angel essentially is a messenger; that is its very essence. That is why an angel doesn’t carry out more than one message; the angel is the message itself!
An even deeper insight into the essence of an angel, or messenger, is that the angel is actually the manifestation of God’s speech. God speaks; and the sound of His speech is the angel. The word “malach” consists of the word melech (mem lamed chaf), or king, plus the letter aleph. Aleph is the very beginning of speech, the utterance of “ah.” The utterance of the Al-mighty King, the Melech, is the aleph in the middle of the word, spelling “malach,” angel. The essence of the angel is God’s way of speaking and carrying out His will.
To fully explain and comprehend what we have discussed would need an entire book, not just a column, and to mention this in a short column is doing a disservice to the profundity of these concepts. I wanted to mention this, however, for you to at least have a cursory glimpse at how penetrating, deep and esoteric is the concept of an angel, that we shouldn’t accept it as a shallow, childish idea. This should be an example of the depth of all Torah ideas, once we plumb those depths and find the gold at the end of the tunnel!
Dear Rabbi Fried,