Angels in Jewish Tradition

What the Hebrew scriptures and commentaries say about the role of heavenly creatures in a monotheistic faith.

Continued from page 2

Some angels are less beneficent of course, and Jewish tradition is filled as well with dybbuks and demons, and the omnipresent angel of death. Again the theological aim is to distance God from the devastating consequences of tragedy. The Bible depicts God as slaying the first born in Egypt, but rabbinic tradition has long assured us that it was not God directly, but the "mal'ach hamavet"--the angel of death.

Ultimately however, angels have an ancillary role. In both the Bible and later literature, Judaism insists God is initiator and arbiter of what happens here on earth. Rabbi Judan teaches in the Talmud that God wishes to be directly addressed: "If trouble comes upon someone, let him cry not to Michael or Gabriel, but let him cry unto Me (Jerusalem Talmud Berachot 9:12)." As Jews recite each year during Passover: "And the Lord brought us out from Egypt--not by an angel, not by a seraph (fiery angel), and not by a messenger, but the Holy One alone..."

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