What Does Judaism say about Angels?

Angels are seen to play an important role in preserving the relationship between God and humans. They frequently carry Divine messages intended for people.

Judaism sees angels as messengers of God. Indeed, the Hebrew word for “angel”, malach, is often used to mean “messenger” throughout Scripture (almost as many times as it is used to mean “Angels”). It is also worth noting that the name of the Prophet Malachi means “my messenger.”

The Torah tells us that angels appeared to each of the Patriarchs, to Moses, to Joshua and to many others. (See, for example: Genesis 16:9, 19:1, 22:11, 28:12, 31:11-13, Exodus 33:2, Numbers 22:31). In many places in the Torah where angels are used as messengers, they appear as ordinary humans. They are typically men, though usually disguised. The presence of an angelic messenger versus a human messenger must be determined by the context of the passage. They also have a protective role, as it says in the Book of Psalms: “For his angels will charge for you, to protect you in all your ways” (Psalms 91:11).

Angels are seen to play an important role in preserving the relationship between God and humans. They frequently carry Divine messages intended for people, such as the three mysterious “men” in the story of Abraham and the destruction of Sodom in Genesis 18:1-19:23, as well as the angel who informs Samson’s mother of the nature of the baby she carries in Judges 13:3-5. Maimonides writes that, with the exception of Moses, all prophets received their prophecy through angels.

What Does Judaism Say about Satan?

The word “Satan” in Hebrew means “adversary.” In Kings 11, the word “satan” is used to denote a military opponent of King Solomon. In Numbers 22, “Satan” is used to denote an angel who was sent by God to prevent a human being from doing a bad deed. The Satan of the Second Temple Period is conveyed as the adversary of Man. He operates within the heavenly court, and his job is to find and expose people who are unfaithful to God and not following His commandments. If he believes that someone is not faithful to God, he can bring his case before God and ask for permission to test him. In his tests, Satan inflicts death, destruction, pain and sickness upon people. In Rabbinical Judaism, “Satan” refers to the yetzer hara, the evil inclination. In Chasidic philosophy we find Satan presented as an agent of God whose function is to tempt one into sinning

Angels in the Talmud

The Talmud names four angels who surround God’s throne. As it says:

Just as the Holy One blessed be He created four directions…so also did He make four angels to surround His Throne—Michael, Gabriel, Uriel and Raphael. Michael is on its right, corresponding to the tribe of Reuben; Uriel on its left, corresponding to the tribe of Dan, which was located in the north; Gabriel in front, corresponding to the tribe of Judah as well as Moses and Aaron, who were in the east; and Raphael in the rear, corresponding to the tribe of Ephraim, which was in the west.”

Angels in Kabbalah

Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, discusses angels at length. Historically, rabbis have forbidden studying the teachings of Kabbalah regarding angels until one was 40 years old, married and well-versed in the fundamental concepts of Judaism. The rabbinic ban against learning about angels was due to the concern that it could lead to insanity or false beliefs about the world. Angels are described in Kabbalah as forces that exchange information between mankind and God.

Angels in Jewish Liturgy

On returning home from services on Friday night, it is customary to sing to the “Shabbat Angels.” Before going to sleep, the bedtime prayers include a prayer for protection by the fours archangels: “To my right Michael and to my left Gabriel, in front of me Uriel and behind me Raphael, and over my head God’s presence.” So, too, many recite the words of Genesis 48:16 before going to sleep: “May the angel who redeems me from all evil, bless the children, and let my name be named in them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, and let them flourish like fish for multitude in the midst of the land.” The Yom Kippur liturgy makes extensive mention of angels.

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin