Are We Not Worse Than Angels? Reflections on Human Complexity

This week’s alumni Dvar Torah is by Eliana Yashgur

The malakhei hasharet, the ministering angels, play a primary role in Chazal’s depiction of the mystery and irony of human creation. By contrasting the the deference of the malakhei hasharet to G-d and His human creation in Talmud Chagigah 12b with their attempts at interfering” with His creation of humanity in Bereishit Rabbah, we learn that G-d intended the struggle and strife associated with being human.

Resh Lakish on Chagiga 12b describes seven heavenly firmaments: Vilon, Rakia, Shehakim, Zevul, Ma’on, Makhon, and Aravot. These firmaments are described with majestic and ethereal language, and angelic behavior matches this aura.

מעון – שבו כיתות של מלאכי השרת שאומרות שירה בלילה וחשות ביום מפני כבודן של ישראל

שנאמר (תהלים מב, ט) יומם יצוה ה’ חסדו ובלילה שירה עמי (מס׳ חגיגה יב:)

Ma’on, habitation, is where groups of ministering angels recite song at night but are silent during the day out of respect for Israel, (in order not to compete with their songs)

as it is stated: “By day the Lord will command His kindness, and in the night His song with me” (Psalms 42:9).

It is as if angels step back from the world when G-d declares that their purpose is elsewhere. In reverence to G-d they do not seek to interfere in the dealings of Israel in the physical.

Similarly, the malakhei hasharet of Rakia are described as dwelling in their proper place under the supernal G-d, delighted in their spiritual role residing in the Skies serving G-d.

רקיע – שם אופנים ושרפים וחיות הקדש ומלאכי השרת וכסא הכבוד.

מלך א-ל חי רם ונשא שוכן עליהם בערבות, שנאמר (תהלים סח, ה) סולו לרוכב בערבות בי-ה שמו.

Rakia – There are the ofanim, the seraphim, the holy divine creatures, and the ministering angels, and the Throne of Glory.

The King, God, the living, lofty, exalted One dwells above them in Aravot, as it is stated: “Extol Him Who rides upon the skies [Aravot], Whose name is God” (Psalms 68:5).

The role of the malakhei hasharet is to praise G-d and not to challenge Him in any way.

דאמר ר’ שמואל בר נחמני אמר ר’ יונתן: כל דיבור ודיבור שיוצא מפי הקב”ה – נברא ממנו מלאך אחד,

שנאמר (תהלים לג, ו) בדבר ה’ שמים נעשו וברוח פיו כל צבאם (מס׳ חגיגה יב:)

As Rabbi Shmuel bar Naḥmani said that Rabbi Yonatan said: With each and every word that emerges from the mouth of the Holy One, Blessed be He, an angel is created, as it is stated: “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their hosts” (Psalms 33:6).

Angels are described as being created by the breath of G-d’s mouth, as if to say that angels are created as a corollary to G-d’s speech. Humans are created by G-d breathing “ruach” into their nostrils. Angels are described using the language of G-d, Who is referenced through the mouth that breathes. Humans are described in their own language, as beings into whose nostrils G-d’s mouth breathes.

These differences collide in Bereshit Rabbah’s description of angels in the context of their “participation” in human creation.

אָמַר רַבִּי הוֹשַׁעְיָא: בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁבָּרָא הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא אָדָם הָרִאשׁוֹן טָעוּ מַלְאֲכֵי הַשָּׁרֵת וּבִקְּשׁוּ לוֹמַר לְפָנָיו קָדוֹשׁ.

מָשָׁל לְמֶלֶךְ וְאִפַּרְכוֹס שֶׁהָיוּ בְּקָרוּכִין, וְהָיוּ בְּנֵי הַמְדִינָה מְבַקְּשִׁין לוֹמַר לַמֶּלֶךְ דּוֹמִינוֹ, וְלֹא הָיוּ יוֹדְעִין אֵיזֶהוּ/ מֶה עָשָׂה הַמֶּלֶךְ? דְּחָפוֹ וְהוֹצִיאוֹ חוּץ לַקָּרוּכִין, וְיָדְעוּ הַכֹּל שֶׁהוּא אִפַּרְכוֹס.

כָּךְ בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁבָּרָא הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא אֶת אָדָם הָרִאשׁוֹן, טָעוּ בּוֹ מַלְאֲכֵי הַשָּׁרֵת וּבִקְּשׁוּ לוֹמַר לְפָנָיו קָדוֹשׁ. מֶה עָשָׂה הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא, הִפִּיל עָלָיו תַּרְדֵּמָה, וְיָדְעוּ הַכֹּל שֶׁהוּא אָדָם. הֲדָא הוּא דִּכְתִיב (ישעיה ב, כב): חִדְלוּ לָכֶם מִן הָאָדָם אֲשֶׁר נְשָׁמָה בְּאַפּוֹ כִּי בַּמֶּה נֶחְשָׁב הוּא. (בראשית רבה ח:י)

Said R’ Hosha`ya: In the moment that the Holy One created Adam Harishon, the first Human, the ministering angels erred and sought to say ‘Holy/Qadosh’ before him (to worship him).

This resembles a king and a governor who sat in a chariot, and the people of the land wanted to call the king “Sovereign” but weren’t sure which he was. What did the king do? He pushed the governor out of the chariot, and everyone knew then that he was king.

So too when The Holy Blessed One created Adam, the ministering angels erred and wanted to say Qadosh before hum. What did the Holy One do? ‘He cast upon him deep sleep’ [Gn 2:21] and all knew that he was Adam. As it says, “Cease from man in whose nostrils is breath, as what makes him significant?”

The angels do not have a concept of humanity to prepare them for his creation. The angels experience so much tension upon the mere creation of the human being that they begin fighting with G-d to Whom they are beholden. They begin to worship the human being, until G-d puts the mortal human being in his place and shows angels how lowly the human being is.

רַבִּי שְׁמוּאֵל בַּר נַחְמָן בְּשֵׁם רַבִּי יוֹנָתָן אָמַר: בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁהָיָה משֶׁה כּוֹתֵב אֶת הַתּוֹרָה, הָיָה כּוֹתֵב מַעֲשֵׂה כָּל יוֹם וָיוֹם. כֵּיוָן שֶׁהִגִּיעַ לַפָּסוּק הַזֶּה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר, וַיֹּאמֶר אֱ-לֹקים נַעֲשֶׂה אָדָם בְּצַלְמֵנוּ כִּדְמוּתֵנוּ, אָמַר לְפָנָיו: רִבּוֹן הָעוֹלָמִים, מָה אַתָּה נוֹתֵן פִּתְחוֹן פֶּה לַמִּינִים?! אֶתְמְהָא.

אָמַר לוֹ: כְּתֹב, וְהָרוֹצֶה לִטְעוֹת יִטְעֶה.

אָמַר לוֹ הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא: משֶׁה, הָאָדָם הַזֶּה שֶׁבָּרָאתִי, לֹא גְּדוֹלִים וּקְטַנִּים אֲנִי מַעֲמִיד מִמֶּנּוּ? שֶׁאִם יָבוֹא הַגָּדוֹל לִטֹּל רְשׁוּת מִן הַקָּטָן מִמֶּנוּ, וְהוּא אוֹמֵר מָה אֲנִי צָרִיךְ לִטֹּל רְשׁוּת מִן הַקָּטָן מִמֶּנִּי, וְהֵן אוֹמְרִים לוֹ לְמַד מִבּוֹרְאֶךָ, שֶׁהוּא בָּרָא אֶת הָעֶלְיוֹנִים וְאֶת הַתַּחְתּוֹנִים, כֵּיוָן שֶׁבָּא לִבְרֹאת אֶת הָאָדָם נִמְלַךְ בְּמַלְאֲכֵי הַשָּׁרֵת. 

(בראשית רבה ח:ח)

Rabbi Shmuel ben Nachman said in the name of Rabbi Yonatan: When Moses was writing the Torah, he wrote the happenings of every day. When he got to the verse of “and G-d said: ‘Let us make man in our image in our likeness’”, he said, “Sovereign of the Universe! Why are you giving an excuse to heretics?” G-d responded, “Write, and he who wishes to err may err.” G-d said to Moses, this man which I have created, do I not cause both large and small men to be born from him? If a great person goes to ask permission for something from some inferior to him, and the great man says, “‘Why do I need to take permission from one lesser than me?”, they will say to him: Learn from your Creator, for He created upper ones and lower ones, and when He came to create the human, He consulted with the ministering angels.”

Seemingly ironically, G-d consults with the angels are consulted with regard to creation of the human being. The notion that the angels were given room to assist in the creation of humans, while openly acknowledging the heretical appearance of such an idea, illustrates that the angels were meant to engage in a unequal partnership to create the human being. The human being, the product of such an unusual partnership, must be an ethically and existentially challenging construction.

אָמַר רַבִּי סִימוֹן, בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁבָּא הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא לִבְרֹאת אֶת אָדָם הָרִאשׁוֹן, נַעֲשׂוּ מַלְאֲכֵי הַשָּׁרֵת כִּתִּים כִּתִּים, וַחֲבוּרוֹת חֲבוּרוֹת, מֵהֶם אוֹמְרִים אַל יִבָּרֵא, וּמֵהֶם אוֹמְרִים יִבָּרֵא, הֲדָא הוּא דִכְתִיב (תהלים פה, יא): חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת נִפְגָּשׁוּ צֶדֶק וְשָׁלוֹם נָשָׁקוּ. חֶסֶד אוֹמֵר יִבָּרֵא, שֶׁהוּא גּוֹמֵל חֲסָדִים. וֶאֱמֶת אוֹמֵר אַל יִבָּרֵא, שֶׁכֻּלּוֹ שְׁקָרִים. צֶדֶק אוֹמֵר יִבָּרֵא, שֶׁהוּא עוֹשֶׂה צְדָקוֹת. שָׁלוֹם אוֹמֵר אַל יִבָּרֵא, דְּכוּלֵיהּ קְטָטָה. מֶה עָשָׂה הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא נָטַל אֱמֶת וְהִשְׁלִיכוֹ לָאָרֶץ, הֲדָא הוּא דִכְתִיב (דניאל ח, יב): וְתַשְׁלֵךְ אֱמֶת אַרְצָה, אָמְרוּ מַלְאֲכֵי הַשָּׁרֵת לִפְנֵי הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא, רִבּוֹן הָעוֹלָמִים מָה אַתָּה מְבַזֶּה תַּכְסִיס אַלְטִיכְסְיָה שֶׁלָּךְ, תַּעֲלֶה אֱמֶת מִן הָאָרֶץ, הֲדָא הוּא דִכְתִיב (תהלים פה, יב): אֱמֶת מֵאֶרֶץ תִּצְמָח. רַבָּנָן אָמְרֵי לָהּ בְּשֵׁם רַבִּי חֲנִינָא בַּר אִידֵי וְרַבִּי פִּינְחָס וְרַבִּי חֶלְקִיָּה בְּשֵׁם רַבִּי סִימוֹן אָמַר, מְאֹד, הוּא אָדָם. הֲדָא הוּא דִכְתִיב (בראשית א, לא): וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים אֶת כָּל אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה וְהִנֵּה טוֹב מְאֹד, וְהִנֵּה טוֹב אָדָם. רַב הוּנָא רַבָּהּ שֶׁל צִפּוֹרִין אֲמַר עַד שֶׁמַּלְאֲכֵי הַשָּׁרֵת מִדַּיְּנִין אֵלּוּ עִם אֵלּוּ וּמִתְעַסְּקִין אֵלּוּ עִם אֵלּוּ בְּרָאוֹ הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא. אָמַר לָהֶן מָה אַתֶּם מִדַּיְּנִין כְּבָר נַעֲשָׂה אָדָם. (ח:ה)

R. Simon said: When the Holy One, blessed be God, came to create Adam, the ministering angels formed themselves into groups and parties. Some of them said, “Don’t create him,” while others urged, “create him,” as it is written, “Lovingkindness and truth met, justice and peace kissed” (Psalms 85:11). Lovingkindness said, “Create him because he will do acts of loving kindness.” Truth said, “Don’t create him, because he is full of lies.” Justice said, “Create him because he will perform acts of justice.” Peace said, “Don’t create him, because he is full of conflict.” So what did God do? God held Truth and cast it to the ground, as it is written, “And truth will be sent to the earth” (Daniel 8:12). The ministering angels said before the Holy One, “Sovereign of the Universe! Why do you despise Your seal [truth]? Let Truth arise from the earth!” Hence it is written, “Let truth spring up from the earth.” (Psalms 85:12)…While the ministering angels were arguing with each other and disputing with each other, the Holy One created the first human. God said to them, “Why are you arguing? Adam has already been made!”

Human life is necessarily complicated and challenging. For this reason, human beings were entrusted with the Torah, whose values they can actualize through the choices they make on the physical earth. In Bereishit Rabba, we see how G-d acknowledges that “Truth” is in fact seen in the existence of human beings, with all of the challenges and complexities of reality that brings about. Rather than a strict proper truth of Heaven, the physical world contains its own Truth defined by the ability of Divine life to translate to mortal life.

The foreword to the Ketzos HaChoshen sums up what our role is as human beings rather than angels.

אך לא נתנה התורה למלאכי השרת, ואל האדם נתנה, אשר לו שכל האנושי. ונתן לנו הקדוש ברוך הוא התורה ברוב רחמיו וחסדיו כפי הכרעת שכל האנושי, גם כי אינו אמת בערך השכלים הנבדלים.

The Torah was not given to ministering angels, but rather it was given to humans, who possess human intelligence. The Holy One, blessed be He, in His great kindness and mercy, gave us the Torah to be determined according to the discernment of the human mind, even though [that determination] does not reflect Ultimate Truth at the level of the disembodied intellects.

 Eliana Yashgur (SBM 2017) is a senior at Princeton University studying psychology.

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