the Talmud and Midrash, the rabbis accepted the existence of angels as
supernatural beings and created fanciful stories about their creation,
their roles in biblical stories, and their behavior in the divine world.
Angels speak Hebrew, fly, foretell the future, and control prayer, hail,
rain, anger, and birth, among other things. They look human; they are
made of fire, or of fire and water divinely harmonized; some are transitory
and live only to sing a single hymn of praise to the Creator, others are
eternal, a few are of cosmic proportions, even attaining the size of one
third of the world. The main function of these angels
even the evils ones, such as mal'akhei habbalah (angels of destruction)
is to praise God and to mediate between the
human and divine worlds.
Despite their "humanization," these rabbinic angels still have no will
of their own other than to loyally carry out the divine commands and to glorify
Mostly they seek the good for pious men and the well-being of Israel in particular,
sometimes interceding on behalf of humanity, other times carrying out God's
judgments. Wherever no personal agent is mentioned in the Bible, the aggadah
tends to fill the vacuum with angels. Thus, they are given an important role
in the creation of man, the sacrifice of Isaac, and the story of Esther.
as envisaged in the Talmud, is inhabited by two classes of beings: the Elyonim
(the higher beings), i.e., the angels, and the Tahtonim (the lower beings),
i.e., the human race, denizens of the earth. In the sanctuary on high, the mal'akhei
ha'sharet (ministering angels) perform the priestly functions, with the
angel Michael acting as a kind of high priest. There are seven heavens, each
in the charge of an archangel; of special eminence is the mal'akh ha-panim
(angel of the presence). The diverse pantheon of angels in the heavens (such
as Gabriel, Raphael, and Michael) assume roles as personal guardians and as
patrons of individual nation. According to the Rabbis, every Jew is also assigned
one angel with the fulfillment of each commandment, and two accompany each him
at all times. On Sabbath eve, a good and evil angel accompany each worshiper
as he returns from the synagogue.
From every utterance that issues from the mouth of the Holy One, blessed
be He, an angel is created.
BT Hagigah 14a
It must be
noted that the scene of a celestial court, with god as King and a host of ministers
surrounding Him, does not originate with the Rabbis; we find several such references
in the Bible,  which
despite it monotheistic thrust was touched by foreign
mythological influences. Drawing upon traditions in Egyptian, Babylonian and
Persian folklore, the Rabbis, however, developed an ever more elaborate demonology.
Perhaps in an attempt to reconcile proliferating Magian, Zoroastrian and Hellenistic
influences (such as dualism) with the biblical monotheistic worldview, angels
who had been originally conceived as messengers of God's justice and mercy,
gradually became divided into two camps: angels of Light and Darkness, of good
and of evil. Legends arose about the Fallen Angels who come to earth to consort
with the daughters of men and fall into sin (the Book of Enoch). There are rabbinic
legends of Satan's rebellion and fall at the creation of human beings. The most
terrible of the angels of destruction is the mal'akh ha'mavet (the angel
of death), who waits at the bedside of the sick, a lethal drop of venom at the
tip of his sword; this angel of death, who, like other angels, originally personified
a function of the divine will, gradually acquires a definitely demonic individuality.
He is linked and at times identified with Satan (who tempts and accuses), the
evil inclination, and Samael, the prince of demons.
Despite the deep-rooted belief in angels among the Jews of the Talmudic period
and the elaborate attention to angels in the Talmud the rabbis were careful
not to approve their worship. There is evidence that attempts were made to weaken
faith in them and belittle their importance. In particular it was urged that
man, when he is God-fearing, is superior to the angels. Thus we find the following
declaration: "When Adam was in the Garden of Eden (and sinless), he used
to recline while the ministering angels roasted flesh and filtered wine for
him."  It was likewise taught, "Greater
are the righteous than the ministering angels;"
and "If a man abstain from practicing magic, he is introduced into a division
of heaven which even the ministering angels cannot penetrate."
This teaching reaches its climax in the declaration, "The Holy One, blessed
be He, will in the Hereafter make the division of heaven in which the righteous
dwell within that of the ministering angels."
They will consequently stand nearer to the throne of God.
Ask the rabbis of the Talmud Four
angels of the Presence as described in the Talmud
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