Angels. Many of you must be wondering — are there such things in Judaism today? Yes, angels play a big role in Judaism, but our belief in angels far differs from the typical halo and wings Christian view. Angels in Judaism may take different shapes; some appear as humans or animals, some appear as pillars of light or fire, and we all know that one has appeared as a burning bush to Moses. The point is that, even though many Jews do not know this, angels play a big part in Judaism.
To start the coverage of this broad subject, it should be mentioned that the scope of this paper is not meant to include details of every angel mentioned everywhere throughout history; it’s meant more as an overview of the types, levels, and well-known “Jewish” angels. Let’s begin by stating what angels are believed to be. On one hand, they are messengers to G-d; they carry our prayers up to G-d, but they are only the liaison. Prayers are not to be said to them, but rather through them, directly to G-d. They serve G-d and he is the only one that can hear you when you pray to him.
Some people believe that angels have no control; that they are created solely to do one task and upon its completion, they disappear. That is just an opinion; it is more widely believed that angels have intellects of their own and can make their own decisions. But the one thing angels lack is the capacity to do evil; they cannot perform an evil act without the consent of G-d.
Not all angels are the same; they are divided into levels, or a hierarchy. All of these levels are part of the adat el (divine assembly). Many levels (or groups, depending on who you talk to) have been identified. Some of these are Seraphim, Cherubim, Irinim, Ophanim, Erelim, Elohim, and Ishim. The highest level is believed to be the Seraphim, who are supposed to be the closest angels to G-d. They are described as fiery serpents having six wings and four heads. The next level of the hierarchy is the Cherubim. Now, you may be thinking of those little chubby babies on greeting cards, but that’s not the case here. In Judaism, Cherubim more closely resemble griffins, having four wings and four heads; one of a lion, a human, a bull and an eagle. The other levels of the angelic hierarchy become very complicated or vague in details and, therefore, cannot be fully depicted within this paper.
Angels have many forms, a few of which were mentioned before, but now, I would like to elaborate on that subject. One of the earliest beliefs is that angels appear as humans. As time progressed, their shape and appearance started to change and differ to suit the tasks they were given. Even so, in the Torah, they mostly appear in human form.
Some angels carry different objects that are relevant to their tasks. Some angels bear drawn swords and other weapons, they ride horses, and one is said to carry a horn at his side. Even though they choose to take different shapes and carry different things, angels are ethereal beings, meaning space and time have no effect on them.
Angels, however powerful they may be, are still the messengers of G-d. They are used as mediums between G-d and us. They protect individuals and nations, and carry out G-d’s will no matter what that may be. There are avenging angels, militant angels, evil angels, archangels… the list goes on and on, but the point is that all angels, no matter what they are or what they do, follow the command of G-d.
Angels can be found everywhere; they are in the Torah, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and inside ourselves. All people have angels within themselves; they represent the good and evil in our souls, they are the little voices in our heads telling us the good and the bad things to do. People also create angels — when someone does a good deed with good intentions, a good angel is created, and vice versa when someone does a bad deed. These angels are important to us because on our own personal judgment day, the good angels vouch for us in front of the holy one and the evil angels go against us and try to get us put in the not-so-happy place. The more good angels you create, the more chances you have of going to the happier place. Another view states that on your judgment day, all of your deeds, both good and bad, are placed onto a scale. If the good deeds outweigh the bad deeds, be happy, you are in for a wonderful afterlife. However, if it is the other way around, you should hope you are fireproof!
We have all heard it, a person saying, "Wow, you must have an angel watching out for you” when you have a close call. Is that true? Is there actually an angel watching over you? Well, yes, metaphorically speaking, we all have a guardian angel. They watch over us all of the time, they know everything we have ever said and thought; they know our sins and mitzvahs; they know you inside and out. Everybody has one, but may not know it. These angels want to help, but must be asked for assistance (unless there is danger of physical harm). There are many ways to get in touch with an angel, but I won't go into that now; this is a speech, not a magical hocus pocus lecture.
Angels are all around us; they protect nations and individuals, and keep us on the path of righteousness. Some angels that really help humans are Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel; these names should sound at least a little familiar to you. And, if they don’t, they should. These angels are part of the angelic inner circle. They are all archangels, believed to be the most active angels of G-d, and there is not much argument about that!
The first archangel I will tell you about is the angel Michael. Of the entire angelic host, he is the commander-in-chief! Now, that’s a big job! One of his other duties is to be the guardian of Israel; and that is an even bigger job! He is mentioned numerous times in the book of Enoch as the prince of Israel; and in later texts, he is called the advocate of the Jews. So, you see this angel is a pretty good guy to know about if you’re Jewish.
The next archangel I shall talk about is the angel Uriel, whose name literally means, “G-d is my light”. Uriel is almost inevitably mentioned last when a person lists the four archangels. He is one of the least known archangels, but that doesn’t make him unimportant. He is the divine messenger and the angel of thunder and fire. They say he presides over Gehenna, which must be interesting job at all times because Gehenna is the opposite dimension that is filled with demons and all sorts of other nasty things.
Next is the archangel Raphael. His name means “heal me oh G-d”. Well, like Uriel, his name fits his main task, as he is known as the healing angel. He heals diseases and wounds, and he cures blindness. Raphael casts away evil and heals the soul. I truly think that he is a wonderful angel.
Finally, there is the last angel in the archangel quartet, Gabriel. Even though I mentioned him last, he is not considered so in the ancient texts, there he is a very prominent angel, only outranked by the archangel Michael. To the Jews, Gabriel is the master of courage. He is the one who gave Enoch courage when he was going up to the throne of G-d, when Enoch himself was scared out of his wits. Gabriel is the messenger of G-d, who executes the divine will on earth. An interesting detail about one of Gabriel’s acts is that he was the one who stopped Vashti from appearing before the king so that Esther could, in turn, become queen. Therefore, if you think about it, we really have to thank Gabriel for the Purim holiday.
Now that I have covered the archangels, let me tell you about Samael and his group of fallen angels. Now you must be wondering, “What is a fallen angel?” For those of you who don’t know, fallen angels are a group of angels who have turned evil and now oppose G-d and humanity. And their ringleader is none other than the angel Samael. I bet all of you know his other name, it’s Satan. Ok, so now that you know who I am talking about, let’s move on.
Samael and his angels; now, how shall I go about telling you about them? I’ll start with one version of the story of how they first became fallen angels. There’s not enough time to give a full account, just know that they rebelled against G-d and committed horrible deeds. They enjoyed murder and wickedness so much that they led mankind astray. For that, he and his angels were thrown down from the heavens and they created their own kingdom, where they compete with G-d for the souls of humans. This brings up an interesting detail I mentioned earlier…that angels cannot perform any evil acts without G-d’s consent. This leads us to the question, why does G-d allow them to carry out their evil deeds? Maybe it is because humans need to see the evil in life so they can appreciate the good, or it could be that G-d needs to have a way to punish the sinners and test the faithful, as he did to Job (coincidentally in the book of Job). Nobody really knows and nobody ever will; the secrets of the heavens are not meant to be revealed to humans.
Now that you have the background information, let me tell you what Samael is believed to be. He is the prince of demons, the incarnation of evil, and the evil that lurks in our consciousness that is always trying to seduce us into sinning. He is the all around bad angel that opposes G-d in every way he can.
Samael is also closely related to the Angel of Death. Some texts say that in fact, he is the Angel of Death. Now there’s a happy prospect; the bad angel is the one that kills you… well, that sounds wonderful. But, luckily, many more texts say that the Angel of Death and Samael are different people. Describing the Angel of Death is a very strange thing; he is covered with eyes so as to make his victim's mouth fall open in shock. And once it does, he drips a drop of poison into their mouth and they're done! The reason Samael and the Angel of Death are so closely related is because “Sam” can be translated to mean poison, and so the name Samael may be translated into the ultimate poison. See how someone could confuse these two? Well, one thing’s for sure; a person never really wants to see either of these two, ever!
With angels like Samael about, what do we do for protection, besides pray and hope that our mezuzah has no errors? Well, there is a belief that a red string tied around your left wrist will protect you. Because this protection works like a vaccination, the shot gives your body a bunch of cells that look like an invader, so your body can build immunity to the actual virus. But, why red? You see, red itself is thought to be an evil color and it’s believed that a small evil will help keep away the larger ones; the red string is also believed to bring luck to the wearer. This has absolutely nothing to do with the Kabbalah or Madonna and her crowd. This is a Jewish belief, no matter how obscure or misused it is.
This report was a fascinating thing to attempt and finish. At first I didn’t think there would be any information. But, it fact there was a lot of it! I hope this report has enlightened you on one of the obscure points in the Jewish religion! There are many other points that are just as obscure, you just need to go out there and look. You will be amazed at what you find.