Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Angels - free will and punishment

 There seems to be a widespread belief that angels don't have free will and yet there are clear sources that state that they are subject to punishment for wrong behavior


Bereishis Rabba (68:12) 12. AND HE DREAMED. R. Abbahu said: Dreams have no influence whatsoever. A certain man went to R. Jose b. Halafta and said to him: ' I was told in a dream, " Go and bring your father's labour [i.e. wealth] from Cappadocia."’ ‘Did your father ever visit Cappadocia?’ he asked him. On his answering ' no ‘, he bade him: ' Go and count twenty boards in the flooring of your house and you will find it.’ ‘But there are not twenty boards there,’ he rejoined. If so, count from the beginning to the end and back again, and you will find it.’ He went, did so, and found it. And whence did R. Jose b. Halafta deduce this? From the word Cappadocia.1Bar Kappara taught: No dream is without its interpretation. AND BEHOLD A LADDER symbolises the stairway; SET UPON THE EARTH-the altar, as it says, An altar of earth thou shalt make unto Me (Ex. XX, 21); AND THE TOP OF IT REACHED TO HEAVEN-the sacrifices, the odour of which ascended to heaven; AND BEHOLD THE ANGELS OF GOD-the High Priests; ASCENDING AND DESCENDING ON IT-ascending and descending the stairway.AND, BEHOLD, THE LORD STOOD BESIDE HIM (XXVIII, 13)-I saw the Lord standing beside the altar (Amos IX, 1). The Rabbis related it to Sinai. AND HE DREAMED, AND BEHOLD A LADDER symbolises Sinai; SET UPON THE EARTH. as it says, And they stood3 at the nether part of the mount (Ex. XIX, 17); AND THE TOP OF IT REACHED TO HEAVEN-And the mountain burned with fire unto the heart of heaven  (Deut. IV, 11).4 AND BEHOLD THE ANGELS OF GOD alludes to Moses and Aaron. ASCENDING: And Moses went up to God (Ex. XIX, 3); AND DESCENDING-And Moses went down from the mount (ib. 14). AND, BEHOLD, THE LORD STOOD BESIDE HIM-And the Lord came down upon mount Sinai (ib. 20).Shalmoni said in the name of Resh Lakish: He showed him a throne of three legs.6 R. Joshua of Siknin said in R. Levi's name: [God said to him]: ‘Thou art the third leg.’ That indeed is the view of R. Joshua in R. Levi's name, who said: For the portion of the Lord is His peoplc, Jacob the cord1 of His inheritance (Deut. XXXII, 9): as a cord cannot be woven of less than three strands [so there were not less than three Patriarchs].2 R. Berekiah said: He showed him the world and a third of the world, for ASCENDING cannot refer to less than two [angels], while AND DESCENDING likewise must refer to two, and each angel is a third of the world [in size]. And how do we know that an angel is a third of the world?-His body also was like the beryl (tarshish), and his face as the appearance of lightning, etc. (Dan. X, 6).’R. Hiyya the Elder and R. Jannai disagreed. One maintained: They were ASCENDING AND DESCENDING the ladder; while the other said: they were ASCENDING AND DESCENDING on Jacob.5 The statement that they were ascending and descending the ladder presents no difficulty. The statement that they were ascending and descending on Jacob we must take to mean that some were exalting him and others degrading him, dancing, leaping, and maligning him.6 Thus it says, Israel 7 in whom I will be glorified (Isa. XLIX, 3); it is thou, [said the angels,] whose features are engraved on high8; they ascended on high and saw his features and they descended below and found him sleeping. It may be compared to a king who sat and judged in a judgment chamber; people ascend the basilica and find him sleeping, they go out to the judgment chamber and find him judging. In heaven, who speaks in his [Israel's] favour is exalted; in his disfavour, is debased; but on earth, he who speaks in his favour is debased; in his disfavour, is promoted. Those angels who escort a man in Eretz Israel do not escort him without the Land. Thus ASCENDING refers to those who had escorted him in the Land,1 while DESCENDING refers to those who were to escort him without the Land. R. Levi said in the name of R. Samuel b. Nahman: Because the ministering angels revealed God's secrets, they were banished from their precincts a hundred and thirty-eight years. R. Tanhuma expressed it in the word Kelah. R. Hama b. Hanina said: [They were banished] because they boasted and said, For we will destroy this place (Gen. XIX, 23). When did they return? On this occasion, ASCENDING first and then DESCENDING.


  1. And what about the legend of the 2 angels who came down in the times before the Flood to try out the local women?

  2. There are angels I think who are created for a single mission, and after they complete the mission the angels' existence is ended. They did their task perfectly. Their end is not punishment.

    A Kohen Gadol out alone who encounters a Mes Mitzvah is commanded to bury the Mes even though he will not be able to act as Kohen Gadol in the Bais Hamikdash for a week after that.

    So, angels that reveal secrets may have been created or commanded to reveal those secrets. Can we not conceptualize of their banishment as something other than a punishment?


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