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Angels 1: The True Story
Introduction to the nature of angels
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Angels 1: The True Story


The living creatures of the world of Yetzira are, in a general way, called "angels". They function on that plane as we function in the world of Asiya. The world of Yetzira may be said to be, in its essence, a world of feeling. It is a world whose main substance, or type of experience, is emotion of one kind or another, and in which such emotions are the elements that determine its patterns. The living beings in it are conscious manifestations of particular impulses - impulses to perform one or another act or respond in one or another way - or of the power to carry through an incentive, to realize, to fulfill the tendency of an inclination or an inspiration. An angel is a spiritual reality with its own unique content, qualities and character…

An angel is a spiritual reality with its own unique content, qualities and character. What distinguishes one angel from another is not the physical quality of spatial distance but rather a disparity with respect to the fundamental purpose of such an essence. The substantial quality of an angel may be an impulse or a drive, i.e. an inclination to love, fear, or pity.

To express a larger totality of being, we may refer to "a camp of angels". In the general camp of "love", for example, there are many subdivisions, virtually innumerable shades and gradations of tender feeling. No two loves are alike in emotion, just as no two ideas are alike. Thus, any general and inclusive drive or impulse is a whole camp and is not consistently the same at every level. Whereas among human beings emotions change and vary either as persons change or according to the circumstances of time and place, an angel is totally the manifestation of a single emotional essence.

The word for angel in Hebrew,"malach", means also "messenger". As its name in Hebrew signifies, the nature of the angel is to be an envoy to a degree, thereby constituting a permanent contact between worlds. An angel's missions transpire in two directions: it may serve as an emissary of G-d toward the earthly, to other angels and to worlds and creatures below the world of Yetzira, and/or it may also serve as the one who carries heavenwards from below, from our world to the higher worlds.

The real difference between man and angel is not the fact that man has a body, because the essential comparison is between the human soul and the angel. The soul of man is most complex and includes a whole world of different existential elements of all kinds, while the angel is a being of single essence and therefore in a sense one dimensional. In addition, man, because of his multi-faceted nature and capacity to contain contradictions (including his gift of an inner power of soul) has the capacity to distinguish between good and evil. It is this ability which makes it possible for him to rise to great heights, and by the same token creates the possibility for his failure and backsliding, neither of which is true for the angel.

From the point of view of its essence, the angel is eternally the same. It is static, an unchanging existence, whether temporary or eternal, fixed within the rigid limits of quality given at its very creation. Those that have existed from the very beginning of time…constitute the channels of plenty through which the divine grace rises…

Among the many thousands of angels to be found in the various worlds are those that have existed from the very beginning of time, for they are an unfaltering part of the Eternal Being and the fixed order of the universe. These angels in a sense constitute the channels of plenty through which the divine grace rises and descends in the worlds.

But there are also angels that are continuously being created anew, in all the worlds, and especially in the world of Asiya, where thoughts, deeds, and experiences give rise to angels of different kinds. Every mitzvah that a person does is not only an act of transformation in the material world, it is also a spiritual act, sacred in itself. And this aspect of concentrated spirituality and holiness in the mitzvah is the chief component of that which becomes an angel. In other words, the emotion, the intention, and the essential holiness of the act combine to become the essence of the mitzvah as an existence in itself, as something that has objective reality.

It is this separate existence of the mitzvah, by being unique and holy, that creates the angel, a new spiritual reality that belongs to the world of Yetzira. So it is that the act of performing a mitzvah extends beyond its effect in the material world. The power of the spiritual holiness within it - holiness in direct communion with all the upper worlds - causes a primary and significant transformation. The person who performs a mitzvah…creates an angel…

More precisely, the person who performs a mitzvah, who prays or directs his mind toward the Divine, in so doing, creates an angel, which is a sort of reaching out on the part of man to the higher worlds. Such an angel, however, connected in its essence to the man who created it, still lives, on the whole, in a different dimension of being, namely in the world of Yetzira. And it is in this world of Yetzira that the mitzvah acquires substance, and, in turn, influences the worlds above. It is certainly a supreme act when what is done below becomes detached from particular physical place, time, and person and becomes an angel.

An angel cannot reveal its true form to man, whose being, senses, and instruments of perception belong only to the world of Asiya, in which there are no means of grasping the angel. It continues to belong to a different dimension even when apprehended in one form or another. However, angels have been revealed to human beings in either of two ways: one is through the vision of the prophet, the seer, or the holy man - that is, an experience by a person on the highest level; the other is through an isolated revelation by an ordinary person suddenly privileged to receive from higher levels.

When such a person or prophet does in some way experience the reality of an angel, his perception, limited by his senses, remains bound to material structures, and his language inevitably tends to expressions of actual or imagined physical forms. Thus, when the prophet tries to describe or to explain to others his experience of seeing an angel, the description verges on the eerie and fantastic. Terms like "winged creature of heaven" or "eyes of the supreme chariot" can be only a pale and inadequate representation of the incident because this experience belongs to another realm with another system of imagery. The description will necessarily be anthropomorphic. One who sees an angel…does not always know that it is an apparition…

Thus, all the articulated visions of prophecy are nothing more than ways of representing an abstract formless spiritual reality in the vocabulary of human language; although, to be sure, there may also be a revelation of an angel requiring ordinary form, clothed in some familiar vessel and manifested as a "normal" phenomenon in nature. The difficulty is that the one who sees an angel in this way does not always know that it is an apparition, that the pillar of fire or the image of a man does not belong entirely to the realm of natural cause and effect. And at the same time, the angel - that is to say, the force sent from a higher world - makes its appearance and to a certain extent acts in the material world, being either entirely subject to the laws of our world or operating in a sort of vacuum between the worlds in which physical nature is no more than a kind of garment for some higher substance. For example, in the Bible, Manoah, the father of Samson, sees the angel in the image of a prophet, yet he senses in some inexplicable way that it is not a man he sees, that he is witnessing a phenomenon of a different order; only when the angel changes form completely and becomes a pillar of fire does Manoah recognize that this being which he has seen and with whom he has conversed was not a man nor a prophet, but a being from another dimension of reality, an angel.

The creation of an angel in our world and the immediate relegation of this angel to another world is, in itself, not at all a supernatural phenomenon. It is an integral aspect of life. When we are in the act of creating the angel, we have no perception of the angel being created; the act seems to be a part of the whole structure of the practical material world in which we live. Similarly, the angel who is sent to us from another world does not always have a significance or impact beyond the normal laws of physical nature.

Indeed, it often happens that the angel reveals itself in nature, in the ordinary common-sense world of causality, and only a prophetic insight or divination can show when, and to what extent, it is the work of higher forces. This is because man, by his very nature, is bound to the system of higher worlds, even though ordinarily this system is not revealed and known to him. It may be said that the realities of the angel and of the world of Yetzira are part of a system of "natural" being which is as bound by law as that aspect of existence we are able to observe directly.

Angels 2: Wings on Fire continues this discussion of the nature of Angels.

[from The Thirteen Petalled Rose, p. 7-31]

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By Adin Even-Israel (Steinsaltz)   More articles...  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author
Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz is internationally regarded as one of the leading rabbis of this century. The author of many books, he is best known for his monumental translation of and commentary on the Talmud.

 

Reader Comments
Latest Comments:
Posted: Jan 30, 2012
Angels don't change?
You stated in your article that angels are not like man who is subject to backsliding and failure. So what happened to the Satan? Isn't he the Angel that turned on God, or was he created to fail in order to test us?
Posted By Sara, Southfield, MI
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Posted: Nov 9, 2010
Angels
This is great information. I'm planning an Angel Appreciation Party and would like to know the names and characteristics of the Angels of the Kabbala -
Posted By M.W.
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Posted: Oct 4, 2009
I love it
Posted By Ilya Fuzaylov, Fresh Meadows, New York
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Creation
Shattered Vessels
Creation and the Name of 72
Two Systems of Ten Sefirot
Angels 1: The True Story
Angels 2: Wings on Fire
Angels 3: Bad Angels
Table for Correspondences
Oneness and the Infinite
Chaos and the Primordial
Close to the Light
The World of Creation
Forming Time and Space
Action and the Physical
Jacob's Ladder