Understanding the Angels

June 24, 2009

5 min read


Vayetzei (Genesis 28:10-32:3 )

Jacob encounters angels in several places, for example during his ladder dream (Genesis 28:12), and again in Genesis 31:10 and 32:2. It seems that more than anyone else in the Bible, Jacob has a special affinity for "angel contact."

What's an angel?

In English the expression "You're an angel," is always used in a positive sense. It seems many people are under the impression that the spiritual realm is only good. Yet an angel was sent to destroy Sodom. And we're all familiar with the famous "bad" angel called Satan. So we see that angels can do both "good" and "bad."

The Hebrew word for angel is malach, which actually can also mean a messenger, even a non-angel. An angel is merely a messenger of the Almighty; sometimes the messenger is sent to do something positive, sometimes it's sent to carry out a punishment or negative consequence, and sometimes it's sent to test a person.

Free will is the main thing that separates mankind from angels, and makes us more like God. Angels are bound to do God's will and can do nothing else. Even Satan, the angel created to test us with moral challenges, is only doing exactly what the Almighty wants him to do. He is a messenger.

Angels are absorbed in the spiritual realm. They have form without physicality. They are pure conduits for the Infinite to have an influence in our realm. God doesn't "need" them, but he uses them to bridge the gap between the finite and the Infinite.

If you look up at the heavens at night, you will see more stars than you can count. The stars are an analogy to angels. There are more than you can count. Each angel has a job to do and there is a hierarchy amongst all of them, with categories of angels in higher and lower positions.

* * *


You also have "angel contact" without realizing it.

Every blade of grass has an angel that hits it and says "grow." (Zohar)

Every event in your life, great and small, good and bad, happens because God causes an angel to act through His grand system of the spiritual infrastructure. The difference with Jacob was that he was sufficiently attuned to actually recognize the angel involvement.

There was a time when people detected the accompaniment of angels and would say a short prayer to them when they parted. Although I don't know how many people can say they feel the presence of angels on the way home from synagogue on Shabbat, but even to this day the custom is to sing a song to the angels at the Friday night table.

* * *


Queen Esther, the mystics say, employed a demon to sleep with King Achashverosh so she wouldn't have to. Joseph did the same with the wife of Potiphar, but he was eventually discovered. The Talmud relates how King Solomon forced an angel to give him information he wanted.

Jewish tradition has numerous accounts of people having the ability to coerce different angels to do their bidding. Sometimes it's because the person was so holy that he was given this ability by God, as it says in Pirkei Avot, "Do His will, and He will do yours." If you follow the will of the Infinite in your life, you have the special merit of having God put His angels at your call.

The Kabbalistic writings contain the knowledge of incantations that can coerce angels to do you bidding. If, however, you are not spiritually strong enough for this act, it will seriously harm you. In other words, play with fire and you may get burned.

* * *


Why did Jacob - more than other prophets - have such clear and obvious contact with angels? The answer has to do with the personality of the Patriarchs. Abraham and Isaac were extreme opposites of love and justice, respectively. Jacob was the harmonic balance between both extremes.

This is the job of wisdom, to learn how to harness and gain control over our personality so we can create the perfect balance. Since time immemorial, human beings tend to lose control in the areas of work, sex, physical pleasure, sleep, speech and humor.

Particularly if you are a Jacob-type personality, someone who is driven more strongly for meaning and understanding, than pleasure or being good, your life focus needs to include gaining control of these six areas of harmony in order to be successful.

* * *

Spiritual Exercise:

Take one of the six areas of harmony and identify one positive aspect of it and one negative aspect of it. For example, one positive aspect of sleep is that it's a chance to relax, unwind, and forget about the previous day's challenges. One negative aspect of sleep is that too much of it will waste precious moments of life that could be used to accomplish your goals.

After that, think about what it means to be in control. For example, to be in control of sleep means that you know exactly how much sleep you need to be refreshed and function well the next day; the best time for you to go to sleep; and that you are able to keep your sleep to that amount of time.

Next Steps