By: William J Jackson
In our quest to understand Hashem’s word, the Torah, we are always on the lookout for those hidden pearls of knowledge that present themselves during our studies. It’s so euphoric to have that “eureka!” moment when either we or somebody else comes up with a unique point of view that fits into our mind like a puzzle piece “clicking” into place. However, sometimes our desire for these nuggets cause us to “over spiritualize” other passages or messages in the bible. So what is “over spiritualizing”, and is it bad? The definition of “over spiritualizing is “scriptural interpretation that exceeds its intended meaning” (1). It is bad because it causes us to see or even invent things in scripture that really are not there. You see this a lot in the Christian religion with “Christohanies” (2) which are nothing more than supposed Christ sightings in the Tanakh. This is another form of adding to Hashem’s word (Deuteronomy 4:2, 13:1-10, Proverbs 30:5-6) and with it will come a curse.
That being said, many times we see mortal men who are doing the will of Hashem spiritualized into angels either through teachings or scriptural translations. We will discuss two stories in the Torah that are branded as talking about angels. I present to you “Abraham’s Visitors” and “Jacob’s Wrestler”:
This is the legendary story where Father Abraham is visited by three men and/or Adonai. It starts in chapter 18 of Genesis with “Adonai appeared to Avraham…” (Genesis 18:1). In apparent contrast, the next verse refers to Abraham’s guest Adonai as “three men” and continues to refers to the guest/s in this context (Genesis 18:2,5, 8, 9, 16, 22) but goes back and forth also referring to them as Adonai (Genesis 18:3,13, 14, 17, 19, 20, 22, 26, 27, 30, 31, 32, 33). The natural assumption, or easy fix, is to assume that these men are angels, simply because in the next chapter there are two angels that rescue Lot in Sodom and Gomorrah. How do we know this? Because they are called angels in chapter 19, (Genesis 19:1, 15). They are not however called angels in chapter 18, they are called “enosh” (3) which is Hebrew for “mortal man” verses “malak” which is the word for angels (4) found in chapter 19. How do religious sects handle this transition?
Christian: In many Christian commentaries in order to bridge the gap between chapter 18’s men and chapter 19’s angels they make two of the three men to be angels and the third to be Adonai (5). Some have pushed it a step further and made the three men symbolize the Christian trinity.
Jewish: Since Adonai cannot be seen (Exodus 33: 20), the rabbinical writings do not compromise Torah by making one of the men Adonai. They do however make all three men angels and actually name them Raphael, Michael and Gabriel, something that is not done by the Torah (6).
Instead of coming up with a “spin” to understand this transition isn’t it possible that there is no transition. Just maybe the men in chapter 18 are men, and the angels in chapter 19 are angels. Think about it, Adonai doesn’t just use angels to communicate His message, He has used objects before like a flaming torch, a smoking fire pot (Genesis 15:17), a flaming bush (Exodus 3:2-10) and even a donkey (Numbers 22:28). Adonai’s power isn’t just limited to these things, He has even used mortal men to perform His will. For example, when Moses parted the Sea of Reeds (Exodus 14:15-16, 21) and when Aaron made his staff turn into a snake (Exodus 7:8-13) was this done by their own will or the will of Hashem? Yes, it was solely Hashem but since these men performed these feats on behalf of the Almighty does this make them angels? No it doesn’t and neither does it make the Prophets, Kings David or King Solomon angels. Adonai reserves the right for mere man to do His bidding, if we are so honored.
In Genesis 32:25-33 Jacob wrestle with a man. Some say this is either Adonai or an angel. As for Torah, it refers to this unknown figure as a “man” 5 times (Genesis 32:25, 27, 28, 29, and 33). Since we know that we cannot see the face of Hashem the quick fix here is to turn this man into an angel. But why not just call him an angel? The Torah identified an angel earlier that day (Genesis 32:1), why mask the identity now? Also we need to remember the man denied telling Jacob his name (Genesis 32:30). It was “Jacob” who makes the assumption “…I have seen God face to face…” (Genesis 32:31) not the writer of the Torah. It also said that the “enosh” (mortal man) named Jacob Israel. ….Wait a minute here, didn’t Adonai name Jacob Israel? Yes, He did, but named him Israel much latter. Actually after Jacob returns to Bethel, (Genesis 35:10).
I think the burning question for all of us is “is it really possible to wrestle with Adonai or even an angel?” When many of us first read the story we had a hard time imagining a physical fight between Jacob and the Master of the Universe, I even had a hard time believing it could be between Jacob and one of Adonai’s angel, not to mention… all night long, and… losing? So why couldn’t the fight with Jacob be exactly what Torah says, a mere man. An “enosh” doing the will of Adonai.
Adonai is actually known for using surrogates. If you remember, Adonai used a stranger to redirect Joseph when he was trying to find his brothers, (Genesis 37:13-17). Also, in Egypt the midwives were rewarded by Adonai for saving the Hebrew babies (Exodus 1:15-22). Certainly the Creator of All could guide a lost Hebrew boy or save Israelite babies from a Tyrant but He chose to engage us. Additionally, there appears to be a sub-culture of Adonai’s subordinate leaders that arbitrary appear throughout the story of Israel. Think about it, King Melchizedek “Adonai’s most high Priest” (Genesis 14:17-20) and “the commander of Adonai’s army” (Joshua 5:13–14). There is a lot more to Torah that meets the eye and generating angels to cover the gap could steal from the message.