TYPES OF ANGELS
There are angels of all types: messengers, ministering, accusing, guardian, archangels, teaching, assisting, and so forth. The most “ordinary” type of angel is a messenger, and the most prevalent message is simply: “be.” Whereas on the microcosmic level there are angels for the smallest form of matter, on the macrocosmic level there are angels for forests, mountains, seas, nations, the moon, the sun, the solar system, celestial bodies, galaxies and constellations—there is an angel for everything, large or small, in the universe.
Angels are not limited to this universe alone, and they span the various heavens and hells and all that is outside of our limited understanding of time and space. The view of the ancient sages was that the harmonies and disharmonies of the universe were all forms of divine expression. That is to say that everything that happens in the universe is an expression of God, and all of these expressions are carried out by angels.
Some angels are long lasting and do not disappear after every moment. For example, eternal angels called Ofanim, Seraphim and Hayyot, attend to the highest throne in the heavenly realms. There are also well-known archangels like Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel who are also eternal. There are additional eternal heavenly figures, such as: Metatron, Sandalphin and Elijah, about whom we will learn.
The Talmud teaches that every individual soul is said to have a guardian angel throughout his or her lifetime. Every person also has an angel of destiny. There is some debate whether these are two separate angels or one. It is taught that angels, especially guardian angels, communicate with the soul when the body is asleep. The main methods of communication are: dreams, visions, and prophetic insights. Whether asleep or awake, the prophets usually referred to an interior voice, something from “within,” rather than an outer voice.
A very popular talmudic teaching in traditional Judaism says that two angels accompany a person to his or her home on the Sabbath eve: one is good and one is evil. If the house is set with a beautiful table and is well prepared to receive the Sabbath, then the good angel makes a blessing: “May this house be like this as well for the Sabbath to come.” In this instance, the evil angel must unwillingly say, “Amen,” as if it agreed with this blessing. On the other hand, if the house is unclean, messy, and unprepared, then the reverse happens; the evil angel says the same blessing, and the good must agree with an “Amen.”
The Talmud says that ministering angels are created out of a stream of fire. They sing—that is to say, they do their assigned task—and then they disappear.
Another interpretation is that every physical movement in the universe is considered an “utterance” of God, and moreover every movement in the universe is accompanied by a new angel. It is also said that when someone prays in earnest, the angels that accompany this person embrace and purify him or her.
Angels are considered to be almost infinite in number; they are omnipresent. The hosts of angels fill the heavens and every firmament. Almost all angels dwell in another reality and are invisible in the ordinary world. However, some make themselves visible. In kabbalistic terms, if we had the eyes to see the truth of creation, we would realize that everything we see or experience is actually an angel covering or containing a divine spark within it. But most of the time we fail to recognize what we experience for what it really is. In fact, one of the hidden kabbalistic teachings is that the word “garment” secretly means angel. That is to say, the covering of everything, its form, can be considered a garment. Once we recognize the true nature of garments, we will recognize that everything has an intrinsic value and a spark of the Divine. Recognizing the depths of this truth, we will realize that everything we engage in our daily activities and in our own minds is actually an expression of God.
With all this, it is very important to emphasize that angels act only as intermediaries or messengers of the God-ing process. They should never be viewed as divine creatures who in any way could act on their own in place of God. Angels in many ways are flawed, just as humans. They are not omniscient and can be tricked, confused and even are incapable of answering certain questions. Some have been cast out of one of the heavens for making mistakes. Certain angels are “fallen,” and their dominion is the dark side. It is these very imperfections that allow the possibility of human interaction.
So, we find that angels can plead for themselves and they can plead for humans. There are accusing angels, created by our misdeeds, as well as defending angels, created by our good deeds. Many Hasidic tales take us to the heavenly courts where accusing and defending angels battle for a person’s soul, and often the ultimate decision is based on a single angel who tips the scales. It is a powerful life experience to move through each day knowing our fate may be hanging on the balance of a single deed.
Some humans are under the custody of angels, some are equal with angels, and some actually become angels. Still, we are cautioned to never forget that even when angels are carrying our prayers, there is only one source of life, Ein Sof, Boundlessness, which ultimately determines our fate.
Thus, we can use angels, work with angels, be guided or assisted by angels, but never worship them. In essence, we treat angels as special friends who have great powers as well as having interesting “connections.” There is no assurance that they will get the job done, but there is an enormous value of having them on our side, so to speak. For the Other Side that automatically opposes us, has considerable powers of confusion, and it will always be present, uninvited, attempting to “do its job.” This is the mystery and awe of entering the world of angels.
The Good Inclination vs. The Not-Good Inclination
It is taught that two angels accompany a person throughout life, a yetzer ha-tov (good inclination) and a yetzer ha-ra (not-good inclination). What does it means to be drawn towards the good or away from it? From a mystical perspective, it means to engage in activities that awaken one’s higher consciousness—to come closer to the truth of existence—or to do those things that keep us immersed in confusion and ignorance. These two angels are always tugging against each other.
We constantly experience this inner tension in our daily activities. Some activities clearly bring us to higher levels of consciousness and some do the opposite. Most of our encounters with life, however, are in a grey area which does not clearly take us one way or the other. In this context the teaching is quite explicit. When we clearly have a choice and are determined to move ourselves inclined to the good, then the yetzer ha-tov gains power over the yetzer ha-ra. If we do this with regular frequency, it develops a momentum that pulls us, sub-consciously and automatically, toward the good. Of course, the opposite is true, and not-good decisions can also develop a momentum.
Each time we make small choices that lead us in the direction of the not-good, perhaps the extra portion of rich food or the time we spend with the television or neglecting our most important relationships, etc., we empower the yetzer ha-ra, and we find ourselves often in its grip without knowing how we got there. Conversely, when we pay close attention to small details, such as that extra phone call to someone in need, or the extra contributions to charity, or the special time we take simply to nurture ourselves—the dozens and dozens of possibilities to empower the yetzer ha-tov—we find our lives moving with greater ease, less complication, and we generally find ourselves more in balance with life.
The teachings suggest that the angel of the not-good inclination attaches itself to an infant when it is born and is active throughout early childhood. This is why we do not hold children responsible for their actions; they don’t really know any better. However, at a certain level of maturity, around twelve or thirteen years of age, the child becomes capable of making wiser choices, and this is when the angel of the yetzer ha-tov comes into his or her life. Good parenting is knowing when and how to guide the child toward the good inclination, in other words, the good parent actually acts out and establishes the role of yetzer ha-tov angel long before it arrives. In this way, the angel of the yetzer ha-ra does not gain too much power during those early years.
More important in the long run is how each and every one of us works with our own good and not-good inclinations. It is never too late to begin nurturing the good inclination that rests within each of us. One notices very quickly the results of intentional activities to raise consciousness. The yetzer ha-tov becomes a “happy” angel, and we can actually feel this experience as will be demonstrated in the upcoming exercise.
Interestingly, the teachings suggest that the not-good angel actually does not want to fully succeed! In a way, it actually “wants” to be defeated. So, it does not fight us when we make the choice for good; indeed, it bows to us and it joins “hands” with the yetzer ha-tov to guard us in our lives. In this context, the oral tradition quotes Psalm 91:11-12. “It will give angels to protect you, to watch over you in everything your do. They will hold you in their hands, so that you do not hurt your foot on a stone.” This means that by strengthening the good angel, both the good and the not-good angels will protect you so that you are able to stay out of harm’s way even when you do not see it coming.
There is an interesting talmudic teaching that says: “Even if there are a thousand accusing angels (for the thousand misdeeds one has done), only one angel vouching for a person’s goodness will be sufficient to redeem this person.” One of the sages of the Talmud, R. Abba, questions this teaching. He asks why God should need an angel to affirm one’s goodness, when God already knows everything about this person. In talmudic fashion, the solution to this inquiry is that the one angel who vouches for a person’s good is not any angel, but is specifically the yetzer ha-ra, the not-good angel, who has been won over by the good deeds of someone to the point where this angel essentially becomes the person’s primary defender. Thus, the teaching is that although it is obvious to God that a person is good at the core, it is of great significance when a not-good angel admits defeat.
The leader of the yetzer ha-tov angels is the archangel Gabriel; the leader of the yetzer ha-ra angels is Samael, who was the serpent that seduced Eve, the father of Cain, the tempter of Abraham, also known as Satan. Thus, the description above gives us insight into the limits of the power of satanic and demonic forces according to the ancient sages. Not only are these forces potentially subservient to the forces of good, they can be made into allies in the challenge to move to higher levels of consciousness. This is fundamental in the hasidic teachings, which say that at the heart of everything is a spark of the Divine, including the heart of so-called evil.
By working with angels and moving in the direction of the yetzer ha-tov, represented by Gabriel, we bring both sides together and thus bring all of humanity one step closer to messianic consciousness. Learning how to do this with wisdom and compassion is one of the primary challenges on the spiritual path.