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Tuesday
Nov152016

TOTAL TRANSPARENCY

TAKING CREDIT FOR G-D’S WORK

When G-d sends angels to destroy the city of Sodom and save Lot, Avraham’s nephew asks to be allowed to stay in a nearby city. An angel replies:

          “Hurry, flee there, for I cannot do a thing until you arrive there.”

Rashi comments on the words “For I cannot do” and states:

“This is the punishment of the angels for having said, ‘for we are about to destroy’ and they attributed the matter to themselves. Therefore, they did not move from there until they were forced to say that the matter is not in their authority.”

This raises some obvious questions. How can angels do something contrary to G-d’s will and take credit for something that they were going to do as G-d’s messengers?

Moreover, the very word for angel in Hebrew is Malach, which means “messenger.” How can messengers, not endowed with free choice, go against the will of G-d who sent them?

Another question has been raised:

Earlier, when the angels came to Avraham, one of them told him: “I will surely return to you at this time next year, there will be life; and behold! A son to Sarah your wife.” Here too the angel implied that he was the one who would return and cause her to have the child. Yet there were no repercussions for this apparent misstatement.

Rashi explains that in fact:

“The angel did not inform him that he personally would return to him. Rather, he spoke to him as the messenger of G-d. It is like, ‘And an angel of G-d said to her [Hagar], “I will greatly increase [your offspring.]’’’, yet he does not have the ability to increase [her offspring]. Rather he was speaking as a messenger of G-d. Here too, he told it to him as the messenger of G-d.”

Why then were the angels that overturned Sodom punished for saying that they would destroy the city. Wasn’t it obvious that they were just channeling G-d’s actions? In what way was it different from the angel who promised Sarah a child?

NO ROOM FOR ERROR

The simple answer is that when the angel said to Hagar that he would increase her progeny, it is obvious that angels do not have that power. Similarly, when the angel told Avraham that he would return and Sarah would bear a son, it was demonstrably clear that the angel could not guarantee her a son at the age of 90. In both of these situations no one could think that they were taking credit for something only G-d could do.

However, when they said, “for we are about to destroy [Sodom]” that was indeed a distinct possibility. Even humans have the power to destroy a city, as we have seen so many times in the past. In the Torah itself we find that Shimon and Levi destroyed the city of Sh’chem. So, when the angels claim they will destroy Sodom, there was room to think that G-d had delegated to them independent powers, akin to that of a human being.

IS G-D IN CONTROL OF DESTRUCTION?

On a somewhat deeper level we may distinguish between the messages the angel gave concerning the birth of Isaac and the destruction of Sodom.

When G-d does things that we associate with kindness and goodness, it is obvious that it comes directly from Him, as He is the essence of benevolence and goodness. So if an angel says he will do some good it is reasonable to suggest that the angel is merely channeling the words and actions of G-d.

However, with respect to destructive forces, we might reasonably think that G-d, the epitome of kindness, does not relate to destruction. One might erroneously conclude that destruction happens when G-d “withdraws” from the world and is not present there. For destruction to take place, one might think that G-d has transferred His power to other forces, not attributable to Him. Hence, when the angels said that they were going to destroy Sodom it could easily have been misconstrued that G-d gave them some degree of autonomy.

To dispel this notion, the angels were forced to say that they have no power to do anything without G-d’s express involvement. There is nothing in this world that can be divorced from G-d; even the evil in the world, the prophet Isaiah (45:7) declares, was created by G-d.

The difference between the good that we see in our world and the destruction and evil is that in the former case, its connection to the Divine is clear while in the latter it is murky. One needs to probe and reflect to see the Divine in evil and destruction.

We can now understand why the angels could be taken to task for using confusing language. To be sure, when they said they were going to destroy the city they were ascribing it only to G-d. Yet, to undo the erroneous impression that some would have that G-d cannot be found in destruction, they were “punished,” i.e., they had to make a clarifying statement to the effect that they were incapable of doing it; that it was G-d’s exclusive power.

THREE QUESTIONS

Based on the above analysis of the angel having no autonomous role, several questions can be raised:

First, Moshe declares in the second paragraph of the Shma: “I shall provide grass in your field…” Moshe implies here that he was the one to place the vegetation in our fields, but it is self-understood that G-d was speaking though Moshe. Our Sages also stated that when Moshe spoke, “the Divine presence spoke through his throat.” This is true as to both the positive statements as it is for the harsh words of rebuke, at the end of Leviticus.

Why is it that Moshe’s channeling G-d for both good and destructive matters was not misleading and did not require correction? Why was Moshe treated differently from the angels?

Second, how can the Passover Hagada state that the Exodus from Egyptian bondage was led by G-d Himself and not an angel or messenger? Wasn’t Moshe the liberator of the Jewish people and didn’t he serve as G-d’s messenger?

Third, when the Jews sinned with the Golden Calf, G-d threatened to abandon them and send an angel to lead them. Moshe protested this new arrangement and he “convinced” G-d, that He, exclusively, would lead them to the Promised Land. The question is, why would an angel, G-d’s instrument, not be adequate to lead them? Isn’t the angel simply doing something positive in the name of G-d?

MOSHE: NO FILTER

The answer to these questions lies in our recognition of the fundamental difference between the way G-d is reflected in and through the filters of nature, including angels, and the way He is reflected through the unfiltered soul of Moshe.

An angel is a celestial animal. It is a product of nature, albeit, with superior intelligence. An angel is programmed to be a Divine messenger and operate within the framework of a natural order, albeit of a spiritual nature. Therefore, when an angel represents the Divine Messenger, there is a filter that obscures, to one degree or another, the Divine source. The angel must take care to avoid the misimpression that it is the source of the message.

Moshe, by contrast, had no natural barriers. His entire existence was transparent, allowing G-d’s light to shine through him. So when G-d delegated to him the responsibility to take the Jews out of Egypt, Moshe’s words and actions were unmitigated and unadulterated G-dly messages. It could therefore be said that G-d liberated the Jewish people and not a messenger.

ANGELS ARE THE CELESTIAL MAILMEN

A down-to-earth analogy, the difference between a mailman and telephone, can be useful to illustrate the difference between an angel and Moshe. A mailman’s job is to deliver the message from the sender to the recipient. There is no role confusion here. The mailman is never mistaken for the sender of the message. Like the mailman, the angel must be careful not to be mistaken for the initiator of the message. The telephone, however, is a perfect transmitter of the message; the origin and identity of the caller is clear.

In truth, the telephone is not a perfect analogy; we don’t actually hear the original voice of the caller, just an electronic replication of it. When Moshe spoke, our Sages state, it was the Divine presence speaking directly through him. Moshe’s transparency allowed G-d to communicate with us, just as He had communicated directly to us at Mount Sinai.

When Moshe transmitted G-d’s words, there was no ego, personality or any other obstruction that could color or filter the Divine message.

So, on Passover we state that G-d liberated us without an angel or messenger. Moshe was not a messenger; he was G-d’s mouthpiece!

We can now understand why Moshe was unhappy with G-d’s suggestion that He would send an angel to lead the Jews because it meant that G-d’s leadership would be filtered through and obscured by the natural state of an angel.

MOSHIACH’S TRANSPARENCY

With this we can reconcile some of the conflicting statements made about the final Redemption. Many sources ascribe the Redemption to Moshiach, while others state that it is G-d Himself who will bring the Redemption.

We are also told that Moshiach possesses the soul of Moshe and that is the key for solving the apparent contradiction. Moshiach is a transparent communicator and transmitter of G-d’s light and liberating powers. His refinement, holiness and self-abnegation are so complete that he experiences no “static” in the communication between G-d and himself.

Moshe and Moshiach’s greatness lie not in the qualities they possess but rather in what they are not. They have gained total control over their egos. That renders them totally transparent, enabling them to channel G-d’s liberating power to bring the final Redemption.

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