The Three Angels and Nature, Concealed Miracles, and Revealed Miracles

Daniel’s vision of Micha’el

In his commentary on the Book of Daniel, the Malbim1 explains what the angel Micha’el’s unique power and ability is. As we shall see, this explanation will deepen our understanding of why it was Micha’el that came to herald Isaac’s birth at the beginning of our parshah. It is worthwhile to read all of chapter 10 in the Book of Daniel in order to understand the context of everything that will follow. So, let us copy it here:

(1) In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia, a revelation was given to Daniel, [also] called Beltshatzar. It was true and [it concerned] a great army. Its meaning and understanding [came to him] in a vision.
(2) In those days, I, Daniel, mourned for the days of three weeks.
(3) I ate no choice food; no meat or wine entered my mouth; and I used no oils at all until the days of three weeks were complete.
(4) On the twenty-fourth day of the first month, as I was standing on the bank of the great river, the Tigris,
(5) I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, his waist garnered with a belt of the finest gold.
(6) His body was like chrysolite, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude.
(7) I, Daniel, was the only one who saw the vision; the men with me did not see it, but such terror overwhelmed them that they fled and hid themselves.
(8) So I was left alone, gazing at this great vision; I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless.
(9) Then I heard him speaking, and as I listened to him, I fell into a deep sleep, my face to the ground.
(10) A hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees.
(11) He said to me: “Daniel. You are pure. Comprehend the words I am about to speak to you, and stand up, for I have now been sent to you.” And when he said this to me, I stood up trembling.
(12) He said to me: “Do not be afraid, Daniel for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and to fast before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them.
(13) But, the minister of the Persian kingdom has resisted me for twenty-one days. Then Micha’el, one of the first ministers, came to my aid, because I was being detained by the Persian kings.
(14) Now I have come so that you understand what will happen to your people in the coming days, for the vision concerns a time that is yet to come.”
(15) While he was saying this to me, I bowed with my face toward the ground and was speechless.
(16) Then an image of the sons of man touched my lips and I opened my mouth and began to speak. I said to the one standing before me, “My lord, because of the vision my joints have split and I have no strength.
(17) How can I, your servant, talk with you, my lord? From now My strength is gone and I have no spirit left.”
(18) He touched me once more and gave me strength.
(19) And he said: “Do not be afraid, man of purity. Peace be upon you! Be strong now; be strong.” As he was speaking, I was strengthened and said, “Speak, my lord, for you have given me strength.”
(20) He said: “Do you know why I have come to you? Soon I will return to fight against the minister of Persia, and when I go, the minister of Greece will enter.
(21) First I will tell you what is written in the Book of Truth. There is none who comes strong with me against these, except for Micha’el, you minister.

On the words, “except for Micha’el you minister,” the Malbim writes:

For he, in his capacity as the minister of Israel will be able to keep watch and ensure that they will not be destroyed, all in a miraculous way that does not even involve the king [of the Babylonians] and his angelic minister but rather turns their heart over in favor of the Jews, only in a miraculous way. Thus, when the Jewish people are in imminent danger of being annihilated, their minister will arouse to use miraculous providence, as explained.

Thus, the angel Micha’el works in a miraculous way, completely beyond the limits and scope of natural laws. In context of this verse in the book of Daniel, we can understand that the angel Gavri’el functions within the confines and limits of nature, using natural laws, as his function is judgment (nonetheless, Gavri’el too tries to help the Jewish people win in a natural way against their enemies). From this we can now surmise that the function of the angel Repha’el is to perform miracles that are concealed within nature (or, in the language of Chassidut, enclothed within natural laws). These are three basic forms of God’s guidance of creation and are discussed elsewhere as evolution, enclothement, and omnipresence [see in length in the introduction to What You Need to Know About Kabbalah]:

  • Miraculously,
  • By the set laws of nature,
  • And, by miracles that are concealed within the natural laws.

This analysis fits well with the commentary of the Maharal, which we brought earlier this week. The Maharal writes:

Therefore, it seems that we have to say that there are three categories of tasks involved here, and it is of these categories that we say that one angel cannot perform two categories of task.

The first category is pure loving-kindness, pure goodness. The second category is pure judgment and negativity, which is required to destroy and annihilate. And, the third category is like a median between the first two; it balances them by sustaining everything in a natural fashion, in the normal manner of the world. 

Clearly, Gavri’el, who in the Maharal’s taxonomy of angelic missions does not judge without truth and just cause and therefore he does not destroy the wicked until they have overburdened life with their evil, as was the case with Sodom and Gemorrah. In gematria,Gavri’el גבריאל (246) equals “the image of God“ צלם אלהים , with which man was created. The image of God appears in the first account of the creation in Genesis, the account which corresponds to God’s measure of judgment. From its context, we learn that indeed the image of God is a measure of God’s judgment, which if it would be the only factor in God’s guidance of the world, would lead to its annihilation. That measure of finely attuned justice that is highly sensitive to any evil action indeed is the measure of God, the image of God, by which the tzadikim of the world are judged. If an intermediate, a beinoni, were to be judged by this measure, he or she could not survive.

Now, when God’s measure of judgment is cast upon the world, and there are such times, every person has to strengthen their commitment to doing good in order to save him or herself from this judgment. The strength, or might to increase one’s conviction to do good comes from the same angel Gavri’el. Thus, it turns out that as much as Gavri’el is the Almighty’s instrument of justice, he is also the faculty that every person can use in order to coerce himself to do good and refrain from evil; as the sages say: “Who is mighty [the sefirahof might, the faculty of Gavri’el]? He who can control his [evil] inclinations!”2

Turning to Repha’el’s task of healing Abraham, let us note that healing is the most balanced of acts, balanced between its revealing the wonder that is beyond the physical mechanics of life coupled with its seemingly normal everyday event in nature. As the Maharal writes, it is only on the outside that it “sustains everything in a natural fashion,” because normally, everything is subject to entropy, everything that was created is in the process of annihilating. But, somehow, healing is able to overcome this process and set the clock of entropy back. This is true even in easier cases, like Abraham who had been circumcised three days earlier. Though the most pain is experienced on the third day after circumcision, by then the patient is well on his way to recovering.

What the Malbim and the Maharal share most in common is there understanding that the three angels represent three archetypes of God’s Providence over creation. These three archetypes correspond to the left, middle, and right axes of the sefirot, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The right axis, the loving-kindness of Abraham is revealed by the angle Micha’el, whom we said represents God’s Providence over reality in a completely miraculous manner. It follows therefore that the Providence related to the sefirah of beauty and to the angel Repha’el is weaker in its scope and its power. Therefore, it also reveals less of the wonder that is the Almighty.

Angels and Names of God

All of the above fits neatly in with that which was revealed to us regarding the higher worlds. In the World of Emanation, where everything is Divine and there is no sense of self, but rather only a feeling that there is nothing but Him, there the three “men” that came before Abraham are the three holy Names of the Almighty:

  • Havayah (i.e., the Tetragrammaton) – the Name that corresponds to God’s measure of pure loving-kindness and totally miraculous Providence, as explained in the Tanya.
  • Elokim – the Name that corresponds to God’s measure of judgment and Providence based on the natural laws of the universe (as is well known, the gematria of this Name, 86, is the same as that of the word “nature,” in Hebrew: אלהים = הטבע ).
  • Adni – the Name that corresponds to God’s power of sustaining and protecting his sovereignty over all that is, including His people, for as stated in the Midrash: “There can be no king without a people.”3 It is with this Name that God revealed Himself to Abraham and it is this Name that corresponds to the aspect of kingdom that is within beauty (מלכות בתפארת ז"א ), an idea that is expressed in the verse: “Forever God Your speech stands in the Heavens.” This corresponds to the manner of sustaining normal reality through miracles. For this reason, often in Kabbalah Repha’el is considered to be the angel of kingdom.

All of the preceding explanation comes to negate the misinterpretation of the appearance of the three angels as related in some way to the belief in a trinity, God forbid. Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra writes in his commentary to the first verse of the parshah:

Havayah appeared to him [Abraham]”: There are some who claim that God is three personas, that He is one and He is three, and they cannot be separated. And yet, they forget that [later] it says, “The two people came to Sodom.”

In reality, every sefirah in the World of Emanation is represented by a (different) Name of God. Each of these Names refers to a different type of Divine Providence, a different way or tone in which God runs the world. But, God forbid that a person should think that God is one and He is ten, or any other number for that matter. Rather, as the introduction to the TikuneiZohar says: “You [God] are One, that is not countable [in the ten sefirot].” Furthermore, as stated in the Zohar, in the place that there is an experience of “Him” (i.e., the Almighty), in that place, in that conceptual space, “He and His life-force is One, He and His vessels is One.”4 Everything is one, simple, unity! A unity that cannot be fully comprehended by the human mind. The same understanding of this unity is advanced by Maimonides, which the Alter Rebbe explains is correct in the context of the World of Emanation.

Pure faith: clearing the way for Isaac

From Abraham, three different nations were destined to emerge: Israel, Edom, and Ishma’el. Today, Edom is represented by the Christians and Ishma’el is clearly the Muslims. As much as the two other nations are offspring of Abraham, it is only the Jewish people so far who have succeeded in achieving perfect faith in one God. About the Jewish people the prophet says: “Who is like Your people, like Israel, one nation in the land,”5 where “one” refers to the Jewish pure form of monotheism.

1. Rabbi Meir Leib ben Yechiel Michel (1809-1879) was the chief Rabbi of Romania and wrote extensively on Hebrew grammar. He also wrote an astounding commentary on the entire Bible.

2. Earlier, we mentioned that Micha’el is the power to review one’s teaching a 101st time. Seemingly, Micha’el is thus the power of self-control and self-coercion? The answer is that in order for us to step out of our comfort zone, the two angels, Micha’el and Gavri’el have to become as one, working together. Nonetheless, the psychological dynamic of overcoming one’s natural inclination is described as related to Micha’el, because it is his measure of love that is the essential ingredient, as explained in Tanya.

3Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer.

4. See in length in Tanya, epistle 20.

5. 2 Samuel 7:23.

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