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Beha’alosecha: The Ultimate Defense Attorney

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Do you say Shema before you go to sleep? I’m sure you do.

But perhaps you, like many, feel too tired at night to say the entire tefillah of Kri’as Shema as it appears in the siddur. If you do say the entire tefillah, you will recognize a pasuk in this week’s Haftorah. And if you don’t say the whole Kri’as Shema al Hamitah, perhaps after this column, you’ll re-consider and find yourself connecting with the following very comforting pasuk.

Vayomer Hashem el HaSatan, yigar Hashem becha HaSatan, veyigar Hashem becha, HaBocher B’Yerushalayim, halo zeh ud mutzal mei’aish—Hashem said to the Satan, ‘Hashem denounces you, Satan, and Hashem, Who chooses Jerusalem, denounces you again. This is a firebrand saved from a fire!” (Zechariah 3:2)

Background: The Navi Zechariah, one of the Twelve Prophets, the Trei Asar, saw a vision where the prosecuting angel, the Satan, was preparing a strong case of judgment against one of the leaders of the Jewish people during the beginning of the Second Temple, Yehoshua Kohen Gadol.

Rashi tells us that Yehoshua’s sons married non-Jewish women and the Satan was preparing to blame their father for not being a good enough influence on them as to avoid such an egregious sin. Now, it is possible that these women had converted prior to the marriage. The Rambam (Isurei Bi’ah 13:16) does say about the foreign wives of Shimshon and Shlomo that they had converted, despite the fact that this is not made clear in the Navi itself. The Rambam assumes that such great tzaddikim would never commit the sin of intermarriage. Perhaps we can extend this rule to the sons of a Kohen Gadol. Still in all, the Satan may have been criticizing their choice in marrying women who seemed to have converted for ulterior motives, in order to marry the sons, and who were not sincere converts.

Be that as it may, Yehoshua was on the “chopping block” as far as the Satan was concerned; however, he merited having the Ultimate Defense Attorney on his side. Hashem defended Yehoshua saying essentially, “Don’t you start up with someone who I miraculously saved from being burnt to death in a fiery furnace in which Nevuchadnezar had placed him.”’ In other words, Hashem came to Yehoshua’s defense, mentioning his righteousness and merits in the face of strict and severe judgment.

This is why we mention this pasuk before going to sleep. We fear the night because in Jewish thought, night represents midas hadin, strict judgment. As the Ramchal writes in Derech Hashem (Part 4, Section 1):

“G-d ordained that the night should be a time when the forces of evil have the ability to move about freely in the world. This is why the intention of night was that people should stay home, sleeping and resting until morning. When the morning comes, authority is taken away from these evil forces and people can once again go about their occupations until nightfall.”

We also recognize the possibility of dying in our sleep and we state as such in the bracha we recite before going to sleep, HaMapil. As a result of this fear, we recite Modeh Ani appreciatively upon awaking, recognizing the real possibility that we might not have awakened, had the Satan been successful in his prosecution of us before the Bais Din Shel Maalah. This is why we recite the pasuk from our Haftorah before going to sleep. Just as Hashem defended Yehoshua Kohen Gadol from the Satan’s prosecution, we hope He will do the same if there is any prosecution against us.

Having mentioned this debate between Hashem and the Satan, it is vital to point out that the Torah is very clear that the Satan and all angels have no power of their own. As my rebbe, Rav Yaakov Weinberg, zt”l, used to say, angels are but spiritual robots. When we talk of an argument between Hashem and the Satan, we are discussing two sides to a judgment being conducted by Hashem Himself. The Satan is a heavenly angel of Hashem whose task it is to bring up demerits and misdeeds whenever Hashem chooses to judge, but we should never think that he has any power of his own.

The Rambam in his Thirteen Principles of Faith writes clearly and emphatically that we are not allowed to pray to angels:

“He [G-d], may He be blessed, is the only One whom it is proper to serve, to praise, to make known His grandeur, and to fulfill His commandments. This should not be done to any entity that is subservient to Him, be it the angels, the stars, the planets, or the elements or their compounds. For their activity is programmed. They have no control, and no choice but to perform His will. Thus it is improper to serve them as intermediaries in order to come close to G-d. Rather, one should direct his thoughts toward the Almighty alone and abandon anything other than Him. This is the fifth Principle, warning us against idolatry, as affirmed throughout the Torah.”*

The Ramban in Kol Kisvei, in an essay called Toras Hashem Temimah writes similarly: “Serving angels as intermediaries is idolatry. Even to pray to them is forbidden.”

Rav Yaakov Weinberg explained that Hashem uses angels to relate to tasks not worthy of being dealt with by Him directly. They are like programmed mechanical hands assisting in the production of cars in an assembly line. They are the means by which G-d maintains His distance from those who have not merited His direct intimacy.

Praying to angels is so seriously dangerous and considered idolatrous because idolatry generally concerns itself with the wielder of power rather than the Source of power. In the eyes of idolaters, the idol was seen neither as the source of their existence nor as the source of their well-being. They understood that ultimately there was a G-d who was the source of their existence, but they thought that He had delegated power in much the same way as a general delegating power to the sergeant. In this situation, man imagines a god delegating authority so that it might be able to concentrate on, so to speak, higher policies. All this is not true. G-d does not delegate or release power—nor can He since there are no other powers but Hashem, Ein Od Milvado.

And these are some of the happenings in this week’s Haftorah.

*Thanks to Rav Mordechai Blumenfeld’s book, Fundamentals and Faith for this translation and for much of the Rav Weinberg explanation.

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