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Malach - Messenger of G-d


Rabbi Ari Shvat

Elul 27, 5778
In Shemot 14:19 there’s mention of a malach entitled as ‘Malach Ha’Elohim’, This verse explicitly says that this messenger who went before the camp, removed and went behind them and that the pillar of cloud removed from before them, and stood behind them; although it’s mentioned in Shemot 13:21 it was HaShem who went in a pillar of cloud. From the first verses of Shoftim 2 we learn about the malach Y-H-V-H. And the ‘malach Y-H-V-H’ came up.. and he (the malach) said: “ I made you to go up out of Egypt, and have brought you unto the land which I swore unto your fathers; and I said: I will never break My covenant with you..” And it came to pass, when the malach Y-H-V-H spoke these words unto all the children of Israel.. From the context it’s clearly the malach who is speaking, but from Vayikra 25:38 we learn that in fact it was HaShem Himself who brought them out of Egypt and had a covenant with them, like He promised to Avraham. In another situation (Shemot 3:2) we read about the malach HaShem who appeared to Moshe in a flame of fire; although Elohim called from the bush (Shemot 3:4). 1. Are these different malachim or is this one and the same malach? If we take this messenger to be sent by Y-H-V-H Elohim Himself; a shaliach, we learn that: “The agent of a ruler is like the ruler himself.” Baba Kama 113b, cf. Chagigah 10b, Nedarim 72b, Soncino Press Edition. And that “The agent of a person is as himself.” Chagigah 10b, cf. Nedarim 72b, Soncino Press Edition. And again: "wherever the angel appears the shechina (the divine Presence) appears (Exodus Rabbah 32:9)." So the shaliach acts as a representative of the sender (It should be understand like the phrase Na’ar Elisheva; ‘the servant/lad of Elisheva’ in 2 Kings 5:20). So as a malach, acting as a shalich for Y-H-V-H it’s not so strange that this malach is speaking as if the malach self had done these things, while in fact he was doing this in name of HaShem. But from this point of view I would like to know: 2. Who was presented/appeared in the cloud or in the flame of the bush, was it indeed HaShem, or was it the malach? There is another instance in which Ya’akov is wrestling a man, while Hosea teaches it was a malach, and in Bereshit 32:29 HaShem mentions he had striven with Elohim and in 32:31 Ya’akov named the place Peni’el because he had seen Elohim paniem-el-paniem, which reminded me of Yeshayahu 63:9 where he mentions the ‘Malach Panav’. 3. How should I understand all these and more occassions in which a Malach is talking or acting in the first person, while adventually the Tenach is teaching it was in fact HaShem who did these things; does HaShem only sends messengers in these occassions to do His job on His behalf, or are these messengers more like vehicles/tools through which HaShem Himself is acting? Hopefully you can give me more insight as I’m struggling to understand these difficult situations.
The word “malach” simply means messenger, as when Ya’akov sends “malachim” to Esav (Breishit 32, 4), and Israel sending “malachim” to Sichon (Bamidbar 21, 21) and they were clearly not angels. Similarly, God sends different types of messengers, sometimes cloud, fire or figures, according to His will at each time. God is clearly just the sender and never “appears” as physical, and the unanimous translation of the verses in Shoftim is: a messenger=angel from God. Similarly, in the burning bush, God’s “voice” was heard by Moshe from that bush. What’s a little confusing is that all names of God, except Y-H-V-H, are “nicknames” borrowed from adjectives, traits, or roles, e.g. Elohim literally means “judges” (Shmot 22, 7) or “great” (Jonah 3, 3), or “power/capable” (Breishit 31, 29) and could, as by Ya’akov’s wrestling adversary, also be a capable adversary sent by God, a “malach”.
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