Beit Midrash

  • Family and Society
  • The Nation of Israel
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

Yaakov Ben Behora

Israel - God's Intimate People

The Jewish people transcend the ministering angels and they do not need to have their prayers brought before God's glorious throne by them. The High Priest's presence in the Holy of Holies gives expression to Israel's exalted glory and greatness.


Rabbi Uzi Kalchaim zt"l

1. Requesting in Aramaic - An Intimate Conversation.
2. That the Angels Not Become Envious
3. A Universal Language

Requesting in Aramaic - An Intimate Conversation
The High Priest's first request when entering the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur - "May a ruler never cease from the house of Judah" (Yoma 53b) - was pronounced in Aramaic.

This is difficult to understand, because the sages of the Talmud teach that a person should never request his needs in Aramaic. This is because the ministering angels do not pay attention, for they do not understand Aramaic.

However, the Jewish people transcend the ministering angels and they do not need to have their prayers brought before God's glorious throne by them. The High Priest's presence in the Holy of Holies gives expression to Israel's exalted glory and greatness in the world, revealing that "His glory is upon Israel." This is evinced in their malchut (the Kingdom of Israel), and this is why the High Priest's prayer for the welfare of the kingdom is made precisely in Aramaic - "May a ruler never cease from the house of Judah." It underscores the preeminence of Israel, God's intimate people, because the ministering angels have no part in this request, not even as emissaries.

The Talmud enumerates a number of differences between the nation of Israel and the angels (Chullin 91b):
"Israel is dearer to the Holy One, blessed be He, than the ministering angels, for Israel sing praises to the Lord every hour, whereas the ministering angels sing praises but once a day. Others say: Once a week; and others say: Once a month; and others say: Once a year; and others say: Once in seven years; and others say: Once in a jubilee; and others say: Once in eternity."

The fact that Israel is able to sing praises to God on any day or at any time implies that they play a crucial and constant role in the world, that creation could not exist without them, for their place and role in creation is all-encompassing. The angels, however, were created to perform a particular task at a designated time, and it follows that theirs is only a partial role.

Another difference:
"And whereas Israel mentions the name of God after two words, as it is said: Hear, Israel, the Lord etc., the ministering angels only mention the name of God after three words, as it is written: Holy, holy, holy, the Lord of hosts."
In other words, Israel is closer to God than are the ministering angels.

The third difference is that the nation of Israel precedes the ministering angels by virtue of their preferred authority:
"Moreover, the ministering angels do not begin to sing praises in heaven until Israel has sung below on earth."

That the Angels Not Become Envious
The Tosefot (Berachot 3a) explain that the High Priest would make his request in Aramaic "so that the angels not become envious of us." But why should the angels become envious of us?

The reason is that man has the power to elevate the material world, and all worlds, and the angels are unable to do this. Israel's superiority causes the the angels to become envious. (R' Aryeh Leib Heller, in his introduction to Shev Shemateta, explains that the angels opposed the creation of man because they knew they would be dependent upon man's success or failure.)

Man contains opposing inner forces: good and evil, idleness and vigor, wisdom and ignorance, and many more - a kind of microcosm of everything in creation. Unlike the angels, man is capable of subduing these forces and elevating them to a level of sanctity. Angels, however, remain forever at the same level they were created; they lack the volition necessary to elevate themselves any higher. Therefore, the angels wait to hear Israel sanctify each day, and Israel does this by virtue of their sanctity which permeates the entire creation. Israel's daily sanctification (kedusha) is recited in Aramaic to prevent the angels from understanding and becoming envious, for they do not have the power to sanctify the day without Israel.

The same is true regarding malchut (the Kingdom of Israel). Malchut represents a whole, combining all of the parts together into a single complete body with the ability to act. The angels, on the other hand, are individualists by their very nature. They are not dependent upon one another and therefore are unable to reach the level of malchut. Only when all of the parts work together toward a single goal do they combine, making it possible to refer to them in the singular (Meshech Chochma, end of VaYishlach). Therefore the angels made this request in Aramaic, and this sheds light upon malchut for us.

A Universal Language
At the end of tractate Sotah, the sages describe some of the difficulties which befell our forefathers as a result of the destruction of the Temple and the dispersal of the Sanhedrin. There, Rava says, "The curse of each day is severer than that of the preceding." If this is the case, how have the Jewish people managed to endure? The Talmud answers, "Through the kedusha recited after the Scriptural reading, and [the response of] ‘May His great Name [be blessed]’ [which is uttered] after studying Aggada."

Maharal explains that the sages introduced these two praises in Aramaic, "because it is not one of the seventy languages belonging to each of the various nations . . . this praise reaches the upper heavens, is all-embracing and impartial, and therefore it is fitting that it be in a language that does not belong to any specific nation. And it would not be right for it to be in Hebrew, because Hebrew is particular [to one nation]" (Chiddushei Aggadot, end of Sotah, v. 2, p. 90).

Maharal provides a similar explanation for the fact that Adam "spoke in Aramaic" (Sanhedrin 38b). Because of his universal nature, says Maharal, he did not speak in the language of any particular nation, but in a universal language, embodying the seventy languages (Chiddushei Aggadot, Sanhedrin 38b, v. 3, p. 153). And why do the angels not pay attention to Aramaic? Because it is not one of the seventy languages. The angels represent the seventy nations and therefore they do not understand Aramaic (Gevurot HaShem, ch. 54, p. 238).

Aramaic gives expression to a very high level of existence, not belonging to this world. We read the weakly Torah portion twice each week in Hebrew and once in Aramaic: twice in Hebrew, representing the two lower worlds; once in Aramaic, to indicate the upper world (Tiferet Yisrael, ch. 13).

This world was created by God via the holy tongue and therefore the holy tongue is indicative of this world. But the Targum (the Aramaic translation of the Torah) is not of our world, and therefore the angels to not understand Aramaic, for it is not part of the order of this world (Bi'ur HaMaharal, Derech HaChaim, ch. 5, Mishnah 20).

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