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November 9 • 2006
What Is God Telling Us?
11 Kings 4:1 37.
his week's Torah portion
three "strangers" (as well as the "angel"
contains events that raise the
who wrestles with Jacob (Genesis
important questions as to how
32:24-31) and the "angel" who con-
one is to understand the narratives in
fronts Bilaam and his "talking donkey"
(Numbers 22:20-38) as taking place
We are presented by the classical
in prophetic visions and not "actual"
among them Rashi
After all, our portion
(France, 1040-1105), with
tells us (18:1): "And the
a variety of ways to under-
Lord appeared to him
stand the narrative verses
and then interrupts with
of the Torah. Each one
the visit of the "strang-
has his particular point
ers." Maimonides says
of view in general and his
there is no interruption:
own personal interpreta-
The story of the visit of
tion of any given verse.
the strangers is the "way"
But they often disagree.
in which God appeared
We are free to respectfully
Rabbi E liezer
to Abraham. Actually,
accept or reject each inter-
it is clear to me that
pretation: Our responsibil-
Special to the
the term usually trans-
ity is to try to find what
lated as "angel" (maloch)
God is trying to tell us
— which literally means
through His Torah.
cagent," is rather used in the Torah to
Thus the Torah, as the eternal source
describe how God manifests Himself
of authentic Judaism, must of necessity
when communicating to human beings.
be interpreted in different ways to be
Thus, God manifested Himself
meaningful and to communicate to dif- and communicates to Hagar and to
ferent generations in different circum-
Abraham at the end of our portion; and
stances. The halachic (legal) parts of
this manifestation is called maloch.
the Torah are, of course, subject to the
Similarly at the burning bush
traditional legal system of derivation
(Exodus 3:2) God communicates to
and application of Jewish law through
Moses through the bush, which is called
the Mishnah, Talmud and qualified
maloch. Invariably, whenever the term
halachic decisors — but the narratives
is used throughout the Torah, the verse
may be interpreted more freely.
refers to God and the maloch as if they
In our day and age, it behooves us
were the same (as in fact they are, from
to find interpretations of the Torah
our human perspective in my interpre-
that are consistent with our scientific
tation) and not separate entities.
knowledge of reality and our con-
Do angels really exist? Who knows?
temporary point of view. The por-
But you can't prove it from the Torah. II
tion, according to Rashi and others,
begins with the "three angels" visiting
Eliezer Cohen is rabbi of Congregation Or
Abraham, with two of them destroying
Chadash in Oak Park.
Sodom (Genesis 18:1 -19:26). Likewise,
an "angel" appears to Hagar (21:17)
to help her and her son. And finally
Why would anyone believe in
(22:15), an "angel" calls to Abraham to
the existence of angels? If the
stop him from sacrificing his son, Isaac.
Torah is God's word and eter-
It seems to me that to insist that these
nally valid, how can it be limited
events took place through the agency
human interpretation? Why
of "angels" is to limit the divine, eternal
there be a different way
TOrah to the fantastic medieval view of
and apply the legal
reality that may seem like superstition.
of the Torah to
But there are alternate interpretations
even among the classical Jewish com-
mentaries. Maimonides (Spain-Egypt,
1135 1204) interprets the visit of the