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Can You Sell Your Soul to the Devil?

Can You Sell Your Soul to the Devil?

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Question:

Do Jews believe that a person can sell his/her soul to the devil?

Response:

The idea of "selling one's soul to the devil"—meaning, becoming a slave of the devil in exchange for favors provided—does not exist in Torah. Jewish ethical works do describe instances where one can be somewhat "possessed" by evil drives. But even that state is always reversible.

Before addressing this, here's a bit on the nature of Satan in Jewish thought:

Satan is a Hebrew verb meaning "provoke" or "oppose" and is used several times in the Bible as a verb. The first instance is in the story of Balaam, when Balaam decides to take the mission of cursing the Jewish People:

"G‑d's wrath flared because he was going, and an angel of the L‑rd stationed himself on the road to oppose him [translation of l'satan lo], and he was riding on his she-donkey, and his two servants were with him.1

In other cases, the word appears as a noun, "a provocateur." Generally, the title appears with the definite article—"the satan"—which means that it is not a proper name, just a job description. For example, in the book of Job, the satan appears as a prosecutor before G‑d:

"Now the day came about, and the angels of G‑d came to stand beside the L‑rd, and the satan, too, came among them…"

"Now the L‑rd said to the satan, "Have you paid attention to My servant Job? For there is none like him on earth, a sincere and upright man, G‑d-fearing and shunning evil."

And the satan answered the L‑rd and said, "Does Job fear G‑d for nothing? Haven't You made a hedge around him, his household, and all that he has on all sides? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his livestock has spread out in the land. But now, stretch forth Your hand and touch all that he has, will he not blaspheme You to Your face?"

Now the L‑rd said to the satan, "Behold, all that he has is in your hands; only upon him do not stretch forth your hand." Now the satan left the presence of the L‑rd."2

From this passage, we see that G‑d created an angel to play the role of provocateur; that he is a messenger of, and subservient to, G‑d. He was not a fallen angel or sent to Hell, where he began fighting G‑d; he was created to be Satan. Neither does Satan spend his days stoking the flames of hell with his pitchfork. He is a presence on earth with a mission: to provoke people to disobey G‑d's will.

Indeed, the dualistic notion of a powerful anti-G‑d figure that fights with G‑d for the destiny of the human race is incompatible with Jewish belief. There is no power of evil independent of G‑d; otherwise this would imply a lack of G‑d's all-inclusive control and power. To quote the Book of Isaiah:

"…from the place where the sun rises until the place where it sets, there is nothing but Me. I am G‑d, there is nothing else. [I am He] Who forms light and creates darkness, Who makes peace and creates evil; I am G‑d Who makes all these."3

Obviously then, the satan is not an autonomous force who opposes G‑d and recruits people to his militia. Rather, the satan is a spiritual entity that is completely faithful to its maker. For example, regarding the Biblical story of the satan's particularly aggressive attempt to seduce Job to blaspheme, Rabbi Levi declares in the Talmud:

"Satan's acted for G‑d's sake. When He saw how G‑d was so focused on Job, he said, "Heaven forbid that G‑d should forget His love of (our forefather) Abraham!""4

The Zohar compares the satan to a harlot who is hired by a king to try to seduce his son, because the king wants to test his son's morality and worthiness. Both the king and the harlot (who is devoted to the king) truly want the son to stand firm and reject the harlot's advances. Similarly, the satan is just another one of the many spiritual messengers (angels) that G‑d sends to accomplish His purpose in the creation of man.5

This is not the satan's entire job description. The Talmud sums it up saying that the satan, the impulse to evil ("yetzer ha-ra"), and the angel of death are one and the same personality. 6 He descends from heaven and leads astray, then ascends and brings accusations against humankind, and then carries out the verdict.

However, the above-mentioned passage in Zohar concludes that if one does succumb to the urging of the evil inclination, he is "giving energy to the other side". This means, that an act defying G‑d's will grants those forces that hide G‑d's presence—at His bidding—additional strength to hide G‑d from us even more. This presents itself as even greater internal and external challenges for one to experience and identify with the truths of G‑d and His Torah.

One extreme example of this would be Pharaoh, who enslaved the Jewish people in Egypt. Though G‑d told Moses to command Pharaoh to free the Israelites, He stated that, "I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants"7 in order to ultimately punish the Egyptians with the ten plagues. As a consequence for his earlier oppression and abuse of the Jewish nation, his ability to abandon his evil ways was made even more difficult, to the point that he seemed to have lost free choice, and his vision and ability to repent was completely impaired.8

There is nothing that can ultimately stop one who truly seeks to return.9 Pharaoh, too, was therefore still capable of overcoming this block, and ultimately repenting, as discussed at length in Why was Pharaoh Punished?10 Thus, even when someone seems to be completely possessed by the satan–as divine retribution for his earlier misdeeds, not by choice of negotiation with the devil—he is still not sold, and can overcome his instinct and impulse to act satanically. To become completely sold with no hope of redemption would be counter-productive of G‑d's intent, and could not exist.

Regardless of where you've fallen, you are never sold to these impure forces, and your soul can wrestle free and recommit to serve G‑d with sincerity and passion. The axe of earnest remorse can bring down any wall, whether preexisting or created by your actions, clearing the way for you to come home to your true self.

Footnotes
2.

Job 1.

4.

Bava Batra, 16a.

5.

Zohar vol. 2, p 163a. See also Tanya chapters 9 and 29.

6.

Bava Batra, ibid.

8.

Maimonides, Laws of Repentance 6:2.

9.

Jerusalem Talmud, Peah 1:1.

10.

Based on Likutei Sichot vol. 6, pp. 65-66. Similarly, see Maharsha to Chagigah 15a.

Rabbi Baruch S. Davidson is a writer who lives with his family in Brooklyn, N.Y.
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Sophiee Saguy Earth December 11, 2015

Yetzer Hara -- a learning tool Fishel, we have a yetzer hara (evil inclination) because without an inclination to do the wrong thing how could we choose to do the right thing? The yetzer hara (evil inclination) is the desire to satisfy personal needs, such as the need for food, shelter, and, yes, sex, none of which are necessarily bad, since the yetzer hara (evil inclination) was created by God. Without the desire to satisfy personal needs, mankind would not build houses, get married, or conduct business affairs (not affairs in businesses...smiley: wink). Although the yetzer hara (evil inclination) is not a desire to do evil in the way one may normally think of in in our Western society - a desire to cause senseless harm, it can lead to wrongdoing when it is not controlled by the yetzer tov (good inclination). There is nothing inherently wrong with hunger, but it can lead one to steal food. There is nothing inherently wrong with building a house, but doing so without proper permissions, personnel, and materials, can lead to injury, or even death. There is nothing inherently wrong with sexual desire, but it can lead one to commit rape, etc. Reply

Fishel Yonkers NY June 13, 2015

Yetza Hara If you can't sell your soul to the devil then why do we have a Yetza Hara? As I watch famous people, rich drug pushers, the wealthy who do bad things or anything you see where the prosperous fall I believe the Yetza Hara convinced them and that is selling your soul. I always say, sooner or later the devil calls in his chips, and did people ever think why these people left this world so young? Reply

Mary , Malick, Barataria, Trinidad, West Indies February 4, 2015

Selling your soul to the devil is not possible, in that, you cannot sell what is not your own. Your soul is G-d's. He is the owner. Reply

Paul Cudahy December 16, 2013

Genesis and "satan" Unless I misread the article, I do not believe that the author attempted to insert the character "satan" into Genesis. Rather the author writes the angel who opposed, i.e. the word opposed being translated as "l'satan lo," those words clearly appearing in Numbers 22:22, thereby describing what the angel was doing, not insertion of a "satan" like character.

Suggestion that Isaiah 14 refers to a fallen or thrown down angel appears to be totally at odds with Isaiah's writings in general and a rather creative interpretation. Mr. Stephano would be correct in stating that this would be a "main difference" in divergence of views. Reply

Philip Stephano Pipersville October 18, 2013

From the article above by Baruch Davidson: "The Talmud sums it up saying that the satan, the impulse to evil ("yetzer ha-ra"), and the angel of death are one and the same personality. 6 He descends from heaven and leads astray, then ascends and brings accusations against humankind, and then carries out the verdict."

The impulse to evil - contradicting Hashem's Holy Word- was definitely present in Genesis and is also, according to Mr. Davidson's commentary above, this impulse is also a "personality" and is also know as the satan. The name of Satan comes later but as I wrote in the previous comment Evil existed prior to Adam's disobedience to Hashem's Word in Genesis .

The main difference between our views seems to be whether we see Satan as an agent that is contrary to Hashem's will or as a faithful servant operating within the sovereignty of Hashem's will.
Isaiah 14 shows him as a personality that exalted himself and his will above Hashem and was thrown down. Reply

Hanalah Indianapolis October 17, 2013

The word "satan" (adversary) is absent from Genesis. Any attempt to insert a character denoted as "satan" into the Genesis story is sheer commentary. It seems to be part of the Christian myth, invented by Paul, who broke with the original followers of the man from Nazareth, who merely revered the man as a saint and teacher, and sought instead to find a reason to worship the man after he was dead. Hence he transformed the "just-so" story of Eden, which merely explained why men are farmers and women have difficulty in childbirth, into something vastly different, calling it "the fall" and "original sin"--concepts totally absent from the Hebrew Bible. Reply

Philip Stephano Pipersville October 8, 2013

Satan with God or Against? In Genesis 2 Hashem says: But of the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat of it, for on the day that you eat thereof, you shall surely die."

In direct contradiction to the word of G-d, the serpent speaks in Genesis 3 :4. And the serpent said to the woman, "You will surely not die.

We did not create good and evil by eating from the tree of knowledge; we became conscious of the difference between good and evil by eating from it. That means there is an ontological difference between good and evil, between G-d's word and it's contradiction, and between G-d and Satan. This ontological difference precedes our ability to know the difference between good and evil and is a necessary precondition to such knowledge.

If there is one thing we can learn from the sin of Adam it is that Satan is a liar and there is a difference between his word and G-d's. G-d's word accomplishes the purpose for which it was sent.Satan is a liar and believing in his lies leads to death. Reply

George Newport October 8, 2013

Re: Adversary (anonymous) Could you please share your source in Pirquei De R. Eliezer? My copy doesn't have a chapter 91. Reply

Ariel Manila, Philippines October 1, 2013

The whole world appears like a huge stage play where humans are the actors and the Creator directs everything, He controls every action good or bad, he wrote the script and everything. And He too, alone knows the ending of the play. So we need to act carefully according to the script He appointed us although we die or live in this play our performance would determine our end. Reply

Anonymous olympia, wa September 20, 2013

I'm not Jewish, but as somebody who hopes to be counted among the virtuous Gentiles, this actually helped very, very much, and to that I give many thanks from my immediate situation. Reply

Hymie Buffalo September 7, 2013

To Jack of Midland Park Temptations do persist. The temptation to eat sweets cannot be escaped. Sugar is added to almost all foods, including vegetables, and if you want to resist, you must read ingredients carefully and, in general, avoid processed foods. But the foods are there, wherever you go. You cannot flee them.

Sexual desire is present in all healthy post-pubescent people. Occasionally individuals have castrated themselves to flee this temptation--not a good solution. Rather than flee temptation, a person must armor himself or herself to resist it.

Nonkosher food is everywhere. It cannot be escaped. We shop for food every day and sometimes we want to go to restaurants. We must simply make up our minds to shor carefully and to look for kosher certification in restaurants before eating there, in order to avoid eating nonkosher food, and if this means we must go hungry for a few hours, so be it.

On Shabbat we may be tempted to turn on a light or to drive the car. We resist, not flee. Reply

Anonymous August 24, 2013

Adversary While I'm not necessarily trying to persuade anyone to change their beliefs, there is plenty of evidence within Second Temple writings that the normative Jewish belief at that time regarding Satan was that he was indeed a rogue angel whom G_d had allowed to rebel because it served His purpose of people being tempted and tested. Even Rabbinic sources preserve this view in various places, the most notable being Deuteronomy Rabbah 11 where Sammael (another name for Satan) is referred to as the wicked angel, the chief of the accusing angels, laughing at others' sufferings, and was regarded as altogether ruthless. Pirquei De R. Eliezer also preserves the tradition that Sammael rebelled against the Omnipresent and had sexual relations with Eve, resulting in the birth of Cain (P. de R. Eliezer 92, 151). Non-rabbinic sources from this time period are filled with passages that assert Satan rebelled against G_d and now leads an army of fellow rebels in opposition to G_d's plan. Reply

Jack Midland Park July 9, 2013

Satan and Temptation In reply to the two Jan 1, 2013 messages.
1. If the king hired the harlot, I wonder how hard she would tempt the king's son because the king really wanted the son to resist.
2. Regarding temptation, I do not think it can be resisted if the temptation persists. The only solution is to flee temptation. Reply

Anonymous New Jersey January 1, 2013

can you sell your soul to the devil? to Philip Stefano

It was the King who hired the harlot, not the other way around. Similarly, Hashem creates the satan, or the evil inclination, or the sitra achara, or what have you, to allow us to help reveal goodness in the world by denying it is place. We are taught that evil is not real, that all is ultimately good. Our prophet Moses, the greatest who ever lived, contended with Hashem many times, as did Avraham Avinu. There is nothing but Hashem. He creates all, and may He reveal the ultimate goodness of everything, speedily in our days. Reply

Hymie Philadelphia January 1, 2013

To Philip Subservient?

Notice that the sotton ("satan") never does anything to Job without first asking Gd's permission.

Tell us where in the Hebrew Bible the Sotton disobeys GD.

I realize that the Christian texts have an entirely different "take" on the one (whom they call Say-ton as if it were a personal name). He is THE Sotton, which is the name of his office. The Sotton is the sting operator. Just as the police send a sting operator to tempt people to reveal their illegal activities, so the Sotton is sent into the world by Gd to tempt people to reveal their ungodly tendencies. But the purpose of this temptation is to inspire us to resist it.

Consider the midrash (parable) of the king who sent a prostitute to use all her wiles to tempt his son, the prince. We are all the prince, and our Father loves us and wants us to test our own strength and become aware of our power to resist temptation. That is the Sotton's job. He is Gd's "loyal opposition," as the Brits might put it. Reply

Anonymous December 30, 2012

thank you so much for this article. I was raised evangelical christian and after 5 years of study and prayer, I have converted to Judaism. Many of my christian friends make reference to haSatan as "god of this world" and imply that G-d is threatened in some way by this "being". This article has helped me be able to explain to them the Jewish (and my own) views of Satan. G-d is the King, Ruler and G-d of everything that exists and there is nothing that can threaten His position as such. Thank you! Reply

Philip Stephano Pipersville, PA December 28, 2011

I don't understand So in Judaism, Satan is a personality but you see this personality as subservient to and obedient to G-d. In that case, how do you account for Satan doubting G-d, and contending with G-d himself as he does in the case of Job? G-d states that Job is upright and shuns evil and Satan INITIATES a contention against G-d's assertion. That does not sound subservient. True, G-d does not have to let down the hedgerow of blessing that he has put around Job but he does so to prove the heart of Job.

I don't see how this qualifies Satan as being servile or obedient. To the contrary he is in rebellion against G-d's authority or else he would affirm G-d's blessing of Job. The analogy of the harlot in the king's court falls short too. No harlot would have an audience with the king in order to propose seducing the king's son. No harlot would speak out in contradiction to the king's assertion in order to glorify her own powers of seduction. I just disagree with this analysis. Reply

Anonymous london, U.K. October 2, 2011

satan-death death only helps us reach a heigher level (its a blessing in disguise) as every thing is ultimately from G-D Reply

Anonymous August 18, 2011

Adversary - Aug 18 , 2011 The way i understand it, Satan was one of the Angels created on the second day of Creation. He is a minion/servant of G-d. His sole purpose is to make us struggle with the Animal Soul as we attempt to make the Animal Soul more G-dly. Or more easily put : Satan stands in the way of our trying to refine ourselves, the world and the Coming of Moshiach. Reply

Meira Shana Vista, California August 18, 2011

Adversary I learned that the Hebrew word means adversary, not a person called 'Satan.' Reply