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What Are Archangels?

What Are Archangels?

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The term “archangel,” which denotes an angel of high rank who commands other angels, doesn’t actually have a Hebrew equivalent in Jewish Scriptures. The book of Daniel, however, mentions two angels by name, Gabriel and Michael, and refers to Michael as a sar, which means “prince” or “minister.”1The term “minister” seems an apt description of what differentiates angels like Michael and Gabriel from the unnamed angels we encounter throughout the Bible, starting from Genesis.

There are many different types of angels, each one tasked with a specific mission and function. Some angels are created for one specific task, and upon completion of the task they cease to exist. Other angels, after completing their task, may be given another one to do. This is the case with the angels we refer to as ministers or archangels.

Note that, unlike people, angels cannot multitask. That’s why G‑d had to send three separate angels to visit Abraham—each one was tasked with a separate mission: one to bring Abraham the news of Isaac’s impending birth, one to overturn Sodom, and one to heal Abraham.2

And although people can have multiple modes of serving G‑d—love, awe, etc.—when it comes to angels, each one has its own specific form of Divine service that does not change.

Michael and Gabriel: Fire and Water

In the Midrash, Michael is called the “prince of kindness (chessed) and water” and Gabriel “the prince of severity (gevurah) and fire.3” Thus, Angel Michael is dispatched on missions that are expressions of G‑d's kindness, and Gabriel on those that are expressions of G‑d's severity and judgment.

However, as we explained earlier, angels don’t multitask. Therefore, although Michael may be the chief angel or “prince” of chessed, he has many underlings, angels that work under him and represent a service of chessed. The same holds true for Gabriel and his Divine service through severity.

Thus, Michael and Gabriel are referred to as “archangels,” since they are at the head of these differing groups of angels, which are known as “hosts (tzvah),” “camps” (machaneh) or “banner” (degel) of angels.

Peace in Heaven and Earth

Since angels are by definition absolutists, it is natural that their differing modes of service would clash. The sages explain that we allude to this every day when we say, at the conclusion of the Amidah and Kaddish Prayers, “He who makes peace in His heavens, may He make peace for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.”4

We are saying that just as G‑d keeps the peace between the angels Michael and Gabriel, even though they represent opposing modes of Divine service (fire vs. water), so too, may He “make peace for us and for all Israel.”

And to that, we say a hearty “Amen!”

Footnotes
2.
Midrash Bereishit Rabbah 50:2; Rashi, Genesis 18:2.
3.
See Midrash Tanchumah, Vayigash 6.
4.
Midrash Tanchumah, Vayigash 6.
Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi service.
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Andy December 1, 2017

There is a reference to female angels in the book of Zechariah. The two female angels both had wings and were carrying a basket to Babylon. Inside the basket was a woman who was said to represent wickedness. The two female angels were to take the basket to Babylon where it would have a house built for it. In other words, wickedness was going to make a home in Babylon. Reply

S.A. Saverino Chino Valley, Z November 5, 2017

I did not ask about archangels;I asked whether there were/are any female angels? Reply

Mpit Ohio November 5, 2017
in response to S.A. Saverino:

No.

Hashem is obviously a sexist.

Actually, angels are spirits and are sexless. Reply

Anonymous Jerusalem November 5, 2017

This is so clearly written! Thank you for clarifying what until now were simply words in the davening... Reply

Yehuda Shurpin (author) November 2, 2017

Different names to refer to angels In the words of Maimonides (Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah 2:7):

The different names with which the angels are called reflect their [spiritual] levels. Thus, they are called: 1) The holy chayyot, who are above all the others; 2) the ofanim; 3) the er'elim; 4) the chashmalim; 5) the serafim; 6) the mal'achim;7) the elohim;
8) the sons of the elohim; 9) the keruvim; 10) the ishim.

These ten names which are used to refer to the angels reflect their ten [different spiritual] levels...." Reply

Michael Stuart Jacksonville November 3, 2017
in response to Yehuda Shurpin (author):

Angel names The word " names" is, perhaps, the wrong term. Classifications would be better. Names such as "Michael and Gabriel " are true names, whereas the above terms you have given are not. We also need to be careful of Kabbalist conjecture which may not have any Scriptural basis. Reply

S.A. Saverino Chino Valley.AZ November 2, 2017

Not a comment, but a question: Are there any female angels? Reply

Yehuda Santa Monica November 4, 2017
in response to S.A. Saverino:

Your guardian angel is a special angel assigned to look after you personally during your life. Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Zoroastrianism include belief in guardian angels. A lady claims when she was upset and stressed out she had an apparition in the middle of the night. No it couldn't be a dream, lucid dream, hallucination, sleep paralysis, overactive imagination, or fiction dressed up as fact - or, for that matter, some spirit or lowercase-g god or something yet more obscure originating from one of the world's massive number of religions that don't include angels and have just about as much credibility as the ones that do. It had to be her guardian angel. Anecdotal evidence like that abounds but somehow proof is lacking Reply

Anonymous Tennessee November 4, 2017
in response to S.A. Saverino:

Angels are non gender. Reply

Evie Scottsdale November 28, 2017
in response to Yehuda :

I do believe totally in angels. I know that is difficult to believe if it didn't happened to you, but I had had several indications of angels helping me and my daughters. I would like to tell the story but is too difficult to believe, so its not worth. But please have faith and pray to them and thanks them for taking care of you and advice you. Reply

Anonymous San Diego November 29, 2017
in response to Yehuda :

Somehow guardian angel was my designation for one particular person - and she also felt it. Once my task was over for her, she was no longer under my 'care.' Interesting couple of years, that's for sure. Even her friends knew ... none were Jewish.

Since then that experience never happened again for me. Reply

Shelley November 2, 2017

Love this post, the discussion and comments. Still waiting on a Hebrew explanation for the differences between Seraph, Maloch and Shaliach, per my input, below. Angels and all of His otherworldly beings before mankind just fascinate me. The offhand mention of Nephilim in Genesis would also be a great topic for a Chabad article. Reply

Eli November 2, 2017
in response to Shelley:

I believe that maloch just means angel while seraph is a specific type of angel and a shliach means a messenger Reply

Bryan Glovetsky Independence November 2, 2017

There may not be a specific term in Hebrew for these angels, but I know that in the bedtime shema, we call on them to be with us and to protect us. Reply

Sharon NY November 2, 2017

Angels That was a great read. Reply

aleks yakubson Staten Island November 1, 2017

i usually comment critically, but i like the idea expressed in this article that keeping peace in Heaven means keeping peace between Heaven's various inhabitants Reply

Zalman West Orange November 1, 2017

Is there a Jewish book on all the angels and their tasks, roles, etc? Reply

Pedro Cibecue November 1, 2017

Do they also have demons,that have the same type of area of work? Reply

Shari Westbrook Victorville CA November 1, 2017

I was under the impression that Samuel was the archangel of death. Also that there's another archangel of the ocean. Reply

Josh Levin Marlton, NJ November 2, 2017
in response to Shari Westbrook:

That's "Samael". Reply

Wesley E. Smoth Foresthill, CA November 3, 2017
in response to Shari Westbrook:

How could anyone go by their impressions instead of every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God? Reply

Shari Westbrook Victorville CA November 4, 2017
in response to Wesley E. Smoth:

Samael True, very true. I should have never said impression. I read what a Rabbi wrote on the subject and took it as face value. I am sick. I am going to die from Alzheimer's disease. I also have dementia and can't remember what I read or write or say. Please forgive me for not being sure of what I read or heard about anything. Thank you Reply

Bernard Zycherman Silver Spring November 1, 2017

What are Archangels? You mention each angel that visited Abraham had a separate task which begs the question. If one angel was to heal him and one was to tell him the good news of Sarah having a child what was the third angel doing there? Secondly, two angels went to visit Lot, one to destroy Sodom and one to escort Lot and his family away from the city. Which angel joined from visiting angels joined the destroying angel of Sodom or was there a 4th angel? I am very confused!!! Reply

Lee Palm Bch Gdns, FL November 1, 2017
in response to Bernard Zycherman:

Third angel brought the Manischevitz. After being restrained from killing his son, Abraham needed a drink (Jack Daniels was not invented until later.) Reply

Jay Silverman Delray Beach November 2, 2017
in response to Bernard Zycherman:

Although the Torah does not mention the names of the angels that went to visit Abraham, the Talmud tells us they were Raphael, Michael and Gabriel. (Bava Metzia 86b)

Throughout most of their interaction, the Torah does not refer to them on an individual basis, but rather as a group, as it is written, "[Abraham] stood over them beneath the tree and they ate. [Afterwards,] THEY said to him..." (Genesis 18:8-9)

There are, however, instances in which the angels act as individuals. For example, only the angel Michael told Sarah that she was going to have a baby (Genesis 18:10). In Sodom, only the angel Raphael told Lot to flee from the city (Genesis 19:17). Similarly, it was only the angel Gabriel that informed Lot that the city was going to be destroyed.

From these verses, we can derive that an angel can only perform one mission: Gabriel's mission was to destroy Sodom; Michael's mission was to inform Sarah that she would give birth in a year's time; Raphael's mission was to heal Abraham Reply

aleks yakubson Staten Island November 1, 2017
in response to Lee:

lol Reply

Shelley November 2, 2017
in response to Lee:

best answer ever Lee. Because would we really be Jewish if we didn't have senses of humor? (and where's my angel; I could use a glass of that!) Reply

Scott November 5, 2017
in response to Jay Silverman:

There were only two angels ... the third “Man” was God not an angel Reply

Jay Silverman Delray Beach November 5, 2017
in response to Scott:

Shalom Scott,

Clearly there were three angels. HaShem was there as well and Abraham interrupted his conversation with Him to attend to the guests. Please read "The Midrash Says" series of books by Rabbi Moshe Weissman. They are excellent. Reply

JANE-DORA FRASER LEEDS, UK November 1, 2017

So when your multi-tasking in the home or for a friend/relative and they say 'Your an angel' ! You can point out that this is not strictly correct, you are not an angel, because angels cannot multi-task? Better say nothing! Let them think you are an angel :) ! Reply

Jamie Moran London, UK November 1, 2017

Are the 6-fold [6 winged] seraphim and 4-fold [4 winged] cherubim not 'Jewish' angels? Are those not Hebrew terms? They are certainly not Greek terms.

Also angle names sound distinctly Hebrew- Rafa-el = something of God. All names ending in 'el' refver to spirit powers of God, don't they? Reply

Jay Silverman Delray Beach November 1, 2017
in response to Jamie Moran:

Yes they are Hebrew words. Reply

Josh Levin Marlton, NJ November 1, 2017
in response to Jamie Moran:

Seraphim and Cherubim are not angels, but are "celestial beings".
Angels are God's messengers on earth. Reply

Frank Szustak Baltimore November 1, 2017

Where's the referenced book of Daniel?

Is it in this web page? Reply

Defender Navarre beach Florida November 1, 2017

THE MOST HIGH should busy HIMSELF with our affairs less we destroy HIS creation. Reply

Michael Stuart Jacksonville November 1, 2017

A bit convoluted in its explanation, as it strained to answer the original question. So....yes, they do exist. Reply

Edward L Yablonsky Phoenix November 1, 2017

That the archangels command hosts and that they or their compeers and hosts cannot multitask is novel.Where do we get such views? Reply

Anonymous Athens November 1, 2017

Archangelos is a word of greek origin meaning the leader among the angels Reply

Jamie Moran LOndon, UK November 1, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Actually in Homeric Greek, 'angelos' just means a messenger, and 'arche' means the 'first form' of something, the exemplary model for all versions of it. Plato uses arche-type of the Good, the Beautiful, the True, in this sense. Maybe at a stretch= 'the most excellent or ideal form' of something significant to the whole kosmos of being.. Jung borrows archetype for the unconscious psyche, but in Plato, it occupies an idealised, perfect 'place' above everything else. A super consciousness, perhaps we could say. Jews should not confuse a spatial Eternity of Plato [and Christianised Plato] with the Jewish 'everlasting' in time and beyond time. What space is for Greeks, time is for Jews. Reply

Villie Florida November 1, 2017
in response to Jamie Moran:

Yes! It's kinda like the battle of Archangel Michael for the body of Moses being "The Torah of 5 books. Of the law, you know... Reply

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