What does Judaism say about Satan
He is without a doubt one of the most famous characters of all time. It has found its way into the most widespread religions under various pseudonyms and secured its place in world literature. He has inspired artists and is the protagonist of numerous films that are supposed to teach us fear. He is sometimes credited with the bad in the world and is widely considered to be the proverbial personification of evil.
We are talking about Satan, also known as the devil, Lucifer or diabolo: the prince of hell to whom John Milton dedicated his world-famous classic poem Paradise Lost, in which he described Satan's emergence and his shameful work based on Christian sources.
After all, it is those stories and writings that significantly shape our image of the devil today. But what do these sources say? Who is the being that we know as the Devil, Satan, or Lucifer? And what role does Satan play in Judaism?
Christianity In short, according to the Christian narrative, the devil is a fallen angel who rebelled against God and was therefore banished from the kingdom of heaven. He, who once acted as the highest angel in the court of the Eternal, challenged his master, resisted and finally instigated an uprising that led to his exile and his proverbial fall. Since then, Lucifer has been working as an adversary of God in this, our world: as a powerful opponent of the eternal and its creation, as the epitome and personification of absolute evil.
The opposition opened up between a Gd striving for love and good and his adversary spreading hatred and evil is particularly illuminating for many followers of Christian doctrine, especially since at the same time an apparent explanation for one of the most difficult questions was given, which is not only about the followers of monotheism were confronted: namely the question of the evil in the world.
Competition Or more precisely: If there is only one God and he is good, just and omnipotent, where does all the suffering in this world come from? Of course from the competing power, the evil alias the devil! The religious concept of evil took unmistakable borrowings from Persian Zoroastrianism, which conveys a dualistic worldview.
What sounds complicated is actually quite simple, because basically it is about the dualistic understanding that two opposing forces are at work in the world. The good and the bad. The light and the dark. Or in the traditional Christian reading: God and the devil.
But what do Judaism and its writings say about these views and declarations? Does Satan, that is, evil personified, exist as an independent powerful entity that brings darkness and ruin over humanity? Does the fallen angel, who fights with the Eternal and his creatures until the last day, also exist in the Jewish tradition? To make it short: no! At least not according to the previous statements and descriptions.
Commandments Jews are known to be the creators of monotheism, that is, of unconditional belief in the one and only God. This is of course not only unique, but also indivisible, infinite and omnipotent. While the first of the ten commandments demands the recognition of God, the second commandment relates to the uniqueness of the Eternal by requiring that one must not have any other gods next to him.
The American Rabbi Benjamin Blech wrote that these two commandments only make sense in combination, since the first commandment is meaningless without the second. A god who does not stand alone would not be omnipotent and therefore not worthy of being called a deity at all.
The very idea of competing powers, as they are known by dualism, or of a powerful malicious opponent of the eternal, as traditional Christianity depicts the devil, is therefore categorically excluded. In Deuteronomy 4:39 it says: "Today you are to recognize and take to heart that the Eternal is Gd in heaven above and on earth below, no one else." And in the book of Isaiah 45.7 there is a powerful confirmation: "He who forms light and creates darkness, makes peace and creates mischief, I, the Eternal, do all of this."
Although this passage seems disturbing at first glance, because G’d is named there as the creator of calamity, it simultaneously clearly rejects all other ideas of competing powers or forces.
Job Does that mean that Satan does not exist in Judaism at all? And doesn't he even appear by name at the beginning of the prominent Job story? Indeed, Satan has a place in scriptures and tradition. However, this has little in common with the Christian or dualistic ideas described at the beginning. Because even if Satan means something like adversary or adversary in Hebrew, he is not to be understood as an adversary of God, but rather as an adversary of man.
In this capacity he is sometimes understood as an angel, whereby the biblical concept of the angel excludes his rebellion against God per se. According to the Jewish understanding, angels are - as the Hebrew name »Malach« suggests - ambassadors of the Eternal who, unlike humans, do not have free will and therefore only deal with commissioned matters, so to speak. They are not free, independent powers, but spiritual beings and as such are always and continuously dependent on their source.
However, a look at the Talmud, which equates Satan with the evil instinct, provides clarification. The so-called Jezer Hara, i.e. the evil instinct, is just like the inclination for the good an indispensable part of every person, of every personality.
Cheeseburger He is figuratively speaking the little devil who sits on one of our shoulders and tries to divert us from the right path by whispering. It is part of our being and manifests itself in the struggle, the deliberations and the strife with oneself in the attempt to do the right thing. Figuratively speaking, it's the temptation that makes us grab a cheeseburger instead of a kosher sandwich.
But doesn't that mean, according to the Jewish understanding, that there are different powers that are in conflict with one another? Not in the least. Instead, the so-called evil urge is an indispensable part of creation and the concept of free will.
Creation story According to Rabbi Blech, this becomes clear in a midrash, an interpretation of the wise men, at the end of the creation story. It says that God saw that everything he had done was very good. The Midrash explains that the term "everything he has done" includes man's evil inclination. The evil instinct in particular was created by God and also considered to be very good. Because without this tendency people would not be tempted to do something wrong and therefore could not gain recognition for correct behavior.
Without susceptibility to evil, there would be no struggle for righteousness, and all of our efforts would be mere automated responses, intuitive reflexes, predetermined courses of action without conscious decision-making or noble character.
It is precisely the free will and the possibility to consciously decide for the good and right and against the bad and wrong that makes people unique and differentiates them from all other creatures. However, this presupposes the possibility of alternatives. In Deuteronomy 30:15 it therefore says: "Behold, today I lay before you life and good, including death and evil."
Choice Evil is a necessary part of creation, part of life, and a choice to be made against, no matter how attractive and profitable it may seem. It is the seduction to be resisted and the challenge to be overcome.
So the fight with Satan is ultimately a battle that man has to fight with himself at almost every point in life. And yet it is at the same time the means that allows people to develop further and to outgrow themselves. The Jewish devil only attains true power where he is allowed to, and even there only to a very limited extent.
Falling angels or powerful opponents of God are thus alien to the true monotheism of Jewish stamping. Only a person who gives in to his lower instincts can fall deep. But precisely this one always has the potential to reach unimagined heights. Even if it's difficult.
The author is the director of the regional association of Jewish communities in Hesse.
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