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Of Angels and Men
Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver
Chassidus distinguishes between two kinds of rule: meluchah, kingship, and memshalah, domination.
Meluchah exists when the people voluntarily appoint a certain person king, as in the verse, “They accepted His Kingship willingly.”
In contrast, memshalah exists when one party rules another through the use of force, against that person’s will. Although the person submits, his submission is begrudging. The domination of mankind over the animal kingdom is an example of memshalah. Only once duress is applied does the animal submit, because it lacks the intellectual ability required to evoke a desire to choose to submit to mankind voluntarily.
This is the difference between mankind and angels. Man has free choice—the ability to consciously, freely choose to obey and surrender himself to Hashem, or, G–d forbid, sin and rebel against Him.
Angels, on the other hand, are referred to as animals, and so just as animals can only be ruled through memshalah, so are angels only capable of submitting to Hashem’s rule through His memshalah.
To be sure, there is a difference between the memshalah over animals and over angels. Animals submit to humans out of fear of punishment, while angels submit to Hashem out of a passionate desire to connect to G–dliness. Yet their submission is still considered memshalah because it comes naturally and automatically, and the angels are incapable of consciously choosing to connect to Hashem.
Now, this is not to say that angels lack intellect. On the contrary, angels possess a level of intellect far superior to that of mankind. This is true even of the lowest angels, but all the more of those in the world of Beriyah, the Seraphim (for more on these angels, see here).
The world of Beriyah is suffused with a revelation of the level of Binah (“understanding”) of Atzilus above it, which grants the creatures in this world a sublime understanding of Hashem’s greatness. which grants the Seraphim, who reside in that world, a sublime understanding of Hashem’s greatness. Thus, the Seraphim declare “Holy, holy, holy is the L–rd of Hosts,” because they truly grasp, with their powerful, sublime intellect, how Hashem utterly transcends all the spiritual worlds. This awareness inspires them to an intense love for Hashem and yearning to become subsumed in that level of pure G–dliness, to the extent that they become burnt up and cease to exist on account of the intensity of this feeling.
Yet although angels possess intellect, their primary form of relating to Hashem and serving Him is not intellectual, but emotional. Angels are endowed with a powerful ability to experience intense emotions of love and fear of Hashem. This emotion is not produced by their intellect, but an inborn desire that defines their very being. This is why angels are compared to animals, which are also naturally programmed to follow their instincts and desires, without any need for or possibility of a prior intellectual process.
But if angels possess intellect, and their submission to Hashem results from their intellectual understanding of Hashem’s greatness, doesn’t that prove that they also have free choice?
No, it doesn’t. Yes, angels use their intellect to excite their emotions; however, intellect is merely the trigger. Understanding Hashem’s greatness to whatever extent is necessary for them sets off their inborn emotions of love and fear for Hashem, and that excitement is not in and of itself intellectually based.
In contrast, man’s defining characteristic is intellect, and he is capable of using his intellect to create emotions. These emotions exist and are defined entirely by the nature of the intellect that produced them.
This is also the reason that the emotions of angels—and animals—are so powerful. Had their emotions been created by their intellect, those emotions would be much weaker, because such emotions are inherently limited by the nature and depth of the intellect that produced them. But since the emotions of angels and animals exist independently of intellect, the nature and intensity of these emotions is not dictated and limited by intellect, and this enables their emotions to be intense and unbridled. This explains further why Torah refers to angels as animals, and why angels’ possession of intellect does not detract from their lack of true free choice, and the necessity to define Hashem’s rule over them as memshalah.
Although mankind’s core characteristic is intellect, this is not to say that emotions are unimportant. On the contrary, man must not suffice with his intellectual grasp of G–d’s greatness; rather, this knowledge should inspire him to openly-felt emotions, as it is written, “You shall know today and set it upon your heart that Hashem is the L–rd”—“You shall know” must lead one to “set it upon your heart” (for further explanation, see here).
Such emotions (although weaker, as above) are settled and balanced, real and genuine, and will therefore also inspire the person to passionate observance of Mitzvos and good deeds, refined and loving treatment of others, and appropriate caution from falling into sin.
In conclusion, These emotions are superior to those of animals—and in a sense, also to those of angels—because they are produced by the intellect.
The Rebbe Rashab’s Sefer HaMaamarim 5660, p. 8.
 Evening Prayer Liturgy. For an earlier post that elaborates on this topic, see here.
 Sifri, end of Bahaaloscha; Bamidbar Rabba, end of Naso.
 Cf. Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah, 3:9.
 For more on the difference between Atzilus and the worlds below it, the first of which is Beriah, see here.
 Yeshaya 6:3.
 Cf. Tanya ch. 16.
 Devarim 4:39.
 It is also possible for emotions of love and fear of Hashem to stem from the Jew’s natural, inborn love of Hashem (cf. Tanya chs. 18-19, 25, et al.), but that is beyond the scope of this essay.
Dedicated by Avi Turner and family l'ilui nishmas Nechama bas Reuven a"h, and by Mrs. Rivka Katz and family l'ilui nishmas Reb Mordechai Meir haKohen ben Chaim Elazar haKohen a"h.
Dedicated in the merit of a speedy release for the captives Yonasan ben Malka (Jonathan Pollard), Alan Gross (Aba Chonah ben Hava Chana), Sholom Mordechai Halevi ben Rivka (Sholom Rubashkin), and Zeva Rochel bas Chaya (Wendy Weiner Runge).
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