Who shot J.R.? Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Who killed all the Egyptian firstborn?
The classic line in the haggadah for Pesah says that God did the deed, in all Divine glory: “Not by way of an angel, nor by way of a seraph, nor by way of an agent.” The basis of this is a verse in our parashah: “For when the LORD goes through to smite the Egyptians, He will see the blood on the lintel and the two doorposts, and the LORD will pass over the door and not let the Destroyer enter and smite your homes” (Exodus 12:23)
But by the end of the haggadah, the Angel of Death is very much on our minds; it’s the star of the penultimate stanza of Had Gadya. Only the Holy Blessed One can overcome the Angel of Death, and only if God so desires. Though not once mentioned in the Bible, the Angel of Death makes 55 appearances in rabbinic literature. By now, the Angel of Death–Judaism’s version of the Grim Reaper–has become the most famous angel in our tradition. And unlike the Destroyer of the Torah, he has taken on a life of his own.
The idea that God micromanaged the Plague of the Firstborn is fascinating, because there are plenty of other occasions in the Torah where God instead sends malakhim–often translated as “angels”–to work. What are some of those stories? And what can we learn from them about what malakhim really are? We’ll address this on Shabbat morning in shul, but feel free to email me your thoughts before Shabbat here.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise