Sunday, November 21, 2004

The Jewish Conception of Satan

From Jews for Judaism's responsa:

Question 5: Can you help clarify the Jewish concept of "Satan" for me?


There is a famous Jewish teaching that if you want to find out the true meaning of something, find the first time the word appears in the Bible. The first time a form of the word 'Satan' appears is in Numbers 22:22 where an angel of G-d stood in front of Bilam and his donkey to obstruct them, to block their path. The word "l'satan", therefore, means to be an obstacle, an obstruction, a roadblock, an adversary, etc.

The purpose of Satan and the Satanic force in the world is to obstruct our spiritual progress. Life is supposed to be a path to G-d. If the journey were a breeze, with no challenges, there would be little virtue in succeeding. For example, G-d tells us not to commit adultery. If there were no strong sexual impulse, and if people of the opposite sex looked like sacks of potatoes, there wouldn't be much virtue in being moral. G-d asks us to return the lost objects of people that we may happen to find. If we had no lust for money, then there would be little virtue in returning someone's wallet. The rabbis teach in the Talmud that Satan basically resides inside of us, and it's called the Yetzer Hara (Inclination Toward Evil). The rabbis say that this Satanic force is the greatest blessing that G-d ever gave us! Satan is the loyal opposition. It helps us build our spiritual muscles by giving us resistance to our spiritual progress. If you go to a gym, and lift weights that weigh 6 ounces, you will never build any muscle. The more weight you add, the more resistance, the more muscle you will build. The same is true spiritually. If we didn't have this Satanic force in the world opposing our progress, there would be no opportunity to build our spiritual muscles...

What a totally different understanding of Satan than the Christian one! To them, Satan is not playing on G-d's team. He's the leader of a team that has rebelled against G-d. From a Jewish point of view, Satan is on G-d's team! And even though he tries his hardest to tempt us and detour us, he is ultimately rooting for us to overcome him! He's simply doing his job!

--Rabbi Michael Skobac


The background image on this page is a Hebrew translation of the verse from Bob Dylan's song  It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding), from which the title of this blog is taken. Translation courtesy of Yoram Aharon of Hod-HaSharon's page--found via YudelLine-- which has many Dylan lyrics in Hebrew.