The Tale Of The Two Angels

30 Nov

Have you ever heard the story of the two angels? As beautiful stories go, it’s actually quite scary.

The medrash brings the story of  two angels who complained to God about his unhealthy obsession with humanity. Why does He put up with us, with our faults, our corruption, our downright evil behavior? And not only that, but hold us in such high regard? Let him be contented with his malachim, his pure angels, who only do God’s will, and live in peace with each other.

At that, God commanded for them to live amongst us and see the point for themselves. So he sent the two angels down to Earth in human form, and both became corrupted and evil beyond anything the world had ever seen.

What is the point of the story? It’s easy to be good when you can sense God’s presence all around you. But it’s also hollow, because you are being controlled by fear, and haven’t changed at all internally. And if the bonds of fear would let up for an instant, you would revert to a corrupt, subhuman state. Only when you live life as a free person do you have the option of actually being good. If one ordinary person, struggling to survive in this competitive dark confusing jungle, manages to go beyond themselves one time and help another struggler out for no other reason than “it’s the right thing to do”, that shines brighter than anything else in the universe.

The two angels is a scary little tale, to be sure. As a kid, I was both fascinated and spooked by it. But you know, as scary stories go, it’s actually quite beautiful.

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7 Responses to “The Tale Of The Two Angels”

  1. Chay Nobody November 30, 2011 at 3:47 am #

    You mention “(to) help another struggler out for no other reason than “it’s the right thing to do”
    I have been giving that idea some thought recently. If you really think it through – a believer CANNOT actually do that – he/she will ALWAYS have an ulterior motive – be it a highly spiritual one of becoming close to God, or something a bit more mundane like wanting to be mekarev someone. But ultimately, there is ALWAYS something more to be gained from doing chessed.
    The ONLY person who is truly capable of utterly selfless acts is an atheist. One who doesnt believe he/she has ANYTHING to gain from it other than “it’s the right thing to do”. Sure, he/she COULD want or expect some return, but it’s at least possible that there will be none and he/she does it anyway.
    I was brought to this thought by an idea from an atheist soldier fighting in Iraq/Afghanistan/wherever – he mentioned putting his life on the line in ways no believer could – doing it cause it’s right – despite not believing in any reward were he to get killed in the line of duty.

    • itchemeyer November 30, 2011 at 3:58 pm #

      I think thats true for 99% of people caught in the religious cycle. But there also is a similar idea in Judaism. You have Moshe doing things simply because he identifies with being an ‘eved hashem’. The idea is laid out in pirkei avos also, not to do work as a slave for a reward, but as a slave who works with no expectation of reward. Why would you do it then? I think its the same thing. You identify as being a part of a bigger picture. And thats the exact same motivation that a humanist, atheist has for doing good. He presumably has a strong connection with family, country, humanity, whatever, and identifies with them so much, he’s willing to sacrifice himself, if thats what it takes. Either way, theres no personal gain, and yet the feeling is so much greater than anything personal because you are connecting to something “infinite” and eternal.

      • Chay Nobody November 30, 2011 at 4:41 pm #

        But dont you see? You said it yourself – “theres no personal gain, and yet the feeling is so much greater than anything personal because you are connecting to something “infinite” and eternal” – I’m cholek on you – that IS personal gain – that wonderful feeling of connecting to something greater than oneself – that too is selfish in the bottom line. Maybe even atheists cannot really do something truly “leshma” – I dont know.
        I can honestly say that the concept of “leshma” has really never made any sense to me. I simply cannot understand doing something which is not at some level selfish. I have always thought of a hypothetical example to show this point: Imagine Hashem BChvodo Uvatzmo comes to you in a vision and says – “Reb Yid! I command you to stand on this chair – but know – in so doing you will lose your life, your olam habo, your entire existence. You will simply not be. But I command it! You can, of course, choose not to listen to Me – free will reigns supreme.” Would you do it? Would anyone?? But the concept of “leshma” would demand to follow Hashem just because He commands it. THIS is true “leshma” – not all the other stuff. Is this what Chazal really demanded of us?

        • itchemeyer November 30, 2011 at 9:09 pm #

          Yeah, I don’t think an atheist can act Lishma in the classical sense either. I don’t think it exists. There is a basic motivational underpinning of every action we do, and it’s survival. Avoid pain, approach pleasure. This avoidance/approach gets very complicated only because people can see the outcome of events and make choices that seem harmful (to bystanders) today. I actually wrote a post on something like this a while back you might find interesting.I think I’ll repost some of my old pieces that many new readers haven’t seen. There are some good pieces I wrote when I started this blog that have like 10 views total.

          • Critic December 4, 2011 at 4:35 pm #

            It seems that Chazal would agree that we all do things for ulterior motives.The term “Chesed shel emes” only applies to mais mitzvah.Perhaps the ideal that “godol hamitzuveh veoseh mimi sheino metzuveh veoseh” is also indicative of this.

            • itchemeyer December 4, 2011 at 8:52 pm #

              Interesting points. Thought it’s a big topic to include all of chazal under that umbrella. There are probably hundreds of different phrases that can be used to back up either side. I believe the phrase comes from yaakov where he asks yosef to do “chesed v’emes” with him and not bury him in mitzraim. And it is a true form of chesed, but I don’t know that he or the chachamim who coined the term meant it on the most basic levels of altruism.

  2. blooggerr December 22, 2011 at 9:52 am #

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