A Friend of the Devil is a Friend of Mine…(not for Halloween)

I don’t personally celebrate Halloween because it has pagan roots, but as long as the dark forces are on people’s minds, I offer this clarity for you on the topic of Satan.

Sympathy for the Devil

One of the top ten common misconceptions about religion and spirituality is the concept of the Devil. Who is Satan and what is his purpose? Where does the concept come from?

We all sense a craving towards spirituality and meaning, and at the same time we share a desire to do the wrong thing, kill and steal, to insult and eat fatty foods. We intuitively know there is a dichotomy in the world and in ourselves. Did you ever feel like smacking someone even though you knew in your heart it was wrong? (Those of you with teenage children need not even answer that one.)

Flip Wilson used to say “The Devil made me do it.” Of course the Devil can’t make you do something but he can sure tempt you. Life’s circumstances can be tempting from the outside, and we can have desires on the inside. Is that the Devil or your own bad self?

In kabbalah the forces of desire, evil inclination, temptations to stray from morality and spirituality all seem to be one. The three main entities that we find in the texts are Satan, the “evil inclination”, and the Angel of Death, and all represent the same united force.

The Meaning of Life

If you understand well the meaning of life, you have no problem understanding Satan and the “evil inclination”, known as the “yaitzer hara”. We are put on this earth at this time to struggle to connect to the Infinite Being. In order to have an arena of challenge, we must have a desire to go away from God to fight against.

The Satan and yaitzer hara provide the challenge. This force is designed by God and follows strict rules He placed into the spiritual realm. Satan cannot go against God’s will, as an angel or spiritual force, he operates like a puppet of the Almighty, providing the exact spiritual challenges that we need at any given moment in time.

In fact, each and every person is judged based on their own set of circumstances external and internal, which makes it impossible to judge your fellow man because you don’t know their history or internal make-up. Maybe they are naturally a born murderer and hot-head and they have worked hard to control themselves and become just an average rude person. You may think this guy is a big jerk but in reality they are extremely righteous given their challenges. Another person much more pleasant to be with my have been born with a gentle demeanor and has never struggled to make him/herself any better.

To put it a different way, you are put here to make spiritual touchdowns and the Satan is like a linebacker paid to block your path. But the linebacker is purposely designed in a way that you always have the ability to make your way past him. You might not be able to bowl him over; you might have to outsmart him, tell him his shoes untied, fake to the left and go to the right, or some other maneuver. If he stops you, then your job is to review the tape and see how you can avoid him the next time. (The verb “leSatan” means to block and is used in Numbers 22:22 this way. An angel blocks the path of Bilaam when he goes to meet with Balak to curse the nation of Israel.)

The Big Mistake

So the existence of Satan is real and part of daily life. The mistake then is that people think Satan has a separate existence, power, and purpose than God. Many think Satan is somehow avoiding God’s domain and tempting people to sin when God’s not looking. This is not only wrong, but philosophically impossible. Nothing can happen without God’s will accepting it on some level. God wants Satan to tempt us and He wants us to withstand the temptation. He designs the challenges according to our spiritual level and need for growth. If we need to develop patience, God sends Satan to test our patience.

Duties of the Heart by Rabbi Ibn Pakuda tells us that even frum people make mistakes in understanding the nature of God’s omnipotence. We need to be careful not to give the yaitzer hara or Satan any power on their own, they are an extension of HaShem’s will.

Satan does nothing without God’s approval. He’s a servant of God. This is clear from the beginning of the Book of Job that starts with God and Satan having a conversation where God says Job’s a great guy, and Satan says Job is only righteous because he hasn’t been tested with suffering. Let him suffer and he’ll turn against the Lord. God says, ok then go and test him. While this type of conversation may be more metaphor than reality, it shows the basic relationship between God and Satan. The Almighty designed a spiritual universe with angels that help and angels that test. There are prosecuting attorneys, so to speak, and defending attorneys. Satan is the primary prosecuting angel.

We don’t hate Satan, and he doesn’t hate us. He was created to test us, which is our greatest asset and opportunity to accomplish spiritual greatness and closeness to God.

Max Weiman

6 comments on “A Friend of the Devil is a Friend of Mine…(not for Halloween)

  1. FWIWA, JTA???

    (Perhaps keep a permanent list of abbrev’s up as a side reference)

    I hear the boggle,Steve. But don’t forget we live in an age that is long notorious for its mix and match religiosity. Including MANY “official” Jewish practices….

    As HaRav Bulman zts”l(known as a fierce debator against newfangled Jewish ideologies) used to say, one can seek to UNDERSTAND the followers of synthetic Judaisms and APPRECIATE THEIR ESSENTIAL CONCERNS, for we often discover that they are based on authentically jewish concepts. The problem is when we give them credence as a practice or indepent philosophy.

    Personally I brought this topic briefly into my Shabbos table and found myself explaining that much of American popular culture is so deeply committed to stripping religion of it’s claims to absolute truth that a tradition like Halloween can therefore easily morph into an opporutnity to excorcize the demons out of our own psyche’s, i.e. give the kids an opportunity to vent their dark sides in a non-harmful way. And believe it or not, while the chossidim at my table initially winced, they ended up feeling genuine empathy with the parents who struggle with the question of how much of this is wise to expose their kids vs leaving them to feel denied and possibly find worse outlets, chv”sh.

    Finally, if I can get back to MAX’s and my original issue — ck out the Rash”y on Gen.22:13 for the FIRST REFERENCE TO SATAN AS AN ACTUAL INDEPENDANT ENTITY.

    I believe there’s an important lesson here re. the distinction between the “satanic” nature of the AVERAGE trial H’ sends vs. those rare one’s headed by Mr. Evil himself.

  2. FWIW, JTA has an article about Halloween and Shabbos that IMO should be commented on and responded to for the suggestions contained therein that Halloween can somehow be rationalized as consistent with Judaism. How anyone can suggest that a day with openly pagan and Xtian roots can somehow be “incorporated” into Jewish life simply IMO boggles my mind.

  3. My point about the verse with Bilaam was merely a side point that shows us the first place we find the root letters of Satan’s name used. The meaning of the word there is “to block.”

    I am making an assumption that the famous angel Satan has the same meaning. But this is all really a side point. My main idea in the article is not a thesis, merely pointing out the flaw some people make with Satan and the truth of his existence and purpose as seen in Derech HaShem and other sources.

    If Satan as an individual angel does not exist then an awful lot of gemara, medrash, and chazal would have to be explained in an unusual way. Not to mention the Book of Job.

  4. If that angel is not Satan Himself, y”sh, then doesn’t that crush your thesis?

    Indeed I often wonder if we must consider it a tenet of Judaism that an actual, individual arch-angel named Satan exists. Rather it could simply be that whenever H’ is using angelic forces to present a MAJOR block to someone, that is conveniently referred to as a Satanic device.

    In that sense, Bilaam’s nemesis was definitaley Mr. Wicked himself. For by presenting him with that virtual opportunity for Tshuva he basically sealed B’s fate to rot in Hell (there’s an awesome Gemarra about his soul was dredged up from the underworld by one of the Sages, he reported to STILL be writhing in hatred for Am Yisroel!!)

  5. Valuable insights. Yes it is ironic that the first time you see the root of satan in the Torah that is seems to be doing the opposite of what it normally does. Normally satan entices good people to do bad things, here the angel is preventing a bad person from doing a bad thing.

    But just because the verb lesatan is used, does not mean the angel involved is satan.

  6. “The verb ‘leSatan’ means to block and is used in Numbers 22:22 this way.”

    So the power of Satan was testing Bilaam, one of his greatest messengers?! Rash’y explains the opposite, that this was “an angel of compassion.”

    See Ohr HaChaiim – that H’s sending of this angelic “block” was due to the fact that Bilaam had considerably increased his CHOICE for doing evil by the way he got up in the morning and girded himself for this mission.

    Thus perhaps this is the point: the challenge of life is to overcome our natural instincts and submit to our Maker’s guidance for our soul development. Sometimes it means being strict when we want to be lenient; happy when we tend to sadness… and sometimes the opposite. If we’re hooked on doing a particualr sin it may have actually become beyond our choice to stop it, in DEED, but we still have a choice over how much to enjoy it!

    I’ve seen sifrei Tsaddikim that explain Dovid’s prayer of “al tashlicheini” this way. He’s pleading to not fall into sin, but if he must, then “v’ruach kadshiecha al tikach m’meni” – please assure that your holy spirit remains to TORMENT me about it!

    Accordingly, this angel of compassion was SATANICALLY trying Bilaam by talking to his donkey instead of to him, which was bound to kindle his rebellion against G-d, Who apparently disrespects his power of impurity.

    For the wicked, to be shown an act of kindness in the midst of their passion is the greatest trial. For the rest of us, we usually need to be shown an act of severity.

    The main thing is to strive for the LOVE of holiness.

    Quite the contrry to the spirit of Holloween, eh?

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