In last week’s article entitled Men May be Created Equal, but Angels are Not, we expounded upon two major teachings contained in our holy Torah. The first teaching was from Pirkei Avot 4:11 which states that anyone who does a mitzvah acquires for himself an angelic advocate or defender, whereas anyone who does an aveirah [transgression] acquires for himself an angelic accuser or prosecutor. Furthermore, we learned that this acquisition can be understood better to be more like a creation. Our actions, for better or for worse, actually create heavenly angels [malachim] that either seek to defend us or to accuse us. The second main teaching from that article came from Likutei Moharan 20:8 which explains at length that the spiritual powers of these created malachim are directly related to the level of holiness [kedushah] in our lives. And how can we assess the kedushah in our lives? One of the best ways we can assess it is by considering the amount of self-sacrifice, i.e. mesirut nefesh, and self-negation, i.e. bitul, that we put into our Torah learning, in terms of both quality and quantity.
In the present article, we will attempt to elucidate further the workings of these angelic accusers that we create through our transgressions, G d forbid.
Ben Azzai taught (Pirkei Avot 4:2): שֶׁמִּצְוָה גּוֹרֶרֶת מִצְוָה וַעֲבֵרָה גוֹרֶרֶת עֲבֵרָה (A mitzvah leads to another mitzvah and an aveirah leads to another aveirah). One significant implication of this teaching is that aveirot come in bundles. This is expressly stated in numerous places from our Sages, for example (Sichot ha-Ran 89): דַּע שֶׁיֵּשׁ חֲבִילוֹת חֲבִילוֹת שֶׁל עֲבֵרוֹת רַחֲמָנָא לִצְלָן (You should know that there are bundles and bundles of aveirot, may the Merciful One save us). The first aveirah in a set leads to another one which leads to another one and so on, until one has created, literally, a package or bundle of aveirot all related to the original one in the package. Unrelated aveirot form other bundles (S.R. 89): וְכֵן עֲבֵרָה אַחֶרֶת עִם הָעֲבֵרוֹת הַשַּׁיָּכִים לָהּ שֶׁנִּגְרְרוּ אַחֲרֶיהָ הֵם חֲבִילָה אַחֶרֶת (And so, another aveirah with its associated aveirot that were dragged along after it form another bundle). And this may go on and on for each of us as individuals and for us collectively as a nation, all potentially without our awareness.
The implication of this is profound and directly connected to what we learned in last week’s teaching (S.R. 89): וּמִכָּל חֲבִילָה וַחֲבִילָה נִבְרֵאת כַּת אַחַת שֶׁל מְחַבְּלִים וּמְקַטְרְגִים (And from each package [chavilah] of aveirot is created one group of terrorists [mechabelim] and accusers). How do we know this? We placed in bold font the letters in English and in Hebrew, so it should be clear. Both words, ‘package’ [chavilah] and ‘terrorist’ [mechabelim], share the exact same root [חבל]. In other words, a package of aveirot leads to the creation of a group of terrorists. That may be shocking, especially if you’ve never learned this before, but it’s true. Of course, the primary terrorists are the malachim, whose powers (as we restated above) are directly related to the severity of our aveirot, which in turn is directly related to the lack of our kedushah, G d forbid. But we should know, they don’t just stay up in heaven. They have the power to come down here and enter into people who clothe them, literally, with their flesh and blood.
But it’s even worse than that. Since we are their creators, we are responsible to provide for them (just like Hashem has the responsibility to provide for His creation). They scream at us and cry out (S.R. 89): הַב לָנָא חַיֵּי הַב לָנָא מְזוֹנֵי (Give us life! Give us sustenance!).
We may not have been aware of it, but this is exactly what goes on in the upper worlds. And if we attempt to defend ourselves by saying that many of our sins were forced upon us because they were dragged along by the first one, the mechabelim respond by saying that we should have protected ourselves by doing a mitzvah. And since we didn’t, we’re responsible for every single sin, i.e. every resultant angelic terrorist, in the bundle.
So what are we supposed to do now? We might think that the solution is to attack and kill all of the terrorists down here below and that will solve the problem. In the short run, if we are successful, this may seem like a good strategy. However, if we have not, in the mean time, taken care of the heavenly terrorists, then they’ll just manifest themselves in other people now or at a later time. Therefore, in the long term, killing terrorists is at best only a temporary solution. Of course, it may have to be done at times, but the true solution must be spiritual in nature because the emergence of the problem was spiritual in nature.
Continuing in Sichot ha-Ran 89: וְהַתִּקּוּן הוּא שֶׁיִּלְמַד לַעֲשׂוֹת וּלְקַיֵּם הַשְּׁלֹשׁ עֶשְׂרֵה מִדּוֹת שֶׁל רַחֲמִים וַחֲסָדִים (And the remedy for this is that one should learn and do and fulfill the thirteen attributes of mercy [rachamim] and loving kindness [chasadim]). Without getting into a lot of detail about these thirteen attributes (for we are all aware of them to one degree or another), the bottom line is that we must be merciful to others and we must do acts of chesed to others. It may be difficult from time to time, but at its root, it’s really just that simple.
Why should this work to eliminate the band of mechabelim? What do the thirteen attributes of rachamim have to do with destroying heavenly terrorists? Simply put, by showing mercy and kindness to others, we arouse the mercy and kindness of the Holy One, blessed be He.
It is as we say in Selichot and on Yom Kippur : קֵּל מֶלֶךְ יוֹשֵׁב עַל כִּסֵּא רַחֲמִים וְכוּ’ מוֹחֵל עֲווֹנוֹת עַמּוֹ מַעֲבִיר רִאשׁוֹן רִאשׁוֹן (G d, King, Who sits on the Throne of Mercy…pardons the transgressions of His people, removing them rishon rishon). What does it mean that Hashem removes our transgressions rishon rishon, literally ‘first first’? It means that when Hashem displays His compassion to us, the first [rishon] thing He does is to remove the first [rishon] aveirah in each bundle. And what is the benefit of first removing the first aveirah in each bundle? Why not remove the last transgression in each bundle and then work backwards to the first one in each bundle? This secret is hidden in plain sight in Tehillim 51:15: אֲלַמְּדָה פֹשְׁעִים דְּרָכֶיךָ וְחַטָּאִים אֵלֶיךָ יָשׁוּבוּ (I will teach transgressors Your ways, and chata’im will return to You). Who or what are these chata’im, and what is the secret that is hidden in the verse?
After the sin of the golden calf, Moshe Rabbeinu pleaded with Hashem to forgive the people (Shemot 31:13): וְעַתָּה אִם־נָא מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ הוֹדִעֵנִי נָא אֶת־דְּרָכֶךָ וְאֵדָעֲךָ לְמַעַן אֶמְצָא־חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ וּרְאֵה כִּי עַמְּךָ הַגּוֹי הַזֶּה (And now, I pray, if I have found grace in Your eyes, please make known to me Your way, and [then] I shall know You so that I may find grace in Your eyes, and consider that this nation is Your people). Since Hashem revealed His thirteen attributes of rachamim to Moshe immediately after this request, we may safely conclude that ‘Your ways’ refers to the thirteen attributes of rachamim. Therefore, when we learn and teach the thirteen attributes of rachamim to others, i.e. to transgressors, the verse states that chata’im will return to Hashem. Most translate chata’im as ‘sinners’, but it doesn’t mean sinners (which would be חוטאים, chotim). It means ‘sins’ as Sichot ha-Ran 89 states: שֶׁהָעֲבֵרוֹת שֶׁבַּחֲבִילָה שָׁבִים אֶל הַשֵּׁם יִתְבָּרַךְ (that the aveirot that are in the bundle return to Hashem, may He be blessed). The chata’im are the aveirot in each bundle which, once the first aveirot is pardoned, are able to return to Hashem. (For another example of this distinction between chata’im and chotim, see the exchange between R’ Meir and his wife, Beruria, in Berachot 10a.)
This is also the meaning of Tehillim 79:8 that we recite during Tachanun: אַל־תִּזְכׇּר־לָנוּ עֲוֺנֹת רִאשֹׁנִים מַהֵר יְקַדְּמוּנוּ רַחֲמֶיךָ כִּי דַלּוֹנוּ מְאֹד (Do not remember our first transgressions, may Your rachamim quickly come and precede us, because we are very poor). These ‘first transgressions’ are, of course, the first transgression in each of the bundles of which we have been speaking. These are the most critical, and we beg Hashem that He would no longer bring them to mind against us. We now know why these are the critical ones. Once Hashem forgives the first one in each bundle, all the rest automatically fall away and are discarded because they’re all dependent upon it. Since they lost their root in the first one, they fall away and cease to exist, so to speak. And in what merit do we bring this plea? In the merit of Hashem’s rachamim, i.e. his thirteen attributes of rachamim. And why are we pleading with Hashem to behave in such a merciful way toward us? Because we are very poor. What kind of a reason is that? Poor in what way? Poor in mercy. Sometimes, we are in such a state of spiritual poverty that we can’t awaken the attribute of mercy from on high. And yet, we still plead and beg for Hashem to be merciful.
This is how we get the angelic terrorists off our backs. It’s really that simple. It’s not rocket science. We just need to practice kindness and mercy to others.
But the story isn’t finished yet. Once Hashem takes over the responsibility to provide for these terrorists, what happens next? How does He sustain them? It is further taught in Sichot ha-Ran 89: הַקָּדוֹשׁ־בָּרוּךְ־הוּא נוֹתֵן הָעֲווֹנוֹת עָלָיו וְנִמְשָׁךְ לָהֶם חִיּוּת מִמֶּנּוּ (The Holy One, blessed be He, gives the transgressions to him [Esav], and vitality is drawn down from him to them). Why does Hashem transfer the transgressions, i.e. the angelic terrorists, from us to Esav? The multitude of our sins have been caused by our long exile under the hand of Edom, i.e. Rome, which destroyed our Holy Temple and scattered us to the four winds. In an ideal world, Jews shouldn’t sin at all. We shouldn’t have any relationship to it. But, sadly, we do. So sins are the result of being subjugated under the oppression of Edom, of succumbing to his way of life and his culture, of being sucked into his ideologies and philosophies, of having the burden of paying his taxes and serving in his armies, etc. As taught there in Sichot ha-Ran 89: נִמְצָא שֶׁכָּל הָעֲבֵרוֹת נִמְשָׁכִים עַל־יְדֵי אֱדוֹם עַל־יְדֵי שֶׁאָנוּ מְסוּרִים בַּגָּלוּת אֶצְלוֹ וְהוּא בְּחִינַת רִאשׁוֹן לָרִאשׁוֹנִים (It comes out that all the aveirot are drawn down through Edom, by the fact that we have been handed over to exile through him, and he [Esav] is an aspect of ‘the first of the first ones’). In a sense, he’s equated with the first aveirah in each bundle because ultimately, he’s the one who instigated the first aveirah in each bundle. This is what is meant by Tehillim 69:28: תְּנָה־עָוֺן עַל־עֲוֺנָם וְאַל־יָבֹאוּ בְּצִדְקָתֶךָ (Put [our] transgression upon their transgression and let them not come [i.e. have access] to Your righteousness).
We see, therefore, that when we learn and teach and practice rachamim and chesed to others, Hashem mercifully responds and removes the first aveirah in each bundle, which in turn causes all of the other aveirot in each bundle to unravel and fall away from us. The burden of having to provide for these terrorists gets transferred to Edom, who ultimately is the cause of our sins since we have long suffered under his oppressive regimes since he destroyed our Beit ha-Mikdash, nearly 2000 years ago.
In conclusion, what will happen once these mechabelim become the responsibility of Esav? Instead of leeching off of us, they will suck the life right out of him. Instead of the Jewish People suffering for our transgressions by the hand of terrorists, Edom will finally suffer the retribution which he rightly deserves, for all the massacres, pogroms and holocausts which we endured under his hand.
Only then we will witness complete redemption, and the whole world will finally experience true peace.