Ma’ahsay Mal’ach HaMavet: Four Insights about Death

The Mal’ach HaMavet- The Angel of Death and the Tree of Life were created on the same day, several billion years ago. They were Yin and Yang.

At first the Tree of Life only produced single cell organisms that reproduced by splitting, so evolution progressed very slowly through occasional genetic mutations. Each cell was a clone of another cell and while most died some always survived. Since the survivors were perfect reproductions and direct descendants of the original cells, they were literally immortal.

The Mal’ach HaMavet did its job slaying single cells, as the Lord had commanded, but its contribution to The Tree of Life didn’t seem very important.

Then sexual reproduction began. Now as generations died the gene pool was modified through sexual selection, genetic drift and survival adaptation. The Angel of Death saw much more quickly and clearly the fruits of its labors. On land, in the forests of the Garden of Eden, the Mal’ach HaMavet developed new great form of mass death: fire.

A ponderosa forest needs low-intensity wildfires, which burn every 2 to 12 years, to clear the forest floor of organic litter and allow for the reseeding of new grasses and other under the branches plants. Without periodic fires in overcrowded forests, the trees become increasingly susceptible to attack by insects, pathogens, and catastrophic crown fires. Some species of trees only drop their seeds after a fire, when conditions for reproduction are substantially improved.

Forests need fire as animal species need predation, to prevent individual decline and decrepitude from afflicting the community Tree of Life.

The Tree of Life now grew healthier. The Angel of Death used natural catastrophes-acts of God, like fires, floods, volcanoes, and ice ages to accelerate evolution even more quickly and the Tree of Life sprouted fruits with bigger brains and greater adaptability. There came a time when some creatures were even able to use and make fire.

Then one day God caused the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil to grow next to the Tree of Life. For eons none of the creatures paid attention to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, whose fruit was not that attractive. So the Lord commanded the Mal’ach HaMavet to work as a Satan-a tempter. Only one creature had the potential ability to discern right from wrong but the male wasn’t interested.

Thank God, the female was attracted to the fruits of morality and desired to become discerning even if it meant also knowing death was inevitable. She brought a self-conscious awarness of morality and mortality into the natural world.

The Mal’ach HaMavet should be seen as a Divine agent promoting the development of the Tree of Life by enabling new and different generations to replace previous ones. Human self-consciousness provides for awareness of both morality and mortality. Humans who now know that death is essential to growth should understand why the Mal’ach HaMavet is an angel who was created together with the Tree of Life.

We should mourn the death of our loved ones, as a personal lose, not as a cosmic chastisement. Death is as natural as life. For terminal illnesses death often is less painful than life. Death can be an angel.

The Mal’ach HaMavet is a good earth that digests the dead to nourish the living.

II

The Malach HaMavet-the Angel of Death came before the Lord and complained that his job was becoming increasingly difficult.

“I had no problems until You created humans” he said. “Animals get sick and they die. When Eve eat from the Tree of Moral Knowledge and became spiritually self aware humans gained knowledge of their own eventual mortality. They began to seek ways to combat death and discovered the power of herbs and spiritual activities like prayer and healing rituals. Of course, in the end I always win, but Raphael-the Angel of Spiritual Healing would often snatch a person away from me and I wouldn’t win till years later.

Then You gave the Torah to Israel at Sinai and people learned that by following Your path and doing Mitsvot they could extend their days on the earth. If they didn’t covet what others had they avoided greed, envy, jealously, anger, resentment, frustration and over-competitiveness, all negative emotions that shorten ones’ days on the earth.

They also learned that if they continually celebrated Shabbat and made it holy they would lower their levels of stress, tension, anxiety and alienation. Of course, religion isn’t magic and even the very good sometimes die young, but my job was getting harder and harder.

Now humans have developed modern medicine. They have reduced the infant mortality rate by 95%. They have eliminated polio, smallpox and many other infectious diseases. Famine rarely devastates the population as it did in the old days. Of course, people still die of old age. But that isn’t my victory because they usually are ready to die and often they blame me for coming much to late. You have to do something.”

God said, “I already anticipated all this. Over 2500 years ago the Prophet Isaiah predicted that the day would come when, “no child will die as an infant and old people will not die prematurely, a child will live till a hundred and whoever dies prior to that will be thought accursed.” (65:20) But that is not an automatic process. People will have to work to attain longer life by spiritual self-discipline. Satan has prepared some new temptations that will shorten life if they are not resisted.

You already know of smoking and excess drinking, of hatred and violence. Now Satan is adding self-indulgence in the forms of drugs, sugar and fat. Obesity and Diabetes will be your allies. Almost all Jews in the past fasted on Yom Kippur. Now most can’t even discipline their appetite for 24 hours. Pleasure seeking self-centered people, who reject self-discipline, community and religious tradition, will be your opportunity. Your job might become easier again.”

III

In the beginning old age didn’t exist. When hunting animals slowed down or were wounded they starved to death. When prey slowed down or were disabled they were eaten. With the creation of humans old age appeared. Humans fed and protected the infirm and the elderly. The human population multiplied greatly and spread throughout the world. Larger human populations increased the deadliness of disease. Then humans (Shamans, Medicine Women etc.) discovered the power of prayer and ritual to heal, as it says, “At that time mankind began to invoke the name of the Lord.” (Genesis 4:26)

The angel Raphael (God heals) became the opponent of the Malach HaMavet-the Angel of Death. In recent generations humans became major allies of Raphael through modern medicine. The 95% decline in infant mortality resulted in a 50% increase in AVERAGE life span. Drugs and surgery multiplied the percentage of people reaching old age. Modern medicine seemed to provide miracles that Raphael couldn’t. Humans began to think they could conquer the Angel of Death.

Then convalescent homes spread throughout the land and people began to realize that “There is a time to be born and a time to die. (Ecclesiastes 3:2) Now they will know why both Raphael and the Malach HaMavet are Angels of God. After all, as Jonathan Swift once said, “Everyone wants to live forever, but no one wants to be old.”

IV

The Creator of the world called all the angels together and asked for a volunteer to serve as the Malach HaMavet-the Angel of Death. No one volunteered.

The Holy One asked the angels why no one wanted the job. After a few moments of silence one angel replied, “Whoever serves as the Angel of Death will get blamed and cursed for taking away people’s loved ones. We want to help people not hurt them.”

The Holy One said, “Do not worry. Most people will pin the fault on everything else instead. They will blame the doctor, the person’s sins or lack of will, or old age. They will even blame themselves for lack of foresight; if only I, I should have etc. But they will not see the Malach HaMavet at work.

Another angel, Raphael’s older brother, spoke up saying, “I have three objections. The job is unjust, unfair and unnatural. Good people will die young, while bad people will live long. Young people will die much to soon. And people will not understand why their loved ones can’t live as long as oak trees.”

The Creator responded, “First, I will give the Torah to Israel and then most people who live a good self-disciplined life will live longer than most self-indulgent bad people, for Torah says-”I offer you the choice of life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life and then you and your descendants will live; love, obey and embrace the Lord your God for that is life and length of days for you.” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20) Faithful people will measure life spans qualitatively as well as quantitatively.

Second, there will come a time at the end of days when-No child will ever again die an infant, no elderly person fail to live a full life, and every youth shall live a hundred years before dying. (Isaiah 65:20)

Third, people will learn that long life has its own serious problems. “The trees of the field are not humans.” (Deuteronomy 20:19) Trees don’t get Alzheimer’s. Many illnesses can afflict the elderly but there is nothing ‘wrong’ with an elderly person who dies. Indeed, there will come a time when convalescent homes spread throughout the land and many people will pray for the Malach HaMavet to come. They will be quick to blame you for being late; finally realizing the Malach HaMavet is indeed an Angel of God.

Several angels then volunteered to be a Malach HaMavet and the Holy One chose Raphael’s older brother.

V

Death is the end of all tsurus. Midbar Yehudah

TOV MEOD-very good, read it as TOV MAVET- death is good. Rabbi Meir

To wish to die when one ought not to, and to not wish to die when one ought to, are equally cowardly. Josephus

Better an easy death than a hard life. Yiddish Proverb

The doctor told me I was suffering from a terminal illness. I told the doctor I was suffering from my illness. My suffering would be terminated by the Angel of Death. Rabbi Allen S. Maller

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 450 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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