The Jewish Talmud and the Explanation of Satan
29 SEP 2017
While "Satan" denotes the devil according to most Christians, in the Jewish Talmud, the expounded explanation of the Torah, this word takes on an entirely different meaning. The term literally means adversary or enemy, and is often used in the Torah to refer to enemies of war, traitors or opponents. The more widespread usage of the word, however, connotes a spiritual adversary, an immaterial challenger that makes choosing good over evil an admirable and praiseworthy act.
1 Satan's Mission
According to Judaism, Satan is an angel of God, just like all the other angels. Each angel is given a mission to accomplish on Earth, and Satan's is to lure Jews away from their life mission. The sole purpose of this wayward angel is to give people the opportunity to choose good and, through those choices, strengthen their relationship with God and earn merit for the world to come. The Book of Job offers a clear example of Satan fulfilling his mission as a stumbling block for the truth. Throughout the text, Satan puts forth obstacles, in the form of tribulations and suffering, to detract Job from his unwavering faith in a merciful God.
2 Internal Foe
While there are times that the satan appears in the form of external distractions and desires, according to most Jewish commentaries, Satan is the internal adversary of the Jewish people. In essence, he is fighting an ongoing battle to lead each Jew away from doing the right thing. The Talmud mentions that man does not sin unless an air of confusion or insanity overtakes him. Also referred to as the evil inclination, Satan is that force within a person that tempts or confuses him from doing the will of God.
3 The Prosecutor
The Book of Job also categorizes Satan as the accusatory angel of the Jews. He is the prosecuting angel that watches over all of mankind's actions, punctiliously noting down each sin and transgression. There are many references throughout the Talmud that mention Satan going to God with charges against the Jewish people. Invariably, he presses God to enact payment through the form of punishment for these sins. For example, in Sanhedrin 107a, Satan causes King David to sin with Bath-Sheba, and then runs to tell God about the iniquity.
4 Not an Opponent to God
Unlike the Christian view of Satan, Jews do not hold that Satan has any power outside of God. He cannot act without God's permission, and cannot rebel against the will of God. This is an important difference between Jewish theology and other religions, as Jews make a clear point that God is omnipotent, and is the highest and most powerful being. There can be no adversaries to God because there is nothing outside of him, beyond him or equal to him. Aside from being one of the 13 principles of faith mentioned by Maimonides, this principle is a core theme in Judaism.