Moshe Ben-Chaim

Question: What is the true view of Judaism regarding angels, in general and when mentioned in T'nach? Thank you.
Mesora: Your question touches on the issue of "evil forces". Another reader recently wrote in after having read of a well known Rabbi who endorsed this notion of assumed "evil forces". I will address this topic at the very end of this article.
Based on Maimonides, and verses in the Torah, there appear to be multiple and non-mutually exclusive understandings for "angels".
One understanding, Maimonides explains in his Guide for he Perplexed, Book II, Chap. XLI, and writes as follows: "We have already shown that the appearance or speech of an angel mentioned in Scripture took place in a vision or dream." Maimonides holds that when an angel "appears" or "talks" it is part of some prophecy or dream - it is not occurring in physical reality.
Maimonides found it impossible that man should be awake while experiencing an angel. Why? As Maimonides understood it, angels who appear and speak, are partaking of two characteristics that are impossible to exist on Earth. They are, 1)Intelligence (an angel speaking), and 2) Will (an angel appearing). Maimonides is teaching a crucial concept; there is no intelligence on Earth besides man.
All Earthly creation aside from man, is limited to non-intelligent life. When the passage states that an angel "spoke" or "appeared", Maimonides is forced to interpret the passage as having taken place in a vision. The metaphysical world is the only plain where intelligence other than man exists.
The first type of angel applies to cases when the angel "speaks" or "appears". This type of angel is a metaphysical being and therefore, can be perceived only in a vision, which is a phenomena of the mind, a metaphysical element.
There are however other instances of "angel", not as part of a dream or vision. Maimonides states Torah account of angels must take place in a vision or dream only when the angel "appears", or "speaks". But if no speaking or appearance takes place with the mention of "angel", it would seem from Maimonides that we do not have to understand the account as a vision, and we may take the account as literal. For example, "angel" can also refer to a person, like Pinchus, who Maimonides describes as being on a high level, and could be called an angel. So here, angel refers to a normal human being of high caliber.
In Baruchi Nafshi, (Psalms 104:4), King David says "oseh malachav ruchos, umsharsav aish lohate", "He (God) makes his angels messengers, and His ministering angels flaming fire". Rashi and Metsudas Dovid explain this to mean that God makes the natural forces his messengers. Angel can also mean a force of nature.
One should note however that we do not see the Rabbis explaining angels as is incorrectly understood today, portrayed in paintings as "humans" with wings. Such images do not accurately depict Scripture's accounts. The cherubs with wings above the ark in the Holy of Holies are another concept to be treated separately.
All I mean to suggest here, is that Maimonides did not accept the idea that besides man, there exists on earth, other intelligences. Any mention of an angel appearing or speaking indicates a being with reason and will, and therefore, must occur only in a vision, in man's mind, not on Earth.
Maimonides' principle discounts any truth to the false notion of "forces" which many people assume to have existence, will, and the ability to affect man. This is false. Man's life is in his own hands, "Hakol b'day shamayim, chutz mayiras shamayim", "All is in God's hands, except the fear of God." This means man's will is his own, unaffected by anything but his will. Therefore, there cannot be anything in creation which could deter man from choosing to follow God.