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 |   MESORA |

 

 

What is Satan?

Is he literal or a metaphor?

 

RABBI MOSHE BEN-CHAIM

 

–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

 

The word “satan” is a Hebrew word which means “divert,” as in,

 

“When he arose in the morning, Bilam saddled his ass and departed with the Moabite dignitaries. But God was incensed at his going; so an angel of the Lord placed himself in his way to divert (satan) him” (Num. 22:21,22).

 

Here, God’s angel attempted to help Bilam from following his evil desire to hurt the Jews, whom God blessed. The act of diverting is “satan”—a verb. But there was no being—a “satan”—as other religions imagine: an animate earthbound being that coerces man to do evil. However, God does not say He created such a being. It would be unjust that God do so, and not inform man, yet requiring man to obey Him.

 

Satan is also referred to in the book of Job. I elaborate in detail about satan’s meaning in this essay. There, I explain how satan refers to Job’s own false notions that diverted him from the truth about God's justice. When God talks to satan in this book's opening chapter, God disguises what satan means. This is how Bible is written: it hides deeper ideas from people not ready to agree with such truths. As satan refers to Job’s emotions that corrupted Job’s ideas, God describes his emotions as that which “turned Job way” (satan) from God and truth. God metaphorically refers to Job’s corrupt emotions and ideas as a real being—Satan—that appears to talk with God, because Job’s emotions and false ideas do act like a being with bad advice. So real is the threat and influence of our corrupt notions, that God deems it fit to personify our emotions as a talking being. God also personified Bilam's donkey as if it too talked to him. And in Genesis, God personified the snake that talked to Eve, when in fact, the snake was a metaphor for Eve’s instincts. Maimonides makes a note that the snake never spoke to Adam, as Eve’s instincts can only influence Eve.

 

In summary, “satan” is a verb that means “to divert” one from his current path in life. There is no “evil earthly being,” no “satan,” and no devil. These are all fabrications from other religions based in fantasy, not based on reality like Judaism. Judaism denies the reality of anything not senses (seen, heard, felt), anything contrary to reason, and anything not found in Bible (Torah) or in the rabbis’ words.

 

God is fair and just; He punishes man for his own choices that he makes without being coerced by imaginary evil beings.

 

 

 

 

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