Friday, October 31, 2008

What Goes Bump In The Night

Many are familiar with the fact that angels play a significant role in Judaism, like the angels who tell Abraham that his 90 year old wife was going to give birth to a boy (Genesis 18). But did you know that rabbinic literature also mentions demons?

For example (Talmud Berachot 6a): Abba Binyamin says: ‘If permission were granted for the eye to see, no creature would be able to stand before the demons.’ Abaye said: ‘They [the demons] are more numerous than us and they stand around us like a ditch around a mound...If a person wants to be aware of them, let him take sifted ashes and spread them around his bed. In the morning he will see [markings] like the footprints of a rooster.’

What are demons? It is hard for us today to understand the concept. Many of the forces that influenced the lives of our ancestors no longer influence us today – for instance the power of prophecy is no longer available.

Some sources explain that demons are created by a person’s wicked deeds and thoughts, and that they may be counter-balanced by angels that are created by a person’s good deeds and Torah learning. Other authorities see demons as physical, menacing creatures that were created at the beginning of time.

Upon examining the sources, one may recognize a pattern in the way demons operate. For example, demons are most often found when a person is alone or in the dark of the night! Whether the concept of demons refers to actual beings, to manifestations of a person’s inner fears or was an ancient way of explaining the unknown remains a continuing subject of scholarly rabbinic discussion.

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