The word Satan derives from the Hebrew satan, literally “hinderer.” However, the common Christian belief that Satan is a fallen angel who opposes God by tempting humans to sin is quite different from the Jewish concept of Satan.
To understand the concept of Satan in Judaism, one must first understand that angels, mal'achim, are regarded as Divine messengers, each assigned a specific task, from which the angel cannot deviate because it has no free-will. Angels are simply energy emanations of God and extensions of God’s will. Satan is also an angel, albeit one whose job is to test a person’s resolve to follow the righteous path.
To understand better, let’s look at the well-known Biblical conversation between Satan and God (paraphrased from the Book of Job):
God: "Have you seen My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a pure-hearted and an upright man, who fears God and shuns evil?"
Satan: "Does Job fear God for no reason? Haven’t You protected him and all that he has? You’ve blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions are many. If You were to destroy all that he has, surely he will blaspheme You to Your face."
God: "All that he has is in your power; only upon himself do no harm" (Job 1:9-12).
While it might appear from the above conversation that Satan is free to harm Job, that is not the case. Each human soul has a goal, “something” that each person must perfect in the course of his/her life. A person who is never challenged has no opportunities to perfect what must be perfected. It is not Satan’s role to harm a person, but to help people perfect themselves.
This Treat was last posted on June 17, 2009.