Like every committee and board of directors, the Heavenly ones have their nay-sayer, too. He’s known as satan in common parlance, but he’s not what many think he is. The Hebrew word “satan” simply translates as “antagonist” or “prosecutor”, and that’s the very role he plays in the grand scheme of things. (In fact, the idea implied by “playing devil’s advocate” — taking a negative, unpopular stance — comes closer to the true sense of the term than the picture presented of a red-clad, pitch-fork-toting, goateed, fire-breathing demon.)
In fact, he’s presented in that very role of prosecutor in the most prominent of the few times he’s cited in the Bible. It’s reported there that angels presented themselves before G-d to serve on the various Heavenly committees at one point, and that “satan also came among them” (Job 1:6).
Thus satan’s role is to focus upon the negative, expose faults, harp on the adverse, draw ugliness to the attention of others, and the like — as any antagonist or prosecutor would. But his function is also an indication of G-d’s compassion. After all, G-d surely knows the bad points to be brought out in any situation (as well as all the good), and He would certainly be expected to want them exposed for truth’s sake. Yet G-d withholds His own judgment and allows for a nay-sayer who might indeed not be that persuasive to the members of “the board”. Satan’s powers are also otherwise limited in that there are times when he isn’t even allowed to participate.
Understand, though, that satan is also an internal phenomenon, and has far deeper inner implications. He and the “yetzer harah” — our so very human inclination to avoid G-dliness — are said to be one and the same. Satan is thus that part of the “committee”, if you will, that meets in our being each and every moment that we “convene” to make decisions. And it’s he who speaks out against holiness, and demeans righteous and moral stands.
This series is dedicated to the memory of Yitzchak Hehrsh ben Daniel, and Sarah Rivka bas Yaakov Dovid.
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