I read that the angel Metat was subjected to 60 pulsei de-nura (Aramaic: פולסא דנורא "lashes of fire"). I have been taught that angels do not have free will. Did this angel act from free will or did he get the punishment despite that he could not have done anything about it? My real question: is free will a prerequisite for punishment?

(Chagigah 15A v12) He saw that permission was granted to Metatron to sit and write down the merits of Israel. Said he: It is taught as a tradition that on high there is no sitting and no emulation, and no back, and no weariness. Perhaps, — God forfend! — there are two divinities! [Thereupon] they led Metatron forth, and punished him with sixty fiery lashes, saying to him: Why didst thou not rise before him when thou didst see him? Permission was [then] given to him to strike out the merits of Aher. A Bath Kol went forth and said: Return, ye backsliding children — except Aher. [Thereupon] he said: Since I have been driven forth from yonder world, let me go forth and enjoy this world.

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    Interesting question! You could make it more valuable by citing where you read your initial point and explaining what "pulsei de-nura" is.
    – Isaac Moses
    Jul 2, 2012 at 3:35
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    @IsaacMoses see answer (Chagiga 15a) Jul 2, 2012 at 3:53
  • @ShmuelBrin thanks did not know where it was quoted from. I'm adding it to my original question.
    – Ben
    Jul 2, 2012 at 4:24
  • The fact that permission was granted to Metatron means he could chose to sit, otherwise it would be a commandment to sit. That he has a choice between sitting and standing shows that willfulness on the part of angels is possible. The question then devolves to "at what point does the ability to chose become meaningful." I have heard from many rabbanim that the lack of free stems from an overwhelming knowledge of right and wrong, not an incapacity to choose. In other words, they lack "free," not the "will." That doesn't preclude situations like the Ohr Hachaim below in which they sin bishogeg. Apr 21, 2017 at 18:49

2 Answers 2


The Ohr HaChaim writes (Bereishis 1:1 note 3):

אמרו ז''ל (חגיגה טו.) במעשה מט''ט שדנוהו לפני אלישע ומחיוהו שתין פולסי דנורא, וגם אליהו וכו' (ב''מ פה:) וכמה משפטים לשרי מעלה, והגם שאין להם יצר, עם כל זה ימצא בהם הטעות, כי לפעמים לא יכוונו אל האמת וישגו, וצא ולמד ממעשה המלאך מט''ט ואליהו כי שגגו וכן יקר מקרה ויענישם ה' אפילו על השוגג מה שאין שופט במשפט זה ליושבי ארץ

Chazal said (Chagigah 15a) concerning the story of Metatron when he was judged ... with sixty fire lashes ... and many [other] judgments to the officers above [i.e. angels]: Although they don't have free will, one may find error in them, because sometimes they wouldn't understand the truth, and would sin accidentally. Come and see from the story of Metatron the angel and Eliyahu, that they sinned accidentally. And similarly, an occurence may occur where G-d would punish them even for accidental sins more harshly than what he judges in judgment for dwellers of the earth.

Basically, Hashem punishes angels for doing something wrong beshogeg (much like people are punished for things beshogeg, although it is a lighter punishment).

  • I am learning hebrew at the moment and are struggling with the text. But if I understand your answer, angels does not always tell direct truth and make mistakes, and are therefore subjects to punishment?
    – Ben
    Jul 2, 2012 at 4:08
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    @Millthorn I added a loose translation. It is not that they would lie, but that they would not understand the truth (which is the meaning of לא יכוונו אל האמת). The Ohr HaChaim writes elsewhere (I forgot where) that the sin was that Metatron sat in front of Elisha Acher, which led to his heresy, because he thought there was no sitting above (which is a statement of Chazal in many places, including the pesichta to Rus Rabah). The sin was accidental in that case, and the OhC explains that angels are punished for shogeg. (cont...)
    – b a
    Jul 2, 2012 at 4:32
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    (cont...) As Rambam writes in Yesodei HaTorah (ch. 2, I think), angels have varying levels of knowledge of G-d based on their position.
    – b a
    Jul 2, 2012 at 4:34
  • I wish i could give you an extra point for a very good answer. Thanks.
    – Ben
    Jul 2, 2012 at 4:39
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    Interestingly, The Ohr Hachayim (Bamidbar 20:8) uses the same rationale to explain how Moshe sinned when he hit the rock (about 2/5th down the page, V'Nirah Ki Moshe...) hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=14084&pgnum=261 - basically. Moshe had two ways to interpret G-d's instructions, and he chose the one that was more straight-forward, but it ended up being that G-d wanted the other interpretation.
    – Menachem
    Jul 2, 2012 at 5:05

The Ramchal in Da'as Tevunos Chelek Beis Simanim 29 - 35 deals with the issue of angels making mistakes. I am not going to copy it here because it is lengthy. Essentially, his idea is that angels are given two things - their mission and their awareness. Sometimes their mission is very specific and detailed, and sometimes it is given more vaguely. If an angel is given a more general order, he may make a mistake in "interpretation" and mess up if the angel does not have the level of awareness to completely understand the command. An example is the order for angels to say Shira, daily song. If an angel precedes or delays in this, due to a lack of understanding of its own position (acc. to the gloss of R' Chaim Shmulevitz there) it ceases to exist. Normally, when an angel makes a mistake, it ceases to exist, because the angel is nothing more than a manifestation of some Divine will and mission. An angel has no free will in the way that we do - no moral decisions. The angels make true and false decisions, not right and wrong decisions.

However, sometimes there is an outside reason for the continued existence of the angel, in which case it continues to exist. The Ramchal does not directly address why the angel is then punished, but it seems that it is understood as more of a result of its fulfillment of its mission. If its existence is defined by its mission, to the degree that it misrepresents that mission there is a shortcoming in its existence, and the "punishment" is a reflection of that reality.

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