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The Malach YHVH is mentioned many times, but what is or who is this being exactly? How should one define: Malach YHVH?

It's the Malach YHVH that is talking to Hagar, but after the whole event she calls out the name YHVH who spoke to her (Bereshit 16:13). The Malach YHVH is calling to Moshe from the midst of the bush, but when Moshe is turning from the bush it says that YHVH saw it and called him from the midst of the bush. Shemot 14:19 the Malach YHVH is moving from before to the back of Israel, so is the cloud, but Shemot 13:21 tells us this is YHVH.

YHVH seems to get the credit of doing somethings that the Malach actually did. How does this principle works?

  • This question always comes to my mind, I am surprised how I didn't post it yet ! – mil Aug 22 '15 at 13:54
  • It should be understand like the phrase Na'ar Elisheva (Servant/lad of Elisheva) in 2 Kings 5:20 – Levi Jul 23 '17 at 17:45
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What is a malakh? There are a number of opinions, I will discuss one of the most famous, that of the Rambam in the Moreh.

I've included the pertinent parts of the extensive discussion of the subject of malakhim in the Moreh, down below. To summarize the Rambam's points, Malakh HASHEM can refer to a variety of entities, forces, thoughts and/or persons who are carrying out the will of Elohim in the world. The malakh Hagar encountered was either a Bat Qol or a person/entity sent by Elohim to deliver a message and/or carry out instructions (in this case, to save her and Yishmael). Likewise the flaming bush and cloud were either forces or entities directed by Elohim to manifest in the physical world, so acted as conduits between Moshe/am Yisrael and Elohim.

Yet these can also be described as HASHEM directly, as can be understood through a simple analogy: when one receives an important letter from person A, the recipient is not engaging in dialogue with the messenger (the mailman, or the letter itself) but with person A who caused the message to come to be and the messenger to deliver it. Or speaking with someone via skype, one talks to the other person on the line, rather than directing attention to the device which is the vehicle for that transmission. In the same way, the Tanakh (and we) can speak of HASHEM "doing" or "saying" this or that, even though we know that it is being carried out via intermediaries ("malakhim").

MN:

In all parts of the Tanakh, every act of Elohim is described as being performed by malakhim. "Malakh" means" messenger", hence everyone who is entrusted with a certain mission [from Elohim] is a malakh. Even the movements of the natural world are sometimes due to the action of a malakh, when such movements serve the purpose of the Creator, who endowed it with the power of performing that movement: e.g., "Elohim has sent His malakh, and shut the lions' mouths so that they have not hurt me" (Daniel 6:22). Another instance may be seen in the movements of Bilam's ass, described as caused by a malakh. The elements are also called malakhim: "Who makes winds His malakhim, flaming fire His ministers" (Tehillim 104:4). There is no doubt that the word "malakh" is used of a messenger sent by humans, e.g.,"And Yaakov sent malakhim" (Bereshit 32:4), of a navi, e.g.,"And Malakh HASHEM came up from Gilgal to Bochim" (Shoftim 2:1), "And He sent a malakh, and has brought us out of Egypt" (Bemidbar 20:16). It is also used of Ideals, perceived by neviim in prophetic visions, and of humanity's animal powers, as will be explained in another place.

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In other passages Chazal expressed it more firmly: "Elohim does nothing without consulting the host above". On the words, "what they have already made" (Qohelet 2:12), the following remark is made in Bereshit Rabba and in Midrash Qohelet: "It is not said 'what He has made,' but 'what they have made'; hence we infer that He, as it were, with His court, have agreed upon the form of each of the limbs of a person before placing it in its position, as it is said, 'He has made and established you'" (Devarim 32:6). In Bereshit Rabba 51 it is also stated that wherever the term "and HASHEM" occurs in the Tanakh, HASHEM with His court is to be understood. These passages do not convey the idea that Elohim spoke, thought, reflected, or that He consulted and employed the opinion of other beings... They only show that all parts of the Universe, even the limbs of animals in their actual form, are produced through malakhim: for natural forces and malakhim are identical.

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We may find a confirmation of the opinion that the natural and psychological forces of an individual are called malakhim in a statement of Chazal which is frequently quoted, and occurs originally in Bereshit Rabba 78: "Every day Elohim creates a legion of malakhim; they sing before Him, and disappear." When, in opposition to this statement, other statements were quoted to the effect that malakhim are eternal ... the reply has been given that some live forever, others perish; and this is really the case for individual forces are transient, whilst the genera are eternal and imperishable. Again, we read (in Bereshit Rabba 85) in reference to Yehudah and Tamar: "R. Yokhanan said that Yehudah was about to pass by [without noticing Tamar], but Elohim caused the malakh of lust to present itself to him." Human urges are here called a malakh. Likewise we frequently meet with the phrase "the malakh set over a certain thing.'' In Midrash Qohelet (on Qohelet 10:7) the following passage occurs: "When a person sleeps, their nefesh speaks to the malakh, the malakh to the cherub." The intelligent reader will find here a clear statement that human imaginative faculty is also called "malakh" and that "cherub" is used for human intellectual faculty.
(Proposition 26, chapter 6)

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From the rule laid down by us that prophecy requires preparation, and from our interpretation of the homonym "malakh" you will infer that Hagar, the Egyptian woman, was not a nevit; also Manoah and his wife were no neviim: the speech they heard, or imagined they heard, was like the Bat Qol, which is so frequently mentioned by Chazal, and is something that may be experienced by people not prepared for prophecy. The homonymity of the word "malakh" misleads in this matter. This is the principal method by which most of the difficult passages in the Tanakh can be explained. Consider the words "And Malakh HASHEM found her by the well of water" (Bereshit 16:7), which are similar to the words referring to Yosef, "And a man found him, and he was erring in the field" (37:15). All the Midrashim assume that "man" in this passage means a malakh.

(Id., chapter 42)

  • I like this answer, but why do you refer to God specifically as Elohim? – Emet v'Shalom Aug 23 '15 at 4:23
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Compare it to a Shaliach of a king, when ever a king would send one out to give a message to the people they would say: the king has spoken. Or when his troops would go out to war: The king has conquered. Because those would represent the king.

The only question I have is how and if the malach HaShem would differ from any other mention of malachim.

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The term "Mal'ach Y-H-V-H" does not mean that the Mala'ach was named that. It means a mal'ach of Hashem. The messenger than gave the message of Hashem to Hagar (who did not merited direct "conversation"). Note that each time she refuses to listen, the mal'ach speaks a new message as if he is going back to Hashem and getting a new respose to her refusal. When she finally does acknowledge the message, she attributes it to the original Sender of the message.

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