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Pirke Avos 4:11

Rabbi Eliezer the son of Yaakov would say: He who fulfills one mitzvah, acquires for himself one angel-advocate; he who commits one transgression, acquires against himself one angel-accuser. Repentance and good deeds are as a shield against retribution.

What are earlier sources about the nature of these angels?

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  • I don't get the question Commented Apr 17, 2016 at 4:17
  • 2
    I took the liberty of editing the question to clarify it and limit it to one general question. If you don't like the edits, simply undo them.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Apr 17, 2016 at 19:32
  • ou.org/torah/parsha/rabbi-weinreb-on-parsha/…
    – ray
    Commented Apr 20, 2016 at 19:22
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    Why do you assume the nature of these angels is different from the nature of other angels?
    – Lee
    Commented Apr 21, 2016 at 3:51

2 Answers 2

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There are no earlier sources to a mishna in Pirkei Avot. The whole point of that tractate is to share wisdom that was given by God to Moses etc. The source is that the rabbi learned it from his rabbi etc.

Except for the Archangels and the AOD who appear regularly in Jewish folklore and theology, a typical angel only has one purpose and ceases to exist. These Mitzva generated angels serve as a visualizable representation of an action that accumulate so when the person dies one can visualize a crowd of accusers one one side and a crowd of character witnesses on the other. A mitva generated angel's soul purpose is to testify that that mitzva was done.

One may believe that God actually has a spiritual courtroom in the clouds that works in this manner or just view R' Eliezer's metaphor as a good way to visualize the weighing of actions.

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  • how can you be so sure there are no earlier sources?
    – ray
    Commented Apr 20, 2016 at 19:13
  • Because there are no sources between the bible and the era of the people quoted in the mishna. Commented Apr 20, 2016 at 21:36
  • why no sources? for ex. the Chida says sefer yetzira was written by Abraham
    – ray
    Commented Apr 21, 2016 at 5:07
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I don't believe that the aforementioned text refers to actual "angels", but metaphorical meaning behind this description. First, consider Elihu's statement in Yov 33:22-24

כב וַתִּקְרַב לַשַּׁחַת נַפְשׁוֹ וְחַיָּתוֹ לַמְמִתִים: כג אִם-יֵשׁ עָלָיו מַלְאָךְ מֵלִיץ אֶחָד מִנִּי-אָלֶף לְהַגִּיד לְאָדָם יָשְׁרוֹ: כד וַיְחֻנֶּנּוּ וַיֹּאמֶר פְּדָעֵהוּ מֵרֶדֶת שַׁחַת מָצָאתִי כֹפֶר:

This teaches that he who committed 999 aveiros, but fulfills one unique mitzvah, it will be to him as a shield against punishment. The "angel-advocate" is the mitzvah itself which was referred: "ha-oseh mitzvah achat, koneh lo praklit echat." They already have been expounded on Shabbos 32a:

ואלו הן פרקליטין של אדם תשובה ומעשים טובים ואפי' תשע מאות ותשעים ותשעה מלמדים עליו חובה ואחד מלמד עליו זכות ניצול שנאמר (איוב לג, כג) אם יש עליו מלאך מליץ אחד מני אלף להגיד לאדם ישרו ויחננו ויאמר פדעהו מרדת שחת וגו': ר' אליעזר בנו של ר' יוסי הגלילי אומר אפילו תשע מאות ותשעים ותשעה באותו מלאך לחובה ואחד לזכות ניצול שנאמר מליץ אחד מני אלף

Then it becomes clear from Hilchos Teshuvah 3:2 which reads:

ושקול זה אינו לפי מנין הזכיות והעונות אלא לפי גודלם. יש זכות שהיא כנגד כמה עונות שנאמר יען נמצא בו דבר טוב. ויש עון שהוא כנגד כמה זכיות שנאמר וחוטא אחד יאבד טובה הרבה. ואין שוקלין אלא בדעתו של אל דעות והוא היודע היאך עורכין הזכיות כנגד העונות:

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