DEMIGODS AND ANGELS
DEVOTEE: Rabbi, most religions understand "God" as the Supreme Almighty who is second to none. Yet, virtually every religious culture in the world knows of special beings beyond the earthly realm who have control over the planets, the rain, food production, etc., and from whom human beings seek benedictions or protection. In the Jewish teachings, are there such beings mentioned and what role do they play?
RABBI: In the Jewish teachings these personalities are known as angels and many of them have particular controlling functions over the world. The Midrash teaches, "There is no blade of grass that does not have a constellation (Mazal) over it, telling it to grow." [Sefer Yetzirah 4.6] "As commentaries explain, 'God's providence works through the angels, but the angels, in turn, work through the stars and planets. As some authorities put it, the angels are, in a sense, like souls to the stars. Thus, for example, some sources speak of the stars as having intelligence, but the commentaries note that this is actually speaking of the angels that are associated with them.'" [Sefer Yetrzirah 4.6]
DEVOTEE: I am very interested in this statement from the Midrash. In Vedic philosophy, we find practically the same explanation. As we generally say, not a blade of grass moves without the will of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Thus everything is moving under His will: by His will everything is being created, everything is being maintained, and everything is being annihilated. Still He is aloof from everything, as the sky is always aloof from the activities of the wind.
In the Upaniñads, it is stated, "It is out of the fear of the Supreme Lord that the wind is blowing." [Taittiréya Upaniñad 2.8.1] It is also stated, "etasya vä akñarasya praçäsane gärgi sürya-candramasau vidhåtau tiñöhata etasya vä akñarasya praçäsane gärgi dyäv-äpåthivyau vidhåtau tiñöhataù. By the supreme order, under the superintendence of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the Moon, the Sun, and the other great planets are moving." [Båhad-äraëyaka Upaniñad 3.8.9]
RABBI: The Sefer Yetzirah refers to two kinds of angels: those who are permanent and those who are temporary. It is said that only the permanent ones, such as Gabriel and Michael, have names. The temporary ones do not. [Sefer Yetzirah, 4.6] Do the Vedic literatures describe different kinds of demigods?
DEVOTEE: Yes. In one sense, all of the inhabitants of the higher planets of the universe are called demigods in the same way that all men, women and children on earth are called human beings. Also, it is stated that there is life on all the planets in this universe, and that each heavenly planet is inhabited by different kinds of demigods. But also, there are many specially empowered demigods who are devotees of God and who the Lord has engaged in His service to help manage the affairs of the universe. Many of them are in charge of their own planets, including the planets of our solar system.
I do not know of a special class of demigods who are permanent or eternal, but the controlling demigods, although not eternal themselves, function within various posts that exist as long as the universe exists. For example, one of the principle demigods is Lord Indra. Indra is the name of the post, but the particular demigod who occupies that post during a given period has his own personal name. Just like President of the United States is a post, but there have been many presidents throughout American history.
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