The Christians don’t understand how an angel of G-d can try to seduce people to disobey G-d, so they came to the unsupported conclusion that Satan must have rebelled against G-d.
This is completely contrary to everything Judaism believes. We reject that interpretation entirely.
What, then, does Judaism teach about Satan?
Did you ever see the 1971 movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? (It’s one of the few examples of where a story from a book was changed for the screen without ruining the experience.) The story is about a very famous chocolate factory, called Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, that produces the world’s greatest chocolates, candies — confectionery in general. No one ever enters the factory, and no one ever leaves.
Mr. Wonka, the owner, runs a contest. The winners of the contest will be allowed to enter and tour the factory together. However, they will have to sign a contract and follow the rules. One of the rules is: no eating of any products inside the factory without express permission.
Afterwards, when they leave, they will go home with a lifetime supply of chocolate.That is, *IF* they follow the rules.
Five children win. They are of course all excited; TV stations and reporters interview them, and the whole world is excited with them. Now they just wait until the day they are to enter the factory and see the great wonders that no one else has ever been allowed to see.
Before the big day comes, each of the winners of the contest is secretly visited by a man named Arthur Slugworth, President of Slugworth Chocolates, Incorporated. Mr. Slugworth shows them a lot of cash, and tells them they will get all that money and more, if only they steal out of the factory a candy called an Everlasting Gobstopper. See, it hasn’t been mass produced or marketed yet, and Wonka’s competition wants to get an advance sample of this product so he can get it out first, and ruin Wonka.
The day comes, and all the kids are allowed into the factory with one adult relative. They see the most amazing sights, and eat the most amazing (and impossible to actually exist in real life) foods. One of the things Wonka gives each of the kids is an Everlasting Gobstopper, on the condition that they never show it to anyone else.
During the tour of the factory, four of the kids break the rules by taking stuff they should not have taken, and they all suffer the consequences. One gets all swollen up and blue from some gum she should not have taken, and they have to take her away and squeeze her until she gets skinny again. One of the kids jumps into a pool of chocolate and is sucked up into the pipes. And so on. They are all saved in the end, so don’t worry, but they must leave the factory without the lifetime supply of chocolate, because they broke the rules.
Charlie, the main character, also breaks the rules. He drinks some Fizzy drink he was not supposed to take, but no one seems to know, so he doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t get hurt in the process, so he survives until the end of the tour.
At the end of the tour, Charlie Bucket and his grandfather are the only ones left. Mr. Wonka says good bye to them, and tells them to leave. Upset, Charlie asks him for the lifetime supply of chocolate. But Mr. Wonka has somehow found out that Charlie drank the Fizzy drink, and therefore broke the rules. Charlie will not be getting a lifetime supply of chocolate either.
Wonka yells at him for drinking the Fizzy drink, and Charlie feels bad. But his grandfather is angry, and he tells Charlie that they’ll give Mr. Slugworth an Everlasting Gobstopper.
They are about to leave, when Charlie realizes that no matter how he feels, stealing and breaking rules is bad. So he goes to Mr. Wonka’s desk and returns the Gobstopper to him.
Wonka sees that, and jumps up in delight! He tells Charlie that he has won! Charlie has no idea of what he’s talking about. It seems that Wonka was looking to retire, and so he set up the contest to find an honest child he could train as his successor.
Then Wonka calls in Wilkinson, his aide. And Wilkinson is Slugworth! Slugworth was sent out to each of the children to test them! To see how they would respond. Anyone who either ate food he wasn’t supposed to eat or brought a Gobstopper to Slugworth was dishonest, and would not become the successor. (Okay, the parable is not exact, but I think you get my point.) Notice, also, that Wonka himself gave each of the children a Gobstopper. So he himself set up the choice, and then gave them the opportunity to break the rule, using Wilkinsin to offer the temptation.
Christians take Slugworth at face value: a reprehensible competitor who will stop at nothing to undo Wonka. And that’s how they view Satan.
Jews do not see it that way, and we never have. Just as Slugworth is really Wilkinson doing what Wonka asked him to do, Satan is also not working for himself.
The Hebrew word «Satan» means «Hinderer.» To hinder someone means to hold him back, to try to prevent him from doing something. G-d created the Hinderer to give us work to do in this world (see my article Why did G-d Create the World?). Satan is here to make things difficult for us, so we can overcome our evil temptations, and PASS the test. That is the purpose of Satan. Satan is an angel whose purpose has been determined by G-d.
Temptation is there to try and deter us. It gives us the ability to do the wrong thing. More importantly, it gives us the ability to look at evil and refuse to do it. By presenting us with the opportunity to do evil, it gives us the ability to choose between good and evil.
The ability to choose between good and evil is what gives us free will. (See my article On the Nature of Free Will.
So, in order for us to work for the good that Hashem wants to give us, the good of the World to Come, we need something to deter us. That is the ability to do evil. Satan is our Evil Inclination (Yetzer Hara). The Evil Inclination tries to prevent us from doing good, because Hashem has commanded the Evil Inclination to do that. Why? To give us free will.
Each of us every day fights with Satan. We all have temptations, throughout the day. But we, as the Children of Israel, have the power to overcome even angels, if we work at it. Therefore, the Talmud says that men are greater than angels, for we can fight with an angel (Satan) and win.
Satan is not, as the Christians think, a rebellious angel. How impossible! The angels are spiritual and holy, without any physical or unholy presence, and the presence of Hashem’s holiness permeates them entirely. Angels, unlike humans, are therefore constantly and fully aware of Hashem’s Presence everywhere. Could you stay dry in the ocean? An angel could not stop being holy, and can do no wrong. There is holiness everywhere in Creation, everywhere in the universe, and angels are made of the same thing. An angel could not stop serving G-d even if he tried.
Furthermore, humans have Satan to tempt us. Angels have no Satan to tempt them. Who would be Satan’s Satan? An ultra-Satan?
The truth is that Satan has a job to do, just like every other angel. And angels have no free will. They do as Hashem commands them.
A man once came to a great Rabbi, very troubled. He said to the Rabbi, «Please pray to Hashem to take away my Evil Inclination. I do so many sins, and I want to stop sinning!»
The Rabbi answered, «Then what would be your purpose in this world, if you had no Evil Inclination? Your purpose in life is to overcome your personal Evil Inclination. That is what you were created for! Hashem has enough angels in heaven. He doesn’t need one more. He created you human, so that you could improve yourself.»
Humans can improve themselves, and that is their purpose in this world. Angels, however, cannot improve themselves. That’s not their purpose. Angels are therefore said to be «standing.» They cannot become better, and they cannot rise any higher than they are. They are, so to speak, standing.
Isaiah, when describing a Heavenly scene, says «Seraphim were standing around Him….» (Isaiah 6:2). (Seraphim are a type of angel.) Spiritually, angels are stuck at whatever level Hashem created them.
Humans are different. Humans can rise by improving themselves. For that reason, we are described as «walkers.» Therefore the Prophet Zachariah told the High Priest, «This is what Hashem, L-rd of Hosts says: if you walk in My ways, and if you observe My safeguards, you and your sons after you will be the High Priests, and you and your sons will thus guard my Holy Temple, and I will make you walkers among these who are standing» (Zachariah 3:7).
In other words, Hashem was promising the High Priest that he and his children will be High Priests, and also will merit reward in the Afterlife, in the World of Souls, where righteous people go after death.
The Prophet Zachariah was saying that in the Next World they will be walkers among the standers, which means humans among angels.
So the angels are referred to as perpetually standing, but we are movers. Our purpose is to keep on moving, to keep on improving ourselves, and to keep on rising.
And how do we do it? By constant battle with the Evil Inclination.
So now we have to revise our understanding of Satan. Satan is not a fallen angel. Satan is merely an angel with a dirty job. Satan does not have a rival kingdom. Satan is not in competition with G-d, and Satan does not want followers or worshipers. He’s not even happy when people obey him and sin.
Satan is the angel who tempts us, and the angel who prosecutes us in Heaven. He is also the Angel of Death. The angel who tries to make us sin is the same angel who accuses us in the Heavenly Court, and the same angel who carries out the death sentence.
So, no, Satan does not wear a red suit, or carry a trident. Nor does he wear a business suit. Satan is a force of evil in the world that we must resist. Satan most often appears as a desire within you. Of course, there is no shortage of things in the world to tempt us to sin.
And Satan has many «helpers,» many of whom don’t even know they are helping him. A shady-looking character in the street walks over to you and offers to sell you some stolen property, for example. He’s not Satan. He’s someone who has not resisted Satan, and has decided to do evil. He’s now trying to tempt you to sin, but not because he wants you to sin per se. He personally has something to gain from your sinning.
Whenever a human being tries to tempt another person to sin, it’s because he himself feels he can gain something from it. It may be simply that he doesn’t want to sin alone. Or maybe he needs your help. Or maybe he just gets emotional satisfaction out of seeing you go against what you believe (in which case he is a very sick person, but unfortunately not unusual). There could be any number of motivations.
Likewise, the snake in the Garden of Eden was not Satan either, though confused Christians think it was. The snake had his own motivations, which I will not go into now. He was what the Torah calls a «Seducer,» someone who, for whatever reason, tries to get other people to sin.
How does one recognize Satan? For that we need to live a Torah life. This means a host of things that work together. To mention a few: Torah study, spending quality and quantity time among Observant Jewish people, learning from Rabbis and other religiously developed Jewish people, periodic introspection, and actual self-development by means of performing the Mitzvos. It is difficult (if at all possible) to cite any of these as being more important than any of the others.
None of us are capable of destroying Satan. What we are expected and commanded to do is to gain the upper hand over our personal Satans. And Hashem helps us do this, constantly. The Talmud says that the Evil Inclination constantly attempts to destroy us spiritually, and Hashem constantly helps us and gives us the means with which to overcome our Evil Inclinations.
When this world comes to an end, and the Next World begins, the Day of Judgment will take place. After that, Satan’s work will be done. There will no longer be sin, and there will no longer be death. All judgment will have been passed and performed. There will no longer be any need for a Tempting Angel, an Angel of Death, or a Prosecuting Angel. Satan will cease to exist. It will not be a sad day at all.
Nor will it be unfair treatment of Satan. It will be like turning off a machine. Angels are not like humans, with human emotions and desires. They exist merely to follow Hashem’s instructions, for the greater glory of Hashem.
That’s the reason we exist too — to follow Hashem’s instructions for the greater glory of Hashem. So Satan was created to struggle against us, and we were put into this world to struggle against Satan.
But that was not the purpose of our being created. When the struggle is over we will begin to receive the reward for having struggled. We will be brought in to the Next World, and the struggle will end.
That’s when the good times will begin.
Read more about this in my article, «Is the World in a Conflict Between Good and Evil?«
If you’re a Christian, and/or you’re here looking for Scriptural arguments and polemics, take a look at this article: «Who Is Satan?» by Rabbi Tovia Singer.