Tagging along with Angels
November 17, 2009 11:29 PM   Subscribe

Kabbalah Obscura: looking for the source of an old Jewish parable where either Moses or Solomon doubt an Archangel's word, and the Angel takes them along to observe what angels do to accomplish the tasks of the divine mission...

All I remember is the angel goes on perform a series of tasks which appear to be horrifying and cruel—sinking a ship full of innocent people, causing a home to collapse, and a few other things like this.
In the end, Moses asks the angel what possible divine reason could justify this, and the angel reveals a sequence of events which would have come about had each of these task not been performed.
I don't recall if this is a traditional Jewish parable or an adaptation from something else.
Thanks MeFi, you're the best!
posted by archae to Religion & Philosophy (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
There's a similar story involving Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi and the prophet Eliyahu (Elijah). Could that be it?
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:33 AM on November 18, 2009

It could help a lot if you knew who the parable/Midrash was about. It's a bit vague to figure out right now.
posted by watercarrier at 8:05 AM on November 18, 2009

Yes, it sounds to me as well like it's the R' Yehoshua ben Levi story. You can find a simplified version of it in this book of children's stories.

If you're looking for the original source, it comes from the Hibbur Yafeh Mei HaYishuah, which was written by Rav Nissim Gaon from Kairouan (Tunisia). He borrowed liberally from earlier stories and folktales (without attribution, naturally). But this citation means that we can date it to the 11th century at the latest (though my sources say that the earliest extant manuscript of the Hibbur Yafeh comes from 16th century Ferrara).

Hope this helps!
posted by AngerBoy at 9:42 AM on November 18, 2009

Apparently there's a similar story in the Koran that actually involves Moses.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:56 PM on November 18, 2009

Fantastic MeFi! Joe in Australia you found it—the line about you can come along but must ask no questions was the identifying detail I forgot. The other stories are also very, very interesting and I had no idea there were several variations on this old story.
posted by archae at 10:59 PM on November 18, 2009

The original is of course in the Torah and Zohar which predate the Koran by about 2,000 years IIRC - I couldn't find the original Midrash but I'm sure it's there if it made its way into the Koran . Glad you found what you were seeking.
posted by watercarrier at 1:18 AM on November 19, 2009

OK - I just had to find out what Al-Khidr is - and in the Wiki reference at the bottom it says:

*The story is also similar to one told in the Talmud of a journey made by the prophet Elijah and Rabbi Jochanan.[7] The first house where they stay the night belongs to a pious old couple who give the prophet and the rebbe the best of their food and beds. However, the couple's cow dies in the night. Elijah later explains that the Angel of Death came and he persuaded the angel to take the cow instead of the wife. The next house, as in the al-Khiḍr story, is that of a rich miser, and Elijah repairs his wall so that he will not, in having it repaired, find the treasure hidden under it. This story could have been adapted by religious figures to suit Elijah, taking the essence away from Moses having to learn from someone else. This could have been seen to belittle Moses. Hence was adapted to suit someone else.*

OK - hamavin yavin.
posted by watercarrier at 1:22 AM on November 19, 2009

The original is of course in the Torah and Zohar which predate the Koran by about 2,000 years IIRC

I would be the first to claim a Jewish origin for it (*) but it I can't find any source for it that predates the Koran. I suspect that it's the sort of folk story that has always circulated in many versions.

(*) A Hungarian Jewish origin, if such a thing were possible.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:47 AM on November 19, 2009

I hear ya. It's there somewhere. Maybe it'll surface and it can be posted - you know - for posterity and clarity's sake.
posted by watercarrier at 7:03 AM on November 19, 2009

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