The Flight of Angels Part III: Psychic Death and Isaiah’s Encounter With Michael

Eleazar b. Abina said furthermore: Greater is [the achievement] ascribed to Michael than that ascribed to Gabriel. For of Michael it is written: Then flew unto me one of the Seraphim, whereas of Gabriel it is written: The man Gabriel whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly in a flight etc. How do you know that this [word] ‘one’ [of the Seraphim] means Michael? –R. Johanan says: By an analogy from [the words] ‘one’, ‘one’. Here it is written: Then flew unto me one of the Seraphim; and in another place it is written: But, lo, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me. A Tanna taught: Michael [reaches his goal] in one [flight], Gabriel in two, Elijah in four, and the Angel of Death in eight. In the time of plague, however, [the Angel of Death, too, reaches his goal] in one.

The line we are examining comes from Isaiah ­­­­6:6. Seraphim are proclaiming the Kedushah one to the other: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole world is filled with his glory. Isaiah’s response is to immediately confess: “Woe is me! For I am ruined; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.” We could assume that Isaiah is inferring his own doom, from God’s words to Moshe, that no man can see HaShem’s face and live. But, Ashrei says that God will uplift those who are fallen. So then, why should the prophet be concerned?

The human mind cannot directly grasp the true nature of reality. The universe is inevitably larger than the stories and explanations humans can conceive. However, the human mind abhors and rebels against experiences we cannot explain. Isaiah’s direct encounter with HaShem makes him realize how much of his being has been created with the self-delusions and false notions about the nature of reality that was shared by his society. Jung, one of the founders of modern psychology, wrote about the notion of psychic death. Psychic death occurs when the individual experiences a spiritual revelation that so greatly overwhelms the individual’s understanding of themselves and their world that there is nothing left of their sense of self. At that moment, the individual experiences the total loss of the sense of self, which leads to the experience of panic or the fear of going insane. Isaiah’s encounter with the ultimate truth leaves him experiencing himself in great peril. the Tanya states that the soul is clothed in thoughts, speech and deed. Isaiah’s direct encounter with HaShem makes him realize how much of his being has been created with the self-delusions and false notions about the nature of reality that was shared by his society. Isaiah’s encounter with the ultimate truth leaves him experiencing himself in great peril. According to the Tanya, the soul is clothed in thoughts, speech and deed. Isaiah’s encounter with the ultimate truth leaves him experiencing the garments of his soul ripped away from him. He encounters an ego death and must reconstitute his ego, or sense of self, in line with his new understanding of the truth.

Indeed, in Isaiah’s vision, one of the Seraphim, presumably Michael, takes a coal from the tongs from off the alter and lays it on Isaiah’s mouth to purify his speech. It’s only then that Isaiah receives the ability to be a prophet. Why is it that such a dramatic purification is necessary? In order for us to understand these questions, we must digress and examine Adam’s sin as it relates to LaShon Hara.  But that will be for our next post!

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