Saturday, May 8, 2010

Angels & Demons 7: Can Animals, Children, or Angels SIN?

Is it possible for my little dog Nicolete to sin? Not according to official Jewish teachings. Why? Nicolete does not possess both the good and evil inclinations. She possesses only the “evil inclination”—what Jews call the YETZER HA-RA. Although we sometimes anthropomorphize animals—such as Lassie (the canine movie star), Trigger (Roy Rogers’ horse), and Flipper (the dolphin)—to make them appear to have a good inclination, animals do things for essentially SELFISH reasons. Ask any animal trainer how one secures desired behavior on the part of an animal and you will find that selfishness prevails on the part of the animal. Whenever the desired behavior occurs, the animal is rewarded, using the pleasure principle. Continual training using this selfish reinforcement is called “operant conditioning.” Eventually, animal trainers train dogs, horses, dolphins, birds, etc., to behave in ways that “can be interpreted” by anthropomorphizing humans as conforming to a “good inclination”—what Jews call the YETZER HA-TOV—but these “good” behaviors are actually selfish behaviors, induced by reward or punishment.

Is it possible for children to sin? Not according to official Jewish teachings—for the same reason animals cannot sin. Children do not possess the YETZER HA-TOV, according to the Jewish Mishnah, until they reach the age of 12 or 13 (12 for girls, 13 for boys). Prior to that age, they possess only the YETZER HA-RA. They—like animals—are essentially selfish. This is why at age 13, Jewish boys are given a BAR MITZVAH (literally: “son of the commandment”). Girls, at the age of 12, have a BAT MITZVAH (“daughter of the commandment”). They are not even expected to be able to live according to the Commandments until that age. They are considered sinless, even though they are (like animals) essentially selfish. However, the Mishnah suggests that we begin training children to keep the commandments, a few years before they reach the age of accountability. The young girl who tricked the angels in my previous commentary had just reached the age of 12. There is a specific Hebrew word that indicates the fact. She had been sinless prior to this encounter with the angels, due to her age. Since she passed her first specific test and avoided the transgression, she was rewarded by God (with eternal life?).

Is it possible for adult humans to sin? To quote Governor Palin, “You betcha!” Adult humans have both the YETZER HA-RA and the YETZER HA-TOV. They have the knowledge of both good and evil. They have a measure of free will that animals and children do not. They are capable of freely choosing to be either selfish or selfless. Virtually all (but not actually ALL) adult humans have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Even though we, at times, act unselfishly (in accordance with the YETZER HA-TOV), every one of us has also, at times, acted selfishly (in accordance with the YETZER HA-RA). Once humans reach the age of accountability, they are held responsible for their sins. ONLY BEINGS POSSESSING BOTH THE YETZER HA-RA AND THE YETZER HA-TOV ARE CONSIDERED CAPABLE OF SIN. If a being (such as a child or an animal) does not have the full capability to choose freely between good and evil alternatives, that being is not held “accountable” for any sins. God does not hold a being responsible for doing something that being was incapable of doing.

So, is it possible for angels to sin? Not according to official Jewish teachings. This is not because, like animals and children, angels possess only the YETZER HA-RA. On the contrary, angels do not have the evil inclination at all! They possess only the YETZER HA-TOV. They do not have selfish motives whatsoever. Everything they do is what is commanded by the One who created them. They are totally selfless. But, they are not considered as high in God’s hierarchy as are humans. This is because SOME humans who are capable of sinning CHOOSE NOT TO SIN. Angels never even have the opportunity to prove that they would choose correctly. They have no choice. They have no free will. The reason you will find no commandments in the Bible directed at angels (as we considered two weeks ago) is that there would be no point. Angels have no commandments because they are not free moral agents. They cannot sin.


  1. is it possible to cast out Yetzer-Ra?

    1. No, the Yetzer Ha-Ra is the evil inclination that exists in all humans. It is not a demon or an angel.