Can angels’ sin and do they have freedom of choice, reward and punishment?

  1. Question: [Sunday, 10th Kisleiv, 5783]

Is it possible for angels to sin? I am a bit confused about the subject as everyone always says that angels can’t sin and that’s why they are called angels and therefore they do not even have freedom of choice. This is the basic difference between human and angels, that humans have freedom of choice to sin while angels do not. On the other hand, we have heard of cases in Chazal which mentioned the sins of angels. So which is it? Can they sin or can’t they?


There are indeed conflicting sources regarding this matter. The classic approach is that angels do not contain freedom of choice and therefore they cannot sin, and so is explicitly written in some sources. However, we do find instances in which angels have sinned and were punished for doing so, and so is explicit in other sources that angels have freedom of choice and are able to sin and receive reward and punishment after judgment, similar to humans. I am unaware of any answer to resolve this contradiction. However, perhaps one can suggest that there are different types of angels, or different levels of Bechira Chafshis, and that they do not retain the same level of freedom of choice as humans, although do maintain some level of it.

Explanation: In Tanya the Alter Rebbe writes that angels do not have freedom of choice. However, in other Hasidic discourses he writes that they do have freedom of choice and are able to sin. The Alter Rebbe explains that only in the world of Atzilius is there no evil applicable, and in Atzilus creations do not exist as a separate being from God and hence they do not have freedom of choice and cannot sin. However, in the worlds of Beriyah and down all creations are separate beings from God and therefore they have the ability to choose to perform the opposite of God’s will Chas Veshalom. This implies that the vast bulk of angels, which come from the spiritual worlds of Beriyah and below, have freedom of choice, and are actually able to sin against God. Furthermore, in one discourse, the Alter Rebbe states that Angels are also subject to the concept of reward and punishment. Various Midrashic sources as well as Talmudic statements which speak of the sins of angels support this latter approach. Such as, for example, the Sages state that the angel Matat was punished with 60 torches of fire, and that the Angel Samech Mem and Uziel in the times of the flood were put in this world to test their resolve, and these angels sinned against God. However, in other discourses these proofs are negated for one reason or another, and do not prove that angels have freedom of choice. The Rebbe makes mention of this contradiction in a Mamar, although does not resolve it.

Sources: See sayings of Chazal regarding the sins of angels: Chagiga 15a regarding Matat; Pirkei Derebbe Eliezer 22; Yalkut Shimoni Bereishis Remez 44 regarding Uziel and Samael;  Sources which state angels do not have freedom of choice: See Tanya Chapter 39 “It is for this reason that angels are called animals being that they do not have freedom of choice.”; Sefer Hamamarim 5629 p. 151 “however, angels do not have freedom of choice at all and are rather like an axe in the hand of the chopper. And that which the sages state regarding certain angels that they had sinned, one can answer that these angels were originally souls, such as Matat was Chanoch, and therefore also now these angels retain their freedom of choice. However, all other angels do not have freedom of choice and are rather like an axe in the hand of the chopper.”; Sefer Hamamrim 5700 p. 33 “Even the intellectual angels of Beriyah have no choice at all; Likkutei Sichos 31 p. 256 [no Bechira] Sources which state angels have freedom of choice and can sin ch”v: Likkutei Torah Behar p. 86 “This is in contrast to Biyah which is actually separate and limited to the point that it’s creations have freedom of choice to perform the opposite of God’s will Chas Veshalom, as the sages state regarding Matat that he was shown 60 Pulsa Denura.”; Sefer Hamamarim Admur Hazakein 5565 1:14 “Therefore in Biyah which are separate worlds there is freedom of choice and reward and punishment as even by angels we can find the concept of sin that they do not perform God’s will properly, as can be seen from the saying of the sages that Mata was expelled and shown the Pulsa Denura”; Sefer Hamamarim Admur Hazakein Hanachas Harap p. 186 [brought next]; Tzemach Tzedek: Biurei Hazohar 1:397; 2956; Or Torah Savo p. 1093;  Sefer Hamamrim 5682 p. 19; Sefer Hamamrim 5697 p. 234; Sefer Hamamrim 5712 “Kevod Malchusecha” printed in Toras Menachem Vol. 4 p. 3 quotes from the discourse of the Alter Rebbe in Sefer Hamamarim Hanachas Harap p. 186 “However in Biyah, which is the world of separation, even angels are a separate existence and have freedom of choice [This matter is a novelty as it is explicit in Tanya that angels do not have freedom of choice, and here it’s explained that they have freedom of choice].” “Layehudim Haysa Orah”, printed in Toras Menachem Vol. 5 p. 12 “therefore, angels are a separate existence until it’s possible for them to have the concept of sin.”; Sefer Hamamrim 5731 “Kedosh Yisrael Lehavayah; See Likkutei Sichos 19 p. 281; See Or Tefila Vol. 5 p. 276

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