In this week’s Parasha, the Torah describes Avraham’s encounter with three angels. The angels told Avraham that he will have a child. After meeting with Avraham, the angels traveled to Sedom in order to save Avraham’s nephew, Lot, from the doomed city. With Lot in hand, the angels left Sedom and proceeded to destroy the city.
The Midrash states that the angels that came to save Lot were banished to Earth by Hashem for 138 years. The reason for this punishment was that during their meeting with Lot, they told him to gather his loved ones and leave the city, because “We are about to destroy this place” (Bereishit 9:13), thereby revealing Hashem’s plan. The angles were able to return on the heavenly ladder that appeared in Yaakov’s dream 138 years later. Why were the angles able to return to Heaven only during Yaakov’s dream? Why couldn’t they return sooner?
To understand the answer, we must explain why the angels’ “sin” was deserving of banishment. Their sin seems to have been their confidence in the claim that Sedom was going to be destroyed, as though the matter was already settled, when there was a possibility it would not be. Only Hashem truly could know if the people of Sedom had preformed Teshuvah and were deserving of being saved. Hashem could even decide to spare the city moments before the angels were to destroy it. It therefore was arrogant for the angels to announce Sedom’s “fate” before it was sealed.
With this in mind, we can now understand why the angels were permitted to return to Heaven only during Yaakov’s dream of the heavenly ladder. Had the angels known that one of Yitzchak’s two sons would be forced to leave home, they would have assumed that it would be Eisav, not Yaakov. After all, Eisav was the wicked man of the field, while Yaakov spent all of his time learning. But the exact opposite occurred; Eisav remained with Yitzchak and Yaakov was forced to flee for his life. It was only at this point that the angels realized that Hashem’s secrets are not revealed to anyone, even his own angels, and that it would be arrogant to think that anything from the destruction of a city to a brother fleeing his own home could be decided by someone other than Hashem. When they realized their error, they were readmitted to Heaven.
If angels are not privy to what Hashem really thinks, certainly we are not capable of discerning His thoughts. It behooves us to be exceedingly careful to guard ourselves against such arrogant ideas.
-Adapted from a Devar Torah of Rav Zalman Sorotzkin