Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Star Maiden

I decided everyone should know who Istahar is. She was always one of my favorite characters from The Diamond Tree by Howard Schwartz. This writeup is from Tree of Souls. I like the version in The Diamond Tree better because she actually tricks the angel into giving her his wings. (That version is found in Bet Ha-Midrash 5:156).

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581. The Star Maiden

When the generation of the Flood went astray, God began to regret having created humans. Then two angels, Shemhazai and Azazel, reminded God that they had opposed the creation of humans, saying, What is man, that You have been mindful of him? (Ps. 8:5). God replied: "Those who dwell on earth are subject to the Evil Inclination. Even you would be overpowered by it." But the angels protested, saying: "Let us descend to the world of humans, and let us show You how we will sanctify Your name." And God said: "Go down and dwell among them."

So the two angels descended to earth, where they were certain they could resist the power of the Evil Inclination. But as soon as they saw how beautiful were the daughters of men, they forgot their vows and took lovers from among them, even though they were defiling their own pure essence. So too did they teach them secrets of how to entice men, as well as the dark arts of sorcery, incantations, and the divining of roots.

Then the two angels decided to select brides for themselves from among the daughters of men. Azazel desired Na'amah, the sister of Tubal-Cain, the most beautiful woman on earth. But there was another beautiful maiden, Istahar, the last of the virgins, whom Shemhazai desired, and she refused him. This made him want her all the more.

"I am an angel," he revealed to her, "you cannot refuse me."

"I will not give in to you," Istahar replied, "unless you teach me God's Ineffable Name."

"That I cannot do," Shemhazai replied, "for it is a secret of heaven."

"Why should I believe you?" said Istahar. "Perhaps you don't know it at all. Perhaps you are not really an angel."

"Of course I know it," said Shemhazai, and he revealed God's Name.

Now, as soon as she heard the holy Name, Istahar pronounced it and flew up into the heavens, escaping the angel. And when God saw this, He said: "Because she removed herself from sin, let Istahar be set among the stars." And Istahar was transformed into a star, one of the brightest in the sky. And when Shemhazai saw this, he recognized God's rebuke of his sin and repented, hanging himself upside down between heaven and earth. But Azazel refused to repent, and God hung him upside down in a canyon, bound in chains, where he remains to this day. That is why a scapegoat is sent to Azazel on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, bearing the sins of Israel.

Others say that when the two angels, Shemhazai and Azazel, came down to earth, they were still innocent. But they were corrupted by the demonesses Na'amah and Lilith. The children they bore were the giants of old, known as the Nefilim, or Fallen Ones. They bore six children at each birth, and in that very hour their offspring stood up, spoke the holy language, and danced before them like sheep. There were said to be sixty in all. These giants had such great appetites that God rained manna on them in many different flavors, so that they might not eat flesh. But the Fallen Ones rejected the manna, slaughtered animals, and even dined on human flesh.

Still others say that the offspring of the fallen angels were tall and handsome, and had greater strength than all the children of men. Because of the heavenly origin of their fathers, they are referred to as "the children of heaven."

Sources: Targum Pseudo-Yonathan on Genesis 6:1-4; Yalkut Shimoni, Bereshi 44, Midrash Avkir in Beit ha-Midrash, 4:127-128; The Book of Jubilees 4:15, 4:22, 5:1-3; 1 Enoch 6:14; Bereshit Rabbati 29-30; Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer 22; Zohar 1:37a; Zohar Hadash, Ruth 81a; IFA 10856.

3 comments:

Baruch said...

Are you stydying for a test?
Interesting info.

nmf #7 said...

OOH! The Diamond Tree!! I love that book, especially Istahar. But I never knew if the midrash was true or not- thank you so much for the info!
What about the story in there of making Og a coat from the skin of the animals?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this interesting piece of information. I heard about this story and I wanted to find out more about it. I'm interested in reading all the books not found in the Christian Bible. There is so much missing that in order to put thing together, only G-d would could do it. Once again thank you for this.