The Angel Lailah
The name Lailah is the same as the Hebrew word for “night” laylah לילה. The identification of the word “night” as the name of an angel originates with the interpretation of “Rabbi Yochanan” (possibly Yochanan ben Zakkai c. 30 – 90 CE) who read “At night [Abraham] and his servants deployed against them and defeated them” (JPS Genesis 14.14) as “by [an angel called] night” (Sanhedrin 96a).
The noun for “night” in the Semitic languages is derived from the tri-consonantal root: L–Y–L, also found in Arabic laylah “night” (ليلى). The root is also shared with the Hebrew noun liliyt, “night creature”, one origin of the Lilith myth.
The ending lah is a feminine. Lailah is the only angel with a feminine name and distinctly feminine characteristics.
An angel called “night”
An angel Layla is not mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. There is no direct indication of angelic involvement in Abraham’s coalition with the kings Chedorlaomer, Tidal, Amraphel and Arioch and their night attack on the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah. “Rabbi Yochanan”‘s interpretation of “at night” in Genesis 14:14 is usually seen in the context of the Second Temple period with an increased interest in angels and the Jewish angelic hierarchy.
In the Babylonian Talmud: Sanhedrin 96a the phrase “And he [Abraham] fought against them, he and his servants, “by night” [Hebrew lailah] and smote them.” is interpreted by Rabbi Johanan who said “The angel who was appointed to Abraham was named lailah [Night].” Rabbi Isaac the smith also related either God “He”, or an angel “he”, to the stars fighting against Sisera.
“If I go [to battle] and am successful, I will sacrifice my two sons to thee’, he vowed. But his sons heard this, so they killed him, as it is written, And it came to pass, as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sharezer his sons smote him with the sword etc.6 And he fought against them, he and his servants, by night [lailah] and smote them.
- R. Johanan said: The angel who was appointed to [aid] Abraham was named lailah [Night].
- as it is written, [Let the day perish wherein I was born], and the Lailah which said, There is a man child conceived.
- R. Isaac, the smith, said: He [the angel] set into motion the activities of the night [viz.. the stars] on his behalf, as it is written, They fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against Sisera.” Sanhedrian 96, Soncino Talmud
Also in the Talmud, the interpretation is found of rabbi Hanina ben Pappa (3rd century AD), that Lailah is an angel in charge of conception who takes a drop of semen and places it before God, saying:
For R. Hanina b. Papa made the following exposition: The name of the angel who is in charge of conception is ‘Night’, and he takes up a drop and places it in the presence of the Holy One, blessed be He, saying, ‘Sovereign of the universe, what shall be the fate of this drop? Shall it produce a strong man or a weak man, a wise man or a fool, a rich man or a poor man?’ (Niddah 16b).
Lailah chooses a soul from the Garden of Eden and commands it to enter the embryo. Lailah watches over the development in the womb and shows the rewards and punishments available to the individual. Then right before birth, Lailah strikes the newborn above the lip, making it forget what was learned and creating the philtrum. Lailah serves as a guardian angel throughout a person’s life and at death, leads the soul into the afterlife.
Ellen Frankel notes that God decides the fate of the child when it is conceived and leaves one thing undecided, whether it will be righteous or wicked. allowing it to have free will. According to Howard Schwartz, knowledge is present and then forgotten at birth, much like the Jungian concept of the collective unconscious, and Lailah is the polar opposite of Lilith, who wastes seed, is not maternal, and is bent on destruction, not creation.
The story of Lailah is mentioned by Louis Ginzberg in Legends of the Jews from the Midrash Tanhuma, Pekudei 3, in relation to Hanina ben Pappa’s interpretation in Niddah 16b.
Zohar and Kabbalah
Following Hanina ben Pappa, also according to the Zohar Chadash 68:3 the angel is in charge of conception and pregnancy.
Rabbinical commentary on “night” itself
The word “night” appears hundreds of times in the Hebrew Bible and continues to be the subject of rabbinic discussion. The noun layla is a feminine noun in Hebrew, although grammatical gender does not indicate actual gender in Hebrew. Nevertheless, according to Elijah Ben Solomon, the “Vilna Gaon” (1720–1797), Talmudist, halachist, and kabbalist, the Hebrew noun laylah (night) is feminine in its very essence, but has the unusual quality of dualism that combines the feminine with masculine character. In the Zohar, comparison is made between leyl (masculine noun) and layla (feminine noun) “night” is used in reference to the Exodus “to indicate the union which took place on that night between the Masculine and Feminine aspects in the Divine attributes.” (Zohar, Shemoth, Section 2).
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia