Often, when I minister pastoral care for patients before their upcoming surgery, I offer them the bedtime Sh’ma prayer;
In the name of Adonai
the God of Israel:
May the angel Michael be at my right,
and the angel Gabriel be at my left;
and in front of me the angel Uriel,
and behind me the angel Raphael
and above my head
Patients feel comforted by this prayer and share that it gives them the opportunity to visualize a connection with the divine. Those who feel skeptical about the existence of angels may want to review the great sources of Jewish tradition such as the Talmud, the Kabbalah and the Bible, to find that the rabbis wrote and taught about angels as being part of God’s kingdom. Genesis Rabbah mentions that God created the angels even before God created Man. According to the Malbim (Ukraine, 19th century) God created two kinds of angels with words. One kind is an angel with a mission to act according to what is assigned by God. The other kind is an angel who carries the name of the divine within him and his actions are God’s actions.
One reference to the second kind of angel appears in this week’s portion. Following the revelation at Mount Sinai and hearing more than 50 different, demanding civil, criminal, moral, and religious laws, we can only imagine how confused and scared the Israelis were. God promises to send them an angel that would walk with them and safely lead them to the new Promised Land. God also warns the people: “Be watchful in front of him and obey him because My Name is within him” (Exodus 23:21). This is an angel that informs further about God and God’s actions. Anyone who would disobey this angel would also disobey God. Thus, God has given the Israelites a challenge – to find a way to relate to and recognize God’s essence in an entity that does not look like God at all.
In many ways we can be like the Israelites at this scene. There are times when we face challenges that scare or confuse us. When we experience pain and sorrow we feel out of control. When we are betrayed or excluded we are shattered. At times like these it is important to know that we are not alone and that our own angel walks with us. Midrash Tanchuma reassures us that there are angels among us, which are created through the deeds of man. When one does a good deed, God gives this person one angel. If one fulfills two good deeds, God gives this person two angels, and so on. Many of us are performing good deeds and thus are granted angels. All we need to do is recognize who they are. At difficult times, look around you, but do not search for someone with white wings. Look in people’s eyes and you will find the angel who carries God’s essence. Could your doctors and nurses be your angels at time of a health crisis? Could a child who helped your elderly mother be an angel? Or, perhaps, could it be you who carries out a divine mission to help others?
Each one of us carries the divine and is an angelic being, but it is not obviously recognized that our own body is a container of angelic energy. It is not easy to realize a world that is beyond the material. It was called by the Baal Shem Tov “seeing the Divine Presence in everything”. When God presented the angel to the Israelites God wanted them to break down this physical way of seeing. This week we are asked not only to become aware of who is in our community, but also to recognize the spiritual essence that lies behind the external form of people.
On this Shabbat we are taught that God’s intervention is manifested by each one of us, for each one of us, through the angelic metaphorical essence. May we be guided by angels that God implanted among us. Let us affirm: “Here, God is sending me an angel and God’s Name is within him or her” and remember that we do not journey alone.