Have you ever been visited by angels? Do you believe in them? Sometimes they come in the form of human beings delivering us a special message or helping us see a profound truth in our lives, or to be a presence of comfort bringing us hope and healing when we are in pain. We have most likely all played the role of an angel for others at some point in our lives, even if we don’t know it. In Jewish tradition, when we visit someone who is sick, we bring the shechinah, an intimate piece of God, with us. When we are truly present with another person in need, it is as if we become an angel.
At the beginning of this week’s portion of the Torah, Vayera, Abraham has a revelation in the form of three angels appearing before him in the blistering heat of the midday, desert sun. The Torah calls them anashim, people, and yet tradition tells us they are angels coming to pay Abraham a visit as he sits recovering from his self-administered circumcision at 99 years old. The sources tell us that their presence surrounds and embraces Abraham with shechinah, the “God field” as Reb Zalman would say. Some sources say that this Divine embrace came to Abraham because he was complete, without blemish. This week I have been feeling the opposite; that we most need that heavenly presence when we are incomplete, broken and vulnerable and that the ways in which we show up for each other brings a kind of completion. My week in Jerusalem has been so full and rich. I have spent time in a shiva house helping to comfort a friend who just lost her father; I have drunk too much coffee in cafes with friends and colleagues, Israelis and ex-pats listening to different perspectives on our world and our future; I spent a day with a human rights lawyer and families in the Palestinian village of Susya whose fate hangs in the balance whether it will survive or be demolished; every morning I have joined other Cohanim in various synagogues to chant the Priestly Blessing in the only city in the world where this ancient ritual is performed every day. I have given and I have received; I have comforted and been comforted; I have been a vulnerable human being and I have been an angel.
Despite our fears and pain; our hopes and our joy, the world moves along. Among the Israelis and Palestinians, I have spoken to, some are terrified for the future and others optimistic and hopeful. A little while ago I got my hair cut by Yitzhak, who is almost sacrificed by his father later in our Parsha, who said that he believes in God and God has a plan and must have wanted Trump to be America’s next president and so it will all be for the best and then he wished me Shabbat shalom! I find myself envious of a simplicity of faith like that. Many of us do not have that kind of trust in the world and are not feeling so hopeful, but we just do not know how this is all going to unfold. We are not perfect and the world is not perfect and yet we have the capacity to be angels for one another, to be kind and present and healing in the way we accept and hold each other. One of the verses that describes how angels act in the world says, “notnim reshut zeh l’zeh – they grant each other permission,” permission to be just who they are and to have their particular and unique light shine, even through the cracks of broken souls.
Many of us were so moved by the sad loss of the priestly poet Leonard Cohen who, as I quoted in an earlier musing, wrote and sang so brilliantly in Anthem, “Forget your perfect offering…There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” This world and those of us who live in it are far from perfect, far from complete, far from having all the answers to unfathomable questions, and yet we can be fully and fiercely and lovingly present in each other’s lives; showing up as angels, messengers of the Divine, messengers of hope, giving permission for the light to shine through the cracks and the broken dreams. Hineni. Hineni. Here I am.