Monday, November 26, 2012

Walking with Angels - November 26, 2012

"Walking with Angels" 
A Commentary on Genesis 28:10-19 based on 
The Five Books of Moses, by Everett Fox 
and A Gathering of Angels: Angels in Jewish Life and Literature, 
by Rabbi Morris B. Margolies

The Angels Blessing (Debbie Friedman)
Miy'mini Michaeil, umismoli Gavrieil, Umil'fanai Urieil, umei-achorai R'faeil,
V'al roshi Sh'chinah. (4x)
   מִימִינִי מִיכָאֵל, וּמִשְּׂמֹאלִי גַּבְרִיאֵל, וּמִלְּפָנַי אוּרִיאֵל, וּמֵאֲחוֹרַי רְפָאֵל,
.וְעַל רֹאשִׁי שְׁכִינָה
May our right hand bring us closer to our Godliness. 
May our left hand give us strength to face each day.
And before us may our visions light our paths ahead.
And behind us may well-being heal our way.
All around us is Shechinah. (4x)
[May Michael/God’s being be at my right hand, Gabriel/God’s strength at my left,
before me Uriel/God’s vision, behind me Raphael/God’s healing, and above my head, the Divine Presence.]

The first time I heard that Debbie Friedman song, I felt a little less than natural or comfortable singing along. I didn't know then that "The Angels Blessing" is based on a traditional Jewish prayer said before going to sleep.  It reads as follows:
"In the name of the Eternal One, the God of Israel, may Michael be at my right hand; Gabriel at my left; before me, Uriel; behind me, Raphael; and above my head, the divine presence of God."  
Over 100 years ago, Reform Judaism banished angels from the prayerbook - but not completely. As we sang "Shalom Aleichem" to begin the service, we mentioned "mal'achei hashareit-ministering angels" and "mal'achei hashalom-angels of peace." When we say, "Holy, Holy, Holy, is God of Hosts" at a morning service, we are repeating words uttered by angels in a vision of the prophet Isaiah. The Eternal Light in our sanctuary illustrates this week’s Torah reading, which recounts Jacob's vision of angels going up and down on a ladder reaching to heaven.  We read the stories from the Bible about angels and messengers from God appearing to Abraham, Sarah's maidservant Hagar, and other characters.  We sing "Eliyahu Hanavi" at Havdalah and at the Passover Seder, remembering Elijah who, because he was taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire, functions in Jewish tradition like an angel.  Tonight, we focus on the figure of Jacob and his first encounter with angels in a dream.

In This Place (Jeff Klepper)
I was weary, I was tired so  I rested for the night
A stone for my pillow, the moon and stars for light
I saw angels on a ladder, from above and from below
God was in this place and I, I did not know-God was in this place and I, I did not know.
I was chasing after rainbows, I was far away from home
Thinking of my family, so hard to be alone
I was wrestling with feelings, I was trying not to show
God was in this place and I, I did not know-God was in this place and I, I did not know.
There is a ladder to the heavens you must climb it if you can
You can do it if you dream it, if you open up your hand
We are on this road together, we are traveling somewhere
We are all in need of comfort, we could use some love and care
I can still hear Jacob calling from the Torah long ago:
God was in this place and I, I did not know-God was in this place and I, I did not know.
I did not know (3)

Most figures in the Bible that encounter angels do so alone.  The word for angel, "Mal'ach," means "messenger." In most biblical stories, angels were sent as emissaries to fulfill tasks for God.  In later Jewish literature, angels began to take on lives and existences of their own as divine beings who could act without God's knowledge and approval.  That created the possibility of Jewish worship of individual angels.  That is one of the reasons why we hear little about angels in our tradition. The rabbis worried that God would cease to be central to Judaism in the face of angel worship, so they struggled to keep the belief in angels in line with the monotheistic Judaism they hoped to pass on to future generations.   Perhaps that is why this story of angels on a ladder might give us pause, but it still can have deep meaning, even for us today.
[10] Yaakov went out from Be’er-Sheva and went toward Harran. [11] He encountered a certain place.  He had to spend the night there, for the sun had come in. Now he took one of the stones of the place and set it at his head and lay down in that place.
Jacob was alone, having left his family because of the strife that had resulted after he took his brother Esau’s birthright in exchange for food and received his father Isaac’s first-born blessing at his mother Rebekah’s urging.  Jacob was in need of strength and reassurance.  There are times when we, like Jacob, are separated from our family and friends for one reason or another.  The cause of our solitude might be distance alone or it could be a challenge that we feel we have to face by ourselves.  Or, it might be a disagreement or conflict that requires reconciliation.  That is certainly a time we might need help from outside of us to guide us through a difficult passage towards resolution.
[12] And he dreamt: Here, a ladder was set  up on the earth, its top reaching the heavens. And here: messengers of God/angels were going up and down on it. 
[13] And here: The Eternal One was standing over against him.  The Eternal said:  I am the Eternal one, the God of Avraham your father and the God of Yitzhak. The land on which you lie I give to your seed. 
[14] Your seed will be like the dust of the earth; you will burst forth, to the Sea, to the east, to the north, to the Negev. All the clans of the soil will find blessing through you and through your seed. 
[15] Here, I am with you; I will watch over you wherever you go and will bring you back to this soil; indeed, I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you. 
The rabbis imagined Jacob standing at the bottom of the ladder, seeing angels representing the great empires of the world going up the ladder as they ascended to great power, and descending as their power declined and their nation was defeated.  Jacob was unsure if he wanted even to step onto the ladder, but God reassured him that his descendants would ultimately move up, rung my rung, into the future. And here we are, a people that has survived through centuries.  
   Rabbi Morris Margolies further explained, “The angels ascending and descending is at the core of Jacob’s vision, telling him that life is two-directional.  Its valleys are as normal as its peaks, its defeats as frequent as its triumphs.  In this light, exile can be seen as a prelude to going home again – if  you have faith that God is by your side wherever you are, and that even when you hit the bottom rung of the ladder you are still in the company of angels."
[16] Yaakov awoke from his sleep and said: Why, the Eternal One is in this place and I, I did not know it!
[17] He was awestruck and said: How awe-inspiring is this place! This is none other than a house of God, and that is the gate of heaven! 
Rabbi Morris Margolies speaks of angels as being a part of us.  They "are metaphors for the most basic human drives and emotions: love, hate, envy, lust, charity, malice, greed, generosity...delusion, vision, despair, fear and hope."  The "gathering of angels [often] set in placed right here on earth by Jewish teaching.  That gathering is within each one of us."   Jacob’s vision offered him a way to recognize that God was with him, and not only in that “House of God” where he had rested for the night.  Jacob was, himself, a walking and breathing “Beit-El.”
[18] Yaakov started-early in the morning, he took the stone that he had set at his head and set it up as a standing-pillar and poured oil on top of it.  
[19] And he called the name of the place: Bet-El/House of God – however, Luz was the name of the city in former times. 
Whether we view angels as God's messengers outside of us, symbols of God's inspiration inside of us, or as the many people who help us along the road of life, at the core of the belief in angels is that we can't do everything alone.  When we are in need of someone else's support or assistance, we make our needs known.  When we need guidance and strength, we can pray to God and look to any and all sources of wisdom and courage around us.  In her song, "This is the Day," Debbie Friedman suggests that "WE are as angels in disguise."  May every day be a day for new beginnings, when God's messengers and the message of God's nearness will bring us blessing throughout our life's journey.  And may our eyes be open so that, wherever we may be, we can seek and find the gateway that will lead us from despair to hope.
This is the Day (Music and lyrics by Debbie Friedman)
     Chorus (2x): 
This is the day,  it's whispering new beginnings
The sun's shining over us as we journey on our way.
These are our dreams that fill our lives with blessings.
The angels are by our side 'til the breaking of the day

May you be blessed with strength to struggle with your dreams.
May the angels surround you and shelter you from above.
May you bless the world with mercy and with justice.
May you bless the world with your open heart filled with love. Chorus (lx)
May you see the light in every living soul -  We are as angels in disguise.
May you have the courage to forgive and start again. 
May you see the holiness that's in our eyes.   Chorus (1x)

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