I alluded last week to my maniacal preparations for my own ceremony of Bat Mitzvah as a grown woman, and as someone who chose to enter the covenant. Mishpatim is that sidra that caused me to pause and consider my need to allow others to help me prepare for that day.
Mishpatim includes many of our civil laws – the Covenant, our legal code, laws which have to do with our interactions with each other – a conjunction which seems entirely fitting for someone choosing to join this community. We have just heard the big picture at Sinai – but now we come down to the pragmatic details. We learn that our conduct amongst ourselves is equal to any theology. We are to live out our relationship with God in real time with real people.
“When you see a wandering animal, return it to its owner. Help all animals, even if they are the animals of your enemy. Keep far from any false matter and do not hurt the innocent and righteous, for I will not free one who is guilty.You shall accept no bribes, for bribery blinds the clear-sighted and turns the words of the righteous to falsehood.”
This constitution – for surely that is what these laws are –guide us to this present day, based as they are on universal principles of justice, compassion and loving kindness. These laws are our practical guidelines to building sustainable community.
And yet for all the real-politic of Mishpatim, for which I had so mightily prepared, it was angels who led me into community and Jewish life. Angels? Do Jews believe in angels? Stay with me!
My angels were my rabbis who guided my learning every night. They prevailed upon me with seemingly infinite patience to struggle towards answering my own questions about conversion; my angels were my light-house and the ground beneath my feet. Three rabbis came to me in the guise of a Beit Din every night. They were always men. In Bereshit Rabba (Chapter l.) we read the following remark:” To Abraham, whose prophetic power was great, the angels appeared in the form of men; to Lot, whose power was weak, they appeared as angels.”
Just as angels appeared to Abraham as men, but to Lot as angels, perhaps my angels needed to be men. It was this spiritual journey that began a healing of trust between men and myself.
My angel/rabbis came to me every night for many months. They were by and large silent; I could only interpret their understanding or compassion through their very minimal expressions of mouth and eye. They listened, as I struggled to answer their questions. Every night they listened to me. Every night I appeared at their Beit Din. They never fed me an answer. They never rejected me. They waited. I learned in that simplicity of patience I had more work to do. Always.
Many years earlier, in my early 20’s I was in a particular depth of despair. One night an angel came to me in a “dream.” The large wings that our tradition describes, back lit my angel’s visit. S/he was very tall – about 10 feet at least, and s/he was quietly radiating power and strength – gevurah. My angel came to me – unnamed – to give me one message: “Taste of yourself, and know your goodness.”
Michael, Gavriel, Raphael and Uriel, the four Arch Angels of our tradition saved the life of one of my former students. She had been taken from summer camp to an up-Island hospital, but wasrapidly going into toxic shock. Michael was the ambulance driver. My student’s Israeli-born mother sat with her, as they drove full speed all the way to Victoria, and she prayed with all her might that entire journey – not her usual practice. En route, she phoned and asked for prayers from Gavriel, a mentor and Uri, another close friend, both in Israel, both of whom dropped what they were doing and also prayed and sent strength and light. Raphael, the healing angel, was her emergency room physician in Victoria, who finally diagnosed her condition and began her treatment back to health. Rafi spoke to my friend in Hebrew, after hearing her accent. All played a part in her daughter’s survival. Who can make this up?
So, are angelic visits real? Is my dreaming mind reality? I choose to say yes. My angel who came to me in my 20’s, my angel/rabbis, and the 4 Arch Angels were all giving me – and us – the same message. We need to listen, we need to know we are essentially good people, and most importantly, we need to put that goodness to work in a community with boundaries and gateways. We put a mezuzah up on our lintels and our gateways as a sign of passage through, from one olam, one time and space to another. May we all be blessed to live by our civil laws, Mishpatim, in a community that values wisdom and hard work, and may we all be blessed by angels.