The Hebrew word for angel and messenger are the same, Malach. Often when we imagine angels we see chubby-cheeked kids with curly hair carrying a bow and arrow: the Valentine’s Day cupid. Or we picture creatures with white robes- like this one, and wings, a halo hovering above flaxen hair. But in Judaism, angels, malachim, don’t look any different from you or me. A malach may be short or tall, overweight or underweight. A malach may have green eyes, brown eyes, blue eyes or any other eye color that human beings have. They possess our hair type and color. They come in many shades of skin and many forms. They look like us, because they are us. We are all, at some time or another, messengers sent from God on a holy errand.
There is a great difference between our concept of messengers and malachim. Earthly messengers always know where and why they are being sent- an example: honey, please pick up the dry cleaning on your way to work. Honey knows that the other honey is sending him to a specific place for a specific reason. He may not follow through on the errand, but he knows it’s expected of him. On the other hand, people chosen to be messengers of God rarely know that they are chosen. Unsuspecting they go about their lives, focusing on their own plans, their own goals. And then someday, they ask a question or make a comment or do something and without realizing it, change another’s life. For that moment they are Malach Adonai- a messenger of God.
We’ve all experienced moments where we entered a room or sat beside someone on a bus, and began a conversation. And through the words, it was clear that this was not an ordinary event. There was something more-a deeper connection. Beyond the typical cocktail party conversation, lay this fertile intensity. Perhaps at the time, we were not even aware that the conversation was special, and only in hindsight did we realize that there was a reason we had been in that place at that time. And those words, that glance, were meant to make a difference in our lives. I have stacks of business cards in a drawer. I have no idea who the names belong too, but I know that I have them because the names meant something at the time. Each person behind the card made some small difference in my life.
Rabbi Larry Kushner explains that, “Each lifetime is the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. For some there are more pieces, for others the puzzle is more difficult to assemble. And so it goes. Souls going this way and that. Trying to assemble the myriad parts. But know this. You do not have within yourself all the pieces to your puzzle. Everyone carried with them at least one and probably many pieces to someone else’s puzzle. Sometimes they know it. Sometimes they don’t. And when you present your piece which is worthless to you, to another, whether you know it or not, whether they know it or not, you are a messenger from the Most High.”
We all have the potential to be malachai-Adonai, to give to people, even strangers, what they need, and to take from them the puzzle pieces that we need. But this can only occur through human connection. If we refuse to see the person crossing the street beside us, or speak with the person cleaning our home, we may miss the message. The potential that all people are malachai- Adonai elevates the experience of human relationship because we never know when Tran formative moments will occur and who will be our malach. The one bringing the message could be a tollbooth operator, a teacher, a spouse, the dry cleaner, the person sitting beside you right now. Anyone. When we understand this, we begin to treat those around us differently. We see that even the man without a home will be for someone a malach. We may not know his name, but we can still recognize the fact that he is holy and has the ability to change lives.
One of the most important characters in the Book of Genesis has no name. He’s a bit player, who walks across the stage and changes the course of history, a messenger unaware of the importance of his task. The Torah only calls him “ish”- “someone”, but without the message of this “ish” we would not be known as the people Israel. In Genesis 32, Parashah Vayishlach Jacob is preparing to see his brother Esau. It has been twenty years since they last spoke, since Jacob stole his brother’s blessing and he is afraid. In the darkness of the night, lying by himself on the shore of the Jabbock River, Jacob is roused to wrestle with the unnamed “ish”. They strive against each other until the break of dawn, and the “ish” tears Jacob’s hip at the socket. Jacob, refusing to let go, asks the being for a blessing. Says the unnamed man, “You shall no longer be called Jacob but Israel, for you have striven with beings divine and human and have prevailed.” Jacob wants to know the name of this being who has transformed him, but when asked, the being replies, “You must not ask my name.” The name wasn’t important. The action was life altering. Jacob returns to his family a new man, able to face his brother, able to lead the Israelite people. One event, only several hours, which affected the rest of Jacob’s life. We can imagine that the incident caused pools of ripples. Because Jacob had changed, Leah, Rachel, Zilpah and Bilhah changed. And because Leah, Rachel, Zilpah and Bilhah changed their children changed. I could continue listing the generations through today, but I think we get the idea. Holy moments have long reaching arms and touch even those unaware of their occurrence.