Let the Angels Show the Way (Ezekiel 1:1-28, 3:12)

Shavuot celebrates God’s revelation of the Torah to Israel. Two other divine revelations share the spotlight with the Sinai experience. In one, Isaiah experienced a revelation of the divine throne-room, where the angels resonated with the words “Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh – Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is filled with His glory.” (Isaiah 6:3) In the other, the prophet Ezekiel witnessed the divine chariot – a vision so fantastic that it became one of the foundations of Jewish mysticism. In it, Ezekiel caught sight of four heavenly creatures whose forms were, at once human, together with other characteristics beyond the human capacity to describe coherently. Ezekiel, in an attempt to put what he had seen into words, recounts their manner of standing: “the legs of each were [fused into] a single rigid leg (regel yisharah)”. (verse 1:7)

Rashi gives two different interpretations of what this might have looked like. In one, he describes the legs of the creatures as “directed one towards the other”. (See Targum Yonatan) Rabbi Joseph Kara, the 12th century French commentator, interpreted this to mean, that the feet of these creatures faced in all directions like their many faces. Rashi’s second interpretation is no less extraordinary.  He suggests that “regel yisharah”, which literally means “straight leggedness”, might imply that these divine creatures “did not have joints in their knees that would allow them to bend their legs and, consequently, they were incapable of sitting or lying down…”

The above question informs the opinion of a Talmudic sage who learned from this verse how one should stand in prayer: “And Rabbi Yose the son of Rabbi Hanina said in the name of Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov: ‘One who prayers should align his legs [emulating the posture of the divine creatures], as it is written: ‘and their legs were a straight leg’. (Berachot 10b) Rashi interprets this to mean that when a person recites the Amidah, his/her legs should appear as if they are ‘one leg’. Rabbi Jacob ben Asher, the 14th century author of the halakhic code known as the Tur, explains this to mean that the positioning of the legs should be one foot alongside the other foot. (Orach Hayim 95:1)

The famed Hafetz Hayim, Rabbi Israel Meir Hakohen (19th-20th century Belarus) fleshed out the meaning of this practice: “since we are speaking with God, it is necessary for a person to remove all bodily thoughts from  one’s heart and to try as best as one can to be like an angel.” (Mishnah Brurah Orach Hayim 95:1) Ezekiel’s prophecy, then, becomes not only a model for the mystical tradition but also a prototype for our everyday communion with God and by emulating the angels when we prayer, it offers us the opportunity to allow our prayers to soar heavenward.

About the Author
Mordechai Silverstein is a teacher of Torah who has lived in Jerusalem for over 30 years.
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