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Steven Bayar
Steven Bayar

The Influence of Angels

There are angels all around us.

But first, let’s define our terms.

In our tradition, the concept of “angel” is a slippery one. In Biblical Hebrew, the word for “angel” is “malach” — which literally means “messenger.” The implication of the term is that a “malach” is a Divine messenger — a messenger of God — but that does not mean the messenger is a divine being.

In fact, the Torah has several examples in which the messengers are clearly human. The text tells us that when Joseph was sent looking for his brothers, “he met a man” who told him where they were. Joseph found his brothers, is sold down to Egypt … and the rest is history.

Was the man Joseph encountered facilitating God’s will? It appears so. But the text specifically calls him human.

A better question: Was the “man” aware of his mission? That is open to interpretation, but I think not. The implications are wondrous — God sends “messengers” to further the Divine will — but neither the messenger nor the intended receiver is aware of roles. Perhaps it is only in retrospect that Divine intent can be perceived.

Looking back on my life, I know I have encountered angels — catalysts — who changed the direction of my life.

I was drowning in my accounting major. I love numbers but cannot crunch them. On academic probation and in despair, I went to lunch with Linda, a high school friend, who just mentioned, “well you can always go for an MBA.”

The light (above my head) went on! The next day, I dropped out of the School of Commerce at the University of Virginia and embraced my religious studies major, intending to bring up my GPA to apply for MBA programs.

And I ended up in the rabbinate.

To this day, Linda is not cognizant of the role she played. But if I believe that God opens doors and indicates possible paths for us to follow, then I must also accept that Linda’s comment was not coincidental. At that moment she was an angel.

And I have been an angel for others. Every so often, during a chance meeting in the supermarket or movies, I find someone who credits me with changing their life. It is often an interaction I at best vaguely remember.

I believe that each of us takes individual experiences of our lives and connects them in such a way to allow us to create a coherent narrative. In this way we make sense of our lives.

I have no trouble with a little Divine injection at nexus points in our experience. And this belief makes me ultra-careful with my words and interactions. I listen harder and with greater focus and speak more carefully.

For I know that human interaction is God’s way of facilitating the Divine will. It doesn’t take much to ignore the messages. After all, how many of us truly know how to listen?

About the Author
Rabbi Steven Bayar is Founder and Executive Director of JSurge, an organization providing Jewish education and services to unaffiliated Jews. Ordained by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, he is Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation B’nai Israel in Millburn, NJ, where he served the pulpit for 30 years, and teaches at the Golda Och Academy in West Orange, NJ. He is a member of the Rabbinical Assembly and Rabbis Without Borders, and has trained as a hospice chaplain, a Wise Aging facilitator, and a trainer for safe and respectful Jewish work spaces. He’s the co-author of “Teens & Trust: Building Bridges in Jewish Education,” “Rachel & Misha,” and “You Shall Teach Them Diligently to Your Children: Transmitting Jewish Values from Generation to Generation.”
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