In Parshas Vayera, in Sefer Bereishis, (Genesis 18), we learn of the three angels who come to visit Avrohom and Sarah. To all outward appearances, they are three men on a journey, and Avrohom receives them the way he would receive any mortal guests. Only later does he – and we – realize that the men are really messengers from G’d – they are angels.
One of the many things we can learn from this narrative is that sometimes, what may look like an ordinary human being is, in reality, an angel. To illustrate this with a personal example I shall take you back to a time - about three decades ago - when I had recently begun to keep kosher. This was a very difficult thing for me to do. I had already been keeping Shabbos and many other mitzvos for many years, but to keep kosher was the biggest hurdle of all.
I was constantly beset by temptations and cravings for certain dishes that were no longer on the permissible menu, and finally I thought I would do what it says somewhere in the Talmud about a person who is possessed with the urge to sin. If he is unable to contain himself, let him put on dark clothes, go to another city where he will not be recognized, sin, and be done with it. I know that this is very far from what the Rabbis recommend, or even sanction, but if need be, the Evil Inclination will even pervert the meaning of the Gemorah in his campaign to ensnare us. I kept thinking, “just once, just one last time - to kiss it goodbye”.
So I went, not to another city, but to a big, anonymous supermarket in another neighborhood, in pursuit of the forbidden fruit. As I approached the counter where the desired item was sold, I suddenly caught sight of two Jewish women of my acquaintance, who were standing right in front of that counter. They were deeply engrossed in conversation and effectively blocking my path; I was well known in the Jewish community of my home town, and I was certainly not going to let anyone know about my embarrassing culinary proclivities!
I decided to bide my time. I wandered off and bought some vegetables and then tried again, but the ladies had not moved from their spot. I made another round. Still there! This kept on for quite a while, until, at long last, the coast was clear; I could make my purchase and retire home to my guilty pleasures.
Nevertheless, there was one more article of food I was hankering after like mad, and the next day I decided to get that too out of my system with one final indulgence. But this time I was determined to be smarter, so I went to a suburb, to a supermarket where I never normally shopped, in the certainty that there I would encounter no familiar faces. So, as I am sitting there on the bus, bound for my unlawful goal, and basically minding my own business, a woman suddenly plonks herself down on the seat next to mine. “Hello!" she says, "how are you?”
What do you know – it is the mother of one of my bas mitzvah students! We talk, and when I get off the bus she does too, and I suddenly realize that she actually lives in this suburb. Great! As “luck” would have it, she is also bound for the food market. Super! She seems glad of the company, but I, of course, am less excited. We walk along the aisles, filling our baskets with various – kosher – products, and the woman doesn’t budge from my side! Finally we pass, together, through the cash register, and only outside on the sidewalk does she leave me alone. She says goodbye and walks off, and I return into the store, buy what I came for, head back home and have my illicit little party.
And then it hits me!!!
Now, if I had lived in Biblical times, I might have described these events a little differently, maybe something like this:
“And it happened in those days that I walked upon the path of iniquity. But behold – two angels of the Lord appeared before me. And lo! the angels spake unto me and they said ‘Get thee hence, be gone from this abomination, and run not after the lust of thy heart!’ But alas, I heeded them not, and I sinned. And on the second day I followed my evil desires anew. And behold – the Lord sent an angel to walk with me and lo! the angel spake unto me and it said ‘Woe is thee, that thou runnest after the lust of thine eyes! Walk with me on the path of righteousness.’ But alas and alack, I hardened my heart and I heeded it not, and verily I sinned.”
Yes, that is how I might have described it, because in those days people – even sinners – were more finely attuned to Divine messages, and when it pleased G’d to send them an angel or two, they sat up and took notice.
I cannot even describe how devastated I was when I realized the full implications of what had happened. These three women had come in my way for a purpose; they had been messengers from G'd. The women were clearly angels that He had sent me in order to prevent me from transgressing, and their very presence “spoke” quite eloquently to me. Hashem had made every effort to keep me on the right path, but I had not been receptive, I had not listened to the message. The worst thing was not that I had eaten forbidden foods – bad enough as that was – but that I had turned a deaf ear to G’d and “hardened my heart”. That was what crushed me. (Need I say that I never ate treif again?)
Thus it seems that we can all be angels, at times through an act, a word, or even just a smile that is bestowed when one is needed. Sometimes, though, as in the case of my three "angels", all it takes is to be in the right place at the right time. If we can remain conscious of this it is one of the things that can make our lives very meaningful - to know that even when we are committing no heroic acts we may still, at any moment, be the emissaries of G'd, carrying within us the message that can change another person's life for the better - for good!