Rabbi Neil Schuman

Angels In Our Lives
When we’re afraid and feeling insecure, wouldn’t it be great if we had some direct assurance from God?
Jacob was one such lucky person. Upon fleeing his home, fearful for his life and hoping to settle down and establish a family, God appears to him in his sleep (Genesis 28):
12 And he dreamed, and behold! a ladder set up on the ground and its top reached to heaven; and behold, angels of God were ascending and descending upon it.
13 And the Lord was above him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac…
15 And behold, I am with you, and I will guard you wherever you go, and I will restore you to this land, for I will not forsake you until I have done what I have spoken concerning you.”
If God’s message is to bless and reassure Jacob, why does there need to be a vision of angels? I think this dream is giving Jacob an almost visceral knowledge that he is protected; he perceives that God’s angels are about him, protecting him.
Angels have been reported worldwide since ancient times. We could dismiss them as myth, yet we might then be dismissing something enchanting and enriching in our own lives.
I’ve had my share of serious accidents. A few of them could have resulted in me being maimed or killed. Thankfully, neither happened, but to merely attribute the miraculous to “good luck” deprives the occurrence of its inherent greatness. I choose to believe that God must have had some plan for me and therefore I was spared.
One such accident occurred in 2002. I was riding in a crosswalk on my recumbent bicycle. These bikes are lower than regular ones, and the truck making a left turn in my direction did not see me. I saw him though and tried to pedal as fast as possible; however, I knew it was not going to be enough. At the last moment, I felt a lightly perceptible push on my left shoulder which allowed me to avoid being bodily hit by the truck. My rear tire was not so lucky – it smashed under the truck’s weight, causing the bike to fall over between my legs. I was, thankfully, mostly unscathed. I believe, if our forefather, Jacob, was there at the scene, he would see a Heavenly ladder.
God, though, has many means through which to save. One of my favorite miraculous stories is of a young Jewish man, Ilya, who was drafted into the Russian Army in the early 1980s. His division was sent to Afghanistan. Being a nature lover, he relished this vastly different terrain and its unique animal species. In one encampment, Ilya came across a cobra den. He would drop some food for the snakes to take, observing them from afar, but approaching closer each day as he gained the cobras’ trust.
One day, the troop was scheduled to move on. Ilya got up extra early to say goodbye to his new friends. Approaching as normal, he dropped a bit of food. But this time a large cobra uncoiled, stood erect, puffed out its hood, and threatened to attack. In training, the soldiers had been warned that when a cobra extends itself, one must stand immobile, for any movement could cause it to lash out with its venomous fangs. Ilya had no choice but to stand still.
One minute turned to ten, then to twenty, then to one whole hour! How long do cobras threaten attack? In the meantime, our soldier’s troop moved on without him.
Finally, after three hours of threatening attack, the cobra retreated. Ilya ran back to get his gear and started running after his troop.
Eventually, he saw one fellow soldier sprawled on the road, then another. In an ambush, the whole troop had fallen.
Ilya suddenly realized that he alone had been spared: by the cobra that he fed every day. A tear came down his face as he realized that only God’s miracle had saved him.[1]
Angels can also come in human form. Recently, my daughter was out with a friend at a mall. As the rains of Ida increased, the local roads became impassable. Judy tried, but could not make it to the mall. As the lights went out, the Whole Foods store manager saw these two wet teens outside his store. Headed in the same direction, he offered them a ride, becoming their personal angel.
If we’re meant to survive and/or remain unharmed, God has many means to save us. The word “angel” in Hebrew, מלאך, means messenger. Sometimes the messenger can be a person, a member of the animal kingdom, or, perhaps, an angelic being. Either way, it’s a message, a vote of confidence that our lives are meaningful and valued just the way we are.
[1] Around The Maggid’s Table, Rabbi Pesach Krohn, Pp 192-194, Mesorah Publications Ltd, 1989