Where Have All the Angels Gone?

Until the 20th century, Jews believed in the reality of angels, who were thought to appear among us in everyday life.    

In ancient Israel, the world of the spirit was intermingled with the world of everyday life.  It was not somewhere out there but right here among us and within us.  Today some Jews still see and occasionally  experience the mysteries of the spirit in everyday life.  For others spiritual experiences are illusions.  And for still others there is a known or unknown longing for spiritual experiences that might bring us closer to God.   One form of these experiences is an encounter an angel, stories of which is actually more common today than you might think.  The Hebrew name for angel is Malach, which also means messenger.  Angels were thought to be messengers of God.   

Recently, archeologists have dug under the floors of homes in ancient Mesopotamia.  Among other things, they found amulets and simple ceramic bowels inscribed with personalized appeals to angels, God, and other sacred heroes.  They pleaded for help in healing illnesses, restoring love in marriages, increasing business or protecting their home from demons and other evil forces.  

And our Hebrew bible of course is filled with angelic figures, (usually disguised as men):  the angels who came to Abraham’s tent and announced that Sarah would have a child at 90 years old;  the angel who stayed Abraham’s hand as he prepared to sacrifice Isaac; the angel who wrestled with Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel, which means wrestilng with God.

In the first few centuries of the Common Era, it was generally thought that two angels accompanied each family home after the Sabbath Service.  If the Sabbath table was properly prepared with candles, the family would be blessed with assistance in everyday life.    

When Reform Judaism first rebelled against Orthodox Judaism, our movement followed the lead of a culture which anointed science and rationality as the sole criteria of truth.  Angels, along with other celestial beings fell into disrepute, and God alone reigned as Creator of the world and Divine architect of the covenant.   But angels persist under the radar today, even in our liturgy.  Every Sabbath evening, we sing the song “Shalom Aleichem,” peace be unto you.  Few of us know the  translation of this song, which adopts the ancient notion of the angels who accompany us home from Sabbath services.

Peace be unto you ministering angels, angels of the Most High, the King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.

Come in peace angels of peace, angels of the Most High

Of the King, the King of Kings, the Holy One Blessed Be He.

Bless me in peace, angels of peace, angels of the Most High,

Of the King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.

Depart in peace angels of the Most High.

Of the King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed Be He.

Few people today say they believe in angels. But who knows?  As we look for ways to bring home divine blessings from our Sabbath services, perhaps invisible angels are walking us home.   Perhaps we have lost touch with these messengers of God, who are waiting for us to wake up to the divine presence that is all around us. 

1 Comment

  1. Your article on the disappearance of angels and your reference to Genesis 18:7-8 were very interesting. In that passage, angels visited Abraham’s tent and informed him that Sarah would have a child at the age of 90.

    According to the metaphor of Hashem, Abraham served the angels a meal that included both milk and meat, which was not a violation of Torah/Tanakh law, as G-d’s presence witnessed the meal without objection.

    However, Chazal later forbade the consumption of milk and meat in Exodus 23:19, Exodus 34:26, and Deuteronomy 14:21, where it states, “You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.” This raises the question of whether G-d forgot to mention the prohibition of milk and meat in these verses.

    G-d’s Torah also mentions Tza’ar Ba’alei Chayim, which prohibits cruelty to animals and consuming a kid in its mother’s milk to avoid causing pain and suffering. Additionally, G-d used other references in the Torah to describe angels.

    Your insight is appreciated.

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