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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

It Could Make An Angel Jealous



Is your child an angel? Wish your spouse were? What would that mean in real terms? Are angels perfect? How does one become an angel, and can anyone – save G-d – be even better than angel?

Let's begin with a fundamental question: What are Angels? We imagine them as floating haloed beings. Divine visitors to an otherwise shallow world.

Or, more metaphorically, we use the term for a newborn baby. Or the investor who just bailed out your company.

The concept actually originates in Torah, and the Torah describes angels as Divine emissaries (the Hebrew word – ‘Malach’ – can also refer to a human agent on a mission). An angel is not G-d, but it is G-dly. An angel is a being that is totally aware of its compete dependence on the Divine, and totally conscious that it only exists to fulfill its Divinely-ordained purpose.

In that sense, an angel is single-dimensional. It has no evil impulses, no rebellious tremors. It is a Divine functionary, and exists only to fulfill its ordained raison d' etre.

So we look up to an angel as a ray of G-d's sun.

In fact, our daily prayers have Scriptural verses which describe the inspiration and excitement with which angels embrace G-d. As Divine beings, angels have a direct perception of G-dliness, and that fills them with overwhelming excitement. So the Rabbis inserted the description of their holy passion into our daily meditations, to inspire us with the angelic experience.

Rabbi Sholom DovBer, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, once described the feelings he experienced while reciting the daily morning prayers: "When I recite the part of prayer which describes the praise that the angels sing before G‑d, I envy them. But when I read the Shema, the praise that the Jew sings before G‑d, I wonder: 'Where have all the angels gone?'"

With his final question, the Rebbe was underscoring an important truth: We humans struggle with selfishness, shallowness and distraction. We don't feel an intrinsic connection to G-d, and we admire the angels who have a much holier temperament.

But when we overcome our human handicap and succeed – even temporarily – in finding meaning, we're greater than angels can ever be.

This human experience is far from an angelic dream. But when it comes to fulfilling G-d's core purpose in Creation, it doesn't get better than that.





What did the ancients see in idolatry? 

While history tells us that many people found it very attractive, Scripture emphasizes how bad an idea it is. In the Ten Commandments, G-d warns us not to serve any “carved image or likeness,” and the message is oft-repeated through the rest of the Torah.

Why would anyone ascribe Divine knowledge and power to a block of wood or stone, and why does that seem so offensive to G-d?

Back then, as now, many people recognized that a venture's suess wasn’t totally in their control. Life has so many variables that we all need help from the outside, how much better from a ‘higher being.’ So people created deities to help them with their needs. Whatever one wanted to accomplish – moral or immoral – would now be blessed with success by the God  one has created. It was god in the service of man. ‎(I don't hyphenate G-d when referring to a non-God).

That was alluring to many and repugnant to the morally-minded.

Creating a 'god' to bless our selfishness is glorifying our own self-centeredness. That’s dangerous and almost certainly going to take us in the wrong direction.

The Torah, in repeatedly warning us against idolatry, is putting us on guard against elevating our own selfishness. 

What is selfishness? We tend to think of hedonism and materialism as examples of self-absorbed, G-dless pursuits. They are. But seemingly high-minded objectives can become just as warped, self-serving and harmful.

I’m thinking about the UN and Israel. This Shabbos marks 70 years since the UN’s founding, declaredly to promote ‘equality and peace’ amongst all nations.

So let's consider this: When Muslims controlled Jerusalem’s Old City, no Jews were allowed in the City and thus no Jews were allowed to pray at the Wall. NO Jews allowed. Despite the fact that the Wall is acknowledged by all [respectable?] historians as the remnant of a Jewish Temple built by Herod, close to a millennium before Islam existed.

After Israel’s victory in 1967, all people are permitted to pray at the Wall. ALL people. After their triumph, despite their complete military control of the area, they voluntarily gave the Muslim authorities administration of the mosque above the wall. Jews are not allowed to pray on the Temple Mount. And Palestinian leaders are publicly advocating that Jews not be allowed there at all. 

NO Jews allowed. 

So where do you think the peace-and-equality-seeking UN might focus their efforts? We all know the answer. 

The UN seems to have made an idol out of protecting the perceived underdog (I'm being very generous in guessing at their motives), which has taken them off the moral rails to an absurd extent.

‎They're pursuing something. But morals and G-dliness aren't it. 


The Attitude Dynamic

How objective are you? Do hard facts always lead you to an objective rational conclusion? Or does your deeper emotional posture bring its own flavor to your ultimate approach?

An example: This morning, your spouse did it again. You witnessed that same irritating habit which you’ve been watching – noticing, criticizing and sometimes [barely] tolerating – since the beginning of your marriage. You've called it out innumerable times. And it just doesn’t help. Some people just won’t change!

Now what? How do you respond? How do you feel?

You can blow your top in frustration at this supposedly-mature adult's inability to get a grip on bad habits.  Or you might say to yourself: "I know it’s really difficult to break deeply ingrained habits. If nobody's actually being harmed by this, I'm just going to cut him/her some slack and focus on his/her strengths.”

Down which path do the facts lead you? Whichever path you – deep inside - really want to follow.

If you – at this moment - are inclined toward judgmental harshness, you’ve got your ammo. If you’re inclined toward loving tolerance, you’ve got the intellectual framing you need.

This past week’s Torah reading (the beginning of Genesis) ended with G-d’s disappointment in humanity’s slide toward decadence. G-d is described as saddened that “the tendencies of the human heart were wicked.” So G-d decided to wipe the slate clean and start over with humankind, which brings us to Noah’s Flood, this week’s reading.

We’ll read about the Great Deluge. Then about Noah’s family’s exit from the Ark and their eventual embrace of a new world. We’ll read that G-d swore to never again destroy humanity. Why? Because “the tendencies of the human heart are evil from their youth”. While people are responsible for their actions, G-d recognizes our difficulties in overcoming the human condition’s innate selfishness.

One week’s Torah portion presented a fact - people are born with selfish tendencies - as the rationale for destroying the world. The next week that very same calculus becomes the rationale for patience and understanding.

What’s the difference?

G-d’s ‘attitude’ is often a reflection of our own.  Post-flood, Noah showed gratitude and humility, triggering an expression of Divine love. G-d showed us that this love can change His approach to facts on the ground.

It works with G-d.

It also works with us. The facts are what they are; choose the response.


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