The angels that walk among us

Civilization is the story of human transformation.

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Rabbi Berel Wein,

Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein
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There are many angels that walk amongst us in this world, unrecognized by others. Angels apparently adopt the coloration of the society into which their mission has taken them. The prophets of Israel describe in vivid detail the description of angels as they appear in heaven’s court. They have wings and many-faceted eyes, they are fiery and swift, fearsome and relentless. But when they are on earth, so to speak, they appear as ordinary members of the society that surrounds them. 

That is why in some of the narratives described for us in the Bible they are not immediately recognized as angels. This happens in the case of Yehoshua and with the mother of Shimshon. In this week’s Torah reading, the three angels originally appear as wayfarers, wandering nomads, walking in the midday heat. Only when they enter into the environment of holiness that marked the dwelling place of Avraham and Sarah is their true nature and accurate identity revealed. 

Some creatures could enter that tent as Bedouin Arabs and emerge as angels of God. In the environment of Avraham and Sarah, what Abraham Lincoln famously called “the better angels within us” emerged and became dominant. It was this ability to truly identify and draw forth the goodness inherent in humankind that made this couple the ancestors of human civilization in its most positive form. 

Civilization is the story of human transformation. The many generations from Kayin the killer, to Avraham the benefactor of all is the story of this uphill climb in the saga of human development.   

Our ancestors transformed the world. They exposed the falsehoods and superstitions of paganism and idolatry. They established monotheism as the common norm of faith and eternal belief.  They reconnected human beings with their Creator. And they taught all later generations to search for and identify with the angels that the Lord constantly sends to walk amongst us. 

By searching for angels we come to respect others and open ourselves to the task of helping our fellow human beings. They taught us that human hospitality is a greater form of Godly service than meditating in the hope of being in God’s presence, so to speak. They inculcated within us the spirit of compassion and goodness that lies at the heart of Jewish values and life. 

They taught us to believe in angels no matter how devilish a world we are living in. The amazing survival of the Jewish people over the ages of persecution and discrimination is a triumph not only of will but of attitude. We always believed that tomorrow could and would be better than today and that we would yet walk amongst angels here on earth. 

Even in a word dominated by the lifestyle of Sodom, Avraham sought to transform the evildoers rather than destroy them completely. He was always looking for angels. Sometimes that quest was fruitless and God’s judgment naturally prevailed. But the greatness of Avraham was in the search and quest itself.  






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