Jacob sent a message to his brother Esau. When messages are sent we usually focus on the message, not the messenger, but this essay is actually about the messenger.
The midrash records a debate about the nature of Jacob's messengers. One sage held that Jacob sent human messengers to do his bidding. The others held that Jacob sent angels.
We marvel at Jacob's familiarity with angels and his authority over them. How many people do you know who can send angels to run their errands? But in truth, in this sense Jacob is not all that unique. We do it too.
Our sages taught that every word of our prayers summons an angel who collects it, cleanses it and perfects it, and presents it to G‑d. If the word was enunciated improperly, the angel remolds it so that it is presented correctly. If it was said without proper mindfulness, or worse, if it was chanted with inappropriate thoughts, the angel removes the stray thought and presents the prayer to G‑d in pristine form. If it was said in a language other than Hebrew, the angel interprets it and presents it to G‑d in the Holy Tongue.
Knowing that every word of our prayer is examined by an angel for grammatical correctness and for proper concentration serves to enhance our mindfulness during prayer. It inspires us to be alert to the words of our prayer and to pray with complete devotion.
Angels are not only summoned by our prayers, but actually born by themAngels are not only summoned by our prayers, but actually born by them. Our sages taught that every human deed creates an angel. Good deeds create angels that advocate for us in heaven. Bad deeds create angels that prosecute us in heaven. The Baal Shem Tov took this to the next level and taught that not only our deeds, but the words we speak also create angels. Our words of prayer not only summon angels; they create angels. These angels are not only the carriers of our words; they are our words.
It follows that these angels reflect the nature of the words from which they are spawned. Angels born of exuberant and devoted prayer are vibrant and robust. Angels created by rote prayer are lackluster and lethargic. The condition of these angels automatically broadcasts the nature of our prayers. If the angels are lackluster, the heavenly sphere knows that we prayed by rote. If they are robust, the heavens knows that we prayed with devotion.
The angels created by our deeds and words accompany us through life and, by their very presence, broadcast our deeds. The average person does not sense the myriads of angels that accompany everyone, but the tzaddik (holy, spiritually attuned individual) is very much alert to them. When we enter a tzaddik's presence, the tzaddik senses the angels that accompany us, and can discern the advocate angels from the prosecuting ones.
The story is told of a man who spoke disparagingly of the Baal Shem Tov. The next day the Baal Shem Tov confronted him about his slander. Shocked, the man demanded, "Who informed you of my private discussions with my friends?" "An angel told me," replied the Baal Shem Tov. "Angels wouldn't have told you," countered the man, "angels don't gossip." "This angel does," replied the Baal Shem Tov. "This was the angel created by your slander. His very presence informed me of how he was created."
Of course, we are not the only ones who dispatch angels on missions. G‑d does too.
"When little children stumble G‑d places a pillow beneath them to cushion their fall..."The story is told of a little boy in Brooklyn, New York, who tripped over the front stoop of his house and fell to the floor. His mother, pregnant at the time, rushed over to lift him and make sure that he was fine. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, who walked by at that moment, took notice of the event.
Later that day, the Rebbe approached the boy's father and asked him to deliver a message. Please ask your wife to be careful in her current state, said the Rebbe, and not rush about too hastily. Reassure her that when little children stumble G‑d places a pillow beneath them to cushion their fall.
We have all experienced near accidents and narrowly avoided tragedies. We thought it was a matter of luck, but in truth it is the angels created by our good deeds that watch over us and protect us. They cushion our falls and guide us out of harm's way. The little miracles that they perform are ubiquitous yet we take little notice of them.
But taking notice of them can strengthen our relationship with G‑d. The mere knowledge of these miracles enhances our gratitude to G‑d. Reflecting on them engenders a constant awareness of G‑d who sends angels to shepherd us to safety and to protect us from harm.