Los Angeles, 7 AM, at the curb, waiting for my Lyft.1 A jeep-thing pulls up, and I jump in. Doesn’t take long to realize this is no LA driver. We are weaving through traffic. We are being tough and mean. This is a NYC driver.

“So, what do you think of the city?” I ask.

“Los Angeles,” he says.

We spin a left through a gap in the traffic onto a side street. And we’re not slowing down for the bumps.

“Yeah,” I reply. Like, where else are we?

“The city is the angels. You wish, the city gives to you.”

Sharp right turn and we’re already on Olympic Blvd.

“You want chemicals. The city got it for you waiting. You want other stuff, the angels got that too, 24/7, what you want whenever you want. Just ask the city. Ask the angels. They give you.”

Slip into the parking lane just before the light turns green. Step on the gas and we’re ahead.

“Wanna be rich? There’s jobs, there’s deals. No problem, just ask the city.”

Nudged in between a Subaru and a Beemer.

“You wanna have your name up there in lights? You wanna be rich and famous? Hey, just ask the angels! They’ll give that to you too!”

Subaru guy doesn’t seem too happy. Anyways, we’re out of there fast.

“So,” I ask, “that’s why so many people here are so messed up?”

“Hey, that’s why so many them peoples so messed up, man! ’Cuz they get what whatever they ask! And they don’t know what to ask!”

I’m clutching my seatbelt. I’m thinking, “So, I don’t even have to rub the genie jar. I’m inside it. What do I want to ask the angels?”

But we’re there already. And when I’m there, and out, it hits me. “I don’t ask no angels for nothing! I ask only the Creator of All Multiple Universes in person! Angels? I’ll tell them what to do.”

That’s what it means to be a Jew. A child of Israel. That’s what the word means:

Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have commanded angels and men, and you have won.2

The Angels Split

A story, from the Talmud3:

Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair was on his way to perform the mitzvah of redeeming captives. At a certain point, the Ginai River blocked his path.

He commanded, “Ginai, split your waters so I may pass through!”

(Who is he talking to? A river? Rivers talk? He’s speaking to the angel of the river. Because each thing in our world has an angel appointed over it. Not just Los Angeles.)

The river replied, “Look, I totally understand. You are going to perform the will of your Master. But like, whose will do you think I’m performing, flowing like this? The difference is that you may or may not succeed. But, me? Hey, I’ve been doing this with hardly a glitch for millennia!”

He responded, “Split. Because if you don’t, I will decree that water should not flow through you forever!”

The river split.

The Great Maggid of Mezeritch asked: The river had a reasonable retort to Rabbi Pinchas. What, Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair is not up to a good Talmudic debate? Just “get out of my way” and that’s it?

So the Maggid explained: We need to hear his words more carefully—as did the river (or the angel appointed over that river). He didn’t just say, “Water will not flow in you.” He added the word “forever.” Forever—not in the future, not now, and not ever before, either.4

He said, “River, if you don’t split, you were never here. Water never flowed here, and nothing ever stood in my path. Nobody will ever even remember this story, because it never happened. And if so, you were never doing the will of your Master, because you didn’t exist, and you have no argument. So split. Now.”

Transcendental Angels

You see, when the universe first emerged into being, it did so conditionally. Nothing exists “just because.” Everything is assigned a purpose, a meaning that transcends its own nature. Like the words of a poem or the notes of a melody, they play their part to allow in a beauty much greater than they themselves contain. A river, a tree, a bird, every human being—they are all windows made to open and close, so that the infinite may enter whenever and wherever it so desires.

Rabbi Yochanan said, “When G‑d said, ‘Let the waters gather in one place,’ and thereby created the oceans, the rivers and seas, He made a condition with the sea: When Israel will arrive at the sea on their way from Egypt, it must part.”

R. Yirmiyah b. Elazar said, “Not with the sea alone did G‑d make a stipulation, but with everything which was created in the six days of creation.”5

The very nature of things is to allow in that which transcends nature. If Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair is on his way to do a mitzvah—to redeem captives of this mean and ugly world and to let some beauty enter—no natural phenomenon can stand in his way. And so too with any upright person who is out to do good. There will be challenges; the world always challenges anything good. But when you stand your ground, those challenges are commanded to melt before you.

The City Splits

Just a week before, I saw it happen. A few stubborn Jews hot on the International Shabbat Project decided that 3,000 Jews have to eat together on a Shabbat night—and the only place to do that was Pico Blvd.

The city told them that’s not possible. The police told them they were nuts. Los Angeles has the worst traffic of any city in America, tenth worst in the world, with 80% congestion at rush hour. Friday evening is off the charts, and that leg of Pico—five city blocks that these guys wanted to cut off—is one of the city’s densest arteries.

“Make your dinner on Sunday!” the angels said. “We have a job to do!”

But the children of Israel stood their ground, and the boulevard split before them. The police redirected the traffic; the city provided security guards every ten feet plus snipers on the rooftops. The caterers served from shopping carts. Thousands of Jews ate, sang and danced on the street—Jews from every community and background you could imagine.

Shabbat, a time beyond time, descended upon the city. “It feels like Jerusalem!” many told me. Others exclaimed, “It feels like Moshiach is already here!”

We aren’t here to pander to the angels and the nature of things. Not to ask, “What can this city give me?” We are here to tell the city what it must be—even if that means the city should allow the impossible.

We are here to tell the city what is beautiful, and that it is meant to be part of that beauty. That families should eat together, communities should come together, and we should all celebrate with food, wine, song and dance because “in six days G‑d created the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested.” And so we too shall turn off our mobile devices, leave our cars in the garage, and delight in divine rest.

My Lyft app is asking me to rate my driver. I give him five stars out of five. To get me across the city that fast, and alive, I figure he must have been an angel.