Tradition tells us that angels visit us in the sukkah, and every year I think about the time more than 10 years ago that I was that angel. Memory is not perfect, and some details may not be exact, but the following is my account of that long-ago encounter.

It had been a drizzly Chicago morning, gray and overcast, and I stood like a soldier manning the public sukkah we’d set up outside a local bagel shop. As each patron passed, I offered them the chance to make a blessing over the lulav and etrog and perhaps enjoy their meal under the bamboo and pine covering of the sukkah.

She appeared to be hurrying as she brushed past me, almost as if she did not see me or the unusual “bouquet” I held in my arms. No matter, I comforted myself, she wasn’t the first and she probably wouldn’t be the last.

A few minutes later she emerged with a steaming paper cup and a small brown bag. This time, she slowed down and approached thoughtfully.

“Rabbi, may I ask you a question?”

“Sure,” I said, “answering questions is a rabbi’s job.”

“How about an unusual question?”

“No problem,” I replied.

At that time, I was working several hours a day replying to queries on and I assured her that no question was off limits.

“Tell me,” she countered, “What do you know about Angel Michael? Is that an unusual question?”

Off the top of my head I could tell her that Angel Michael is one of the only archangels mentioned by name in scripture, he is an advocate for the Jewish people, and he is associated with the right side, kindness, and life-giving water, as opposed to Angel Gabriel, who represents the left side, severity, and fire.

“Is that a usual thing for a rabbi to talk about at a sermon?” the woman probed, a hint of urgency creeping into her voice.

“Hmm, I don’t think it’s the most usual thing, but neither is it the most unusual thing,” I hedged, not quite sure what she wanted to hear. “Why? Where did you hear a rabbi talking about Angel Michael in a sermon?”

Her entire tale then tumbled out.

She had been at a bar mitzvah in the Boston area a month earlier. The Chabad rabbi who officiated spoke of the Chassidic tradition that on Simchat Torah morning Angel Michael and his team of angels “clean up” heaven, which is littered with the worn out soles and torn shoelaces of Jews who danced with abandon the night before.

“As the rabbi told the story, he was looking right at me, even though he had no idea who I was,” she continued. “Then he said, ‘Angel Michael’s message to us is that there is nothing more important than being happy, celebrating, dancing, and rejoicing in the life we are given.’”

“What the rabbi did not know,” she confided, “Is that my only son, Michael, died in an accident earlier this year. When he said that Angel Michael was telling us to keep dancing, I understood that he was conveying a message to me from my ‘Angel Michael’: It’s time for me to start living again, to find a way to be happy and make peace with the life I have.

“I went home and decided to enter therapy to process the debilitating grief I’ve been experiencing. Today is my first session and I am on my way there now. As I passed by the bagel store, I felt I wasn’t ready yet. So I stopped in here—even though I don’t normally keep kosher—to pick up a cup of coffee and give myself a few more minutes.

“Then I met you, also a Chabad rabbi, offering me the opportunity to do a mitzvah. You must have been sent here by my ‘Angel Michael’ telling me that I must live with joy.

“I’m ready to start living again.”

And I learned that nothing is by accident, and that whether we know it or not, there is always reason to celebrate.