Every day in davening we say: “V’ha’ofanim v’chayos hakodesh … Then the Ofanim and the holy Chayos… raise themselves toward the Seraphim facing them. They offer praise and proclaim: Blessed is the glory of Hashem from His Place.” What are Ofanim, Chayos and Seraphim? They are heavenly beings, but how are we to relate to them?
Our Father Abraham was familiar with malachim/angels. “[Hashem] sent malachim to him in the form of men.” (Rashi on Genesis 18:1) Our Father Jacob was familiar with malachim: “And Yaakov sent malachim before him to Esav his brother….” (Genesis 32:4)
But what about us? Can we understand?
There is no intrinsic reason why we should not be aware of the presence of malachim. Every night we echo the words of Our Father Jacob: “Hamalach hagoail … May the angel who redeems me from all evil bless the lads….” (Genesis 48:16) And every Friday night, we welcome the Shabbos angels into our home. We have to take these words seriously.
Those familiar with my personal story will remember that, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on January 10, 1966, in the dramatic moment when I first “met” Hashem, it seemed to me that there was a heavenly being present who was “redeeming me from evil.” Maybe it was imagination; maybe it was real, but I never ceased to believe in the reality of these holy messengers. Many years later, when I would watch the bus taking our children to school, I would ask the malachim to accompany them. I believed in this … and still do.
Rabbi Moshe Grossman Shlita”h told me the following story he heard from Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz zt”l, who heard it from Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner zt”l. As a young boy in Hungary, the Satmar Rebbe learned the Prophet Ezekiel, who describes the scene in Shomayim (Heaven): “a great cloud with flashing fire and brilliance surrounding it. From its midst, like the color of the Chashmal from the midst of the fire ….” (Ezekiel 1:4) The word “chashmal” inspired awe and trembling among the cheder boys. Decades later, when the Rebbe heard that the word “chash-mal” was being used in modern Hebrew to denote “electricity,” he was shocked. How could the name of a Heavenly Being be demoted to such common usage?
Rabbi Meshulam Halevi Jungreis zt”l told us that, in Hungary, they would never blow out a candle, because the sound you made with your breath is the name of an evil malach.
My friends, there is an entire spiritual world we do not see.
This week we read about a fiery serpent placed on a pole. (Numbers 21:8). “Anyone who was bitten [by the serpents] would look at it and live.” But how does this work? Our Rabbis ask: “Does [the image of] a serpent cause death or … restore life? Rather, when Israel looked upward [at the fiery serpent] and subjugated their heart to their Father in Heaven, they were healed. But if not, they perished.” (Rosh Hashana 29a)
I want to point out that the fiery serpent Hashem commanded Moshe to make is called “saraf.” It mirrored the “fiery serpents” that were biting the people, but it also had the name of a malach, as we mentioned above.
Over the last few weeks, our enemies have unleashed a new fiery weapon upon our brethren near Gaza. Fields and forests have burned, and a defense against this primitive weapon has not been completely effective. When we see fire in the sky we should take a lesson from this week’s Parsha. It is a sign that we must look upwards toward Shomayim and subjugate our hearts to our Father in Heaven. My friends, we have to understand that this is everything. “Ele v’rechev v’ele vasussim … Some with chariots and some with horses, but we – in the Name of Hashem, our
G-d, we call out!” (Psalm 20)
What does it mean that our ancestors looked at the fiery serpent and lived? How does that work? I would like to say this: Moshe took copper, “nechoshes,” which is spelled with the same letters as “nachash,” (serpent) and it became a fiery serpent. (See Numbers 21:9) When you see a fiery serpent, it is a sign that the fiery serpents which bit the people were sent from Shomayim.
It was no accident that the serpents bit the people. When you look at the fiery, copper serpent on the pole you realize that the serpent on the ground that bites people emanates from Hashem just the way the fiery serpent emanates from Hashem. Every incident in this world is directed from Heaven. If the serpent bit you, it is because Hashem authorized the serpent to bite. And if you realize that, then you know that you can change your behavior and remove the cause of the serpent biting you! This is called “teshuva!” That is why looking up at the burning serpent will save your life. “[The Torah] always removes harm by [means of] that which harms, and heals the sickness by [means of] that which sickens.” (Ramban on Numbers 21:9)
If fire is sent against us, we have to look toward Heaven. When we understand that all things come from Hashem, we will be protected. Summer is the season of danger and the season of teshuva. If we look toward Heaven, we will not be afraid, “For behold, a day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the wicked people and all the evildoers will be like straw, and that coming day will burn them up, says Hashem, Master of Legions, so that it will not leave them a root or branch. But a sun of righteousness will shine for you who fear My Name, with healing in its rays…” (Malachi 3:19-20)
May the sun of righteousness shine upon us soon! “When the wicked bloom like grass and all the doers of iniquity blossom, it is to destroy them to eternity!” (Psalm 92)