Rabbi Deborah Megdal
This week’s Torah portion is Terumah, Exodus 25:1-27:19.
Angels turn toward each other, call out to each other and expand their wings of protection. How can we be more like the angels?
Every day, we strive to be like angels in the Kedushah section of the Amidah prayer. We bow and turn to the right and to the left, mimicking the angels who call out to each other.
We praise God using their words: “Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh… Holy, Holy, Holy is God!” We stand with our legs held together as one, mirroring their bodily form (according to the prophet Ezekiel, angels have a single fused leg.). We raise our heels high toward the heavens, lifting and balancing atop our toes in order to be like them — and for a few moments, a few inches closer to God.
On Yom Kippur, we follow their example, too. Since angels neither eat nor drink, we also refrain (if possible safely) in order to focus our spiritual attention for the holy day. As in the Kedushah, we stretch ourselves to be like the angels, if only briefly. We know that soon we will fall back on our heels, and soon we will break our fast. Yet we keep striving to be like them.
How might we model ourselves after the angels in our relationships?
We learn in Parshat Terumah that God’s presence is concentrated between two golden angel figures atop the cover of the Mishkan. Amid the meticulous, detailed instructions for building this portable sanctuary that the Israelites will carry through the desert, we find a striking depiction of these two angels.
The golden angels are to be fashioned in a symbolic posture of protection. Their wings spread out and shield the ark’s cover from above. Their bodies create the sacred space where God dwells. After Mount Sinai, this space between these angels becomes the site for continued communication between God and the Israelites.
The biblical commentator Chizkuni (13th century France) explains that they faced each other to avoid any implication that they were themselves images to be worshiped. The consequences of idolatry will be tragically played out soon in the story of the Golden Calf. But the angels of the Mishkan are role models, not idols. They turn toward each other, facing each other and focusing their attention on the ark that holds the Torah.
We, too, can turn toward each other and our tradition. We, too, can look to Jewish life for connection, protection and support. In our communal life, we turn toward each other in prayer and song, in rousing debate and quiet conversation, in celebration and grief, across Shabbat dinner tables and in shivah houses.
In all the myriad ways that we live as Jews, we must turn toward each other, because when we trust that others will spread over us their sheltering wings, we gain the courage to be more open to connection.
Over the past year leading a new grief support group in my community, I have witnessed brave vulnerability. I have seen the light of recognition in the eyes of mourners who understand each other’s pain. I have heard stories that needed to be shared. I have felt the beginning of healing.
Only when we turn toward each other do we know that we are not alone. Only when we turn toward each other do we find the place where God’s presence dwells. Like the golden angels atop the Mishkan, may we always turn toward each other, our wings spread out in love. ■
Rabbi Deborah Megdal is associate rabbi of Congregation Beth El of Montgomery County.