Monday, December 14, 2020

Surrounded by Angels

Last Saturday afternoon, I officiated Arielle and Alex’s wedding ceremony at Dallas Arboretum in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Alex, fittingly, writes about an important lesson his stepparents taught him: “Watching Ken and Trish treat me as their own, I discovered selflessness. The idea of concerning yourself more with the needs and wishes of others than with your own… I became obsessed with finding other examples of this. Who in their right mind would spend their life concerned with other people’s problems? Well, it turns out there are millions…”

This lesson stands out to me because too many people today seem to implicitly and sometimes explicitly be saying, “I’ve got mine, and I don’t really care if you get yours.” The words of the fictional yet all too real Gordon Gecko, “Greed is good,” seem to be celebrated rather than mocked and condemned.

How did this happen? Arielle relates a funny story that helps explain this fact: “I decided to try Match… I originally signed up for 3 months and, honestly, didn’t see or talk to anyone I even wanted to meet. It was such a waste of time! I was so glad I only joined for 3 months. However, those subscriptions auto renew, and I definitely forgot about that. So my account auto renewed and I was so pissed… [Then with] about a month left [on] my membership I got a message from Dallex. (He’s so creative, LOL!)”

Our society did not end up here by accident. We, as a society, set up systems that brought us to where we are. Many of these systems operate in the background, so we hardly notice them. Every now and then we luck out and those systems end up helping us, like they did in Arielle’s Match auto-renewal, but this is the exception, not the rule.

How do we solve this problem? The Ancient Rabbis had an idea, which builds on a verse from the very first chapter of the Torah. This verse is a popular one at weddings: “And God created man in his image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.”

Without even resorting to rabbinic interpretation, the last words of the verse already tell us that we can only reflect the image of God when we are meaningfully connected to another person.

Here is what the Rabbis say, which takes this to an entirely different level: “A procession of angels passes before each person, and the heralds go before them, saying, ‘Make way for the image of God!’” Think about that next time you see someone you don’t know, someone to whom you feel no connection. Think about that next time you see someone who might be down on their luck, or even someone who has not lived their life as the most upright citizen of the community. Each one of these people is surrounded by angels.

Once you understand that this truth lies beneath the surface, Alex’s original question almost flips on its head. If you truly recognize that each of us is surrounded by angels, who in their right mind would NOT spend their life concerned with other people’s problems? Now think about how cool this world would be if we really took this idea seriously.

Rabbi Michele Lenke suggested this image could be a way of understanding the six feet of distance we are supposed to put between ourselves and others. The six feet could be envisioned as making room for the invisible angels that surround each of us. When we keep our physical distance, we are not trying to get away from one another, but rather, leaving space for our angels.

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