July 24, 2024
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Vayera: The Encounter (Or Angels in the Men’s Section)

Gabe Schlossberg had been sitting in the men’s section of his shul on a Friday night davening and pretty much minding his own business. Kabbalat Shabbat was just ending with the singing of Lecha Dodi, and Gabe was waiting for the Ma’ariv service to begin with the recitation of Barchu. That was when the man approached him.

“Hi,” the man said.

“Hello,” Gabe returned. The man seemed to know him, but Gabe did not recall ever having laid eyes on this person before.

“How have you been?” the man asked.

“OK,” Gabe said. “And you?”

“You cut your hair differently,” the man said. “Are you growing your sideburns longer?”

“I guess,” Gabe said, with a shrug of his shoulders. “I dunno.”

“Anyway, it’s always nice to see you,” the man said. He extended his hand, and Gabe shook it. He had a dry, firm handshake.

“Have a good Shabbat,” the man said, smiling knowingly at Gabe.

“You too, good Shabbat,” Gabe said back.

And he was gone.

Who was this guy? And how did he know him? Had they gone to camp together as kids? Were they in Yeshiva University at the same time? Did he date his sister?

During Ma’ariv, Gabe tried to look around the synagogue for the man, but he couldn’t find him. Maybe he was sitting in the back, behind the bimah. It’s hard to see that part of the sanctuary from where Gabe sat. Still, it was a bit peculiar.

After the davening, Gabe sought the man out, but he was gone. He probably left right after the service. A few of the congregants vaguely recalled seeing him, but no one seemed to know who he was.

“He must be someone’s guest,” Raphael Lempkin said.

“Maybe the Rabbi knows who he is,” Michael Stein suggested. But alas, Rabbi Levine could cast no light on the mystery davener.

Perplexed, Gabe went home to his family.

“I just had the strangest experience at the Young Israel,” Gabe said to his wife Malki.

“You always say that when you come home from that shul,” Malki said. “What happened this time?”

“No, I’m serious,” Gabe said. “A man came up to me in shul and seemed to know all about me, but I would swear I’ve never seen him before in my life. Yet he seemed to really know me. And then he vanished into thin air after davening, and no one knew who he was.”

Gabe’s son Sam had stayed home from shul because he had a bad cold. He had been sitting in the corner of the living room with his face buried in a book, but when his father told the story of the stranger, Sam looked up and listened attentively.

“What did he look like?” Sam asked.

“He was kind of ordinary. He was a bit on the shorter side and balding a little. He was wearing a gray suit and horn-rimmed glasses. Otherwise, I can’t really remember much.”

“Maybe he was a malach,” Sam suggested.

“You mean, like a king?”

“No, Dad, that’s a melech. I mean a malach, an angel. Maybe this man was an angel, like the men who speak to Avraham in the desert and tell him that Yitzchak will be born, or the malach that saves Hagar and Yishmael.

Malki laughed, but Gabe listened attentively.

“You know, Sam, you might just have something, there. Maybe this was my guardian angel, the one who watches over me. I know these kinds of angels come up in the Chumash. You know the angel who wrestled with Ya’akov? Wasn’t he supposed to be Eisav’s guardian angel? Maybe that’s why he knew me so well, even though I didn’t recognize him.”

“Exactly,” Sam agreed. “And maybe that’s how he vanished so easily. For a malach, that would be easy.”

“Child’s play,” Gabe agreed.

Malki stared at Gabe and Sam in disbelief. “Are you two pulling my leg?”

“No, I’m serious,” Gabe said. “I think I may have just crossed paths with an angel of God.”

“Well, talk about thinking highly of yourself!”

“Malki, the entire book of Berishit is filled with encounters with angels. If you believe in the essential truth of the Torah, then you should believe in their existence. So why couldn’t I have encountered one of God’s minions in our synagogue?”

“Wouldn’t he have wings, or something, or look angelic in some way?”

“No,” Sam said. “When the angels go to meet Avraham, the Torah just calls them anashim, men. So I imagine they could look totally ordinary.”

“So why did this angel contact you, Gabe?” Malki asked. “Were you talking in shul?”

Gabe smiled. “It was nothing like that. Who am I to understand why an angel shook my hand and remarked on my haircut?”

“Maybe he just wanted to say, ‘Hello, I’m watching over you. Have a nice day,’” Sam suggested.

“Maybe that’s it,” Gabe said. “I think it’s enough just to know that it happened.”

Gabe, Malki, and Sam gathered around the Friday-night dinner table in silence and pondered the possibility that Sam was right. Maybe Gabe had experienced a supernatural encounter with an angel in horn-rimmed glasses.

After a few moments, the three Schlossbergs started singing Shalom Aleichem, welcoming the Shabbat queen to their home. It was the best rendition of the song that they had ever sung.

By Larry Stiefel

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