B’Shem Hashem

Emily Goldberg
February 21, 2013
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B’shem Hashem, elohei Yisrael
B’ymini Michael u-smoli Gavriel
U-milfanai Uriel, me’acharai Raphael
V’al roshi, v’al roshi, Shechinat-El

This song, also known as Reb Shlomo Carlebach’s “Angel Song,” unifies Jews from every corner of the world. The simple words are chanted into a beautiful chorus of harmonies and melodies that invite the immanent presence of God into any room. Usually sung either during Shabbat or before sleeping, this prayer seeks protection as we complete our phases of creation and stress and transcend to a world of stillness and tranquility. Most importantly, however, this “Angel Song” serves as our global Jewish compass, steered by the various angels in our midst.

With four angels leading us in each direction, we encounter four unique qualities that embody God. The first two angels, Michael and Gabriel, sit at our right and left respectively and are Biblical; the last two angels, Uriel and Raphael, sit before and behind us respectively and are derived from the early foundation of Rabbinic Judaism. All together, these four angels provide the blanket of security over our fears, the protective layer over our faith that allows us to store away our doubts.

On our right sits Michael, known in Biblical history as the “archangel” who defeated evil and acts of injustice. Today, we refer to Michael as the angel of mercy, the one who constantly improves our right hand and advocates on our behalf. According to a Midrash, Michael, meaning “Who is like God” was the angel that prevented Abraham from sacrificing his only son and stood beside Moshe after his death, unwilling to take his soul and accept the death of a leader. Powerful and determined, Michael is the right hand we need when we cannot fight injustice alone. Michael is the right arm of Moshe, Miriam, Dr. King, and Mother Theresa. Michael is perhaps our wake up call when our arms are not being used to make this world a safer and more just place.

Lingering on our left side is Gabriel, whose name means “God is my strength.” Gabriel is considered the defender of the Jewish people, the executer of all judgments. Perhaps it is through Gabriel that we learn the pivotal value of resistance that we need during the times we feel spiritually threatened. Represented by fire, this angel is the force of strength and judgment that destroyed a city tainted by its sins and corruption in order to defend the world. Gabriel is the inner fire that enables us to defend the defenseless, to uphold the weak. Gabriel is the fire that complements Michael, the angel of mercy, motivating us to resist injustice for the sake of others and for a better world. Without fire, there would be no change. Without resistance, we would live a life of indifference, which is and forever would be the greatest tragedy of all. Gabriel is the fire within us that serves as constant reminder that we, Jews and non-Jews alike, are responsible for creating a different world, not a world of indifference.

In front of us lies Uriel, the angel of light. While the Bible, Talmud, and all other Jewish sources could surely explain every meaning behind the purpose of light, I only see it as serving one purpose: the illuminate the darkness that envelopes us. Darkness and lightness, both Divinely created, are somehow the two most humanly controlled concepts that exist today. We are so quick to leave a room of darkness for the next person instead of lighting even the dimmest candle of hope. Not only are we obligated to be “Or LaGoyim,” or the light to the other nations, but we must also be the light for another. The phases of darkness that enter our lives will only amplify and overpower us if we allow them to do so; with the guidance of Uriel, we can look in front of us to see darkness defeated by the light we create together during the most challenging of times.

Behind us is Raphael, the angel of healing, the angel that absorbs our deepest pains, diseases, and despair. Raphael, like most medications today, is not the cure for our pain but rather the guarantee that we are not alone in the healing process. Moreover, perhaps as Raphael isolates our illnesses and weaknesses behind us, he allows our gradual healing to surround our every direction and eventually provide us with a new light before our eyes, or Uriel. It takes the deepest pain to recognize the unremitting power of healing, no matter how long it may take. It is the healing guidance of Raphael that will allow us to eventually leave the pain and sorrow of the tragedies in Newtown, Connecticut and Colorado behind us and slowly begin to heal until we see the light once again. The shock of death will remain behind us in the arms of an angel, but the warmth of healing is in the arms and legs of our community

Trough the words of one Shlomo Carlebach prayer, we can point our actions toward distinct directions. We can create a moral Jewish compass that inspires us to follow in the footsteps of our angels. And of course, in between those four pathways and above our heads, the presence of God [Shechinat-El] will dwell

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Emily Goldberg is a freshman at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania. She loves sharing her perspective on faith and religion, especially with her own growing Jewish community. She began recording her own ideas in her blog, “A Leap of Faith.” In the future, she hopes to pursue interfaith studies, social action, theology, and writing. This past summer she joined a life-long community of Jewish thinkers and leaders, The Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel. This year, she pursued her passion for spiritual leadership through her rabbinic internship at Romemu [www.romemu.org], her pastoral internship at St. Patrick's Cathedral and her job as a counselor at Camp Ramah Darom in Georgia. She hopes to lead a liberal and innovative Jewish community of her own someday, one where others can be inspired to pursue coexistence and positive change.

1 Comment

  1. Dear Emily,

    Thank you so much for your explication. Since last December when I met first this prayer I feel a great urge to sing it, sometimes all the day, inside myself.
    In the last 3 month I have been obliged to undergo a great emotional and phisycal trial because of my mother’s serious illness. A couple of weeks ago this prayer, this song started to be a continous background in my days, I realised suddenly that I was singing it uncounsciously as soon as I woke up in the morning and I kept on singing all the day. It is a great help for me. Now - thanks for you - I know more about why.

    with friendly regards
    from Budapest, Hungary

    Posted by
    Agnes Szombati
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