Sunday, December 27, 2009

World of the Sages: Guardian angels
By LEVI COOPER (Jerusalem Post)

The Talmud prescribes a statement to be made before one enters the rest room to relieve himself: "Be ennobled, O noble ones, holy ones, servants of the supreme one; render honor to the God of Israel, disengage yourselves from me until after I enter, do what I will and return to you" (B. Brachot 60b) - a request that the angels that accompany us leave while we momentarily attend to our bodily functions.

One talmudic sage - Abbaye - objected to this formula: One should not tell the angels to leave, lest they indeed leave and do not return. The danger of the angels deserting the person when he enters the rest room was reason enough for Abbaye to suggest an alternative text: "Guard me, guard me; aid me, aid me; assist me, assist me; wait for me, wait for me - while I enter and exit, for such is the way of people."

What is the charge of these angels? In this passage their function is unclear, yet elsewhere their task is apparent (B. Ta'anit 11a): Our sages tell us that whoever suffers along with the community when the community is faced with tribulations will merit to witness the consolation of the community. The Talmud notes that a person may wonder: Who will testify that I did not share in the community's anguish? According to one approach, the two angels who escort a person may serve at witnesses.