Be a Real Mentsch!


special to the Cleveland Jewish News

Insight into: Parshat Masei


"Shalom Aleichem Malachay Hasharet ..." Visit Jewish homes all over the world, and you will hear this traditional Friday night prayer sung right before the Kiddush service. This beautiful hymn was composed by an unknown poet, most likely a saintly Kabbalist, several hundred years ago and has since become part of the Jewish tradition of both Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews.

We all know that Shalom Aleichem means "Welcome to You" n but whom are we really welcoming? 

The Talmud relates that each Friday night, a good and a bad angel visit every Jewish home. If they come to a home where everything is ready for the Sabbath Queen, the good angel says, "May it be so next week, too!" and the bad angel, against his will, must answer "Amen." 

If the situation is reversed and the spirit of the Sabbath is absent from a Jewish home, then the bad angel says, "May it be so next week, too!" and the good angel, against his will, must answer "Amen." 

The "Shalom Aleichem" song welcomes the angels, invites them in, asks for their blessing and then wishes them farewell. 

This is only one of many references in Jewish life to the concept of angels. Contrary to popular (and mistaken) belief, angels are, and have always been, an integral part of Jewish tradition. 

The Hebrew word for angel, malach, actually means messengers. According to our tradition, angels are not independent beings, but are created for a special purpose: to be G‑d's messengers. They are the highest created intelligences, whose understanding of G‑d is all the greater because of their closeness to Him.

Yet, in Kabbalah terminology, angels are called "omed," ones that stand still, for they always remain on the same level as they were created. Man, on the other hand, is referred to as "m'halech," a walker, because by continually growing in spirituality, he can attain spiritual heights that are inaccessible even to angels. 

In this week's Parsha Masei, the Torah describes the 42 journeys Jews traveled during the course of their 40 years in the desert. The parsha lists the names of each and every place where the Jews camped during this long period. 

What is the message for us? What can we learn from journeys that took place thousands of years ago? 

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that the 42 journeys in the desert reflect the journey of growth of every human being. It is the journey of our life, beginning at the moment of birth. 

Unlike angels, each individual's purpose in life is to grow. He (or she) may start from a point lower than an angel; nevertheless G‑d expects that person to continuously journey upward. 

How is this achieved? Throughout our lives every one of us encounters opportunities to grow spiritually; every mitzvah that we do and every challenge that we overcome brings us closer to G‑d. 

You are not expected to be an angel, but you are expected to be a mensch!