What does Judaism say about angels? Are they involved in our lives? I've always felt like I have a guardian angel, but I'd like to know more. Does it have a name? How do I communicate with it?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
First, let's try to understand exactly what an angel is.
If you see little children flying around your head with their wings flapping happily behind them, don't think these are angels. They're hallucinations! Real angels don't have bodies, wings, or one drop of physicality.
The reason, however they are quite often described as being winged humans (such as in Exodus 25:17, Isaiah 6:2, Ezekiel 1:5 and 10:18) is to help us understand something about their essence. This is similar to how the Torah describes God as having a "strong hand and outstretched arm." Of course, God doesn't have an arm! Rather, the Torah is conveying to us something about God's mighty strength in a way that we can understand. (Maimonides - Book of Knowledge 2:4)
Angels are defined as metaphysical beings who are messengers of God. They are spiritual, but they have no free will. They can only do exactly what they have been commanded to do by their Creator.
The word "Malach" (Hebrew for "angel") means "messenger," and it also translates as "work." In other words, an angel is a "messenger" of God who carries out His "work." Similarly, the English word "angel" comes from the Greek word "angelos" meaning "messenger" or "agent."
Angels are sometimes referred to as the "Heavenly Court," due to the fact that they administer the work of the King, God. That is to say, just as a King makes the plans but his court discharges them, so too God makes the plans and His angels discharge them.
This is the meaning of the Midrash which says, "No blade of grass grows without an angel telling it to 'Grow!'" This teaches us that everything on earth has a spiritual counterpart that influences it. Even a blade of grass has an angel looking over it to make sure it receives nourishment, or causes it to die at its appointed time. Nations also have angels appointed over them. For example, the Torah recounts the famous story of Jacob fighting with Samael, the angel of Esav. (see Genesis 32:5, Midrash - Genesis Rabba 10:6, and "The Way of God" 2:5:3)
Each angel has only one particular task to fulfill. The most well-known angels are:
• Micha'el - (literally: "Who is like God") carries out God's missions of kindness. He accompanies a person on the right side, since "right" is always associated with kindness.
• Gavriel - "My strength is God" - is on the left side, which is always associated with the attributes of strength and judgment.
• Uriel - "My light is God" - goes in front of a person, as if illuminating the proper path to go.
• Raphael - "My healer is God" - protects a person from harm, and goes behind a person to "cover the backside."
Interestingly, we find three of these angels visiting Abraham in Genesis 18:2. Micha'el (kindness) had come to bring Sarah the good news of her pregnancy, Gavriel (judgment) came to overthrow Sodom, and Raphael (healing) came to heal Abraham following his circumcision. The angels such as those who spoke to Abraham were purely spiritual forces which appeared in human form.
Due to their unique nature, it is impossible to communicate with angels, although there have been stories of great Sages who were able to do so.
It is certainly forbidden to pray to angels. Not only forbidden, but it would be a waste of time since angels can only do what God tells them to do anyway!
However, God always has an attentive ear to his children, and He is waiting for your prayers. One good place to start is by reading the "Bedtime Shema," which includes a beautiful prayer about the four protecting angels that we mentioned above.
When you perform a mitzvah, you create an angel that accompanies you. The commandments which create that attachment are the true "guardian angels" of a person.