By Kayla Higgins
JMCBI Fellow, JCUA
One of the greatest things to me about revisiting stories from the Torah is that you get a chance to see how you have changed and grown since the last time you read the story. The stories grow along with you, and develop more complexity and deeper meaning as your life becomes more complex and you acquire more life experience.
I had one such experience when I revisited Parashat Vayera this week. I realized that after my experiences leading interfaith dialogues on my university campus, and since becoming involved with JCUA on the Jewish-Muslim Community Building Initiative, I have developed a new understanding of what angels are, and what it means to do angels’ work.
Several angels of God appear in Parashat Vayera. In one part of the parashah, an angel appears to Hagar and tells her not to fear because God has heard her child’s cries. Then the angel tells her to pick the child up, because he will be the source of a great nation.
An angel appears next in the parashah when an angel stops Abraham from sacrificing his son because he has already demonstrated his fear of God. Then, an angel appears to Abraham a second time and says that since he has listened to God, God will bless him so that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore.
When I read the story this time around, I started thinking about the people in my life who did the same thing for me that the angels in this parashah did for Hagar and Abraham.
There have definitely been important people in my life who have given me reassurance when I needed it, who have pushed me not to give up, who have made me recognize my own strength, and who have provided me with hope for a brighter future.
But I also realized that these things can be accomplished on a greater scale when not only individuals provide this reassurance and strength to individuals, but also when groups of people provide it to other groups of people.
Indeed, I believe that one of the most amazing things about interfaith dialogue is its ability to affirm the beliefs of both sides by discussing both shared beliefs and differences, and the ability for both faith communities to become stronger by allying with each other.
Therefore, my understanding of Parashat Vayera this time around is that angels can appear in the form of individuals or groups, and that angels’ work can be accomplished whenever souls meet, and in their meeting, generate greater strength and greater faith in the world’s goodness.