In mid-February, I had the opportunity to offer a blessing to Father Richard Murphy from Holy Cross Catholic Church, who was being recognized for his efforts towards Interfaith in Action by the Chapel of the Four Chaplains. As I prepared, I reflected on the beginnings of our interfaith dialogue with Holy Cross in 2004. Alezah Eisenstein and Sue Nichols asked for me, Dr. Daniel Kroger and Jacqueline Cole to bring our congregations together to learn. We started with the film, “I am Joseph, Your Brother”, about Pope John Paul II visit to Israel in 2000. The title of the movie is a quote from Genesis, when Joseph reveals himself to his brother in Egypt, bringing the story of Joseph’s exile and reunion with his family to a close. Just as it rekindled the connection between Joseph and his brothers, Pope John Paul II used these words to express the hope that his State visit to Israel would mark the beginning of a new relationship with increased interaction between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people. Appreciating the symmetry of that story in our shared Holy Text and in the relationship between our congregations, I felt that this story would be a powerful place to start my blessing.
In Genesis 37
14 And he (Jacob) said to him (Joseph), “Go and see how your brothers are and how the flocks are faring [Check on their Shalom], and bring me back word.” So he sent him from the valley of Hebron.
When he reached Shechem, 15 a man came upon him (Joseph) wandering in the fields. The man asked him, “What are you looking for?” 16 He answered, “I am looking for my brothers. Could you tell me where they are pasturing?” 17 The man said, “They have gone from here, for I heard them say: Let us go to Dothan.” So Joseph followed his brothers and found them at Dothan.
When Joseph goes to check on the Shalom of his brothers, he meets this man who, without Joseph identifying himself, tells Joseph where his brothers are. For this reason, our tradition identifies the man as a “Mal’ach” a holy messenger of G!d. In the short term, this man/mal’ach’s direction lead to tzuris for Joseph, but by the end of the story, the brothers are at peace and the people of Israel are saved from famine.
Then I referred to Genesis 32
25 Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. 26 When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he wrenched Jacob’s hip at its socket, so that the socket of his hip was strained as he wrestled with him.
Again, in this sacred encounter, the challenger to our forefather is identified in the text as a “man” but commentators see a mal’ach, an angel, a divine messenger. This man/mal’ach, is the one who helps Jacob transition from the one who holds his brother back, to one who wrestles with beings divine and human and prevails.
Finally, I focused on Exodus 23. While Moses and the People of Israel are standing at Mount Sinai, G!d says, “20 I am sending an angel before you to guard you on the way and to
bring you to the place that I have made ready.” Here the word mal’ach is used in the Hebrew. The Eitz Chayim commentary on page 474-475, however, notes “That is, know that your journey is divinely guided. The knowledge will enable you to overcome the hardships of the journey, knowing that you are following a divine purpose in in your wanderings. According to one interpretation, the angel (mal’ach) will not be a supernatural creature, but a human prophet to guide Israel on its path.” In the first two texts, the supernatural mal’ach is identified as a human. In this text it is the reverse. The Torah says angel. This Commentary declares that the individual is actually human. All three examples felt connected as I addressed Father Murphy. With my blessing, I also hoped he realized when he has been a mal’ach, a divine messenger who has helped people find shalom, wrestle with the challenges of life, and find the place they needed to be. I also prayed that he would know that he too was blessed as mal’achim (in human form and as divine messengers) came into his life to help him with these sacred tasks. Finally, that as we celebrated Father Murphy and our years of interaction and dialogue, it is my dream that we all feel empowered to be mal’achim and sensitive to see mal’achim, in our lives and that we find ways to guide and protect those we encounter in big ways and small moments. Likewise, we should recognize those individuals who give a holy spark to our lives and holy light to our way.