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Friday, 29th June 2018

A sword-bearing angel came to obstruct Bilam from going to curse the Jewish people. What was the identity of this angel?  Rashi (22;22) cites a commentary which says he was the angel of mercy and was coming to prevent Bilam from sinning. 
Says Rabbi Pam: If one were to imagine an ‘angel of mercy,’ one would probably picture an ethereal, white, florescent being with a halo hovering over them, whilst we would picture an ‘angel of death’ as dark, etc. with a sword.  Here, however, the angel of mercy appears with a sword. 
The message is that what might appear to be an angel of destruction may actually be the angel of mercy.  In other words, what one might ordinarily and initially brand as a disappointment, collapse, or failure, might really be HaShem (G-d) dealing with mercy in disguise.  This goes for a failed business venture, a shidduch (match) which broke off, or other disappointments in life too.  Perhaps the business would have failed later anyway and lost more money, or perhaps this couple was just not meant to be anyway and save more serious pain which would have occurred later on - the failings here were really HaShem protecting the person, we were the ones who failed to see it that way. They were undercover angels of mercy .

As a true story in illustrates, there is a small shul in the centre of New York City with a regular minyan (quorum) for shacharis (morning prayers). Now one morning a few years ago a highly unusual thing happened. There were only nine men there. So they waited a bit for a tenth man even though they had to get to work. 
After several minutes, an old Jew showed up. He insisted to lead the davening (prayers), the others agreed. However, he was taking such a long time the other nine were starting to show frustration; 'Who does he think he is? Does he not realise we have to be at work already?’ 
Suddenly they heard a massive explosion and an overwhelming crashing sound. They went towards the door to see what had happened. It was September 11, and the nearby World Trade Center Towers had been attacked. Some of the people at this minyan would have been inside the Twin Towers if shacharis had been on time and finished with normal speed. 
They felt the relief as they had realised their lives had been saved by this 'new chazzan - leader.'  As they turned around to thank him, they realised he had gone, and he has not been seen since. The point is that these people felt rather frustrated at the speed [or lack of it] of the chazzan, but they did not realise that it was HaShem’s means of ultimately saving their lives.

The truth is that it seems that everybody has their own individual story of Divine Providence in their own lives, and how something that they thought was destructive turned out to be constructive in the long term. It depends on one’s attitude and bitachon (trust).
Two Chassidishe (Chassidic) Rabbis were put in prison in Russia in the early part of the last century for false accusations. In this prison there was no toilet, just a bowl in the middle of the cell which all the inmates were to use to relieve themselves.

The time came for shacharis, and the Rabbis were extremely upset.  One may not daven (pray) in the proximity of excretion. One of the Rabbis turned to the other and made the following point: ‘when was the last time we were ever able to fulfil the halacha (Jewish law) of not davening when there is excretion around,’ he continued ‘we should not be sad, it is a merit that we can fulfil this halacha!’

The two Chassidishe Rabbis in a prison cell were found by the guard dancing joyfully and fervently around a bowl of excretion - a dance in celebration of fulfilling a halacha.  In fact, the prison guard was so perturbed and irate that there should be such joy and noise in the prison cell, that he went in and forcibly removed the bowl.  The Rabbis stopped dancing and davened shacharis - ‘now we can fulfil the mitzvah and halachos of shacharis too!’ was the excited call.

Rav Ya’akov Kamenetzky would tell this with his personal story; he was vying for a position in the Rabbinate in a town in eastern Europe during the 1930s, and the other candidate was chosen above him, and so a disappointed and despondent Rav Ya’akov made his way to America; to ultimately become a hugely successful leader of the immediate and wider /national community there. Unfortunately, the fate of the other ‘chosen’ Rabbi was that he was killed in the Holocaust together with his entire town. Rav Ya’akov would essentially point out that what he initially thought was a disappointment, turned out to be the malach shel rachamim.

What we initially think is a disappointment, can often turn out to be the malach shel rachamim (the Angel of Mercy).  This is not a deep, complex, or complicated message, but a very practical and effective one to try and internalise.



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