In season six of The Sopranos the king mobster Tony Soprano tells his psychologist what he learned from his recent experience taking peyote. “There’s something else out there.” His life is crashing in on him. His son just tried to commit suicide. Danger, death and difficulties surround him. “Like what,” she asks. “I don’t know.” “Alternate universes,” she asks skeptically. “Maybe,” he answers seriously.
Every now and again we are given a glimpse of realities we don’t usually inhabit. We come across a person living a completely different life to ours and see it for a second. We look back at our lives and wonder at the strange and perfect logic of it all. We see a magnificent little bird in some tree. We know for a moment the goodness that sustains us.
As we carry our loved ones to their graves we recite:
יושב בסתר עליון בצל שדי יתלונן
The highest sits in hiding,
resting in the shade of the Goddess.
Our lives are a dance with the shadows, with what we can and can’t see there in the dark.
The great peacemaker, Stephen Cohen, who worked in secret to broker the peace between Israel and Egypt, as well as other later agreements, was also a great believer in the existence of angels. Steve z”l, who was a close family friend, spent decades shuttling secretly between Arab and Israeli leaders, creating relationships of trust with vilified enemies of Israel such as Assad, Arafat, Hussein and others, that he would then transform into diplomatic breakthroughs. He knew how to harness unseen powers toward peace, so he knew that unseen powers existed. I wasn’t surprised to hear at his funeral that he held a strong belief in the protective power of angels.
The rabbis experienced our existence as the continued miraculous victory of unseen forces of life over what they called “Mal’achey chabalah,” angels of destruction. We are surrounded at all times by tens of thousands of these negative angels, they taught. But we live, thanks to the unseen powers of divinity.
In this week’s Parasha a human being gets a glimpse of these worlds, the hidden reality going all the way through to the end of time.
Before his death, Jacob calls his children to him:
“Gather around so I can tell you…