A NOT SO ANGELIC ENCOUNTER
I am a student at a major university in this country and am enrolled in a course on language and gender. The professor is Cleary not religious, which is truly no concern of mine, but tends to take swipes at religion from time to time, which I do find rather annoying. During a recent class she asked us about a survey of Americans which determined that most Americans believe in angels-and so much as said: how ridiculous is that! Now I've found myself somewhat more than annoyed because, being perfectly frank, I'm one of those Americans. I do believe in angels, always have, suspect that I always will, and don't regard myself as idiotic or irrational. But being a 21st century sort of 20-something person, I'm beginning to wonder: Am I crazy for believing in angels? Doesn't Judaism believe in angels?
No Hope for an A From This Prof
Dear No Hope,
First of all, don't give up on getting that A! Who knows-maybe you'll be able to teach the professor a thing or two.
Look-sometimes professors keep students awake by making controversial statements in class, and no statement is more controversial than attacking a cherished belief. I don't know your professor or her motivation, but I would hope that any professor dealing with literature and language would have greater respect for belief systems that have moved people's imaginations to create some of the greatest works in literature and art. It's one thing to confess to one's atheism or lack of faith. It's another to take issue with someone belief in God and faith. I would have counseled your professor had she consulted me (and she didn't) to look for an alternative controversy to keep her young students awake and engaged.
The Bible is full of angels. Abraham is visited by angels, Jacob wrestles with an angel, and the Israelites are protected by an angel of God leading them out of Egypt. One could argue that this is all poetic language for our ancestors' struggles with big issues and the strength they found within themselves to do what they had to do. But however you understand it, belief in these divine helpers was and continues to be a way that many people cope with life or endure hardships, and that is nothing to dismiss lightly.
I have often thought that when a human being fulfills the will of God, that human being becomes angel-like, to the extent that all angels are the agents of God. I don't see this belief of yours as irrational, for it does not contradict or offend reason, but it is a matter of faith, and faith doesn't always find a home for itself in university classrooms.
In short, don't let this professor rattle you. Do the readings, go to the lectures, and with a little help from your guardian angel, you'll ace the final.
Rabbi Rafi Rank
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