A number of sections of Torah refer to angels, one of the most famous of which is the portion dealing with Jacob. At one point, Jacob dreams of a ladder that reaches from earth to heaven.8
Angels go up and down the ladder, and God stands above it, talking to Jacob, promising to give him the land that surrounds him. Later, Jacob wrestles with and defeats an angel. In that event, he is renamed Israel.
All biblical commentary attempts to resolve difficulties in text. In this instance, the problem that is of concern is why the Torah says that the angels first ascend the ladder and then descend. Logically, assuming angels start off somewhere other than earth, the text should say that the angels descended first and then ascended. So this turn of words is a hint that invites comment.
An obvious question arises: as angels do not walk--they move in some other way--why do they need ladders? Moreover, why do we envision them with wings? It is written in the midrash that some angels have six wings and some have twelve.8
It is said that demons have six wings.8
And the Shekhina, the Divine Presence, is also said to have wings. Why is this? None of these need wings to get from one place to another. What do the wings represent?
Although the literal use of wings in the Torah is for flying, the code for the word wing means "a covering; under the influence of something." As it says in Psalms (36:8), "How excellent is your love, God; for people find shelter under the shadow of your wings." When we are under the wings of the Shekhina, we are surrounded by light and loving kindness. When we are under the wings of a demon, we are surrounded by darkness. The wings of angels surround us with angelic wisdom.
It is said that an angel is given a job to do, just one job at a time, usually to deliver a message. For example, we learn that every living thing has its own guardian angel. The angel accompanies to the living thing for one moment in order to give a vital message: Live! The next moment, another angel appears with the identical message. What happens to first angelic energy once it has delivered its message? It has nothing else to do. Its whole purpose was to do this one act. You see, once the message is given, the angel no longer has wings, so to speak. It disappears.
Angels and demons are like orbs of spiritual energy in an effervescent liquid that is constantly bubbling. When a bubble rises to the top, it disappears. The bubble is defined by the liquid and not by itself. We must be careful when we speak about orbs of energy because we tend to think of them in terms of boundaries, but angels do not have physical boundaries. So we must try to imagine angels as ephemeral bubbles that exist everywhere, often overlapping with each other, not surrounded by liquid, not even having dimension.
The Talmud gives us a way to exercise our imagination regarding angelic energy. It says that the width of Jacob's ladder had to be eight-thousand parasangs, which equals about twenty thousand miles.9
Why? Because the wording of the passage that describes angels ascending and descending suggests that two were going up and two were coming down at the same time. Using talmudic logic, the ladder had to be wide enough for four angels abreast!
The Talmud goes on to quote Daniel (10:6), who says that the angel he saw had a body like Tarshish. Whereas some translate Tarshish as a precious stone, the secret meaning is that it is the name of a sea which is two thousand parasangs wide. Thus, the Talmud concludes that if each angel is two thousand parasangs wide, four abreast means that Jacob's ladder was eight thousand parasangs in width.9
This, of course, is wider than the earth.
A similar teaching can be found in the Midrash Rabbah, which explicitly says that the size of an angel is one-third of the world.9
In this teaching, four angels abreast would have the "dimension" of one and one-third worlds. In either measurement, Jacob's ladder is substantially larger than the world. If this is so, what does the ladder rest on?
Obviously it is not any kind of ladder that fits into our imaginations, nor is it a ladder that is logical. Indeed, it is not a ladder at all, but a sign of higher consciousness. The Zohar was quite clear on this, saying, "The ladder of Jacob symbolically allowed him to see all levels of consciousness as one, all awareness knit into one whole. Each side of the ladder represents a dimension: Abraham on the right [chesed/expansion] and Isaac on the left [gevorah/contraction]. Jacob in the middle [tiferet/beauty] is the culmination of the balance and harmony required to be able to stand on the highest rung, above either side. This [Jacob] is viewed as a completion, a wholeness, the potential for the totality of consciousness in its sum rather than in discrete parts. The whole of the ladder forms one sacred chariot [the vehicle leading to total awareness]."9
Each rung on the ladder represents a level of consciousness. Jacob is viewed in Kabbalah as the peak of human perfection, more than any of the other biblical characters. He stands on the top rung, the highest potential achievement, held up on either side by the pillar of loving kindness and the pillar of justice.
Justice, it should be noted, in kabbalistic terminology, is comparable to what other traditions call karma. That is to say, cosmic justice is the spiritual law that every action, word, or thought reverberates throughout the universe and has ramifications that affect others and return to us in some way.
We see here that angels are bubbles of cosmic influence. They do not have dimension, per se, but represent forces that raise consciousness. The ladder symbolizes the journey of higher consciousness, which is hinted in the fact that the angels ascend the ladder before descending it.
Jacob "wrestles" with an angel all night, and out of this transformation of consciousness is named Israel. The word Israel is composed of two words in Hebrew: Yashar and El. Yashar means to go straight; the word El is one of the primary names of God. Thus, Israel can be interpreted to mean, "that which yearns to go directly to God." It is implicit in creation that every particle of matter and every being has within it an aspect of Israel, a yearning to return to its source. This idea is reinforced by the teaching that the name Israel does not apply to angels because they are eternally connected to God.
The midrash teaches that when the angels realized that they were praising the God of Israel, they began to wonder about who represents Israel? When Adam was born they asked, "Is this the one for whom you are proclaimed God? God responded, 'No, he is a thief, he stole the forbidden fruit.' Noah? 'No, he drinks too much.' (Noah got drunk after the flood.) Abraham? 'No, his father was an idol worshipper.' Isaac? 'No, he loves his undeserving son Esau.' Jacob? 'Yes, he is the one.'"9
So Jacob is the ideal, the force within each of us that constantly pulls us to God. In this we are different from the angelic forces. Angels have no need for this pull as there is nothing pulling them in any other direction. Angels are fully immersed in God, they have no free will. This is true as well for demons.
Jacob represents the highest part of humankind. Our other components are pushed and pulled by angelic and demonic forces. Jacob wrestles and wins. This is one of the most important spiritual teachings of the Torah. In essence, it says that once we clearly recognize the part within us that is connected with God, we can never be defeated.
GUARDIAN ANGEL PRACTICE
1. Find a quiet place where you will not be interrupted for at least 30 minutes. Sit comfortably and focus your mind on the experience of this moment, simply being present. It will be useful to have a watch or alarm with a beeper that you can set for 30 minutes. At the end of this meditation, you may need to reorient yourself.
2. Imagine that somewhere quite close is your guardian angel. It can take any form you wish. Let your imagination be free. Your guardian angel can be in a body or not; it can take form or be a thought; it can speak, report through telepathy, or it can use other non-intellectual means of communication that you will understand. When you are able to sense something close to you, notice how it feels and describe to yourself what it looks like.
3. Try to communicate with this guardian angel. If you have difficulty with this exercise, let yourself pretend and examine whatever thoughts come into your mind. Pretending does not matter in this practice; we can learn something from the hidden sparks in every thought. Therefore, however the guardian angel chooses to communicate, find out the following:
a. When did it come into your life?
b. What does it do for you at this time?
c. How often is it with you?
d. How was it born?
e. How is it nourished?
f. How does it make decisions?
g. What can it do for you in the future?
4. Now ask these questions:
a. What can you tell me about death?
b. Describe hell to me?
c. Describe heaven?
d. Will you be with me after I die?
e. Will I see relatives or friends who have already died?
5. Finally, ask: "Please give me an experience right now for a few minutes of the heavenly realm after life. Just for a short time, let me experience heaven, deceased loved ones, angelic forces or the Throne of God. Show me what this is like."
Allow yourself to completely relax and be carried to the heights of the upper realms. (You will be able to relax more if you remembered to set a timer for 30 minutes.)
6. When you return from your soul-voyage, be sure to reconnect with your guardian angel and affirm that you will want to have future conversations. See if it is willing to do so. Then come back to the experience of your body, and after a few deep breaths open your eyes.
When we are able to establish a relationship with a personal angelic force, we gain access to angelic realms, which are realities that transcend our own. Once we know how to enter this frame of mind, we slowly alter our sense of individual identity and time. For example, our experience exploring heavenly realms--especially in contact with deceased loved ones--quickly opens new possibilities for the meaning of eternal life.
Using techniques such as these visualizations, our ordinary perspective of reality can be dramatically altered. We can become more attuned to subtle aspects of creation. Some people experience this through the presence of invisible creatures like fairies, gnomes, or elves. Others become sensitive to the delicate messages given by nature that alert us to more happening than meets the eye. Yet others become attuned to nuances in everyday life that reveal hidden meanings of otherwise mundane events. These are mystical phenomena. Our awareness of them can be nurtured by any spiritual practice that open us to the possibilities of experiences that transcend the mind. (For a direct experience, listen to the Guardian Angel Meditation: 1188) .)