ANGEL OF DEATH
Death is arguably the greatest mystery in creation. Some sub-atomic particles have “life” spans of micro-seconds and some trees live for thousands of years. Some stars exist for billions of years. And yet, everything that exists, sooner or later will cease to exist. When we fully realize this universal truth on a personal level, it can either liberate us or it can be a terrifying reality. Most people, however, do not ponder death until it enters our homes.
In the early days of spiritual inquiry, death was viewed as the enemy of life. Many stories were built upon cosmic battles between the two, and the natural assumption was that death was a force separate from the Godhead. As monotheism developed, however, there was no way to separate death from an all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present God. So, instead of being the great enemy of God, it was simply viewed as an aspect of creation—death is a natural law of the universe.
Just as every part of the universe can be represented by forces that raise consciousness or hamper it, death is clearly the most dramatic event of life as we know it, for death represents the end of everyday consciousness. Still, it is not considered to be an evil opponent, but as a messenger of God, often referred to as the angel of death.
We might have thought that since death is inevitable, the angel of death is all powerful and unstoppable. However, this is not a correct conclusion according to the oral tradition and the folklore of Judaism. Indeed, the angel of death is viewed in a wide variety of ways. It can be tricked, cajoled, turned back, debated, defeated, refused, deceived and chased away. There are many ways to die. Moreover, dying out of this reality does not exclude other realities. Most important, it is taught that the way we “cross over” from one reality to another can bypass the angel of death altogether and occur as gently as a “kiss.”
The angel of death sometimes appears as a brilliant flashing light accompanied by a sweet smell, sometimes beautiful and glorious; other times it has the appearance of a goat, or a ram, or is an ugly beast. It has been called the Prince of Darkness and at times has the name of Belial, an angel of hatred whose dominion is darkness. Death has a number of angel names. When death is related to wild animals, the name of death is Meshabber (angel of shattering). In relation to domestic animals, death is called Hemah (angel of fever) and in relation to children, death is called Mash’khit (angel of slaughtering). Death also has the name of Af (angel of anger) and death over kings is known as Kazfiel (angel of destruction).
It is taught that death can be held off by certain incense and that both Moses and his brother Aaron used this method. In fact, Aaron made the angel faint by holding a smoldering censor under it and then dragged it to the Tabernacle and locked it in! Moses chased death away three times and would only surrender himself to the Source, without an intermediary. The angel of death was stopped when other angels plead for Isaac’s life. Abraham was able to hold off death in a struggle that cost some of Abraham’s servants their lives; however, Abraham brought them back to life! Noah avoided death by hiding in the Ark.
The talmudic sage, Joshua ben Levi, debated the angel of death and was able to steal it’s knife (without which Death was unable to do its “work.”) At that moment, death was almost banished from the world. As the story goes, however, God demanded that ben Levi return death’s knife to its rightful owner; thus death continues to this day.
In the Jewish oral tradition, a mystical city called Luz is described, located at the place where Jacob sets up a pillar named Beth-El, the house of God. As the story goes, the angel of death has no power in this mythical city of Luz. The mystical teachings say that Luz is well hidden, and can be approached only by a cave whose entrance can be found in the hollow of an almond tree. The inhabitants of this city of Luz never die. But it is also taught that they eventually grow weary of life and leave the city in order to die.
In addition, there is a mystical assertion that there is a little bone in every human body, called the luz, that can never be destroyed. All of these teachings suggest that every human has the potential beyond what we normally view as life, and there is a suggestion here that while our bodies may die, our souls may remain forever connected with the source of creation.
We learn from all of these stories that while death is inevitable, we have a range of ways in which we can choose to engage death. Much has to do with our level of consciousness and our ability to encounter the thoughts that arise as the various energies associated with death come up for us. Everyone, of course, must die in their own way. However, the practices described in this book on how to invoke angels can be extraordinarily beneficial in times of need for strength, for healing and for blessing. In addition, these practices can be extremely useful in working with serious illness and with the dying process.
The Kiss of the Shekhina
It is taught that the Divine Presence will often gently take a person’s life rather than giving that soul over to the angel of death. The metaphor for this way of dying is described as the “kiss of the Shekhina.” Many have been taken in this way.
One of the sweetest and most important teachings of the Zohar, centers on this idea of gentle dying. It describes in a number of sections this kind of dying as the most profound love that can be experienced. One section begins with a zoharic sage, Rabbi Isaac, offering a quote from the Song of Songs: “…kiss me with the kisses of the mouth”).
R. Isaac explains: “…kissing expresses the cleaving of spirit to spirit. Therefore, one who dies by the kiss of God is united with a unique spirit [of love], a spirit which can never be separated from God.
In a different section, the Zohar asks: “What prompted King Solomon, when recording words of love between the upper and the lower worlds, to begin with the words [in the Song of Songs], ‘Let him kiss me’? The reason is that no other love is as ecstatic as the moment when spirit cleaves to spirit—breath to breath—in a kiss. When mouth meets mouth, spirits unite and become one single love.”
The Zohar also teaches, “the kiss of love expands in four directions and these are unified in one word: ahavah, meaning “love,” which is a holy chariot [a vehicle to higher consciousness.] These four letters [a-h-v-a] are the four directions of the love and joy of the [four] limbs … When love develops in a breath-to-breath kiss, it ascends and meets with a chief angel [Sandalphon] who is so large, it is appointed over one thousand nine hundred and ninety firmaments. Nonetheless, despite its size and magnitude, if this angel attempts to prevent the spirit from proceeding, Sandalphon cannot stop love, and love makes its way to the Palace of Love—the source of all love. Concerning this matter, Solomon teaches, ‘Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it’”
The Zohar continues: “When that love-spirit enters the Palace of Love, the yearning for the supernal kisses is aroused so that the kisses of the supernal love are duly brought forth, and they are the beginning of the awakening of all supernal love, attachment and union. For this reason the Song of Songs begins with the words: “Let It kiss me.…” Now who is “It”? The answer is that this is a secret hidden within the supernal concealment.
“Understand this! The Most Hidden Secret is unknowable, however it can be revealed as an ephemeral brightness that shines on a narrow path that illuminates and penetrates everything. This is the starting point of all mysteries. Still it is at times discoverable [for those who know the secret teachings of how to open themselves], but even for those who are not able to realize this brightness, still, kissing mouth-to-mouth leads to love and love ascends to merge at its source in the Palace of Love. So, even though the Most Hidden Secret is beyond the comprehension of most humans, the Song of Songs gives us a hint in the profound hidden teaching in the words, “Let It kiss me…”
Thus the Kabbalah teaches: Know that somewhere deep within we can be kissed by the Divine Spirit, and this kiss will forever bind us to our essential nature. We all want to be kissed by a beloved in a way that merges us for eternity, both in this world and in other realms. While we may not be touched in this way during our lives, we still have an opportunity to merge with the Divine up to our last breath. In this extraordinary teaching, we learn that we can “go over” in a way as if being “kissed” by God, which assures an eternal love.
I often am drawn to tell the story of my father’s death as it had and continues to have a profound effect on me. Dad was mostly unhappy after retirement, and became increasingly miserable and sad as he grew more physically incapacitated. In his early eighties, he became more and more dependent upon a wheelchair. His bed was moved from upstairs to the den on the main floor, and he began to refer to this room as his jail cell. From that time forward, every room he lived in was perceived as a cell. After mom died, he declined in a slow, creeping dementia.
In his late eighties, he spoke about not wanting to go on, but despite these words, he had a strong will to live. In many ways, life was a torment, but the will to continue kept him going into his early nineties. At that point he was completely alienated from the world, angry, lonely and without much memory. He could not recall my name, but knew that I was a figure of authority and therefore the enemy. He would not let me stay long in his room and chased me out by yelling or ignoring me altogether.
When his time came to die, we were called by the nursing home. Shoshana and I rushed to his room. He was in considerable pain and his final illness caused continuous diarrhea, which added enormously to his discomfort. He allowed the nursing aides to touch him, but pushed me away. As the illness took him closer to the edge, however, something softened inside of him and he started to release into a new mind-state. He began to gaze at something that I could not see; but his gaze indicated that he was being touched somewhere so deep, so intimate. I believe it was “that place” where we all want to be touched.
At that point, something pulled me to reach out yet once more and this time he reached back and took my hand. Once connected, I could feel the presence of something profound, something so welcoming I wanted only to be held by it. Next to my dad, who now squeezed my hand, I was in his field and could see in a strange way what he was seeing through his own inner eye. I found myself repeating words of reassurance, both for him and for me, over and over again.
Mom, having died nine years earlier, was there with us. It was she who led his soul out of his dying body. And it was indeed like a kiss, but so much more than lips meeting. It was just as they say, breath within breath, two breaths becoming one. At the last moment, after the final breath, he shed one tear—and, despite all our difficulties over the years, my heart opened to him forever. The experience of this kind of love is simply to learn how to surrender to each moment as it arises, to let go in the arms of the Divine, to yield—not attempting to control anything—and to discover the true faith that arises. We are always and forever connected by our breath to the source of breath, and we always have access to the Palace of Love, which is our certain destiny—all we need do is realize it and relax into the everlasting arms of the Divine.