Found In: Rosh Chodesh, Shabbat
Malachim is the Hebrew word for messengers or angels. Each of the 40 Malachim Jewish Angel Cards has an artistic image and a blessing word in English, Hebrew, pronunciation on one side. They are 1x3 inches big, making it easy to hold the set in your hand.
You can lay the malachim face down, take a moment for personal reflection, Kavannah (intention), and then randomly select one. The malach/message might affirm, remind, or inspire you – or maybe it sparks a new understanding. You can use the malachim in families, in community, in solitude.
There is a tradition that we are given a neshama yetera (extra soul) on Shabbat so some people pick two on Shabbat. Others pick during Havdallah, the ceremony that marks the end of Shabbat, to find a focus as they begin their new week. Some Rosh Hodesh groups begin their ritual or study with participants picking from the malachim. This enables individuals to find a kavannah [focus] for their time together or for their month.
While in groups, some people choose to discuss their messages and how they are relevant. Others keep them private. As with all good folk traditions, uses and understandings change over time – so add your own!
The Evolving Tradition of Malachim Jewish Angel Cards
The tradition of malachim Jewish angel cards began in a circle of friends in Jerusalem in 1989. We sang Shalom Aleichem to honor the beginning of Shabbat, noting that the words of the song welcome the "messengers/angels of peace," which are said to frequent the homes of those who celebrate Shabbat (Talmud, Tractate Shabbat, page 119a). I created a set of malachim to accompany our singing.
Many women, men, families, classes, and Rosh Hodesh groups have taken this idea and made their own sets with images and messages that are resonant for them. As of Spring 2005, there is also one other printed set of Jewish Angel Cards and one set of Kavannah Cards [available via ritualwell] on the market.
To make your own set for personal use is simple!
Just collect small images from cards, calendars, magazines, anything that strikes your imagination. Or, you can use your own art, photos, etc. These images might or might not connect explicitly to Judaism. Remember: anything can be reduced in size on a copying machine.
Make a list of one-word (or two-word) blessings and messages; what are the reminders, affirmations, nudges that you need? The fun part is matching up image to word. Some images might very literally and obviously match the word. I also like to match up images with words in a way that requires a bit of imagination or consideration in order to see the connection. This makes the malachim more thought provoking.
Malachim/Angels have been part of Judaism since the beginning
Most contemporary Jews do not ascribe to a literal belief in angels. However, Judaism has a rich and complex tradition of sacred texts, practices, and folklore that presume the existence of specific beings that carry divine messages and facilitate communication between people and God.
Whether malachim are understood poetically, symbolically, or literally, the questions underlying these traditions are still relevant: How do we make sense of incidents or interactions that occur in our lives? Are the decisions we make and paths we take purely of our own design? Are there forces in our world in addition to those that we can easily sense and "rationally" understand? What gives us spiritual strength as we move through the world? How do we experience that which is transcendent?
To learn more, look at the comprehensive overview of "Angels and Angelology" in the Encyclopedia Judaica.
Image © Deborah Eisenbach-Budner