It was the first snow, three years ago. Standing at the grave saying the Mourner’s Kaddish, I looked around. Few of those gathered spoke the ancient words with me. It was one of those rabbinic moments that made me sad. Would this family have a next generation that could say Kaddish? Would these nice people have a next generation that was Jewish? These are the things that rabbis — we who have chosen service to the Jewish people and the teaching of Judaism — wonder, at times questioning the efficacy of our work.
At the same time, I noticed a man with a broad, warm face and a beautiful head of white hair. His face radiated kindness. I looked again, drawn to his face. Who was he?
After the burial I asked one of the mourners who the man was. “Our cousin,” he replied, “Aaron Lifchez.”
Yes! That was it. I approached the man. “Dr. Lifchez,” I said, maybe identifying myself and maybe not. I don’t recall as I was so caught in the moment. “Thank you. You gave me my children. I am grateful to you every day. I must also tell you that you taught me even as you were my doctor. I am a better rabbi because of you.”
His face lit even more. We talked some. He told me he had retired. We discussed a mutual friend. I told about my children. The rest was nice, but I had already said what was important. Dr. Aaron Lifchez was my fertility doctor. The last time I had seen him was seven years prior, soon after I learned I was pregnant with twins.
We all have divine messengers in our lives. Torah calls them men or mal’achim. The word is often translated as angels, connoting images of cherubic winged figures that do not do justice to the idea of a divine messenger, one who has a higher purpose, a Divine purpose, in our world.
Mal’achim may be people we meet for a flash, or those we know for years. Whomever they are, they touch our lives with an elevated sense of purpose, beyond the transactional. Like the Hebrew speaker in the Kiev park who stopped to converse with me two decades ago, and the German graduate student who appeared in that same city amidst a group of American Jews, just as I needed a friend.
In this instance, Dr. Lifchez had been doing his job, but what he did was much more than that. How he treated us, how he approached his work — he taught and he elevated the work to a sacred calling. It was kindness, respect, calm and patience. It was presence, and that which I cannot totally explain. I felt it, though. He was indeed a mal’ach, a sacred messenger. And I got to tell him. I was grateful.