Vayeira: Where Angels Fear to Tread by David Hartley Mark

Call me Matspuniel—a long enough name for an Archangel, but I am a recent Creation of the Lord; my name means “Conscience of God,” and it is my duty to flit betwixt Heaven and Earth and report on the doings of creatures celestial and earthly, both; all creatures, great and small. I serve only at God’s direction; there are times when I am busy—United Nations investigations, World Court Proceedings, Supreme Court deliberations of matters relating to birth choice—but, on other occasions, I am idle. It’s a job, after all, not unlike that of Raphael, who heals, or Gabriel, who defends the lowly and weak, with mixed results. Angels cannot overcome Humanity’s Free Will; it’s all built into the System, you know.

My downtime I spend in the Angels’ Bar—no place of ill repute, but simply a gathering-club where we quaff asphodel-wine, sort of like earthly cotton-candy, but less substantial, and we talk; Heavens, how we talk! Eternity is a moment to us, living both In and Out of Time, and the Cherubim—both the chubby baby sort, and the more ancient breed, those built like Sphinxes, compete in games of darts, with real darts—the time passes, Celestial time….

Until the Three Archangels came in—that is, the Three who visited Abraham and Sarah. What, a long time ago? Don’t forget—we are Out of Earthly Time, in our Dimension. They had spent a long time on Earth, and were full of stories; a large Coming of Angels, great and small, gathered around them; I crept close to hear, as well. It’s my job, being Conscience, and having to report to the Boss, though He would certainly know, certainly have heard by the time I brought the Tidings by. Omniscience has its perks.

“All things considered, our visit went well,” said the First. He was a youngish Seraph, one of the Holy Flames, who had been Humanized for the Mission, but his Sky-Flickers were beginning to poke through his hair as he spoke; indeed, they waved and undulated in a manner alarming to the younger cherubim around him, “They were happy; Lord knows. They had waited for so many years for a child! Of course, we said nothing about the Sacrifice to come; let them find out, when it is time.”

“Sacrifice?” peeped a tiny Cherub, down below the table, “I heard nothing about that.”

“Never mind, Little One,” said Angel Two. He was an Ophan, and had the Chariot-Wheel-like quality of that breed; though humanized like his comrade, he was beginning to revert to his former Shape, as well: his eyes moved all around the chamber as he spoke, and his hands never stopped moving, around and around and around, illustrating all his words. “I went down with One and Three, to rain down sulphur, meteors, and fire from Heaven onto the sinful cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. It pained me to do so—we Angels are nothing if not merciful—but, Heavens! What a sight it was! I’m glad we were able to save—“

“—Lot and his family, in any case,” took up Angel Three, a stoutish Chaya Ha-Kodesh, or Holy Beast; he was a Gryphon, all lion-claws, eagle-feathers, and sharp-eyed, with a croaking tone to his voice, and the wings were his, not stamped on his back, as with the other Two. “That Mrs. Lot should not have looked back; we knew she would—that Human Free Will is a Tricky Business, no error. But there was that One Thing that disturbed us all—“

Disturbed an Angel? This was my cue, as Angelic, and Godly, Conscience-Bearer. I pushed to the front of the crowd; no one resisted me; they knew my Name, my Rank, my Function and Purpose: that of conveying Matters of Conscience, both Celestial and Earthly, before the Throne of Mercy and Judgment.

“What was it, Gryphon, Seraph, Ophan? Speak!” I demanded, so commandingly, with all the Authority in my Power, that the entire Coming shrank back.

“It was—it was—simply, this,” said the Gryphon, his outspread feathers withering a bit, beneath my Steely Gaze, “Was it not the Purpose of Abraham, the Friend of God, the Conscience of Humanity, as you, Matspuniel, are Conscience of Heaven and the Almighty—to go and find the Righteous People of Sodom and Gomorrah, after he bargained with God? Instead—and I say this with fullest Eagle-heart, and all the Courage I can muster, for I am but Angel, and you may reduce me to Atoms of Ether if you wish—he said Nothing. Here are the Torah’s very words:

“And God answered Abraham, ‘I will not destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, for the sake of the ten righteous that you may find there.’

“When the Lord had finished speaking to Abraham, the Lord departed; and Abraham returned to his place” (Genesis 18:32-33).

The Gryphon called to the Barkeep, Mashkiel, for three tall glasses of Asphodel; the Three took their pewter mugs, slid into a side booth of seats, and would say no more.

As for me, I returned to my corner seat, trembling: what was there to report to God? What was there to say to, or about, Abraham? When the Righteous cannot find other Righteous, when Humanity gives up on Itself, what else is there left for Conscience to do? Only to watch it be destroyed: and that, tragically, is what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah, and, it goes on, yet today…Have we not yet found Ten Righteous Human Beings, in all the World Around? I will finish my Drink, and begin my Search….

David Hartley Mark is from New York City’s Lower East Side. He attended Yeshiva University, the City University of NY Graduate Center for English Literature, and received semicha at the Academy for Jewish Religion. He currently teaches English at Everglades University in Boca Raton, FL, and has a Shabbat pulpit at Temple Sholom of Pompano Beach. His literary tastes run to Isaac Bashevis Singer, Stephen King, King David, Kohelet, Christopher Marlowe, and the Harlem Renaissance

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