A Jewish bedtime prayer, the Kriat Shma, invokes four important angels to protect the sleeping person until the morning: "To my right Michael and to my left Gabriel, in front of me Uriel and behind me Raphael..." Angels, winged, fiery, brilliant and combative, make numerous appearances in scripture and ancient teachings, delivering the word of God and sometimes delivering God's people. Michael, Gabriel, Uriel and Raphael are remarkable enough to be identified by name in Jewish tradition.
Michael, first of the two most significant angels in Judaism, is actually an archangel, a high-ranking celestial being. He is the guardian angel of Israel and the one who stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son, Isaac -- and was the angel who told Abraham's wife Sarah that she would bear a son. Michael is credited with being the teacher of Moses and with having delivered the ten commandments to him. He is also the guide who led the Israelites during their forty years wandering in the wilderness. The archangel continues to advocate for the Jewish people and is foretold to be the angel who will blow the trumpet on the Day of Judgment.
Gabriel ranks just after Michael and is also an archangel. Gabriel is a messenger -- Mal'ach, the Hebrew word for angel, also means messenger. While Michael stands at God's right hand, Gabriel stands on the left. He assists Michael in the defense of Israel, both in ancient scripture and in the present day. In addition to frequently delivering messages to mortals from God, Gabriel is known as the destroyer and was instrumental in the demolition of the corrupt city of Sodom from which Michael saved the virtuous Lot. On Judgment Day, Gabriel is the one who will stand at one side of the gate, across from Michael, to welcome the just to paradise.
Uriel means "the light of God" and he is recognized for bearing the knowledge of God to mankind. He is an archangel but not as noteworthy as Michael and Gabriel. Angels, in general, are associated with fire but Uriel has also been assigned the roles of angel of thunder and earthquake, the provider of noon warmth in winter, and the "prince" of Sunday, the first day of the week. In his position as bringer of knowledge, he is called upon to help with the study of the Torah. Uriel is one of the four guardians of the throne of God, possessing attributes of two holy beasts: the eagle and the lion.
Raphael is a healer. The archangel relieves suffering in one way by bringing petitions directly to God. He is tasked with curing disease, wounds and blindness. Most mentions of Raphael are in mystical writings and place him in the company of Michael and Gabriel. The three were said to have visited Abraham after his circumcision -- Raphael healed him and Michael delivered the message that he would have a son. Raphael and other angels appear frequently in the Talmud and in the apocrypha, the ancient Jewish writings that were not included in the Bible.
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