The Angels We Hate

I recently ran across an album on my computer that I didn’t remember having — Fearless Love, by Melissa Etheridge.  In a song called “Only Love,” Etheridge claims “Only Love is Real; Everything is Love.”  In one verse of that song, she sings:

Come on now show me who you’re lovin’,  then show me just who you hate.  Then I can show you all your angels, that guard your heaven’s gate.

In those four simple lines, Etheridge managed to expand my understanding of angels and integrate a couple of concepts that have been on my mind quite a bit lately: heaven and angels.

The “heaven’s gate” to which Etheridge refers reminds me of the description of heaven that Rabbi Rami Shapiro provides in The Sacred Art of Lovingkindness.  Rabbi Shapiro states that heaven and hell “are not ontological realities tucked away somewhere in space — these are existential realities playing out in your own mind.”

And what, according to Rabbi Shapiro, determines whether we reside in the heaven or the hell inside us?

If you choose [to live from a place of] kindness, love, generosity, and joy, then you will discover in that choice the Kingdom of God, heaven, nirvana, this worldly salvation. If you choose [to approach life with] cruelty, fear, scarcity, and bitterness, then you will discover in that choice the hellish states of which so many religions speak.

Rabbi Shapiro and Etheridge appear to agree: (1) heaven is an existential reality inside a person, and (2) entry into that heaven is determined by our own emotional state.  Nevertheless, their conceptions of how our emotional states permit us to enter into heaven appear different – Rabbi Shapiro asserts entry is controlled by our general attitude and approach to life, while Etheridge suggests our entry is controlled by our angels.

I can’t hear the term “angels” without thinking about Rabbi Lawrence Kushner who, in his book Honey from the Rock, explained:  “The Hebrew word for angel is malach.  Which also means messenger.  One who is sent.”  Rabbi Kushner asserts that anyone who brings a Holy Message to another person is an angel and that each of us has been assigned the task of delivering at least one Holy Message during our lifetimes.

What is a Holy Message? According to Rabbi Kushner, it’s a “puzzle piece” that helps us figure out ourselves, our lives, or perhaps even the meaning of Life.  Kushner’s angels, in other words, are figures who bring us “ah-ha” moments or cause us to think about (or re-think) important issues.  They may appear in our lives just long enough to hand us a piece of Truth and then disappear immediately, or they may remain in our lives for years and years.

Regardless how long they stay, I had imagined our relationships to the angels Kushner described to be positive or, at the least, neutral.  I never thought of those angels as people we hate.  Yet this is precisely who Etheridge alleges are the angels that “guard” …which I understand to mean “block”… our entrance into our personal heaven.

If people we hate block our entrance to heaven, how do we get them out of the way, so that we can walk through the gate and live each day in our personal, existential Heaven???

Etheridge doesn’t tell us specifically, but she repeatedly tells us “Everything is Love.”  Could that annoyingly simple statement contain the solution?  Could it be that the only way to remove an angel blocking our heaven’s gate is to learn to love, rather than to hate, that person??  Despite our urge to avoid and flee the presence of people who annoy us, could it be that we need to pay more attention, so that we can learn the lesson they came to teach us??

Such an interpretation would be consistent with what we find in Pirke Avot (Sayings of Our Fathers) 4.1:  “Who is wise?  The one who learns from everyone.”  In other words, we should respect and learn from everyone, because the next message we need for our journey could come from anyone — an elder or a child, a scholar or someone illiterate, a stranger or a friend, those we love or, yes, even those we hate.

Why might a person we hate have an important life lesson for us?  Well, as Freud explained years ago, we humans use a number of “defense mechanisms” to protect our egos from our improper impulses or from our anxiety about our own weaknesses and failures.  For example, we may hate others because we see in them something that we do not like in ourselves.  Sometimes we even project onto others the traits we least like in ourselves!

But if we can step sufficiently outside our egos and ignore our defenses, we may be able to see that the other person does not deserve our hatred, because our frustration really is with ourselves.

Or, to say it another way, if we can stop worrying about why someone else behaves in a way that is so annoying, and start focusing instead on why we are so annoyed by that other person, then we have an opportunity to learn more about ourselves and to grow.

Through the process of introspection and growth, as we begin to better understand ourselves and others, we develop more compassion and become less annoyed by that angel we hated and by ourselves – at which point, it seems to me, we will have received “the puzzle piece” brought to us by that angel, so that angel will no longer be blocking our heaven’s gate.  Filled with new joy, kindness, and love for ourselves and for others, just as Rabbi Shapiro said we needed to be, we will be able to walk through the unguarded gate and relax in our own personal existential heaven.

The Angels We Hate really can help us learn more about ourselves and about life, and once we are able to receive the puzzle piece they bring, we will be able to see that underneath our hate was love.

“Only Love is Real; Everything is Love.”

Baruch HaShem.

6 thoughts on “The Angels We Hate

  1. We have all (especially me), spent an enormous amount of time understanding our personal histories and why we feel the way we do. Does that neutralize the “hate?” I want a real “how to manual!” When we learned to love did we also learn to hate? Did we learn that there was a “cost” to keep someone loving you and hate if they stopped loving you?

    • I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer all of your questions, Pam….after all, I’m just a kid who sees connections between random topics and enjoys writing about the things she studies!! … but I’ll give you my guesses …
      1. I think we are born knowing how to love, and then “life” teaches us to hate and to hide our love.
      2. Whether talking “neutralizes” hate probably depends on the type of talking — context, topics discussed, readiness and willingness to change, etc. The point I was trying to stress in this post was that we aren’t going to neutralize the hate by focusing on (or talking about) the person who annoys us, we need to focus on ourselves, because we can only change what is happening inside us.
      3. I’m struggling with your last question, because I think love shouldn’t ever “cost” anything. Real Love is free, like respect. It just IS. If I have to DO something to “keep someone loving” me, then I don’t think that person ever really loved me. [***note that, for me, “love” is not synonymous with “compatibility” as friends, spouses, family members. For example, a person can love her parents, while remaining firmly convinced that interacting with those parents would be a bad decision.]
      4. I don’t have a how-to manual, but I found Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s book, The Sacred Art of Lovingkindness, to be incredibly helpful. If I wasn’t hoping to send my kids to college, I’d buy a few thousand copies and hand it out to everyone I know!! Perhaps you too would find parts of it interesting, inspirational, or helpful.

  2. A friend contacted me about this post to say: “But, Jen, I don’t think I’m ready to let go of my anger, and honestly, the thought that the person I hate is one of my angels, well, that makes me nauseated!”

    I wondered whether others might be having that response to my last post, so I share below some further thoughts I had based on her statement:

    I understand. Honestly, I do. I’m not saying people aren’t sometimes mean. They really can be, and we have every right to get upset about being treated badly. But hatred, fear, loathing, anger, and all those other negative emotions … they are emotionally exhausting!! So the question becomes: are you gaining more from feeling the negative emotion than it’s costing you to hold onto the negative emotion? And that is a question that no one else can answer for you. Nevertheless … perhaps a little “reframing” of the situation will help you think about the issue differently.

    If we get “burned” really badly by someone, our response is usually to hate or fear that person. But after a little time, holding on to the extra emotional baggage, such that we still actually feel the negative emotion, is not productive. Why isn’t it productive?

    First, it’s not productive because I’m nearly certain that, even if you let go of your hatred, you’ll still remember not to stick your hand in “that same fire” again. Right? (or if you do stick your hand in the fire again, it obviously won’t actually kill you, and hopefully you’ll learn after getting burned the second … or third … time by the same person).

    Second, holding onto the hatred and fear is not productive because it’s “discoloring” every other experience you have with every other person in the world. It’s causing you to fear people who probably do not deserve to be feared … and unnecessarily fearing a lot people makes life look pretty scary and leaves you pretty lonely.

    Third, it’s not productive because negative emotion is toxic for your soul. I’m not an expert on any of the world’s religions, but it seems to me that most of the world’s religions (before being hijacked extremists) are about loving and being compassionate … HIllel, Jesus, Dalai Lama, etc. Unlike hate, love is the original “soul food.” 😉

    I’m not saying it’s easy to let go of hate … in fact, I had anger that I couldn’t let go of for more than a decade! And, honestly, I don’t even know how to tell you to get to the place where you can let it go, because I’m not you. But I can tell you that my anger and hate started to melt away when I started feeding my soul and figuring out who I am underneath all of my defenses, so maybe with a therapist or some self-help books (and a big box of Kleenex), you could just find a way to feed your soul some love …

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