R. Ishmael

Thirteen Principles of Rabbi Ishmael

Rabbi Ishmael’s mother purified herself in the ritual bath, as did his father, before joining each other in bed. On one occasion she immersed herself forty times, said God to the angel Metatron, go stand before that holy woman and tell her this night she will become pregnant with a son and his name will be Ishmael.

Ishmael’s form was beautiful like the form of Metatron and every time Rabbi Ishmael wished to ascend to heaven he would pronounce the name of God.

Three of the thirteen principles open onto universals from particulars. Logic really. We wanted a way to parse our lives, from the individual to the universal. We knew that every experience, each thought might ascend to consequence, even the trivial.

We students of Rabbi Ishmael delighted in the details, the deeds, the book speaks in the language of human beings we were told.

None of us believed we had to make a case for the particular while we were living it. Still we would tell the stories of our yearnings and our waitings until many years later we saw the protecting angel standing at the doorway scribbling away or the angel of death at the foot of the bed.

The angel Michael (Who is like God?) standing to the right, the angel Gavriel (God is my strength) to the left, the angel Uriel (God is my light) in front, the angel Raphael (God is my healer) in back and above our heads –the Shekhinah.

Rabbi Ishmael returned to us with his insistence: all particulars open onto universals.

By then we knew it.

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