Groups, in general, frequently form some sort of hierarchy. There are always those who are placed in charge, or who take charge. Since the celestial world is a mirror image of this world, it should not be surprising that there is a hierarchy among the mal’achim–angels.

While the number and names of mal’achim are usually not known, certain arch-angels are known — even by name. One part of the bedtime Sh’ma prayer says: “In the name of the L-rd, G-d of Israel, may Michael be at my right, Gabriel at my left, Uriel before me and Raphael behind me.”

Each of these names is also a description. Michael, (Mee’kha’El), “Who is like God?” He is the guardian angel of Israel, the nation that praises God. Michael is presented as the head of God’s army and intervenes to assure the continuance of the Jewish nation.

Gabriel means “My strength is God.” Gabriel, the angel of power, is the angel most often referred to in scripture. In the Midrash, Gabriel is often associated with saving individuals such as Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.

Uriel means “God is my light.” He was so called in deference to the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings “by means of which the Holy One, blessed be He, atones for sins and gives light to Israel” (Numbers Rabbah 2:10).

Rafael means “God is my healer.” Because of his association with health and healing, his name is familiar to many.

The Midrash says that Rafael was one of the three “people” who visited Abraham three days after his circumcision in order to heal him. Michael and Gabriel were the other two visitors. Michael came to Abraham to announce that Sarah would bear a child and Gabriel came to oversee the destruction of Sodom.

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