The movie It’s a Wonderful Life turns 75 this year. Considered the favorite holiday movie of all time, Jews too seem to favor this classic. Perhaps we identify with the lead character, George Bailey, a most earnest soul outplayed by a ruthless rival.
George Bailey’s world is upended when a bank deposit goes missing. In every life, there will be disruptions. Some are life-changing. Sometimes these troubles are so great that we can see no good resolution. We might be so hopeless that we feel as if we are standing on a snowy bridge contemplating the jump into the icy river below.
We encounter one or more such challenges in our lifetimes. For example, Jacob in Torah endured many such predicaments. Jacob fled home when his brother, Esau, threatened his life. His oldest two sons killed the people of Shechem as an act of revenge. Jacob feared that the other neighboring tribes would exact justice on him. Jacob’s favorite child, Joseph, was reported dead and Jacob’s grief was overwhelming. Each time Jacob could have been overcome by dread and despair.
Each of George Bailey and Jacob had guardian angels at their service. An angel named Clarence kept George Bailey safe. Jacob attributed his safe life’s journey to protective angels. In Genesis 48:16, Jacob prayed that the angels who kept him from harm, bless his descendants.
Just like my fantasies about winning the Power Ball, I sometimes imagine that there could be an angel to shield me and keep my family safe. Forget the Avengers, I want a “super angel” who can reverse any misfortune and avert any future disasters.
I hesitate to mention that I leave room for angels in my life. In the angelic realm of conversation, Jews are generally skeptical when it comes to angels.
Yet, Jewish texts often reference angels. In daily prayer, we describe and emulate the angels. Can it be that these invisible agents of God be stealthily awaiting their moment to help us?
In dark times, I may imagine myself as a latter-day George Bailey, not knowing that an angel will rescue me from harm. Yet, the movie does not teach that we should wait for angels. The lessons of the movie are these. First, be nice to everyone. Second, if you have been good to others, they will support you in your time of need. Third, never give up hope.
“It’s a Wonderful Life” teaches us not to despair and not to see ourselves as victims. With the darkest Shabbat day upon us, however bleak the world seems or sad you feel, remember that the daylight hours will again increase. And perhaps it is true, as the Talmud teaches, that two angels come to escort you on the sabbath day.
Until an angel appears to guide you, allow me to offer some sage advice. Remember that the good that you put out in the world can come back to sustain you. You may suffer tragedies, but you should not quantify the value of your life by misfortunes suffered. God gave this life you live to you. You are a unique and extraordinary person, and your life is a precious gift. It’s a wonderful life!
Rabbi Evan J. Krame