Dante and Beatrice gaze upon the highest Heaven by Gustave Doré, from Dante’s The Divine Comedy: Paradiso, Cassell, 1892. Wikimedia Commons

Lailah the angel stands at the edge of the Garden of Eden, surveying. She sees apple trees, fig trees, grape vines, pumpkin patches, wheat, corn, and the plants we eat from. Birdsong fills the air. Furry animals scamper on the ground. A creek burbles and fish swim in the clear waters. In the center of the garden, the Tree of Life towers over everything, branches full of green leaves and blossoms spread far and wide.

God has again asked Lailah to bring Him a soul hidden in Eden. She strides to the tree of flowering souls. She knows that the roots of the tree sprout the souls of all the righteous ones whose names are inscribed there. Once ripened, they fall into the Treasury of Souls, where they wait until she is called to bring them to God so they may be born.

When Lailah reaches in for the soul she seeks, it resists. It does not want to be born again, for it remembers the pain of birth and would rather remain in the tree, pure. Lailah is tired, for this is only the start of her job with this soul, and she is not having any of the soul’s tantrums. She wrestles it into submission and brings it to God.

“Here is the soul you requested,” she says. She looks at the green grass below her feet. In her role over the millennia, she has never looked elsewhere.

She feels God nodding. “Ah, thank you, Lailah,” He says and is quiet. In that time, she is sure He is scrutinizing the soul. She knows He is deciding most of its fate. Finally he says, “This soul will be female; she will be strong and work hard for a living all of her life; she will be short but beautiful, neither scrawny nor fat but a balanced weight; and humble.”

Again He is silent as He determines the rest of this soul’s life, except for whether she will be righteous or wicked. Lailah will help the soul decide that for herself. “OK,” God says, “the soul is ready for you. Do your thing, and thanks for your help.”

Lailah holds up her hands and feels the weight of the soul in her palms. It is pleasantly warm. She smiles. She turns, leaves Paradise, and places the soul in the womb of its mother. She joins her in there, feeling slightly sorry for the woman who must carry them both.

As the zygote turns into an embryo and the embryo into a fetus, Lailah remains in the womb with her, holding a lighted candle at her head. Sometimes Lailah’s arms feel fatigued, but she doesn’t mind. She does this so Sara (that’s what she decides to call this soul) can see from one end of the world to the other. Lailah teaches Sara the entire Torah, as well as the history of her soul.

The moment Sara emerges, Lailah strikes her above her lip, leaving a divot between the mouth and nose, and causing the baby to cry. With that act, Lailah has caused Sara to forget everything she has learned.”

One day, Lailah asks Sara to pledge an oath before they undertake a spiritual field trip. Sara, eager to please her guardian angel, readily agrees. She repeats after Lailah, “I will keep my soul pure, lest God take it back.”

After this, Lailah takes Sara back to the Garden of Eden. She shows her charge the righteous ones with crowns on their heads. “This can be you,” she tells Sara, “if you make the right choices in your life.”

“What happens if I make bad choices?” Sara asks. She tries to frown, but her facial muscles are not fully formed. Lailah looks away so Sara won’t see her holding back laughter at the comical expression.

“Let’s go to our next destination, and you will see,” Lailah says and takes Sara’s stub-hand. She guides her to Gehenna and shows her the punishments meted out in the netherworld. Sara is terrified and clings to her, begging not be left in this place. Lailah feels she has done her job.

Eventually, they reach nine months in the uterus. Lailah extinguishes her candle and forces Sara from the cozy womb into the cold world. The moment Sara emerges, Lailah strikes her above her lip, leaving a divot between the mouth and nose, and causing the baby to cry. With that act, Lailah has caused Sara to forget everything she has learned.

Lailah’s work is not done, though. She watches over Sara for all of her days. She sees Sara make good and bad decisions as she navigates her destiny. When the time comes, Lailah reappears. Sara, a wrinkled, beloved grandmother suffering from dementia, is puzzled by her presence.

“Do you not recognize me?” Lailah asks in a gentle voice.

And lo, Sara does. She takes Lailah’s hand, following the angel to the World to Come. God is waiting for them. Both Lailah and Sara stare at the plush beige carpet while God judges Sara on her merits. It seems to take eternity, but really is only a few seconds, before God directs Sara to Paradise.

Lailah is relieved but very tired. She does this millions of times every day because she is the only female angel and so she must be everywhere at once.


Suzanne Reisman earned an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. She is scratching away at her third novel, and lives in New York.

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