Torah Tidbits

Angels or Messengers?     

Shabbat Parashat VaYishlach

November 28, 2015 – 19 Kislev 5776   

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I hope you will join me at services this Shabbat as we celebrate the bar mitzvah of Disraeli Brooks.  Mazal Tov to Disraeli and to his entire family!

Our weekly Parsha, [Torah portion] begins with the story of Jacob sending “mal’a’chim” [angels; messengers] to his brother Esau.  Jacob is unsure of his brother’s response to Jacob’s return home.  So, the Torah tells us, Jacob sends “mal’a’chim” ahead in anticipation of his reunion with Esau.

Are the “mal’a’chim” angels?  Or, are they human messengers?  In truth, the Hebrew word “mal’a’chim” may be read either way!   Predictably, some of our Torah commentators and Sages understand “mal’a’chim” to be angels.  Some say they were human messengers.

This story has fascinated Bible readers for generations and Chasidic interpretations abound.

I share with you below just three of the many inspiring interpretations to this Biblical story:

The Apter Rebbe taught that the “mal’a’chim” that Jacob sent ahead to smooth his interface with Esau are the very same “mal’a’chim” that help us, as Jacob’s descendants in modern times, to deal with the difficult situations that we may face, generation after generation.  To the Apter Rebbe, the Biblical story is not just a story about the past.  It is a story of faith for today.  How shall we face our difficult passages?  With faith that the “mal’a’chim” that Jacob set in motion in ancient times will still be with us today!

In an entirely different take on the Biblical story, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk noted that Jacob sent the “mal’a’chim” on their way just at the moment in time when Jacob anticipated his renewed interaction with Esau.  According to Rabbi Menachem Mendel understanding of the Biblical story, Jacob did not send the “mal’a’chim” toward Esau.  He sent them away altogether, so that Jacob would deal with Esau directly, on his own, without anyone’s intervention in the process.  Jacob sent the “mal’a’chim” away because he understood that he had to stand on his own two feet and deal with the situation himself!

And finally, Rabbi Naftali of Rupschitz taught that the word VaYishlach [And he sent…] which opens our Parsha may be read in an entirely different way.  It may be read as:  Vay ShalachVay is the Hebrew equivalent of “oy”.  Shalach is the Hebrew equivalent of ” he sent.”   In preparation for his meeting with Esau, Jacob sent “oy” [sadness or depression] away from himself.  Jacob realized that he had to be prepared spiritually and emotionally to meet once again with Esau and to deal with the situation.  He realized that he had to fortify his spirit in order to do the best he could in a difficult situation.

Each of these interpretations has a message for us today, whether we believe that the “mal’a’chim” were angels, or simply human messengers.  What all three of these interpretations have in common is not only the Biblical text upon which they are based, but also the understanding that we are all in need of a sense of faith, of spiritual and emotional support, and of hope for the future, even as we face the modern challenges of the day!

I take this opportunity to wish you and your loved ones a Happy Thanksgiving weekend!  Whether you are traveling, or at home, may this be a time of joy and of happiness!

Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Gilah Dror