Yaakov and the Angelic Messengers

After a treaty was made with Laban, Jacob’s Uncle who would have done him harm were it not for H’Shem’s intervention, when He appeared to Laban in a dream saying, “do not speak to Jacob either good or evil” (Genesis 31:24), Jacob encountered angels of G-d (Genesis 32:2). “When he saw them, Jacob said, ‘this is G-d’s camp.’ So he named that place Mahanaim” (32:3). The Hebrew word, mahanaim means two camps: “the one consisting of the angels ministering outside the Holy Land who had come with him thus far, the other, of those ministering in the Land of Israel who had come to meet him”(Midrash Tanchuma, Vayishlach 3; Rashi, sefaria.org).

So, Jacob received a new band of angels to accompany his entourage. This sets the stage for the next verse, that begins parashas Vayishlach: “Jacob sent messengers ahead to his brother Esau” (32:4). The Hebrew word translated here as “messengers,” is malachim. This word can also mean “angels.” Or HaChaim comments that in all likelihood, Jacob actually sent angels. The reason given is that “since Jacob had already met with these angels and they had obviously come to help him, he was permitted to use them as messengers for a task that human messengers might prove inadequate for” (Or HaChaim on Genesis 32:4, sefaria.org).

The implication of the commentary is that Esau might not have received human messengers with all the due respect of a peaceful diplomatic mission. Rather, he might have responded in a less than civil way; and, perhaps even would have brought harm upon the messengers. Yet, angelic messengers would have a more impressive appearance; and, hopefully, would elicit the proper awe and respect that they would deserve as divine beings. While it is that man was created in G-d’s image, and, therefore, all of mankind should respect his fellowman for this reason alone, perhaps, this truth would not compel Esau to do so.

Nobody can argue against the impressive nature of an angel’s appearance; the connection to the divine is obvious. Yet, to be able to see the divine spark within another human being is not an easy task, for the divinity is less apparent. Chassidus teaches to see past the outer “shell,” so to speak, of a person; that is to say, to see beyond appearances. Because Esau was able to set his resentment towards his brother Jacob aside, when he did eventually meet him after twenty-two years, he demonstrated that his humane affections for his brother were still intact. As Torah records, “And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him; and they wept” (Genesis 33:4, JPS 1917 Tanach).

the Ascent of Prayer

B”H

parashas Vayeitzei 5781

“And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold the angels of G-d ascending and descending on it.”

– Genesis 28:12, JPS 1917 Tanach

After the debacle of Esau’s temper, became known, Jacob was sent away to find a wife in Haran, amongst his own kindred. Essentially, he left in flight from the simmering wrath of his brother, Esau, who was furious about not receiving the blessing of the firstborn. Jacob sets out penniless, travelling by foot to the land of his mother’s brother, Laban. Along the way, he grows weary towards evening; so, he rests at a certain place, where he places stones around his head, before going to sleep. There, he dreams of a ladder between heaven and earth; there are angels ascending and descending upon the ladder.

We would expect that the angels would first descend from heaven, then ascend back to heaven. However, the wording is specific, the angels were “ascending and descending.” One explanation given is that the angels are angelic messengers of prayers. The angels are even likened to the actual prayers, ascending to Heaven as requests to G-d; then, descending as specific replies to those requests. It is as if the angels are standing by on earth, ready to take our prayers to Heaven; at some point later, they are answered in one form or another. Perhaps, not many of us stop to ponder how our prayers reach G-d anyway; so, this could be as viable an explanation as any other. Elsewhere it is written that our prayers obtain wings like angels, enabling them to ascend on high to G-d.

The place that Jacob dreamt about the ladder, connecting heaven and earth is described by him, when he awakes, as “none other than the house of G-d, and this is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:17, JPS). It is feasible, to think of a unique place upon the earth, whereof there is a direct connection to G-d, a sort of umbilical cord between heaven and earth. The place where Jacob dreamt his dream is thought to be Mount Moriah, where eventually, much later in time, G-d’s House was indeed built, initially by King Solomon. Although, since Beis-El is ten miles north of Jerusalem, where Mount Moriah was located, the connection between Beis-El and Mount Moriah may be more symbolic.

Regardless, the “Temple Mount,” where the “House of G-d stood,” is currently in the midst of Jerusalem. For the Jewish people, this is the holiest place on earth. Although access to the Western Wall, part of the complete wall that surrounded the entire location where the Temple once stood, is limited because of restrictions put in place during the pandemic, people from around the world would usually flock here to pray. This does not imply that G-d is unable to hear our prayers, wherever we live upon the face of the earth. Even though, according to tradition, He sits on His Throne in Seventh Heaven, He is still able to hear our whispered prayers, even the prayers in the silence of our hearts.

Abraham’s Perception

“Abraham lifted his eyes, and perceived.”

– Genesis 18:2

Abraham was in communion with G-d, while sitting at the entrance of his tent. If he could be pictured there, in silent contemplation, perhaps, with his eyes closed, he might appear as if he was meditating. At some point, he lifted his eyes, being stirred out of his deep personal experience of being in G-d’s presence; and, he perceived three men standing nearby him. What did he perceive? He may have perceived that they were angels; he may have also immediately realised that they had been assigned to carry out a mission from Above. He hurriedly tended to their needs.

Then, he and his wife Sarah who had been barren for thirty nine years were told that they would have a son one year from the time of their appearance. After the message was delivered, Sarah laughed at such an extraordinary proclamation. She was mildly reproached for laughing, as if she doubted what she heard. Yet, “Is anything to hard for the L-RD?” (Genesis 18:13-15).

Next, two of the angels walked towards Sodom and Gomorrah, while G-d explained to Abraham what was about to take place. The cries of these two cities had reached the heavens; judgment was about to occur from the heavenly realm (see Genesis 18:20-21). Yet, Abraham tried to persuade G-d to spare the cities for the sake of any righteous people, who may have also been living there. Before an indiscriminate pouring down of fire and brimstone would overturn the cities, Abraham asked, “Would you destroy the righteous with the wicked?” Shall not the judge of the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25). Abraham takes G-d to task, entering into a dialogue with him, on behalf of the righteous. If there were only ten righteous people in the cities, G-d agreed that he would spare those cities.

Yet, apparently, there were not even ten righteous persons living amongst the wicked occupants of Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot, and his immediate family were evacuated by the angels in an urgent manner. His wife, hesitated, longing for her married daughters who had stayed by their disbelieving husbands. Perhaps, she had also turned back, because she did not want to leave behind her a life of security, comfort, and contentment. She turned into a pillar of salt; perhaps, because of exposure to the fire and brimstone. A stark reminder of the consequences of immobility, in the face of urgent action required during a catastrophic event.

“And it came to pass, when G-d destroyed the cities of the plain, that G-d recalled Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when he overthrew the cities in which Lot lived.” – Genesis 19:29

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