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).

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