November 14, 2013


וישלח יעקב מלאכים לפניו אל עשיו אחיו ארצה שעיר שדה אדום

Jacob sent “malachim” forwards to Esau his brother to the Land of Seir the plain of Edom.

This is the opening verse on which Rashi comments with two words!

מלאכים ממש – real angels.

The noun malach has two meanings. 1. Messenger 2. Angel.

The last of the prophets was called Malachi – my messenger and he was a real human being.

Now if you look in the Midrash ( bereishit Rabba Seder Vayishlach, parasha 75 para 4) you will find two opinions. The first opinion is Malachim – they are HUMAN messengers. The second opinion is angels.
OK the second opinion is that of the rabbis (plural) but Rashi is a Pashtan, who’s brief is to give us the easier, more literal option. Why did Rashi decide that the peshat is the second opinion and that Jacob sent angels. Surely it would have been easier for Rashi to say that Jacob sent human emissaries.

For the answer we have to go back to last weeks Sedra. You remember that at the beginning, when leaving Eretz Israel, Jacob had a dream of a ladder with angels ascending and descending.

Now at the end of the Sedra, on returning to Israel the last two verses read:

ב. ויעקב הלך לדרכו, ויפגעו בו מלאכי אלהים. ג. ויאמר יעקב כאשר ראם מחנה אלהים זה, ויקרא שם המקום ההוא מחנים.

32:2 Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God MET him. 3. And Jacob said, when he SAW them, this is the camp of God, and he called that place “camps”.

The problem with our printed chumashim is that you have the haftorah in between the sedras and this breaks the flow. But, dear readers, go back and read the last two verses of last weeks sedra and carry on immediately to the first verse of this weeks sedra!

The Maskil LeDavid, Mizrachi and others explain. At the beginning of last weeks sedra, Jacob only saw the angels in a dream. But at the end of the sedra he is wide awake. He physically saw them. The angels MET him physically.

The last verse is also clumsy. When he saw the camp of angels he said this is a camp of angels. What else could a camp of angels be?

In others words. If the angels met him physically whilst awake and he saw the camp, he understood that they had been sent to help him. Vayishlach Yaakov Malachim…… And Jacob sent Malachim ( angels) to Easu.
If you read the verses carefully with no break, as did Rashi, you will feel that that is indeed the peshat.

Nevertheless, apparently, according to the Midrash, he had the option of sending human messengers. As Rav Feinstein pointed out in Darash Moshe, sending angels would use up some of your heavenly merits. And if human messengers could achieve the same result, why cash in your chips.

In a brilliant derasha, he links it to Chanukah which often occurs just after this sedra.
We usually divide everything into two categories. Natural and Supernatural. Or Divine and nature if you like. Nature and miracle.
(I’m looking after my father-in-law and relying on my faulty memory and a public Internet point in a nearby park!)

But is there a greater miracle than “creatio ex nihilo” God creating the universe out of nothing?
We call it nature but who created nature and its laws?
Or in the language of the Talmud: He Who told oil to burn could tell vinegar to burn.
From our point of view the fact that oils burns is natural. If vinegar burned then it would be a “miracle”.
But on a deeper level the fact that ill burns is also a miracle. After all, its also a liquid. Who created its nature to burn in the first place?

Yaakov Avinu was on the high level that he did not distinguish between natural and miraculous. Everything was ultimately created by God. God created and controls nature and alters it when needed.

One of the miracles of Chanukah is that the Tur asked a question and it got 70 answers!
Why do we celebrate Chanukah for 8 days? After all there was enough oil for one day. The miracle was only 7 days. One of the standard answers is that the first day celebrates the military victory.
Perhaps an answer is as I have written above. The fact that oil burns at all shouldn’t be taken for granted. Call it natural if you want but who said that oil should burn. Who created oil out of all the liquids with the nature to burn? Perhaps we need a day in the year to celebrate that fact.

The message of the apparently superfluous miracle of Chanukah ( טומאה הותרה בציבור ) is that we need to get to the level of Yaakov Avinu and not be impressed by miracles. That which seems natural and that which seems miraculous is all from the same Divine source, the Creator of Heaven and Earth.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Meir Wise
not holidaying in Ramat Gan!


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